Talking About Race
Some days it feels to me that I have spent my lifetime talking about race. Since I'm almost 60, I think it's time to share some of my thoughts about the current state of the nation with respect to race.
My principal thought is that far too many of us think the job is done. If there is anything that the GOP primaries should have taught us it is that significant portions of America still do not recognize how pervasive racism is. When we can discuss public policies which have a far greater impact on minorities, the job is not done. When we can consider a candidate who is constantly uttering pronouncements based on the worst racial stereotypes, the job is not done. When we can whine about entitlement programs, a culture of dependency, and illegal immigration, without acknowledging that the past policies and practices of this nation "set up" these "problems," the job is not done.
My second thought is that the dialogue has to be a two-way street. Each side must listen respectfully to the other and do some profound introspection, what my father used to call "contemplating the lint in your belly button." There will be hard truths for both sides to digest. There may be things which each side of the fence is simply going to have to accept -- things that at present they want to change.
My last thought is this: we may not have much time left to get the job done if we want to survive as a nation.
SOME GOOD LINKS
The Congressional Black Caucus
Dr. Stephen Caliendo Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry The Epistelmology of Race Talk
MHPShow Saturdays @ 10 am MSNBC
Dr. Charlton McIlwain RaceProjerct.org The Project on Race in Political Communication
Goldie Taylor The Goldie Taylor Project
Dr. Monica Williams Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism
The Angry Black Woman
Black in Public. ..
It’s Not All About Race: Sometimes it’s Not Even About You
Anne W. Nelson
16 November 2011
One should not misconstrue the title. I do not assert that it is never about race. I am not contending that the USA is a post-racial society. I am suggesting that we learn to better identify the factors involved in human behavior.
The title comes from an incident that occurred in my life in 1994 or 1995. My husband and I had gotten up way before dawn and driven to a Pick-It-Yourself place northwest of Houston. On the return trip, we pulled into some fast food place for lunch. After he placed our order, my spouse said
“Roll up your window. I’m going to turn on the air conditioning so the fruit won’t spoil.”
I was seated with my back toward the door, facing my husband Ron. I have SLE, and the hours picking in the sun had started my joints to aching. As I twisted in my seat, my shoulder popped and began to hurt like the dickens. With every crank of the window handle (old car), it felt as if someone were stabbing a knife into my shoulder blade. I was wincing from the pain.
There was a crepe myrtle hedge in the median strip between the drive-through lane and the parking lot, which hedge started at about my shoulder. In my peripheral vision, I caught movement. All I perceived was human legs of more than one person coming across the parking lot diagonally, presumably to the restaurant. I was frankly not interested in anything but getting the window up and being able to stop torturing my shoulder.
When I had the window about 1” from being closed, I heard a young male voice say “Racist white bitch.” I looked up then, to see what was going on. What I saw, to my surprise, was a group of about 4 or 5, maybe 6 young Black American guys, probably in the 13 -15 age range, staring directly at me. One was giving me the finger, one made a similar gesture with his forearm, and one had his face all screwed up, apparently in imitation of the expression on my face.
Shocked into paralysis, I wanted to say something, but they were gone before I recovered my voice. Granted we are dealing with teenagers, who have a tendency to think the whole world revolves around them, so I can easily dismiss any erroneous presumption on their part that either my facial expression or my rolling up of the window, or both, were related to their presence, proximity, or appearance in my field of vision. It never occurred to me, and I still do not believe it plausible, that they spontaneously decided to lambast me unless they made such assumptions. I suspect that because of the one guy who had his face all screwed up. However, I must allow for the possibility that they were initiating a condemnation of me, without regard to what I was doing. I just think it unlikely.
In the moment I looked up and realized they were speaking about me, I became, at least in their minds, I think, that proverbial white woman who crossed the street to avoid Black males. It was not a feeling I enjoyed at all.
Immediately, I also realized that for every white woman who crossed the street to avoid black males, there were probably also white women who crossed the street for a reason related to the males, but not due to their skin color, and another white woman who crossed the street for reasons completely unrelated to the males. A couple of examples might be in order.
What would be a reason related to the males, but not related to their skin color? Perhaps they were spread out across the whole sidewalk and showing no signs of moving over to give her room to pass. Perhaps they were looking at her and then whispering behind their hands and laughing. So maybe she didn’t feel like putting up with potential hassle or verbal abuse. Of course, some will say “Oh that’s an excuse. It’s really about their skin.” To them I say, “You can’t know that she wouldn’t have crossed the street to avoid a similarly behaving group of white males. Or even a similarly behaving group of white females.” As I get older, and less steady on my feet, I’m not inclined to fight with anyone for sidewalk space. They can have that sidewalk; I’ll cross the street, especially if I’m tired, hurting, or had a bad day and my nerves are on edge. The latter is important because on those days, I’m liable to bop anyone who hassles me with my purse, and I really don’t need to deal with an assault charge!
Finally, let’s look at a reason completely unrelated to them in any way. Suppose the woman got off the bus at the other end of the block where the stop is, and every night, she comes down to this corner and crosses the street because her house is in that direction. She does this whether there are Black guys, white guys, females of any skin color or nobody at all approaching her.
