Posts Tagged ‘equality

03
Jun
13

Has Tim Been Un-Wise Lately? How About the Rest of Us?

So, famous and notable white anti-racist thinker, pundit, commentator, author, blogger, etc. Tim Wise has been getting some heat lately, much of it from people of color, particularly African-Americans.

It seems a lot of the criticism comes down to the following:

  • People of color (especially blacks) who speak out about racism in society get vilified or accused of pulling the race card or guilting whites (even liberal ones) even when they say the exact same things Wise is often praised for saying
  • White anti-racists are a good thing, but why don’t black ones get anywhere near as much attention or as much of the pie in terms of book deals, media recognition, respect, etc.?
  • What has Wise done for non-whites who are victims of discrimination daily in a white-privilege-based society, other than to spread information and awareness among some white people (who are more eager to listen to a white guy saying what black people have been saying all along)?
  • Why won’t Wise publicly debate or discuss differing approaches with non-white anti-racists (instead of choosing to go head-to-head only with people at the other end of the spectrum from him)?

I’m not here to defend or attack Tim Wise.

I think a lot of what he does is good and well-meaning. I also think the criticisms against him have a lot of merit.

But what I will say is that this might be a good time for those of us who hold notions of equality dear (or claim to) and are white to actually check ourselves and do some self-review.

For example, when a person who isn’t white points out something they think is racist, is your first instinct to listen to them and see it from their perspective as much as possible (instead of from a position of white privilege), or do you start looking for flaws in their argument?

I’ve been guilty of the latter at times. Not very often in the past 20 years or so, I think, though my wife (who is black) might disagree. There have been times she’s been furious about a discriminatory slight and told me about it, and there have been times I’ve challenged her. In one case, she was ready to stop shopping at an entire chain of stores because of one checker’s assholery. She got mad when I told her that was irrational, but in that case, I was right, because she hadn’t asked for a manager to complain to, and she’d never been treated that way at any other location of that store.

On the other hand, she once got treated badly at the bank and I was finding the potential flaws in her perception and asking if it might have been “this” happening (something not racist) rather than “that” happening (her version of it).

On the whole, I lean to her perception, because it’s kind of stupid for me to tell her what was happening in a situation that she was involved in and I wasn’t. Also, I don’t live in brown skin every day and carry all the baggage that entails with being a potential target…in fact, I almost never have to think about my race or how people perceive my worth as a human being.

Still, I screw up at times. Some of you might screw up way more often than me and if so, stop it. Do better. In fact, do better than me.

Also, as white people, do we treat non-whites with the same level of respect as we do those with our same or similar skin tone (particularly when we are in positions of authority and have an influence on their ability to achieve what they deserve)? Are we making assumptions about them that are unwarranted? Are we talking down to them? Are we seeing them as humans first, or as color palettes? Etc.

I’ve only once been in a position where I had an influence over hiring. I was a key factor in the hiring of two writers at that magazine at different times: one black and one white.

Now, I’m not looking for a pat on the back about the black woman. But I need to make a point here about hiring.

When the position the black woman got was open, there were other candidates for the job, all of them white. During the interviewing process, however, when all was said and done and I considered all the qualifications of the people, I purposefully gave the black candidate the edge in the end, because of her race.

This is where some of you may scream “reverse racism!” or others (black and white alike) might accuse me of acting out of white guilt or simply hiring the woman because I was involved with a black woman at the time.

Not so. Here is what happened, and what I challenge more people with hiring power to consider:

In the end, no candidate stood out in terms of skills. No one had an edge. However, what I knew we had in our department was a whole lot of white folks. And in the organization as a whole, blacks were concentrated in lower-end positions (secretarial, filing, mail room, etc.). I had a chance to hire a black woman for a reporting and writing position on our magazine, and I pushed hard for her to get the job.

It was the right thing to do because to do otherwise would have been to perpetuate the idea of hiring and working with people who are most like us. That’s a terrible thing, because not everyone in the world is like us. If everyone in our department is, then someone has very likely failed in the recruitment or hiring process at some point, and perhaps multiple points. Sure, most people in the country are white, so the fact that most of our department would be white made sense. But to pass on a chance to make the department more representative of the population at large would have been a failure on my part.

