Posts Tagged ‘racism

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.

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01
Mar
13

All Things Are NOT Equal

There is a tendency among many white people to get mad when someone is called out for saying something that is considered a racial slur, such as “nigger-rigged” or “towel head” or “an illegal” or whatever. It’s not that they necessarily deny the fact that such terms have racist or bigoted overtones, but they try to deflect and blunt the accusations of insensitivity by pointing to other terms.

They’ll argue, “Well, it’s just as racist to say [dago, kike, mick, honky, etc.] as it is to say those other things, but where’s the outrage when those terms are used?”

First off, let’s stop with the false equivalency.

Black and Hispanics are routinely targeted by police and punished more severely than whites for the same or similar crimes. People of color are routinely passed over for jobs or promotions for no other reason than the color of their skin. They are often given worse healthcare and less attention in school and get denied housing far more often than whites. I could go on, but either you recognize these things or you stubbornly insist they aren’t true, so I’ll stop.

Point is, a racial or ethnic slur related to a group that is routinely shat upon is inherently worse than one directed at a group that is far less antagonized and has much more privilege.

A slur at a Jewish person still carries a lot of weight, because there are seriously violent anti-Semitic folks around still. However, they still fall slightly down the severity list (at least in North America) from slurs against folks like blacks, Latinos and Muslims.

As for Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and other such groups for which there are colorful slurs, how often are those groups actually discriminated against in this country? Particularly in comparison to non-whites.

You throw around the N-word, and you’re throwing around something volatile. Call me a “honky,” and that hardly even registers; it certain won’t hurt my feelings. You might as well call me a “ninny” or a “weirdo” or a “geek.”

Wouldn’t it be better…far better…to work toward everyone in the country actually being treated the same based on their personalities, behaviors, skills, etc. regardless of color, ethnicity or religion rather than trying to make like slurs against people who have the upper hand are anywhere remotely equivalent?

Because when you do that, or point out to me that “gyp” is a slur (derived from Gypsy)…and yes, I do try to catch myself before speaking that word, and I haven’t used “Indian giver” in ages…when you do those kinds of things and say they’re just as bad (when was the last time you even met someone who strongly identified as a Gypsy?), I can only think one thing. You know you’re wrong, and you’re getting defensive.

I’m not saying any slur is good.

But stop trying to say they’re all equal.

At least until there’s actually equal treatment and equal opportunity in this country.

24
Mar
12

Where’s the Outrage?

You know one of the things that most pisses me off about the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida?

The response from conservatives.

Where’s the outrage?

Most of them only got publicly outraged about President Obama’s words of empathy and sympathy for Trayvon’s parents, accusing him of opportunism and fanning the flames.

So far, the only one I know about calling attention loudly to the injustice of Trayvon’s killing is U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida, a high-profile conservative and one of two African-American Republicans currently serving in Congress, who lambasted local authorities for their mishandling of the Trayvon Martin case thus far. Other conservative folks seemed too intent on trying to suggest Trayvon was a “bad kid” even days after it became clear he wasn’t one…or they’ve been too busy trying to defend Florida’s insane laws that helped make this killing happen…or they’ve been blaming Trayvon for wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

But you know what? Trayvon did the kinds of things conservatives keep telling black folks that they need to do to “be safe” and “fit in” and “be respected.”

He did all those things and got good grades and had big dreams and laudable goals for his future adulthood. George Zimmerman, disobeying police instructions and making himself judge, jury and executioner, took all that away.

Why aren’t conservatives outraged that a “good” black kid who did “all the right” things was murdered? Why aren’t they mad that they lost one of the potential “respectable” black people who might grow to appreciate the GOP? Why aren’t they angry that a promising young person had his life stolen away? Why are they more interested in defending a vigilante who was out of line instead of a kid who did “what he’s supposed to”?

I’m sure it isn’t racism. Or hypocrisy. Or pig-headed lack of compassion. Or maybe even just plain evil.

No, it isn’t any of those things.

It’s ALL of them.

If you aren’t taking Trayvon’s side in this matter, fuck you…fuck you hard…and fuck you forever. You’re as dead to me in spirit as Trayvon is corporeally.