I thought about those young men in 2008, wondered If they were voting for the first time, and if they had children to whom they told the story of the white woman who made faces and rolled up her window when she saw them coming across the parking lot. Part of the reason I thought about them was that I was not an Obama supporter, but a Hillary supporter, and I heard “racist bitch” more than once, and “racist C _ _ _” at least once. To me, the C-word is exactly the same as the N-word.
I ended up writing in a ticket rather than voting for Obama. Primarily I was so put off by the outrageous sexism I saw from both parties that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either. To be honest, I could never vote for the Republican platform under present conditions, because I consider it to be both sexist and racist. Secondarily, I had misgivings about Obama for reasons ranging from his healthcare plan proposal to something he said on television that made me feel he was not suitable as his party’s leader to what I saw as being so eager to compromise with Republicans that I feared he would give in on too many issues that were important to me. As it now stands, others have come to criticize him for exactly what I believed might be his weakness.
I was told I “owed” him my vote “as a Democrat” “because Hillary asked you to vote for him.” Let’s be realistic. I live in Texas. My first Presidential vote was 1972. In the primary that year were George McGovern and George Wallace. Imagine for a moment that Wallace had gotten the nomination. Would I have owed him my vote “as a Democrat?” “Oh well, Obama is the same as Hillary!” No, he was not then, and he is not now. To a 1970s feminist such as myself, there was always something about his campaign that smacked to me of a man with a resume half as long and a list of accomplishments half as long thinking he was more qualified and more entitled to the nomination simply because he was a man.
I sat in an AOL political chat room one night and watched as the son of a very famous detective novelist patiently explained that the fact that 80% of the South Carolina Black voters supported Obama was not “reverse racism,” but a pride and excitement that a Black candidate finally had a real shot at the nomination, and a chance of becoming President, an exhilaration that their people had finally “come to the table.” I did not disagree with this analysis. I was stunned and appalled when less than five minutes later, this same man sneered at me, “You just want a vagina.” What? Women cannot have the same kind of pride and excitement, even exhilaration that THEY have finally “come to the table?” If I “just wanted a vagina.” I would have voted for Sarah Palin. However, policies, platform and even character count with me.
I cut my teeth on politics. My mother’s mother’s father and brother both served in the Texas Legislature. Her brother was the mayor of Bells, Texas, and his best friend was “Mr Sam.” I knew Texas was not “turning blue” no matter what I did with my vote. Indeed, it did not, by about a million plus votes. Still I was excoriated for “wasting” my vote. That IS my right.
Now let’s look at who I wrote in as my symbolic boycott vote: Barbara Jordan for President, Ann Richards for VP. Why them? I had the great honor of knowing both personally, although not intimately. I respected them, admired them. I knew I would not live long enough to see an all female ticket of women I respected and admired. So I made one up.
My central point is that I believe that the next step in moving toward a post-racial society is for all of us to re-examine some of the thoughts that go through our minds, and the intentions that go through human hearts, then take a deep breath and a leap of faith.
Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Conflicts
While I personally define race as "the human race," I recognize that other people use the word to categorize by skin color, language background, sometime religious tradition, national origin, or ethnic/tribal group. It is, I think, important to recognize that some of these usages of the word cover conflicts which are less about skin color and more about the other kinds of differences. Two examples should suffice.
When my mother lay dying in the hospital, one of the doctors in the ICU would come into the room, and if my brother were present would look only at my brother when he gave an update or discussed issues regarding my mother. If only myself and my husband were present, he would address my husband and make eye contact with him. My husband told him "It's her mother, not mine. Talk to my wife." If I were alone in the room, this doctor usually asked where my brother was. When he simply had to address a member of the family and I was the only option, he spoke down to me -- once telling me that I would feel better if there were no monitor in the room, while I was telling him that I wanted a monitor. I told him that by watching the trend, I had a better notion of when the end was coming. He proceeded to argue that I was seeing only one point in time. Uhm, Doctor, I have written papers in time series analysis techniques, but more basically, if the monitor doesn't provide you with this information, why do you bother having it? Do you think I'm not as intelligent as you and can't interpret it correctly? AH! You must! Basically, Doctor, it's like this: one need not have the IQ I have -- which I am sure is as high or higher than yours, thank you very much -- to know that my mother was slipping from life. And soon. I had been watching the process for six long weeks, and the night before your boss told us that if, after the compression device was removed, my mother was still not getting sufficient oxygen into her lungs, it would be hours. The device was removed this morning, and it is now supper time. I was looking at the monitor when I heard some sound that suggested she might be drawing her last so I could call my brother into the room so he could be there. If I was glancing at it frequently, it was because I frequently heard pauses in her breathing. You don't have to have a medical degree to interpret that. I suspect my Colonial ancestors frequently mouthed the phrase "It won't be long now."
