Monday, March 17, 2008

Does Racism Still Exist? - An AverageBro Town Hall Discussion


Last week was a banner week for AB.com, but not necessarily for the reasons I'd prefer. Total unique visitors, total hits, and total comments reached an alltime high, mainly because of two race related posts about Ferraro-gate, and Rebb'n Wright. While I was out of town this weekend at my cousin's wedding (congrats, C), an all-out race war erupted on the comment boards, and the lines (as usual) were clearly drawn on both sides. Blacks insist there's racism, whites generally refuse to acknowledge it, there's no middle ground, and as a result, there's seldom any progress made. I'm not pointing at anyone in particular, but that's the general feeling I got as I browsed through these.

Race has been a constant topic in the news this year, mainly because a black(ish) man is running for President, and lo and behold, has a good chance of winning the Democratic nomination. And predictably, after each and every primary, the cable news talking heads start breaking down the demographic exit poll results and making all sorts of assumptions about what this means about the state of race in America. As if this kinda stuff only matters every four years.

The interactive medium of talk radio is probably where the powder keg of race gets blown up most frequently however. During every commute, I'm bombarded with clueless hosts (usually conservative, but not always) who dissect every issue even remotely related to race by telling black folks to "just get over it, slavery's been gone" and decrying the "cult of victimization". White callers dial in with the same opinion. The occasional black caller tries to inject some balance and gets blasted, dismissed, or hung-up on. It would make for fascinating mindless entertainment if it wasn't so damn painful.

Years ago, as an intern for a major telecom, I was asked to take my manager's place (don't even ask) in a company-mandated racial sensitivity seminar. The whole thing was hosted by civil rights legend C.T. Vivian (ask about him) and was held for three days offsite. Chief among the many exercises we were asked to participate in was the one where Vivian asked the whites (there were about 20 of them and 10 of us "others") to imagine spending a day as a black person. He asked the whites to explain what they thought it would be like. The usual jokey joke/avoid conflict pattern of Corporate American communication started spilling out ("I'd play basketball better", "I'd make a Motown record") and eventually Vivian bought the discussion to a halting screech. Then he told the whites in the room something I'd never really considered before.

"If you woke up black tomorrow, you'd put a bullet in your head by the time the 6 o'clock news came on."

The room fell completely silent and then Mr. Vivian, who hadn't really tipped his hat on just how involved he was in the civil rights movement to that point (although most of the blacks in the room knew his back-story well), unloaded on the whites, explaining to them the nagging day-to-day stuff the average black person has to go through. Not the blatant "nigger this, nigger thats", but the everyday stuff that grates of your soul and dignity for years and years. The sort of stuff most whites would simply dismiss as paranoia.

One common thread, not just on those talk shows, but also on my blog, is that whites seem to only acknowledge racism (if then) when it's something so blatantly obvious (Rutgers, Dog The Bounty Hunter, KKKramer) you can't even deny it. But most people of color (and I'm not just talking blacks) would tell you it's far more subversive than that. And that's what I wanna talk about.

What does everyday racism look like to you?

Since this is really your blog, not mine, I figure it's best to turn this over to you guys. For my minority AverageCommenters, please explain an example of the sort of garden variety racism you experience everyday. Don't just provide the example, tell precisely why you feel this is racism and how it makes you feel as a person. I'm not asking anyone to dredge up painful childhood incidents, I'm talkin' about the stuff that happened to you this weekend, or on the way into the office this morning, or right now as you read this with your nosey-assed boss peering over your cubicle.

For my white AverageCommenters, I only ask that you keep an open mind and don't start immediately jumping to conclusions or labeling people's comments as insignificant or figments of the imagination. Stop, look, listen, and try to expand the horizons of what it's truly like to walk a mile in the shoes of another man.

Please comment early and often, and tell a friend (any friend) to stop by and weigh in as well.

Question: What does modern day-by-day racism look like to you?

66 AverageComments™:

cinco said...

@AB;

I made a promise to take some time off from commenting on my favorite blogs as I was becoming very stressed (and angry)...eventually I will respond to this as this topic is of importance to me.

trey said...