Does this make me some saint? Far from it. I’ve had my moments of being quicker to lock the door when a sketchy looking black person is coming than if a sketchy looking white person is. I’ve done and thought stupid things at times. Not often, but often enough to feel some shame (as I would at any other bad behavior or faulty attitude, racial or otherwise). So, I’m not giving this hiring example as a way of showing how great I am.

But I am lifting it up as an example of the things we need to factor into our decision-making.

In the end, as with Tim Wise, the biggest issue isn’t what’s said but what is actually done.

If we get all excited about someone speaking truth simply because it’s a white person, but we routinely tune out the black people who are just as smart or smarter, then we fail. If we continue to gravitate toward or bring into our circles only people who look like us and come from the same cultural background, then we fail. If we promote equality and fight racism, but don’t often team up with the people we are defending, we fail.

As white people, we often ask non-whites to work hard, try harder and to “be patient” as society evolves.

It’s high time many of us whites stopped acting like we’re working as hard as we should be.

Because, by and large, we aren’t.

08
May
10

Failure to Acknowledge

Pop quiz: What s the single biggest impediment to an alcoholic or any other kind of addict getting the help he or she needs to break the addiction?

I’m sure that most of you get an A on this quiz, because it’s pretty obvious to most people.

It’s the failure to admit that you have a problem to begin with. As long as an addict says, “I can quit any time I want” or “I’m not hurting anyone else” or any number of other excuses that minimize or deny there is an addiction, the person will not get help. Or if the person does, it will be help that does little or no good.

Maybe the person changes their ways slightly. Gets drunk less, for example. On the one hand, you could say it’s improvement, but is it really a good thing that the person is driving drunk only a third of the time now? That’s still potentially deadly, for the alcoholic and all the poor innocent bystanders. Or maybe the person only gets drunk and beats his or her children violently a quarter as often as before. Is that improvement? Yes. Is it good? No. Is it enough? No.

This is largely what has happened with racism. Too many people say things like, “Well, I don’t do anything racist” or “Slavery and Jim Crow is over and has been a long time.”

Those are good things, certainly. But did ending slavery end racist acts and policies? No. Ending Jim Crow didn’t do that either, as there are many ways to discriminate. Not hiring qualified workers or color simply because of their color. Arresting people of color more often and giving them harsher sentences than whites. Revitalizing white areas or making downtrodden areas attractive for white people and leaving impoverished areas to languish or forcing people of color out of the neighborhood to make room for the white people.

The cycle of privilege goes merrily on, and while there has been improvement, and continues to be in some areas, the basic problem remains: racism.

It remains in part because it can never truly be eradicated. But it flourishes quietly and continues to harm people of color in the United States because too many people live in denial of its existence and power.

People like Thordaddy, who once posted here before I banned him, and who posts at Big Man’s blog and other places. Heck, you can go to the comments of this post to see how he does exactly what I’m talking about (by the way, many of my own comments there are going to see revamping and repeating here, so if some of the rest of my post sounds familiar, you’re probably a visitor here and at Raving Black Lunatic, and I apologize for the repetition). He suggests (and sometimes has said outright) that because blacks have rights, and more than they did at one time, that racism is a myth, and that blacks are simply lying that racism is increasing and that their lives are as bad as in slave time.

First, I don’t know of many blacks who claim that things are just as bad as they were in slave times or Jim Crow. What they are saying is that a lot of bad things are going on, and some thing that were improving are now getting worse.

And it’s true. Because too many people claim that when things got better, the core problem vanished. It didn’t. And if you blithely ignore that the racism remains, you give it room to grow again, like a weed in an untended garden.

Failure to acknowledge racism is permission to let it grow.

Of course, the problem is that no one wants to be labeled a racist, as Big Man pointed out in his “Stigma” blog post.

