Posts Tagged ‘race relations

30
Jun
09

Color Connected

A bit of a ramble today, but considering how I’ve been neglecting this blog lately (at least in comparison to previous levels of posting), a ramble is better than nothing at all.

Before I start, I’m going to apologize in advance to Tit for Tat, one of my regular commenters here and often a foil against which to fence on various spiritual thoughts. Not because I’m about to talk crap about him but because he commented over at Raving Black Lunatic on a post titled Nah, You Can Keep It and he’s the jumping off point for some points I want to make about white privilege. I encourage you to read the post and comments for context.

For those who didn’t click on the link above, Big Man basically posted on the U.S. government’s fairly lame apology for slavery. About a day after a few short comments, mostly in line with Big Man’s thoughts, Tit for Tat came in and posed the question of why whites should bear any burden for the sins of previous white generations. I got up on my soapbox and then Big Man added his own responses once he realized the comments had revived, and I’m not sure it’s over yet.

But my point isn’t to repeat any of the points I made to Tit for Tat over there, nor to call him to task for his views. Instead, I want to talk about what his comments sparked in me in relation to white privilege and the way that whites band together for sometimes inexplicable reasons.

The thing is, that post by Big Man related specifically to U.S. whites and U.S. blacks. Tit for Tat is from Canada. At first, I had forgotten where he hailed from, because he seemed to be insulted at the notion that white folks should continue to feel bad about past injustices with regard to slavery. So I responded to him as if he were  U.S. white, as I am.

I’m still not sure why Tit for Tat felt moved to make the responses he did, but it made me wonder about internal loyalty among whites and how it seems to me that we, as a group, often band together in odd ways to defend the actions of our fellow whites, even when they really shouldn’t be defended.

And what it made me realize is that across the globe, whites tend to be very connected to each other. Much more so than, say, Latino and Hispanic cultures in North and South America, or Africans. I’m leaving aside Asia and the Middle East in this discussion because they haven’t endured nearly as much white colonialism or expansionism (yes, yes, I know about India and Hong Kong, for example, but overall, the depradations have been less than they were in Africa and in the Americas, I believe).

To a large extent, whites have the privilege and luxury to stick together because they can trace their roots, and because overall, they have been the aggressors and the victors worldwide for a long time now. Certainly the overwhelming force for much of the industrial and Internet ages.

Most whites can trace their geneology and thus can feel a strong connectedness across the oceans to other white nations. Blacks in the United States, cannot do that. Their ancestors were brought here as slaves, and they have no clue and no records that give them any link to an actual identifiable past.

In Africa and the Americas, native people were harshy subjugated, slain and/or exploited by white nations. Whites had no problem putting down borders in those places based on their desires and their goals, ignoring traditional boundaries (something that also happened in that European/Asian transition point of Eastern Europe, where all sorts of tribals folks and other disparate groups were forced together because powerful white European nations wanted to build nations to their own specs).

In other words, whites have held the reins of power a long time, longer, I think, than perhaps any other race in history (at least over such a wide area and controlling so much wealth).

This isn’t to say that all whites have money. But the fact is that in a place like the United States, where I live, a poor white person typically has more chances to get ahead than a black poor person. A struggling white person is often be more comforable if an asshole white person moves in next door than if an upstanding black one does. Resumes with “black sounding” names get tossed in the garbage without another glance in many companies. A black person with the same or better credentials for a job will more often lose out to that job to a white person who isn’t as qualified or is equally qualified.

Yet whites, by and large, refuse to acknowledge this no matter how many studies show the inequities. They want to claim that the past injustices have nothing to do with them, and yet they won’t even admit to the current ones, much less examine how they link to the past.

Tit for Tat continued the discussion with me a bit via e-mail after we finished at Big Man’s blog. In fact, it’s likely still ongoing; no idea how long we’ll continue to banter about it. But he asked an interesting question, that I forgot to answer via e-mail, so I’ll answer it here, in front of all of you. He asked, more or less, that since I have two biracial kids, would I expect them to bear responsibility for past white sins, particularly if one or both of them ended up looking white.

It’s a fair question. First off, Son of Blue is almost a man now, and clearly too dark to pass for white. The older he has gotten, and the less cute and cuddly (by white American standards), the more harrassment he gets, for no good reason. So he is getting the crap from the white people who think they are better than him simply by being white, even though many of them aren’t as well off, aren’t as intelligent and aren’t as together. Those are the kinds of people who may hold him back from opportunities in the future. So, he can’t cash in on the white half of his heritage. He is seen as black.

It is clear to me already that Little Girl Blue will most likely be dark enough to be identifiably part black. So, she too will be treated by society as being black.

But what if one or both of them could “pass” as white? What would I expect? I would expect the same of them that I do of myself and any other white person. I would expect them to recognize the unfair benefits they get and to do the following:

  • Not take it for granted
  • Do their best to not misuse it
  • Do their best to treat all people equally and/or according to their individual merits
  • To recognize the manner in which the past plays into the present

This isn’t about blame or hating or revenge. This is about fairness and justice. In France, because they aren’t happy that African Muslim immigrants won’t fully assimilate and become just like every other French person, they are talking about banning the wearing of burqas by women. Whatever your feelings about burqas, it’s part of the religious tradition, and not all women feel forced to wear them. In any case, how can a supposedly democratic society ban a piece of clothing word by a single group? Easy, because it’s white privilege. White is right. White societies know better. That is the attitude that too many whites carry. It matters less to me whether whites take responsibility for their ancestors’ sins of slavery than it does that they stop acting like they’ve moved beyond racial unfairness.

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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.




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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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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