17
Jan
11

Crowning Achievements and Royal Messes

All right, on this annual celebration of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., let me just keep it simple.

The work that Dr. King spearheaded is still far from over, and in some ways, race relations are worse now than they were in the 1990s and early 2000s. As we celebrate how far we’ve come from the days of Jim Crow and crap like that, let’s remember that many seeds of racism and injustice are still scattered throughout the United States. They continue to sprout weeds of hate, and the only thing they need to flourish is the help of loudmouths with hateful or exclusionary agendas and the complicity of everyone else in not shouting them down.

Also, let’s remember that as great a man as King was, two things bear noting:

  • He was also a flawed man, and has plenty of skeletons in his closet, so let’s not deify him. We need to honor his vision and leadership, not pretend he was a saint.
  • He wasn’t the only key figure in the early Civil Rights Movement, and others (whether they agreed or disagreed with him and whether they used the same or different tactics) achieved as much as he did, perhaps more in some ways.

Finally, let’s all learn to practice notions like kindness, listening, justice, fairness, peace and other things that folks like Jesus Christ told us to hold to…and let’s practice them on all people, not simply those who look like us or like the same things we do. We’re in this ship together folks, and if we don’t learn to work together, we’re going to hit an iceberg and all sink to our doom. No joke.

06
Jan
11

Ebert Goes Beyond the Pale?

The other day, movie critic Roger Ebert, who’s a prolific user of Twitter, longtime husband to a black woman, and pretty socially aware guy generally speaking, posted this tweet:

I’d rather be called a Nigger than a Slave. http://bit.ly/hr7Ti8

The link, as you might guess, being to a story about the upcoming edits to make Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn more politically correct by changing every instance of the word “nigger” in the book to “slave.”

Apparently, he experienced some negative fallout from that tweet, as one can see by a tweet he made the next day that said this:

You know, this is very true. I’ll never be called a Nigger *or* a Slave, so I should have shut the **** up. http://bit.ly/gVRLu0

The link in that tweet links to a post at the “Oh No They Didn’t” site, which likes to break celebrity gossip and take the famous down a peg when they deserve it (and also when they don’t). The ONTD post seemed to have a bit more venom than I think was deserved, in part because it was posted pretty soon after Ebert’s first tweet and accuses him of making no response or apology to the outrage. (Really? You know how much outraged response he got? And you know that he was ignoring it when he probably barely had had the time to process it?)

As I type this, that post still hasn’t been updated to note the he has, in fact, now done exactly that (apologize, that is, and he did that early in the day…and I’m typing this as 5 p.m.). I know that the author of the ONTD post is aware of the fact Ebert posted an apologetic tweet promptly, because the author has responded to comments that pointed out Ebert must read ONTD, since he responded with a retraction of his words. So I guess making him look bad is more fun that updating the post to be accurate and give him credit where it’s due.

But my little rant about fairness aside, what I really want to talk about is the point that seems to have been missed. People visiting the ONTD site made comments like Ebert has no right to use the word “nigger” and he won’t ever be called one so he should shut the fuck up about the issue. Some even suggested he had no right to comment on the deletion of the N-word from Twain’s book (which makes no sense) and many pointed out (rightly so) that being married to a black woman doesn’t make him a black man or entitle him to throw around the N-word.

Thing is, he didn’t “throw it around.” His use of the word had a context.

Moreover, the outrage misses a very important point: That Roger Ebert is right.

I’m sorry if this loses me some readers (quite a lot of whom are black, in fact). But in addition to making a legitimate comment on the stupidity of removing the N-word to sanitize a book for modern political correctness and dilute its positive message about treating people as people (Twain was a pretty racially aware and socially minded guy, especially for his times)…well…wouldn’t most black people indeed (granted, Ebert isn’t one and never will be) rather be a nigger than a slave?

It seems to me that such a sentiment is sort of implicit in Ebert’s tweet. To be called a slave means you probably are a slave, and that’s a life that is horrific and demeaning in its entirety. To be called a nigger is demeaning, to be sure, but it is an insult, not a lifestyle that is forced on you. To have the N-word flung at you is a sign of hatred but it also is often a sign of fear. That’s not healthy, but I think most black people would rather be insulted for being seen as scary (as screwed up as that mindset of many non-blacks is) than to be enslaved.