Racism, as a word, is a pretty neutral one. Racism doesn’t mean evil in all cases. If I see an elderly female Asian behind the wheel of a car and assume she will be a bad driver, as I do about 90% of the time, that is racist. Is it evil? No? Does it harm her? No. But it is racist.

We’re all racist. The trouble is that so much baggage has been attached to the word that it is assumed to be a pejorative term. And so no one wants to acknowledge its pervasive power, lest the label be attached to them.

How do we get around that? As Big Man notes, he doesn’t know the answer.

Frankly, neither do I, and I don’t think there is a good answer, at least none that can be broadly applied. Because the answer is for whites to take a good long hard look at history and the current day and to recognize things like white privilege and inequity. Many aren’t willing to do that, because they don’t want to believe it exists, they are ashamed of the prospect, or whatever else.

But let’s say you get them to recognize such things exist.

Then they have to care. And recognition doesn’t always equal caring. Or at least not caring enough.

And if you’re someone who thinks privilege is totally normal and should be encouraged and continued, as Thordaddy does, then you you won’t want to have a society that is fair and based on merit and personal traits (rather than connections, skin color, etc.), and you won’t ever care. Instead, you will try to convince the gullible that racism is a myth and that it hurts no one anymore, simply because it no longer enslaves them or allows them to be lynched with impunity.

And frankly, even if your aren’t as bad as a Thordaddy and you’re simply scared (of losing jobs, of economy tanking, etc.), and you’re white, you might start to see things like equitable and fair treatment as threats, even if only on a subconscious basis. And if you do, you will want to narrow things like the definition of racism, or pretend it’s gone.

It’s all about education, and people are very selective about what they really want to learn. It requires more self-education than anything else, in order for it to be internalized and be productive, and people are even more selective about the knowledge and learning they will actively seek out.

As I noted, we’re all racist on some level, about someone or some group or something. It’s all levels and gradations, though. And some people’s racism has the power to do more harm than other people’s racism. But because many of us, of all colors, have lost the ability to treat the word racism neutrally and really talk about things openly, we get nowhere.

Racism had long since become a dirty word, and so people can’t see it as an accurate and useful word, and understand that it has gray areas and doesn’t equal “evil.”

There’s not making it a neutral word again. No chance of it. And if you pick a new word, the stigma eventually attached to that will make it a dirty word too, unless people are willing to learn and to grow.

People have to want to learn and see and understand and do better. They can only do that, I think, by continued exposure to one another and honest communication.

But I don’t have much hope for that in this age of Tweets and Facebook and niche discussion boards and hypersensitivity.

I fear we’ve lost our ability to discuss widely, and most of us now retreat to those places and groups where we don’t feel threatened.

I think about my own travels online and among people in real life (not simply the racial ones), and the problem is that so often, I will try to talk about real shit with folks, and then they get defensive, no matter how diplomatic or reasonable I try to be. No matter how hard I try to show that we’re both right and wrong about some things and that some things aren’t cut-and-dried. But it breaks down quickly, and the ability to have real discourse disintegrates.

All too often, I’ve been in discussions with agnostics, atheists, racists, liberals, conservatives, etc., and I can say things like, “hey, I see your point” or “yeah, you might be right about that” but they never budge on their own positions and never consider that their positions need adjustment (or so rarely that it might as well be “never.”)

Discussion is a two-way street and there needs to be give and take. But very few people are really willing to give…not even a little.

It’s very disheartening, and has led me to leave many online venues and to distance myself from people in real life because they only want to hear their own views parroted and supported and reinforced.

I’ve rarely been that way. Yes, there are core concepts that I hold strongly to, but I don’t hold any of them as sacrosanct because all of them rely on my own interpretations and filters, and I know that I can be wrong.

About race. About religion. About money. About politics.

But pride is a powerful thing. And so is fear.

And as long as we hold tightly to those things, and continue to fail in our ability to even acknowledge that a problem remains, we will never fix it.

20
Jul
09

Keeping a Good Woman Down

jimmy-carterFormer President Jimmy Carter just called it quits with the Southern Baptist Church after church leaders decided to continue to prohibit women from being ordained and insisted that women be “subservient to their husbands.”