He then proceeded to criticize me, saying that every time he walked by my eyes were glued to the monitor., not my mother's face. Mind you, I was holding her hand and talking to her, and the monitor was right over her face, so I'm not sure how he could where my focus was. What I do know is that my mother was not conscious and would have no idea where I was looking, that I was never, at any time, "glued" to the monitor, and I have memorized my mother's face over a lifetime (57 years at that point), and I would rather NOT remember her face as it was with a breathing tube taped onto her face and the grayish blue complexion of impending death. Where I was often looking was at the curtain to the side of her face, at the clock, or inside my head with memories of her in better times and health. Clearly this doctor has not studied eye movements and body language! Looking up and left is memory recall. Guess where the monitor was! I was however NOT "glued to the monitor" but focused on my visual memory of Mother. I bring up this tale because this doctor was of Armenian descent by his name, possibly Muslim. He may think I was a racist. I know he was a sexist, and that brought forth 100% of the conflict between us.
A second example involves Hispanics who bid on my tree cutting and yardwork. First, every single one of them either told me some total BS, apparently assuming women don't know anything. The most egregious was the man who told me that the pines were "trash trees" nobody would want the wood. Excuse me, but I am pretty sure that every single stud in my house is Texas pine! I am aware of the mills throughout East Texas that process these pine trees for lumber, plywood, telephone poles, and bark mulch. Second, most of them, again, addressed my husband instead of me, despite the fact I had called them, I had told them that my brother and I own the house and introduced my husband as my husband (so they would not mistake him for my brother). Lastly, most of them wanted to define the project, instead of listening to what I wanted done. One of them wanted to cut down a bunch of yaupons in order to get to the pines, didn't want to treat the tree with poison ivy growing on unless we removed the poison ivy. OK well we could certainly cut it at ground level and dig out the roots, but how could we remove it above the level of our arms' lengths? Isn't that what one pays a professional to do, and shouldn't they have the equipment to do it? When I took a bid for grass sodding, I did not want to sod the yard from edge to edge. I just wanted someone to till the ground and plant plugs where there was no grass, not one next to another, but a few inches apart allowing them to grow together and reducing our costs. This guy kept coming back to bringing in three pallets of grass or more. To top it all off, I said "I don't want to rip out the St Augustine that's already growing" and pointed to a runner amidst the Bermuda grass. "That's not St. Augustine" he says. I look at my husband who is also looking incredulous, and I reply. "Yes. It. Is." Now even if I didn't know the difference? There were clearly two DIFFERENT types of grass. However, I mowed and edged the St Augustine lawn at this house for decades, and I know what St. Augustine looks like. Even as a small child I swept up the edged runners and raked the mown grass, and here's this guy treating me like a gullible, ignorant fool!
Now I know that Americans, especially white Americans have a strong image of being racists and culturally insensitive. The Ugly American is one of my favorite books. I am fully aware that many of our international conflicts are stem from our arrogance and rudeness about other cultures.
I am, however a strong proponent of learning about other cultures. So I know that a Hispanic who doesn't look me in the face is not lying, but expressing respect, according to cultural tradition. I know better than to offer my right hand to shake hands with a Muslim.
However, cultural respect is a two way street. With the exception of some of the extreme right wing, modern American white women do not expect to be spoken to as if they are ignorant of technology, medicine, statistics, agricultural and arboreal practices, industries that make up a significant portion of the state economy, banking, finance, or any other traditionally "male" domain. Nor am I inclined to defer to your culture on this issue. If you want my business, I suggest that you learn MY cultural traditions. If you don't want it, continue to insist on yours.
I am always open to someone telling me I have stepped over a line. I'm not so keen on the assumption I did it deliberately, nor on the exchange of looks between two people without the explanation of what I said or did that was offensive. The latter I get sometimes from Blacks. Just looking at each other without enlightening me does not make for progress.
5 June 2012 Giving up White Privilege
Recently a Black woman said something to me about "more whites giving up white privilege." I told her I wasn't exactly sure what that meant or how it was done, but I'd be happy to have a discussion with her on it. I'm waiting.
Today, one of the most enlightening FB pages I follow posted about forgiveness being a one-sided issue, with Blacks forgiving whites but not vice versa. Then they asked what had Blacks done to be forgiven for. Well, collectively, nothing, which may be why one doesn't see wholesale "White forgiveness"of Blacks. So maybe the poster answered her own question about Whites as a group haven't forgiven Blacks as a group. There is no need.
Individual Blacks, yes, they commit offenses to individual whites. What human being never does anything to be forgiven for? Forgiveness for those offenses is unlikely to be done publicly. After all when one of my friends commits an offense against me, I don't take out a full page ad in the Sunday paper to announce that I have forgiven that person. Why would I do something public just because the offender is Black? To my way of thinking, forgiveness is about the spiritual peace of the forgiver. Since every single person who has offended me to the level of requiring forgiveness for me, and frankly I don't offend all that easily, is no longer in my life, I rarely even tell them about about forgiving them. For some of them, it would be pointless, as I am pretty sure they would reject the notion I didn't deserve the abuse they slung at me. For some of them, it's simply impossible because I don't know where they are any more.
The one person I did "tell," I wrote a letter which I suspect she tossed in the trash when she saw who it was from. Why did I write it knowing that was the probable event? Very simply, I could not find peace within until I made my best effort at outlining to her the precise nature of her abuse of me and how angry (hurt) I had been. If she trashed it, I have no control over that. If she read it and scoffed, I have no control over it. However I stood up for myself at last, as I did not do at the time.