For me, it's the oh-so-blatant questions about "where'd you go to school?" and "who you work for?" that I always get from white co-workers. It's their oh-so-obvious way of asking me "how the hell did you get where you are in your career" without just coming out and saying it.

You could consider this paranoia, but I never have observed a white coleague asked this same thing, and it definitely pisses you off. I guess people oly think I got where I am because I'm black, as if being black automatically helps me with the day to day aspects of the gig.

So yeah, that pisses me off, and it happens way too often.

cube said...

being ignored when you go in a department store and want help, or worse, being followed around.

watching the person in line in front of you being greeted with a smile, and when it's your turn, you barely get eye contact. this makes it feel like your money doesn't matter as much as the next man's.

also, the obvious purse clutching and locking of doors. but that stuff happens to often it doesn't even stress me now. i just laugh, what more can you do?

Anonymous said...

always being asked to show ID when nobody else is.

Ciara said...

I'm a student at a predominately White university so a lot of the racism I feel is real subtle. Walking into a class being the only Black person, feeling as if every answer you give is being scrutinized in someone's head.

People also make assumptions about my major. Most think that I'm in school for business or nursing or fashion design. They assume that my major isn't writing-intensive, which it is.

There was on instance where I was walking on my own campus and this lady was lost and asking for direction. She asked an Asian student and an Indian student but not me. I had to go up to her and ask her whether she needed help. Most people coming to visit my school think that I'm not a student (my school sits in a predominately-Black neighborhood)

Tiffany In Houston said...

If you are a black woman: How did you get your hair like that or even worser (yes I meant that) 'Can I touch your hair??', as if you are a pet.

Another example: I was in my bosses office one day along with another co-wroker and we were discussing the forecast model I am currently building and since I work in the chemical industry the topic got around to gas prices and how much it costs to fill up your tank. THe other guy asks what kind of car I drive and I responded with an Acura TL. My boss comes out of nowhere with "How do you drive that? I wanted one of those." Now my boss knows how much I make. The MF hired me and made the offer. WTF???

However, as usual you just overlook the bullshit. I calmly replied: "Well Dan, I don't have 2 kids and a wife to worry about. When you're single you can buy what you want." *crickets*

He didn't have too much to say after that.

Some of you might not think much about that exchange but when you got some melanin in you, you can't NOT think about that exchange and wonder really what the heezy was going on with THAT. White folks don't have that burden. EVER.

i.l.l. said...

First of all, AB, I really want to thank you for opening the floor this way.

Secondly, I completely co-sign with cinco. It's so damn stressful reading the blogs and accompanying comments. That, in and of itself, is a way I experience racism daily.

Looking at a fluff article Senator Obama did with Us, or Us Weekly (something like that), the comment section quickly erupted into a race war.

My boyfriend sent me an article listing the safest states, and within one page of comments, the inflammatory comments about blacks as the most criminal people came...out of NOWHERE! Completely unsolicited.

Looking at that silly, hipster site where the guys list all kinds of random things WHITE people like quickly turns into an argument about BLACK people. I swear that ish wears me out!

My boyfriend has a friend whose SOLE experiences with people of African descent occurred in a collegiate setting. He still finds the need to ask me about "hood shit" as he puts it. I walk into a room with my iPod, and he asks what kind of "ghetto shit" I'm listening to. I think it is a huge indicator of racism that this man still equates black with some kind of lower-class ghetto criminality even though EVERY BLACK PERSON HE KNOWS is a college student! Most of them are scholarship students. But, of course, that has nothing to do with their intelligence. That's all affirmative action. *rolls eyes*

Mrs. M. said...

Wanting to seriously pass calculus class and going to the teacher for help only to have him tell you no and then proceed to help the Asians and Whites in the class after school. The worst part was that he bragged about in front of a class of predominately Black and Hispanic students, including his dodging the Vietnam draft. My father served and lost MANY friends. Thanks Richard Pell...sorry good for nothing piece of crap teacher.