Here are a couple things Carter had to say on the matter in an essay published in The Age:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

and

The truth is that male religious leaders have had — and still have — an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.

So, how do I feel about this?

Good for him.

I think that too many Christian denominations and churches hold to a very antiquated and inappropriate interpretation of male and female roles based on both a misunderstanding of the Bible and an inability to discern that certain things talked about in the Bible were meant to flow with changing times.

A lot of folks give Paul shit for a number of things, among them the way he “hijacked” the early church and made his own personal doctrine. But he also gets a bad rap for the way he viewed women. This is, after all a guy who said that women should be silent in church and that men were at the top of the decision-making heirarchy in the family.

Two things.

First, even if you think Paul is a sexist ass-hat, let’s remember how Jesus treated women, and let’s agree that Jesus wouldn’t much like the idea of treating women like idiots, treating them badly, or lording oneself over them.

Second, I don’t think Paul was a sexist douche-nozzle.

Bear with me ladies (and some of you men, too)…

Yes, Paul did talk about women remaining silent in the churches and women being beneath men in the heirarchy of God -> Jesus -> Husband -> Wife -> Children.

But this is also the guy who had some notable women doing evangelism in what seems to be a pretty equal role with their husbands. Paul is also the guy who said not just that a woman’s body belongs to her husband, but that a husband’s body belongs to his wife. This isn’t saying you can abuse your spouse, because he specifically speaks out against that. What it is, people, is the first biblical recognition in the New Testament epistles that men and women become partners when they marry, and belong to each other. That they need to work with each other and make decisions together about a variety of things.

It is my feeling that Paul talked about silence in the church with women primarily because education of women wasn’t exactly a priority back then. They would have been among the least prepared people to address doctrine. This is likely also why he spoke against women pastoring churches. He clearly realized that women could add value and be strong in their own right, or he would have spoken out against Priscilla and other women doing evangelistic work. But in his time, as a whole, women were not in a good position to be speaking on doctrine, and often what Paul wrote was more specific to issues facing the church at that time, and not meant to be doctrine for the long run.

Likewise, in a world where women couldn’t inherit much of anything and didn’t have much in the way of rights, what is he going to say other than “the man is head of household.” To claim otherwise and to encourage women to do otherwise would have been madness, and wouldn’t have paid off for those women in the end. Which is probably why he stressed the need for husbands to honor and respect their wives, and for Christians to honor widows and support them.

Paul probably did have certain male chauvinist tendencies. How could he not, given the culture in which he was raised? But many things in his writings show that the early Christian church was supposed to uplift women, not keep them down, and that is a message that too few male church leaders today are paying attention to.

Jimmy Carter has, and I hope that others will follow his example.

07
Apr
09

Two-fer Tuesday: Awareness by Deacon Blue

raised_handsFor a long time, I didn’t know when to use who and when to use whom.

I got through grade school, junior high and high school with A’s on damn near every bit of poetry or prose I did, pretty much everything from fiction to essays to journaling, and never really understood the difference. I suppose a lot of it was because I had a natural talent for writing, so I got put in the advanced English classes and in the advanced classes, they didn’t spend much time on the mechanics of writing but went into deeper and more creative territory.

(Trust me, there’s a reason I’m telling you this.)

So, it wasn’t until my required journalism class, “Copyediting” in college—where many grammar and punctuation “basics” were hammered home regardless of how good our English grades were in high school—that I finally understood fully the difference between who and whom (as well as discovering the real differences between that and which and when to say you and I vs. you and us, among other things). Once I did, it became easy in my writing to use who and whom properly all the time. And then, lo and behold, I discovered that as the months and years went on, I was beginning to use it properly in my speech as well, often without thinking about it, or thinking about it so quickly that no one listening to me would have known I was doing mental juggling of the words. I hardly think about it at all anymore; I usually just do it, naturally.

So, too, I have noticed that there are certain things I just don’t do or say anymore, or that I do or say differently, since I’ve been married to an African-American woman for more than a decade now.