Believe me I understand the anger in the Black community. They have centuries of abuse heaped upon them, and it still goes on. Every time a Black is found to have spent years or decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit, the anger is fueled by the injustice. Every time a Trayvon Martin is killed, the anger is justifiable. What, you may be asking, does this have to do with giving up white privilege?
I did not ask to be born with white skin. In fact if you use the old "one drop of Black Blood"argument, I am decidedly a woman of color. Whether it is African color or Asian color I do not know. How do I know that I have "a drop of blood" of color? Very simply, I have both B+ blood and lupus.. B+ blood type occurs in 25% of Asians, 18% of Blacks in the US 21% in Sudanese and only 9% of Caucasian Americans .Lupus is much more common in Blacks than in Caucasians.
I hereby renounce white privilege, even though I have to say that, as a woman, darned little of that privilege has ever accrued to me. What would have accrued to me on the basis of my education was lost due to lupus and the employer's market of the mid-80's.
The perfect job for me was given to a white male with much less education. The project I was counting on for promotion -- which I dreamed up and began executing in my spare time, was taken from me & given to a Black woman 13 years younger, just out of college when she threatened an EEO suit.
I don't blame her for her frustration at being shunted into a job beneath her abilities. What I fault her for was her failure to see that I had been shunted into the same job with much higher qualifications than she had and her presumption that a comment I made about this failure, saying she had just A B.S. from "a third tier historically black college in Mississippi" was not racist.
It was simply a description of the college she attended -- no different than if I had groused about the white male who got my dream job with a B.S. in Business from "a second tier public college." Actually I did grouse about that, but neither he nor she overheard it.
Was I better qualified than either of them? Let's see. I had a B.A. from a University ranked among the top 100 in the nation, Master's program in Demography from a University also ranked among the top 100, an MBA program from the same University where I got my B.A., and all but 1 course to be ABD in a Doctoral Program in Applied Statistics.
Ah, you might say, pointing out that it was a historically Black college was racist.. Did I say anything that implied I think Black colleges or Black students were inferior? No, it's the "third Tier"and the BACHELOR'S level of education that made her less qualified. The part that made me mad? That she discounted me and my education and the fact I was also being discriminated against (and I promise you I had already spoken to an attorney about an EEO challenge to my being stranded in a Customer database input job and was told "employers simply don't take gender cases seriously the way they do racial discrimination cases"). That she was so angry about discrimination against her that she screwed me when she demanded to be given my project (which was 80% done already). She pointed out her B.S. was in Computer Science, and I doubt she had the slightest idea what kind of education I had. My MBA concentration was in Operations Research and Systems Analysis.
How the hell was she more qualified to do that project than I was? Why was I grousing about her to begin with? She had told me "You stick me with the grunt work while you work on a programming project." and asked me to assign it to her. Yes, I WAS working on that project -- ON MY LUNCH HOURS. I conceived it,. I had done the majority of the work on it. All it needed was finishing up and polishing. Why should I assign it to her? Moreover, I spent 8-12 hours a day doing the same damned gruntwork she was bitching about!
Had she been driven to prove herself legitimately, she could easily have looked around and found at least three other similar projects that needed doing. I know because I had them on a list of things that needed to be addressed.. If she'd even asked, I'd have suggested she look at the list. It was her DEMAND that I turn over my project to her that made me dig in my heels.
To me, her acquisition of my intellectual property, which was to be MY ticket out of that sinkhole was no different from someone taking my mostly written dissertation and finishing it and turning it in as her own work. You bet I was furious!
I forgave her because she was young and her anger was justified. I found another way out. I asked to take the Programming Aptitude Test (IBM). to apply for a position in Programming. The person who gave me my results told me "I've been doing this for 10 years, and you had THE highest score I have ever seen on this test." Last I heard the young woman who stole my project was still a Customer Service Rep going around to customers and smiling at them in a an even more brainless (but slightly better paid) job even more irrelevant to her education. She who laughs last laughs loudest.
Anger only takes one so far. Shortcuts cause resentment. Bitching and complaining make people tired of hearing you. Throwing accusations of racism at people who are doing their damnedest not to be racist simply because their skin is white pisses them off. Some of them will say "well since I'm accused, why not?" Not me. I'm taking a different tack. I'm a woman of color. My DNA proves it. So just leave me out when you think of "whites."
27 August 2012
I recently had the opportunity to get to know some illegal immigrants from Mexico. They hail from San Luis Potosi, and they have been in the US 12 years. They are trained as welders, but without papers they cannot get that kind of work. So they spend most of their days hanging out on a local street corner which is a kind of informal day labor employment agency. They end up mostly getting yardwork.
The three I met were a pair of brothers whose English isn't too good, speaking wise, although they understand what you say, and a cousin of theirs who speaks excellent English. Yes, I hired them to help with my yard. I could afford them. I could not afford the "professional" services.