Given a worse grade for work that you did that was beyond what the teacher asked for and the non-Black person get a higher grade for less work.

Preference given to an employee who is never on site to sit at a better desk and only allowed to sit there after she lost out on a job and had to be reassigned.

Being asked to do heavy lifting and manual labor while pregnant while non-Black employees are allowed desk duty early on.

Chris N. said...

The best example I've heard of modern-day "subtle" racism, is the response that a Black person often receives when making a comment during a "mainstream" company meeting.

In the old days the Bro's comment might have been met with outright derision or hostility, but today, the response will most likely be....total silence.

Latoya Peterson said...

Having people say "Oh, you don't act like a typical black person" and sincerely thinking it was a compliment.

Patiently explaining to someone why certain comments/images/casting decisions are racist, and having those some people dimiss your explanation out of hand, without any evidence to back up their position.

Asking white people to weigh in on racism and getting silence in return.

That incessant grating on your nerves when someone says "oh, that's just a coincidence" when you've personally witnessed/experienced said action multiple times. You draw their attention to it once, and it's a "coincidence" - regardless of the pattern you see because the action happens with some frequency.

Anonymous said...

I don't have an ID, so I guess this post will be anonymous.
This is my first time reading this blog, and I hope that I can contribute a little something. I am a white, 30 yr. old female graduate student in sociology, and I study race and ethnicity. Personally, this has meant beginning the journey to examine the privilege that I have living in this society. I have the privilege to ignore the discrimination that people of color face everyday, I have the privilege to say “that’s just a coincidence”, I have the privilege of not having to think about whether my comments can be racist. It requires a paradigm shift for most whites- you have to accept a reality that is completely unknown to you, or I should say un-experienced. As a white person, I will never experience the hardships that people of color do. As a wife of a black man and a future mother of black children (as they will be seen by most people) I know that I will be faced with things I am not prepared for. I will deal with the problems as they come along, but I want to encourage white people to start taking some of the steps to think about the privilege you have in this society and the ways in which you are perpetuating racism and discrimination without being aware of it. I look forward to reading the rest of the posts!irst time reading this

Thembi said...

In The Last 24 Hours:

I went out for the evening and some little brunette "just loves my hair," and part of the way through the sentence she decides its appropriate to run her fingers thru my naps like I'm a stuffed animal. This was someone I did not know at all. Very twisted because on the surface she loves black people and their hair, but from the inside I'm being shown the respect of a small animal. (imagine if I did that to her hair - I'd have serious Bluest Eye issues)

I love my job and the people there, but today, as happens maybe once a month, someone called me by the name of the OTHER young black woman in our division. We've both been working there almost 2 years and both have brown skin but the similarity ends there. She's maybe 1/2 my size in each direction and has long straight hair (Meanwhile Im sure none of them confuse Randy Quaid with Dennis Quaid...or Popeye with Bluto as in this case).

I'm an ivy league grad, am "well spoken," I "talk white," and am a natural communicator. So why is it that after I sealed a big deal with one of our largest clients, the eloquent negotiations I put forth in the meeting have been turned into a series of neck wiggles and finger shakes everytime someone retells the story? Funny thing is, they're trying to compliment me in telling a story where I sound like Bonquisha from the hood. I had to endure that today, with a smile, because I cant go around holding the deep racism that white people dont think is there underneath the good intentions.

I live just beyond the egde of gentrification, and as I drove along a gaggle of hipster white kids, who have been taking over what is really a black neighborhood, just pranced across the street taking it for granted that Id stop for them. They didnt do it to me because Im black, but everytime that happens (more and more often as the gentrification spreads), I know its because of that self-entitlement of white priveledge...it makes people do things they shouldn't do in a respectful society...and now this is how this black neighborhood is going to live...

If I had to spend just one day black, by 6 pm I'd have a tough choice to make. BUT, Knowing what I know, I wouldn't trade it. I looove being black sooo much. But can you imagine waking up white? Would you shoot yourself?

Sorry so long, but this post was right on time. You're next level for this one, AB.

Anonymous said...