This was brought home to me yesterday as we were driving home from an errand, and we were listening to Nirvana: Unplugged in N.Y. We started talking about the day Kurt Cobain died and comparing it to other famous musicians who had died and had huge outpourings of emotion over their deaths. John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, etc. And it was at that point that I asked my wife, “Who was that young lady who died a few years back and they had carriages and shit at her funeral procession, even though she really wasn’t that groundbreaking a singer and didn’t have much history behind her?”

The answer, as many of you might know, is Aliyah, as my wife reminded me. But, that wasn’t the point.

The point is that for just a split-second before I spoke, I thought about saying, “Who was that black girl who…”

And yet in that same split-second, my brain reminded me that if it were a white woman, I would never amend my question with mention of her race. Never. Not in a million years. And so I dropped the “black” before I spoke. And my wife had no idea (and won’t until she reads this, of course) that I had even gone through that semi-unconscious mental exercise.

The reason I bring it up is that it leads me to a not-all-that-terribly-groundbreaking theory I have developed since yesterday afternoon that there are three stages in the growth of one’s racial awareness, if indeed one is actually trying to grow in seeing people as people and not as colors or ethnicities.

There is stage 1, in which you do things like add a person’s race or color as a descriptor whenever they aren’t your own race or color. You do it either because you don’t even think about it or what that signifies or because you think you need to, even though chances are you don’t. (Or maybe you assume people are a certain way because of their race alone. Or maybe you treat them in a vastly different way because of race, in a manner that puts them in an less-than-ideal position. Etc.)

Then there is stage 2, in which it occurs to you to do something like the above, but you consciously force down the urge.

Finally, there is stage 3, which I can only hope arrives real McSoon not just for others but also myself—a time when the issue won’t even pop up in your head and you will stop doing something like the above, without even realizing you’ve stopped doing it. (I think I’m stage 2.478 at this point)

So, for whom am I even working on this issue? Me? My wife? My children? Actually, all of the above, in addition to all the friends, acquaintances and even strangers I will encounter in my life, especially those who aren’t pink like me.

That’s who. 😉

18
Mar
09

Black and White and Dread All Over

young-man-in-military-coatAs I mentioned on Monday with my throaway “Separate But Equal” post (I’m always amazed at how many more comments a throaway post can generate than one I consider more substantive, which might get zero comments), I have race on my mind.

Oddly enough, despite having a black wife and two biracial kids, I don’t think about race a whole heaping hell of a lot. I mean, yeah, I visit a lot of African-American blogs and race issues crop up frequently in my life, but I don’t dwell on race relations much. Mostly because my strategy is to try to be as “race blind” as I can (knowing that I’ll probably only achieve race nearsightedness) and also realizing that I’d better not make myself too race blind, as that will interfere with my ability to actually relate to folks who don’t share my melanin-challenged heritage.

So, I see my part in race relations as being an overriding goal to not be part of the problem, and in so doing, I’ll be a small part of the solution. And I don’t talk about race relations much around here because there are so many other people who do it more often and do a better job, and they’re in my blogroll in the sidebar (Raving Black Lunatic, The Field Negro, Ephphatha, Blackgirlinmaine, etc.)

But sometimes, my hackles stand up and I get riled by something. Or, more often, someone. This time, it was a dip named Thordaddy, commenting on a post at Big Man’s Raving Black Lunatic blog (click here to see it; Thordaddy’s commented on some other stuff at the blog, but it’s this post and commentary that will set the stage for my post today here.)

Short version of the story for those who don’t want to jump to another post first (though you really should): Thordaddy is one of those folks who isn’t as violent, crazed, brain addled or uneducated as most of the people who go to Stormfront.org but who still manages to be outraged when black people claim they are victims of societal oppression or racism. I challenged him on a point or two, and mentioned I myself have been responsible for my small but notable part in racism in the past, and suggested that he might want to open his eyes a bit.