The first day we just hired one brother, not understanding the other guy who had run up to the car holding up two fingers hopefully was his brother. He came and my husband gave him two tasks. First, to organize and clean up an area where we had stacked some gardening supplies, some particle board shelves (many months ago so they were now largely garbage, and miscellany, like the A/C outside unit we''d just had replaced. The second was to dismantle the A/C so we could get it in the car and take to the recycle center and sell it. That was all the instruction he needed. He came once and asked for heavy duty plastic bags. When the few hours we had engaged him were up, the area was neatly organized, the A/C unit was dismantled. We gave him a sandwich and water and ice and talked to him over lunch. Rather, I talked to him, because my Spanish is better than my husband's. He has two other brothers living in Dallas, and his parents are back in San Luis Potosi. I didn't ask his age but going by appearance I'd say mid to late twenties. We asked him to come the next morning early, before it got too hot, and bring his brother.
They showed up on their bicycles and got right to work clearing out the undergrowth in the back. Then, without being told, they mowed the grass below.
The following morning, the guy we originally hired showed up with his cousin, explaining that the afternoon before, they had gotten another job, just a couple of blocks away, and his brother had gone there, and they had told that person they were coming to work for us for a couple of hours. Since they came to us from 7 am to 9 am, and then they worked the other job until 5 pm, they were putting in long days, in horrendous heat and humidity. I know what it was like because I was out there working all day myself, although in the shade, and I was sweating like a pig.
For the next couple of days, they repeated the process. Then we woke to a morning where it looked like rain. Turns out it was pouring where they lived, which is less than a mile away. All we got at our house was a light sun shower, and it fell only on a oval in the backyard for about 20 minutes.
I hope to hire them again later this week. They work hard, worth every penny we pay them, They dug holes to plant trees, ran the chipper, hauled trash out to the curb for the heavy trash pickup, mowed, cleaned the sidewalks, brought materials to me so I wouldn't have to get up (I had told the first young man about my illness and that my knees were very bad). All of them treated me like their grandmother -- holding out a hand to steady me when I walked, giving me the sharper tools and using the less sharp ones, in short being solicitous of my needs. They showed up on time, stayed for the time agreed upon, and then went on to another job.
In contrast, there is a legal immigrant that does handyman repairs for my brother, and sometimes he is sent over to do things here. He is eastern European, and the worst kind of racist. I can hardly stand to talk to him because his political views are so misinformed and he constantly makes comments about N*s and Mexicans. They're all lazy, on welfare, want handouts. He will start a job and then disappear for days, weeks, even months. He never calls first to see if it's convenient. He just shows up, usually about 5 pm and then is here until 10 or 11 pm. He spends about half the time complaining about Obama and asking us music and movie trivia. He has been known to call and say he'll be there today/tomorrow/Tuesday and then never show up.
I will say this for him. He does terrific quality work, especially carpentry. However replacing the front and back doors and screen doors has literally taken months. And the screen door on the back doesn't have a door handle yet. Ok, so going outside is just a question of pushing on it. Getting inside however, particularly if I'm in a hurry to get to the bathroom, is difficult with my arthritic hands. Fortunately, there's a crossbar I can press down on and pull toward me. It's not easy for me, but I can do it most of the time.
He argues with me over everything I want to do. As long as we have lived in this house, water that gets on the bathroom floor flows out of the bathroom onto the wooden floors. We have replaced the wood in front of the bathroom door I don't know how many times in 55 years. Now that we are remodelling the entrance to the bathroom to accomodate a wheelchair, I want to put tile flooring in that area, about 15 square feet. He argued with me about that. He b ought the tile on clearance from someone he does business with out by his apartment, and they only had a little left. I asked him to go back and get enough to do the area. I don't think he has, and the remaining part is probably gone.
He argued about the sink cabinet I bought from IKEA, about the sink having the fixture on the side, about the faucet I want so I can use it when seated on the toilet, bidet style. The cabinet is only 10"deep, instead of 25" This gives me more room to maneuver in the narrow space. Like most people who aren't handicapped, he doesn't think about the utility of items for the handicapped.
I put three small lights in the hall, to get rid of dark spaces in front of my bedroom, and at the other end of the hall. I bought the fixtures. He broke the cover on one, and the fixture has been dangling without a cover now for three weeks. He says he bought the replacement, but we have yet to see it.
The man is an alcoholic, but he's in denial about it. He also spends a good deal of time talking about how there's no good beer in the USA. I don't drink beer. I don't give a puppy fart. Have you ever noticed how alcoholics spend so much time talking about booze? he just got a DUI, his first in 15 years. Claims he concentrates more when he's driving drunk than when sober.
On the other hand, he's fiercely loyal to his "people," meaning my brother and sister-in-law and me and my husband. He forgives easily even I speak harshly, as I did the other day when I told I have known black people whose spit he isn't worth. Recently when a guest in my home mistreated me and my husband, he was ready to make life hell for her. My brother and I both told him to stay out of it, but make no mistake, he loathes her. "She's so rude and thinks she's so much better than everyone else. How in the world could she treat you the way she did and live with herself? You're so kind and were way too good to her."
As much as he gets on our nerves with his politics and racism and frankly, his alcoholism, I like the man. He's very well educated about history, languages, and lot of other things. He thought the world of my mother, bonding with her over baseball and basketball. When he finishes a job, you know it will be good for years. My step-nephew's room is a piece of art. You'd think you had stepped aboard an old time sailing ship when you look at the ceiling. And, if there is an emergency, like the ceiling falling in on my mother's bed, or a broken water pipe making a pond in the yard, he will show up and fix it fast.