I have worked in the same division of my company for 8 years. There is only one other black guy here, and people are always asking me how my daughter is (i only have a són) and calling me by his name. We look absolutely nothing alike and theres only two of us, but apparently this is too hard for folks to figure out.

spool32 said...

I want to start out by saying that I don't really agree with the way AVB framed the previous few comment threads. I've certainly been lined up on the opposite side of a lot of people here, but I never viewed it as affirmation or denial of the continued existence of racism. Having grown up in backwoods north Louisiana, I'm deeply familiar with the last 30 years worth of racist history in that area, and the stuff that still exists. The days are gone where camping on somebody's land causes the old farmer to ask "Y'all got any niggers with you?" as a condition of letting us sleep there. At least, they're mostly gone, and as the grandfather's generation gives way to the parents who grew up with the civil rights movement, and to my own generation and that of my kids, those kinds of things pass farther and farther into history. My own kids think it's strangely stupid to consider race when discussing friends and school stories... it doesn't enter into their worldview unless - and here's the essential point I've been trying to drive at - unless someone of a different race brings it up. We've been raising them to be colorblind, and it seems that rather than white society dragging them into racist modes of thought (as it was in my own experience as a child) It's their minority peers and the idea of multiculturalism that are driving them away from the colorblind ideal that I thought was supposed to be our shared goal as decent citizens.

The message, though, has apparently changed while I wasn't looking.

I memorized Dr. King's iconic speech in school, and internalized the concept that we should look past skin and toward character as a way to judge ourselves and others. In the past few comment threads, I've tried to put forward this idea as the underpinning of a viewpoint I don't believe the "black" commenters here believe is valid; that racism cuts both ways. And that's how I'd frame the recent discussions... not as affirmation or denial, but as a question of whether we should attempt to put race aside as a consideration, or whether we should continue to look to race as a defining characteristic but act differently when confronted with it.

One thing I've taken from the last few threads is that many here believe it's impossible to "get" racism unless you're subjected to it... but I don't think people understand what a hopeless, disheartening thing that is to hear, for a man who's spent the better part of his life trying to put the final nail in the prejudice coffin... an effort that began four generations ago and only comes to fruition with myself, and more completely, with own children. Now, at this late date, it seems the effort is pointless not only because (I'm told) one can never truly achieve the goal, but because the effort itself is racist.

Furthermore, this hopeless position is by definition lacking in solutions... it assumes the problem is ultimately unsolvable. Unassailable, completely and utterly intractable; it's not even possible to think about the problem, because all the White Person's thoughts are infected with privilege and bias. Even a commenter here has parroted this indoctrinarian line, probably learned from her college classes... white people should ponder their privilege and the ways in which they perpetuate racism - not whether they perpetuate racism. That they do is a given! The question is not whether or not, but how. In such a regime, how can one ever succeed?

One cannot. And that, for those Americans who believe that a colorblind society is a laudable goal, and especially for those who have worked toward that goal for decades, is pretty damned demotivating.

Also... for all of you who are disgusted by internet comments, we're still suffering under the September that Never Ends... in other words, the internet is stuffed full of complete and utter idiots, and unremitting assholes. Ignore them - they're not representative of anything.

A final comment, toward what seems here to be a weird convergence of experience with hair-petting! I think there's a wider issue at work than simple racism... it's more "other-ness" than actual racism, I'd guess. Pregnant women have very much the same experience... their other-ness seems to make people feel that personal space no longer exists, and strangers touch their stomachs in ways no one would normally tolerate. Just a guess, but maybe it's true.

shonufded said...

@spool32:

"In the past few comment threads, I've tried to put forward this idea as the underpinning of a viewpoint I don't believe the "black" commenters here believe is valid; that racism cuts both ways."

Spool, the question was framed this way:

Question: What does modern day-by-day racism look like to you?

Rather than tell us how racism impacted you today, you chose to use your time here to tell us how despairingly we see the struggle, and how demoralizing it is for you to pursue a color-blind society.

If you've experienced racism at the hands of blacks today, or yesterday, well, we're waiting--share!