He asked me for examples of my “oppression” against blacks. I declined, not out of embarrassment or lack of examples, but because at that point, it was clear he was simply a troll looking for more fresh meat to rant about, and I wasn’t going to accede to his insincere request for clarification. When I said as much, he mentioned that while I may have been in a position to “oppress” black people, he and many like him haven’t, and are sick of being blamed for supposed racism that probably doesn’t exist.

Because I don’t want to engage a numbnut like Thordaddy who already has his mind 100% made up, I will engage the rest of you. And Thordaddy, if you come here, behave your damn self. I haven’t banned a commenter yet, but I suspect you could inspire me. I hope everyone here will read this and give some good commentary, but I especially implore my fellow white folk to read this post.

Here goes.

First off, you might have noticed that I put the word oppress in quotes a couple times above. That’s not to diminish or cast doubt on the idea that blacks still deal with oppression. It’s because Thordaddy missed the point on two counts. First, I don’t think I ever said I oppressed anyone nor was in a position to. What I said was that I have played my part in society’s racist tendencies toward black folks. Secondly, racism doesn’t have to be some bold, overt oppression on the order of calling people nigger or burning crosses on their front lawns.

Look, if people are, in significant-enough-to-notice numbers, treating you differently (and in a negative way) than other people, based on your color, and this happens sometimes over and over in a given day, that shit adds up over the years. Part of the reason I don’t have many notches in my bedpost is because I spent all of junior high and high school and a good chunk of college…and hell, into adulthood…being made to feel that I was not desirable to the opposite gender. Women loved me as a friend; they did not desire me otherwise. That made me painfully shy and fearful of approaching women to ask them out, even though I was very confident and comfortable being their friend.

Sure, you can call me overly sensitive and say that I should have just sucked it up, but I was shaped in a certain way, a little at a time, relentlessly, over years. Same thing happens with black people who have to endure constant little slights from white folks day after day and year after year.

Examples? OK.

  • I have lost count of how many times a white waitperson or cashier has shown my wife where to sign a credit card receipt. No, I don’t mean they tell her which copy to sign (merchant or customer copy…that even happens to me sometimes). They point to the signature line for her and inform here that that’s where her signature goes. I have never, never been treated like that level of moron as a white person. I have yet to witness any other white person treated this way.
  • Go looking for an apartment. It’s still available and you rush right over. When landlord sees you are black, the look in his or her eyes changes and suddenly, the apartment just became unavailable. Or, suddenly, he or she remembers that you not only need to pay first month and security deposit, but last month’s rent as well. I have seen this in person apartment hunting with my wife. Whether they didn’t want her because she was black or us because we were a mixed-race couple, I don’t know, but believe me, you know when you’ve been treated that way. And yes, I once called back in a different voice later. The apartment hadn’t been rented out before we got there. Not that I thought it had; we only lived a few minute’s drive away.
  • Go job hunting. Send out resume. They love you on the phone. Then they see you are black in person, their face falls, and you have a very short interview and never hear back. Has happened to my wife multiple times. Or, send out a resume with a name that “sounds” black (like my wife’s full first name does). Virtually no responses for months. Then, send one out with your nickname (which sounds more “white”) instead of your legal first name and suddenly people all over are calling you back. My wife has dealt with this before, too.
  • Go shopping. Have security guard follow you around, even though the profile for the average shoplifter is middle aged white woman, not young, well-dressed black woman. My wife hasn’t just reported this to me; I’ve seen it first-hand. Often.
  • Oh, have I mentioned the several times that Son of Blue has been harrassed by police officers for such risky and suspicious behaviors as walking home from the store, taking a stroll with a girlfriend, etc.? One time, the cop harangued him on the way back from a local store, while he was carrying a very threatening steak-and-cheese sandwich and fries. When my son refused to give his name or answer any more questions without myself or his mother present (he was a minor) the cop virtually threatened him with a trip to the police station, even though our house was a 30-second drive away. Cop was all bluster up until the moment I answered the door and suddenly he saw that Son of Blue’s father was a white man and not the black man he had apparently expected to be able to walk all over.
  • Hey, how about the time I was pulled over on the highway for a routine DUI check during some party-time weekend, and the state trooper showed no interest in checking my sobriety (which was 100%) but instead asking me who the black woman in my car was. Now, aside from the fact that she was my wife, what fucking business is it of his who my passenger is? Or why she is there? Unless he’s thinking hooker/drugs/etc. It was a DUI checkpoint. Or how about the fact I’ve been pulled over by police far more often (and usually on bullshit) in my 13 years of dating or being married to Mrs. Blue than I ever was in the dozen years previously that I had been driving.