He claims to know about 4 or 5 black people as well as he knows myself and my husband. I doubt it. I don't think you can know that many and realize that there is something wrong in your own head when you claim they're all lazy, ignorant, on welfare, and looking for a handout. He even claims Obama is ignorant. Now Obama got through college and law school. I don't know any ignorant people that can do that. Granted, I've known lawyers without ethics and lazy lawyers, and lawyers who can barely do their jobs, however, none of them are ignorant.
The point of this story is that I hear criticism of Blacks and Hispanics from a lot of people like this handyman. In terms of work ethics, hard work, and congeniality, I'd take the three illegal immigrants any day. I like them as people too, and I have yet to hear one word from them about whites being racist or unfair. They understand when I tell them I can't afford to hire them for a full day or several full days, and then they worry about being unfair to me when they get a full day's work elsewhere!
LISTENING ABOUT RACE
Being a white woman, I hear a great deal from other whites about race. It runs the gamut from old-fashioned Southern-style through transplanted subtle forms of racism to "liberal guilt" to people who seem to have come as close to being non-racist as it's possible to be when one is brought up in society which runs on racism. Let's put that in terms of a continuum, shall we?
| | | | | | | | |
Big Racist Racist Racist Early Mid- Final FS, FS,
Racist Hiding in Denial on Edge stage Stage Stage Step Step
It But of Reco- Reco- Reco- 2 3
Committed Changing vering vering vering
to Racism Racist Racist Racist,
In the Early Stage, listening sometimes alternates with sliding back into behaviors of prior states, a pattern often seen when people are trying to leave bad behaviors (drinking, smoking, dysfunctional thinking patterns) behind them. the listening I've also seen episodes of frustration, lashing out in anger which are not reversions to the racist thinking of the past, but confusion over what is expected from them. This, I think, is still a remnant of the "us vs. them" phenomenon, but in a new framework. Instead of "us" the ones I feel safe with and understand and am like, vs. "them" the threatening, different ones we might "lose" to, it often seems it is more about who is going to define the solution to the problem.
It also seems that the listening begins when some prejudiced belief about the other race is stripped of reality and confronted with overwhelming evidence that that belief is false. Sometimes, from what I have been told, it is the result of an act of kindness, unexpected, timely, and profoundly surprising.
The listening process intensifies as a white moves to the right. It becomes more frequent, lasts longer. More thought is given to what one is hearing.
How does one move to to the MId-stage? The critical issue, as far as I can see, is that there is a realization that "we are all in this together and we do need to solve this problem." Then the focus of listening seems to move from "what the problem is and who is going to be in charge of the solution to listening to the ideas about what the solution or perhaps I should say resolution needs to cover.. This includes listening to the depth and breadth of the problem.
The final stage begins when one realizes that the resolution needs to be a joint resolution. Otherwise, there is no resolution, there's just revenge, or continued conflict or, at worst, genocide. Step 1 involves searching out and making connections with those who also believe a joint resolution is the only viable goal. Step 2 involves forming a coalition, even informally, with others on both sides of the fence to devise strategies to excise parts of the problem. Not everyone will work on the same part of the problem. One coalition may work on the problems in say the justice system. Another may focus on the problems in the educational system, and so on. Step 3 begins when conversations about race move beyond the societal level "What do we need to do about the fact blacks are given longer harsher sentences for the same crimes?" to personal, amicable discussions about the most subtle, subconscious racist statements and ideas. As an example, I would really like to know why when a single Black woman blogs about her difficulties trying to find a college educated Black man to date and marry, and I later mention some of her points to another Black woman who has just commented in a chat room on the same topic, that Black woman twists my attempt at sympathizing with her problem into "are you saying Black women aren't as desirable as white women?" and calls me a racist. I was saying no such thing. In fact, the blogger had mentioned that she had met a guy at a speed dating event and made a date. On the date in question, she needed to stay later at work (I think she was a lawyer) and called to suggest a location mid way between their places of employment instead of the one near his job they had originally chosen, only to have him call off the date saying that would require him to spend more time on the road and make him late for his game of pickup basketball. I reported the anecdote and said "I know how maddening things like that can be. When I was in graduate school, I had the same kinds of problems with men always expecting me to put in the extra driving time. Now how that becomes any kind of a statement about Black women's worth, or even a statement about Black men, as opposed to men in general, is beyond me. I did ask her, and she said "I don't bother explaining things to racists like you. You wouldn't get it." So if anyone reading this can explain it to me, I'm listening. I already get that IF (big conditional word there) I had said "Black women aren't worthy" or implied it, or IF I had said "Black men are selfish and demanding," that would have been racist. Sympathizing with another woman over dating difficulties and relating similar incidents from other women's lives that they wrote about, as well as my own experiences as a single woman and having that been seen it was seen...well that's the part I don't get.
Mind you, this continuum is a hypothetical construct. Any given person may be in different spaces on given issues. For instance, a white person may have no problem with equal employment opportunities and may have worked toward that goal for decades only to find themselves uncomfortable when one's child becomes best friends with someone from another race or voices the opinion that some Blacks lost their house in the recent sub-prime loan debacle because "they bought more house than they could afford." without considering how loans are structured differently, or how some mortgage companies and real estate brokers manipulated buyers.