Thembi said...

@spool32

You can address me directly if you like. I think its interesting youd think that the first time a black person learns what 'white privledge' (and the resulting sense of entitlement) is could possibly be in college. That reality is made clear waaaay waaaaay before race relations becomes academized in one's mind. Its also very clear early on that white priveledge in no way dictates EVERYTHING white people do nor are they all incapable of being racists - there are some real nuts in this world but most people of all races are good people. Thats why most of the examples of racism presented here deal with actions that are not in themselves racist but are motivated by racist thinking, right down to my hair being some form of "otherness", such a freak show that it must be touched.

From where I stand, the answer to "ending racism" has never been for white people to know what racism feels like - thats called revenge. The reason white people don't "get" racism is because no matter what you understand, understanding doesnt hurt like the experience does, and its the hurt that makes one aware (or paranoid). And that's OK. I can admit that I don't know how people would treat me if i were morbidly obese, or a dwarf, or if I wore glasses, but I'd figure it out over time. Why is that so hard to accept about race?

I think that 'race' is a dumb concept, but what about just "experience?". A colorblind society is a great dream, and Im with you, but its hard to live-out when you're reminded of your race (which really isnt a sore spot, at all) 4 times in a 24 hour period.

ebw-educated black woman said...

AB, I've got one for you: My immediate supervisor (who is white) has worked on MLK Day 3 years in a row. Sending e-mails, returning calls, and the whole 9--business as usual. (Keep in mind this is a black-owned company, majority black employees, and everyone else has taken this day off.) He has never done the same on President's Day, 4th of July, Memorial Day, etc. I think it shows just how disrespectful and aloof he is. Could this be interpreted as "subtle" racism, or am I just too sensitive?
Among my everyday experiences, the one that gets me the most as a black woman who works for a black-owned company, in an office that has more black faces than white at this point--is the reaction from caucasian employment candidates when they walk through the door and see all the black folk. Classic. Most of them get that look on their face like they'd just rather skip the interview. One guy even went back outside to check the address of the building! My brothers and sisters of the darker persuasion and I always get a good chuckle at what we now refer to as the "I must be in the wrong place" look. (We're thinking about getting one of those nice, large, guilded frame oil paintings of the owner to hang in the lobby.) :)
My other big gripe: after speaking with clients, vendors, etc. on the telephone--the look on their faces when they finally meet me and realize they've been communicating with a black woman all this time. Adding fuel to the fire is that my first name is one of those fairly common two syllable names that most people attribute to a white girl.(Not Amy, but you get the idea..) My middle name and last name are both french. I have gotten the "you can't possibly be" look from just about every white human resources director, manager,owner, I've ever encountered while looking for employment. I guess my credentials and my name just don't equal "black woman" in corporate America.
Then there is the underlying resentment (which is never well hidden, despite their thinking it is) my white co-workers have toward their black counterparts who happen to have more education or experience than they do. I have experienced this hate so much from white female co-workers (at many different workplaces), I've come to accept it as par for the course. I believe it's because (whether real or imagined) they feel their job is being threatened. The crazy thing is, just about all of my sister friends have had this same experience.
Racism is still a huge issue in corporate America, despite all the money companies now spend on diversity & inclusion training. As a matter of fact, I find that often times, white employees resent having to participate in diversity training. (And of course, among these types--(the "get over it, slavery was a long time ago" crowd), it's their black co-workers "fault" they have to participate in diversity training in the first place!
And I think someone else touched on how white folk think they are paying you a compliment when they tell you "you're not like other black people"--because you're educated, articulate, and intelligent and don't fit their narrow-minded sterotypes? That one just infuriates me!
The list goes on and on....

spool32 said...

@Thembi:

I wasn't trying to single you out :) Tiffany made a similar comment about hair-touching... I think that's a really odd and personal-space invasive thing for someone to do! Also, I didn't mean to imply that you experience it firsthand in college, but that the experience, for many white people, of being taught that it's not possible to think about race without bias unless you're a minority, is one that begins in college. My own experience, of coming from a very small town, from poor parents, in an impoverished area in which whites were the significant minority, was that it felt surprisingly jarring and insulting to be told once I finally made it to college that my skin tone made it inherently impossible to empathize with other people who had suffered injustice!