I could go on, but it will raise my blood pressure.

White people don’t deal with this. Yes, we deal with occasional rude people and disrespectful police officers. But those are almost always people grumpy or having a bad day, and we know that. That is not the same as someone serving you in a restaurant with way more attitude than all the white people at the tables around you. Or serving their food on time and yours slowly and ultimately cold as hell. And then giving you attitude when you request hot food.

This is the kind of stuff that black people have to deal with that whites don’t, unless maybe they have some obvious disability that people ridicule, fear or get patronizing about. And then people like Thordaddy say, “Why should we take a black person’s word that some little stuff is racism at work?” And why not?

Tell me, if you’re white and go out with your friends and complain that your supervisor is undermining you and setting you up to be fired, don’t you expect them to take your word for it? They probably won’t be trying to tell you, “It’s just your imagination.” So why do black people, who spend a lifetime in a nation that is run mostly by white people who complain that affirmative action is unfair (when it really doesn’t impact them) or that blacks are on the dole (when most people on public assistance are white), have to offer a higher standard of proof when they are treated badly?

White people don’t want to be blamed for the sins of their ancestors. I get that. They don’t want to feel like they are paying the price for injustices that no longer occur. But the fact is that racial injustices occur regularly, and we blind ourselves to their existence (which allows them to continue to flourish and contribute to cycles of poverty and oppression in the black community), and we also participate in them, albeit usually in small ways. By ignoring both the problem and our own culpability, we allow racism to go into a more undercover but still very damaging mode.

And here, I will do for you what I didn’t do for Thordaddy. I will share what I look back on with varying levels of shame in terms of my own behavior. They may seem like small things, but remember that small shit piles up. My small slights, committed by most of the people around me, too, add up to quite a bit for the average black person. And no slight against someone else is small. We should be on guard that we treat all people right.

So, what have I done?

  • Prior to working at the job where I met Mrs. Blue (where I was surrounded by a higher percentage of black people than ever before), I had very little contact with black people. This was not entirely my fault. I grew up in Silicon Valley in California. Non-whites there were almost uniformly Latino or Asian. Going to college in the Midwest, I attended a Big Ten school that was, not surprisingly, mostly white, located in a town that was, well, mostly white. I didn’t venture into the city much. But still, why did I not befriend the few black students around me (not that I was mean to them, either) while having little or no hesitation about white ones, Asian ones, Indian ones, Middle Eastern ones? Same at my various jobs after college, in which I could easily treat the black employees, who were mostly low-level clerks, with disregard and consider them background scenery. Yet be friendly with the white receptionists who had equally little impact on my daily work.
  • By choosing not to associate really with black co-workers, but gravitating readily to white ones (even white folks I found personally objectionable), what message do I send? Not a good one. Also, when those black workers are in positions lateral to my own, how much did I exclude them from important information, job leads, etc. that my white co-workers were readily privy to?
  • If I cross the street upon seeing a black person, but don’t cross the street to avoid a more dangerous-looking white person, what message have I sent? Do you think this aids in making a black person feel warm and fuzzy toward white people?
  • If I ask a black person what other black people think about an issue, how ignorant is that? Do we ask white people, even in subgroups like Irish, Polish, etc. to comment on how all people of their subgroup feel? Even when we do, it isn’t nearly as often. How stupid is it to act like all black people feel the same way? By doing so, don’t we show how little we pay attention to them and how little we regard them?

Those are examples that leap easily to mind, but I’m sure there are others I could recall if I wanted to pick at the scabs of my past behaviors and preconceptions and tacit approval of other white people’s actions around me that were less than racially fair.