The links I have posted on this page are places to listen. It's not comprehensive; there are many other websites, some equally deserving I'm sure. I haven't read them all, If anyone has a recommendation to make , I'd love to hear about it.
Before I end this, I want to say one thing. Listening, like prejudice, is a two way street, one which also encompasses reading body language and understanding the culture and experiences of the other, and the context of the situation. I have been utterly astounded at some comments I have read in blogs or FB pages in which someone says "Them whites think blah blah blah." and the blah blah blah bears not the slightest resemblance to what I think. Dr. King spoke about the content of one's character being the the criterion for judging someone. What am I to say when someone of color assumes what I think or feel on the basis of my skin color? In short, there are race bigots in all skin colors, and there will be no resolution until all of us, of all skin colors acknowledge that and strive toward eliminating it altogether in persons of every race.
I'm going to start off by saying that intellectually, in general, I understand the basic underlying inspirations, motivations, intents, and rationale. There are some specifics however that deeply trouble me. One of these specifics is the commentary that lumps all whites together and seems to imply they are and always completely racist -- whether they (we) know it or not -- and deserve whatever happens to them "come the revolution."
This doesn't bother me out of fear for my life. As a 59-year-old SLE patient without health insurance and unable to now take the medication which controls it due to thrombocytopenia and unable to afford the recommended alternative medication, and being at peace with God, death is the last thing I fear. Lengthy poverty in continued pain and increasing debilitation which robs me of the ability to fully enjoy my life is far more frightening than death! Incidentally, since SLE and B+ blood, which I have is far more common among women of color than in Caucasian women, I suspect that there is a woman of color somewhere in my background somewhere. Whether she is Black, Asian, or Native, I cannot say, and I have not identified her in my genealogy, which goes back 200+ years, depending on the lineage. So either she was a woman of color who "passed" successfully during the early years of this nation, or it is many 100s of years old, maybe even 1000s. I mention this because my genetic genealogy studies have convinced me that ALL of us are of "mixed race" to some degree.
What I look for in anyone's philosophy of life, world view, is, above all, logical consistency and cohesion. What troubles me about this specific aspect of militantism are the following considerations:
1. When a group bemoans, with reason, the conviction of innocent black men and women, the imprisonment of them for crimes whites would get probation or "not guilty" results for, the disparity of sentencing, how is it logically consistent to condemn all whites as "racist devils?"
"White" is no more a sign of unitary thought, behavior, attitude, than is "Black." To know what any individual white thinks, one must listen to that person, observe their behavior, and assess their attitude impartially. Do all American whites carry some vestiges of racism? Probably. It is difficult to escape the environment in which one is raised. However, condemnation of a white who expresses non-racist attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts more than 50% of the time seems to me to be analogous to the old response to charges that the wrong black man was convicted because of unreliable eye witness testimony, or a superficial resemblance to the perpetrator of some crime, or because he was in the wrong place and the wrong time and seized upon by the police as a suspect because of that convenience to them: "oh well, he's probably guilty of something and deserves to be in prison." It is condemnation based on skin color, whichever direction it flows. Moreover, is that white approaches non-racism 90% of the time, what he or she needs is calm, dispassionate enlightenment as to why what he or she did is racist, not "in your face" name-calling.. When a Black man calls me a "racist bitch," and it has happened, what I know first of all is that he is a sexist. It also happened that the time I remember most clearly, the man was fragrantly under the influence of gin (and I don't tolerate abusive language from drunks well), and he was demanding something that was impossible -- which was that I somehow make the owner of the business, who had left for the day and told me over the phone that he'd had a hard day and was not coming back to the office for any reason, come to the office to meet with him right then and there. He was also insisting that he was going to wait there until the owner showed up -- at 5:30 pm when the business closed at 5, and I was tired, in pain, and my husband was sitting down in the parking lot in an unair-conditioned car in 100+ degree heat after HIS long work day in the warehouse. I was in NO mood to put up with verbal abuse. Yes, I confess the "bitch" part PO'd me WAY more than the accusation of racism, but that bothered me too since I had spent the better part of the past hour doing everything within my authority and knowledge to help the guy. I explained to him why I couldn't leave him alone in a business I didn't own; I was a contract consultant and needed the work. I reviewed what I had done to solve his problem: trying to contact the technical expert to see if he could resolve it (he had also left for the day), called the business owner to describe the problem the customer was having and inform him of the customer's desire for immediate resolution, sympathized with the customer's frustration and anger, advised the customer the business owner would not be returning and he should not come in (he first called from his car saying he was on the way over), and explained to him that I could not exchange the piece of equipment because I didn't have either the authority nor the key to the storage area and even if I did, the technical support guy would have to do some programming for the new piece of equipment to work. I told him I was hot (a/c goes off at 5:15 in the building), tired, hungry (hadn't eaten since breakfast), hurting and my ride was here. what option did I have to end the situation except to threaten call the police? Fortunately, the man left when I did, which was my goal. His race had nothing to do with my actions: his verbal abuse, especially the sexism, his inebriated condition, and obdurateness had everything to do with it (although I'm sure he didn't see these personal behaviors as causative). I would have behaved exactly the same way with a man acting the same way he was. That isn't racism.