I'm not sure why the very sensible idea that a) You can't really "get" somebody else's experiences unless you share them at least somewhat, and b) the fact that a) is true doesn't invalidate your opinion on how to make their experience better, is so hard when it comes to race. I wonder if there's not an inherent component to the discussion... the "white guilt" concept... that makes "You don't understand what it's like, day to day" sound like "my racist experiences are in part your fault, due to your inability to understand them".

That's what I hear when someone tells me to "think about the privilege you have in this society and the ways in which you are perpetuating racism and discrimination without being aware of it.". What that says to me is "No matter what you do, you're a racist and don't even know it."

What's more, that sort of statement is never directed at minority students in a college setting... only at the whites, which just draws the line more starkly between them! I still believe we should seek ways to come together, not teach modes of thinking that demand racial segregation of thought.
It is hard to live up to, and it's hard to escape from the experiences of your youth, but I remain committed to Dr. King's ideal as it pertains to all races, in all situations... my own kids will be, if I have anything to say about it, the first generation in my family since the Civil War that didn't see race as a defining feature of their youth.


@EBW: I had a similar "Whoa!" experience that I dearly hope wasn't interpreted wrong... my kids got invited to a birthday party, and when I went to drop them off, it turns out the family was black. I'm sure I looked surprised for an instant, but it wasn't their race... it was that my kids had never mentioned it, not a single time. I kinds felt like I'd done something right as a father, but I hope my expression wasn't taken the wrong way. They're a nice couple with great kids... the wife makes a badass green bean casserole and the husband's a technogeek that's managed to put a solid consulting business together, which I have huge admiration for. Nice people, I hope I didn't offend them.

@shonufded:

I was directing the comments about reframing toward AVB's first paragraph in the blog post, not so much toward the question at the end. Also, I see the struggle with a lot of hope and I see a lot of progress over the last twenty-five years. It's exactly that wish to keep moving forward that causes me to feel such frustration when I hear arguments that seem to undercut the foundation upon which all the effort was laid.

As for experiences of racism... I could write pages of examples from being a young kid. In the town where I grew up, segregation never went away... after Brown, the richer white families bought the white school and turned it private, then admitted no blacks. Decades later, it was exactly the same, but my father didn't believe in that bullshit, so I went to the public school where I was one of three white kids among four hundred or so students. That was my first 12 years of education, and it was a daily drumbeat of anti-white prejudice from all quarters. The late 80s and early 90s were especially so. Now that I'm older I recognize it as a reaction by my classmates, who I guarantee were feeling the weight of the racism that was so prevalent back then, but as a kid all I knew was that most of the other kids hated me because I was white.

I remember an incident in college where some dumbass white frat boys smeared feces on a black RA's door, because he'd thrown them off the floor for being drunk. It ignited a huge groundswell of anti-racist sentiment on campus. I went down to the anti-racism rally being held a couple of days later, as a show of solidarity I guess... and was refused entry because I was white!

My wife's been called "stupid white bitch" in the middle of a department store with my 4yr old daughter standing there, for calmly pointing out a mistake on a receipt. It was typical when I worked in Oakland to be ignored by the managers of the "black-owned businesses" on the street where my software store was, when I went into their shops... we all ate lunch together downtown a couple times a week, and they explained: their customers didn't like it if they talked to white people in the store.

I've pointed out a couple of instances here on this blog over the last month or so, too.

Of course, that doesn't rise to the level of the daily wear-you-down prejudice that some of the other commenters have talked about... not hardly. And I've seen much, much more traditional racism in my years in Louisiana as well; everybody knew which town you couldn't go to if you had mixed race friends because the cops were all KKK, and which towns were safe.

I hope those few examples off the top of my head serve to illustrate that prejudice cuts both (all?) ways, and that we all need to try and reach across that divide, rather than persisting in defining ourselves and other people by the colors of our skin.