The point is that until we all start treating each other like equals, we won’t be equal. Until we treat all races with dignity, there will be racial oppression, whether on a minor or major scale. We are all part of the problem. If we are a member of the race that is the largest in the nation, and the members of that race hold the vast majority of wealth, and the members of that race are given more breaks by the justice system, banks, etc.—isn’t it our responsbility to stop acting like we are being fair?

We don’t have to give everything away to blacks or any other non-white group. What we need to do is stop acting like they are a bunch of whiners and stop acting like we give them a fair chance, when the truth is far from that. Seeing a few more blacks in positions of power and influence doesn’t change the fact that most blacks are treated worse. A black man with more education than a white man is still at a disadvanatage, generally speaking, in the job search. Black people are treated more harshly than whites in terms of jail sentences for comparable crimes, and they are targeted by police more often.

Every little slight we commit as white people. Every time we turn our backs on injustice. Every time we choose to act like it’s not our problem…

…we fuel the machine. We give racism legitimacy. We make it harder for black people and white people to find common ground. What was done to blacks in times of slavery and Jim Crow and in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement were awful. And those crimes were all only several generations ago. Black people alive today have seen members of their race lynched for no good reason.

There is a huge hole of injustice that needs to be filled in. Not covered up; filled in. With something positive.

White people who insist they don’t do anything racist are, mostly, deluding themselves. Small or large, we should do nothing to demean or belittle a person simply because they are a different color. It makes no sense logically, it makes no sense socially, and it makes no sense spiritually.

16
Mar
09

Separate But Equal

two-conesTake a look at that picture. What do you see?

No, it’s not some trick question. What is it a picture of?

Two ice cream cones. Equal in size, equal in quality, most likely equal in price. And, unless you have some particular aversion to one of both of the two most common and popular ice cream flavors, they are equally tasty.

But they aren’t the same.

We don’t always treat them the same. Some people hate chocolate or find it too rich. Some people hate vanilla or think it too bland. Neither is better than the other but for some, the difference is so great in their minds that they would rather toss one of those cones into the garbage before giving it any kind of chance.

If it isn’t clear yet, I’m talking about black and white. Caucasian and African-American. It could be Muslim and Jew, I suppose, or Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant. But it isn’t. It’s race that’s on my mind, and race relations, and fucked-up attitudes by certain people who share my general level of melanin that has got me stewing a bit.

I have more to say, and I’ll be saying it within the next couple days. But I don’t have the time right now, so this will just be a light, throwaway post for now. A teaser. A placeholder so that Monday won’t be an empty day.

Catch you again soon.

27
Jan
09

Two-fer Tuesday: Respect by Miz Pink

pink-warriorwomenIs respect soooooo hard to come by these days? If you think my hair is interesting, in style or texture or the little hint of pink in there, do you really think you can just come on up and touch it? Yuck! Because some of y’all do and it makes me upset.

If you have to start out by saying…I don’t mean to offend…or This is probably a nosy question…or anything like that, that should already be a tip-off that you’re about to say something you really shouldn’t say. Or at the very least, you shouldn’t be surprised if I still get mad even after you went and telegraphed your nosiness or rudeness or ignorance in the hopes that I’d just let you off the hook.

Is it so darn hard to address me with respect instead of calling me Sweetie or Hon? (Only relatives and Sir Pink can get away with that stuff)

When we post online and go to Facebook and stuff, do you really have to let all of us know intimate details of what you’re up to right now? Just because someone’s your Facebook friends doesn’t mean they want to know your pelvis is really sore or that you just cleaned a bunch of gunk out of your toenails or whatever.

I kinda figured that as we slowly broke down old prejudices a bit and started thinking a bit more in terms of actual equality among men and women and different races and even different classes….well, I though maybe we’d see more respect.

I don’t know if it’s just something about our human nature or if the Internet has just made it easy to stop caring about manners or what, but give me some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

And everyone else, too.




Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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Jeff Bouley

To find out more about me professionally, click here. To find out more about me generally, click here.

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You can reach Deacon Blue/Jeff Bouley at deaconbluemail@gmail.com.

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