In fact, I daresay that if Samuel L. Jackson had tweeted “I’d rather be called a nigger than a slave” people would be saying “Hell yeah!”

Yes, Ebert took a risk making that tweet, and he regrets it. And it’s true that he doesn’t know what it feels like to be a black man. But I’ll tell you this much: He’s a lot closer to knowing than most of the annoying white “I’m liberal so I can’t be racist” people slamming him right now. I, too, am married to a black woman and while this doesn’t make me black either, nor allow me to totally understand the black experience, I know a lot about how racism affects black people. I’ve seen its effects on my wife and Son of Blue, and one day I will see it affect Little Girl Blue.

Tell me, honestly, if you’re black and read my blog: Would you rather be a slave or be considered a [insert the N-word here because if I use it again I might be labeled a racist by an ONTD fan or Huffington Post devotee]?

And if your answer is the same as Roger Ebert’s, does his tweet diminish the value of that thought simply because he is white?

It’s going to be really hard to have racial discussions if we jump down a man’s throat for trying to say something meaningful and perhaps coming off wrong because he only had 140 characters in which to express himself.

I’d rather be called a Nigger than a Slave.
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.

15
Jan
10

Hatin’ On Haiti

So Mrs. Blue and I go to a diner for breakfast this morning. An old boxcar diner, where there isn’t much distance between you and the other folks, and you get quite the cross-section of humanity dispersed among 10 or so rotating stools.

At the end of the boxcar, Man A says, “So, how much are we sending to Haiti now to help them?”

Man B: “Hundred million, I guess.”

Man A: “One hundred million dollars to help Haiti? Great. Like they were there for us helping after 9/11.”
_________________________

This logic just floored me, on several levels.

First off, what aid was Haiti, one of the poorest nations on Earth, going to give us after terrrorists took down the World Trade Center twin towers? They don’t have money. Oh, maybe they could send in their vast numbers of med-evac helicopters and transport injured New Yorkers to their top-notch Haitian medical facilities?

Second, how exactly can we scoff at their current tragedy and try to even compare it to 9/11? Less than 5,000 people, if I recall, died in that terrorist attack. This earthquake took out more than ten times that number of people in Haiti. The 9/11 attack happened in a nation with great emergency response, and while there was dust and other ill effects for months thereafter, at least we didn’t have to worry about dead bodies rotting in the streets all across the city because there were not enough people or infrastructure to cart them away.

Haitians, already forced to live in poverty thanks to how we and other nations have butt-fucked them for years, including we here in the U.S. propping up corrupt regimes there, now have the threat of disease on top of everything else, and the stench of death literally hanging in the air.

I’m not saying that we can help the entire world, but it seems like we have all sorts of willingness to, say, help out nice looking Asiatic folks when a typhoon or tsunami strikes, because we might vacation there one day. But no one vacations in Haiti.

And we throw open the doors for white or very pale tanned Cubans when they make it to our shores, but we turn the Haitians away and make them row back sometimes in their own rickety boats.

Yeah, sweet.

Let’s let 50,000 dead go untended, and leave the multitude of others, injured or perhaps close to death themselves, just be damned because they aren’t pretty enough for us. Because they’re too poor to be bothered with.

Or maybe because you’re stupid enough to believe Pat Robertson when he tells you their suffering is because of  pact with the devil made centuries ago to free themselves from the French. No matter that Pat totally got his history wrong and didn’t even know who was controlling them. No matter that it essentially suggests that one of the most successful slave revolts in history couldn’t possibly have succeeded with the help of Satan because they’re just a bunch of stupid Negros and always have been.

Yeah, let’s dehumanize them some more.

Not only are they trash, but they’re also just this side of being demons, right?

If that’s what you believe, and if you can turn a blind eye to suffering so close to our own borders, in a nation we messed up (and in very recent history, I might add), then shame on you. Because you don’t have the love of anyone in your heart, then, certainly not the light of Jesus.




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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