2. None of us can be responsible for the behavior, attitudes, or thoughts of another person. Yes, my ancestors held slaves. Yes, I think some of them were racists, even after the Nineteenth Amendment passed. I, on the other hand, have spent my entire life, and I remember first questioning the differential treatment of Blacks when I was 2 years old, striving not to be a racist in thought, word or deed. I never held a slave. I never approved of nor knowingly participated in any Jim Crow provisions or actions. I have studied Black Culture, Black History, read Black writers from Malcolm X, Louis Ferrakan. I cannot "fix" or undo what my ancestors did. I can only make a different choice than theirs. Berating me as a "racist" or "white devil" or some of the other negative labels I have seen applied to whites, AS A GROUP, is no different than the whites who see ALL Blacks as "welfare queens" "making bad choices in life." Surely, it is time to distinguish between ineducable racists and people who are working toward eliminating racism, in whatever capacity one is able.
3. Now for the issue of white privilege. I do deny that I have benefitted from having a white skin. However, I think this concept is blown out of proportion to some extent. A few reasons I say this that might be ponder-worthy.. When I entered the University of Texas, as a female, back in the early 70s. I'd have gotten a better financial aid package if I'd had the skills of my schoolmate Earl Campbell. Don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge Earl his chance, and I loved to watch him play, from high school through college.. Nevertheless my college entrance credentials and academic performance outshone his, and every semester I had to struggle to come up with the tuition & fees, which in those days was about a month's rent,, and book \s and supplies. White privilege didn't cover females as thoroughly as "athletic privilege" covered Black males. Another point to consider is that many white families practice primogeniture.. This was true in both of my slave-holding maternal ancestral lines. By the time my grandparents came to maturity, neither of them inherited much more than tlaes of a gracious life and few pieces of china and stemware. My mother's father's first job was at age 6, working in a barber shop sweeping floors and working the big overhead paddle fan that kept the flies off the customers in the Texas heat. In fact, both my mother's grandparents families came to Texas in the 1850-70 timeframe because of the free land, and being basically dead broke. I leave my father out because his ancestors were still in Sweden until about 1880. Granted that getting jobs, good jobs with liveable wages, and an education were easier due to the color of their skin. So I'm not denying that white privilege existed and still exists. What I am suggesting is that the benefits of that were not evenly distributed across white individuals. My mother's father grew up in poverty, due to early widowhood of his mother. My mother's mother, well she was a pampered youngest daughter, but earned parental disapproval for "running off with cousin Dana's beau." So my grandparents started their marriage in severely restricted financial conditions. He was a claims clerk for Southern Pacific when he retired. While I benefit to some extent, I would not have had it so, I did not devise the system. I do not approve of it. I have advocated and done what I could to change it, and continue to do so. To have my privileges thrown up in my face, when I have little power or control over the situation, is a bit like my throwing someone's natural beauty in their face, and beauty has an advantage in this life as well as skin color. So does height. Believe me in this: if I could wave a magic wand and undo the impact of slavery and other racist traditions (and the preference for beautiful people!), I'd be waving that wand like crazy!
11 April 2012 In what context?
The Houston Chronicle carried a story yesterday about a Harris Co, TX JP who was admonished for inappropriate comments. These included asking a black mother "if she were on welfare and expected the government to pay her fine,"
telling a Pakistani mother her son should be "stoned to death,: and asking a Hispanic parent (presumably a mother) "if she had six or seven kids."
He further called a Vietnamese attorney "boy" and told him the records requested by the attorney to defend his client were "none of your (expletive deleted) business."
This beacon of wisdom (JP since 2001 and being challenged in next month's GOP primary) J. Kent Adams released a statement saying that his remarks were taken out of context. He was "trying to find out if the black mother was indigent," "to determine whether the Hispanic woman qualified for MHMR assistance," and "to remind the Pakistani teen that "he was lucky to live in the US where such things as stoning don't take place." Unh hunh. sure
I'm thinking there is no context in which phrasing these questions and comment as they were phrased is appropriate. IF you want to know if someone is indigent, you ask "What is your household income?" To determine if someone is eligible for MHMR services at a discount, you ask "What is your household size and income?" As to the Pakistani teen, perhaps he simply could have asked the young man "what do you think will happen if you go back to Pakistan to live with your uncle? " and followed the boy's answer with "Do you think that will happen here in the US?" and followed that answer with "Have you considered that living in the United States is a preferable situation and that you would do well not to abuse that privilege?" But no, that would call for "touchy feely stuff" and "kumbayah moments" and we all know the New Breed of Republican considers that "politically incorrect" "psychobabble" "pandering to the evil doers" to be beneath them.
For my part, I consider the more gentle phraseology to be good manners and "good breeding", because my Southern Lady grandmother said so, She also taught me you "catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." JP Adams might think about what his style of questioning and whether it is effective in contributing to a well-oiled, smoothly functioning society.
Sometimes, when one is listening about race, one has to listen to one's self. That sometimes also requires really listening to the reactions of others, instead of dismissing them as "taking my comments out of context."
Liberty and Justice for All