Lolo said...

Excellent question and one I actually discuss with my children because I've heard them call people "racist" with all the loaded condemnation that word should carry but without the understanding of what, exactly, I believe it means. We discuss whenever appropiate that there are shades of grey, so to speak, and that bigotry is more than semantically different than racism.

I sruggle some times with delineating the differences between the two but one measure that I'm clear on, personally at least, is that bigots are "archie bunkers" so to speak. Rather comical in their ignorance but pretty much powerless to do more than offend with their ignorant comments. Racists are more powerful, racism is more destructive.

Bigots of all ethnicities can do little more than make you uncomfortable, feel unwelcome but if you stand up to them whenever possible they ultimately are powerless to much more than rant and look ugly and stupid and fearful.

Racists, well now. Racists can deny you a loan, housing, a job, an interview, protection, life.

We make it a bit of a game, with the deserved mocking and laughter to take some of the sting away. That teacher at school that calls all the spanish speaking children Puerto Rican, no matter that she's been told over and over that they are Dominican or Ecuadoran or El Salvadoran? She's probably a bigot and it's good and right to remind her over and over and over again that not all Latinos are from Puerto Rico. However? If they see her belittle a child who points that out? That's racist behaviour and I do want to hear about it, pronto.

It's about power, is what I'm saying.

I think that what you're trying to say, spool32, is that you feel that you personally, and any white person who acts like you, is doomed to never be able to set right the legacy of racism in our country. That no matter what, you keep getting dragged back and down by the insistence of many black people continuing to point out their personal experience.

"How are we supposed to make a better world if we keep being reminded of what used to be?"

Well, one suggestion? Perhaps you could just open your heart to the belief and acknowledgment that these things happen? Every day? Do you not see that by this statement ~
"We've been raising them to be colorblind, and it seems that rather than white society dragging them into racist modes of thought (as it was in my own experience as a child) It's their minority peers and the idea of multiculturalism that are driving them away from the colorblind ideal that I thought was supposed to be our shared goal as decent citizens."
you're nullifying the experience, pain and accomplishment of those of us who live this because you, white you, gets to live a so called "color blind" life?

Our race, our skin, our face, our hair, all it marks us out as being not~white and it infuses us with so much that is good, yes!, but it does in fact also make us physically UNABLE to live in this color blind utopia that you are raising your children to inhabit.

We aren't there yet, although I do believe that more of us are striving than when I first came to this country. We aren't there yet, that time where we'll all look past each others' beautiful shades of brown and black and olive and porcelain and those of us that are still judged FIRST in a negative way due to the varying shades of pigmentation .... well, we're just sharing stories of truth.

Why is that somehow destructive or at least, not constructive enough for you or other people who wave their usually fair or often wealthy hand in dismissal?

spool32 said...

It's a damned good question, lolo.

I think it's because I don't believe it's a "utopia" reserved only for white people. What I see is the unfortunate blending of two ideas:

"Racism exists and I experience it daily."

"Racism exists, and you white people make me experience it daily"

The first is a definite truth... I'd be the last person to argue otherwise. That statement leaves open the possibility that people can, someday, get past it. Part of getting past it is me raising my kids to make their judgements about people based on how they act, not on what their skin looks like. There are lots of other necessary parts, and obviously my one little bit doesn't fix things for all black Americans; hell, maybe it fixes nothing at all, but it's still the right way to live. That's a good enough reason in itself.

The second sentence isn't a statement of fact.. it's an accusation that merely perpetuates the divide.

I don't mean to take anything away from the accomplishments and the character of minority people in this nation, and I don't believe that teaching my kids to ignore race as a characteristic upon which their opinions turn does so.

But how can you teach kids not to think in those ways when their friends say to them (and I'm paraphrasing here if you'll forgive me) "I'm black!" and invest the statement with a meaning both powerful and fundamentally exclusionary... and then the kids get mad when mine reply "...well, yeah. So what?". They've never been taught that being dark-skinned is something worth anything more than a passing glance, like blue eyes or red hair, and that lesson from us jars against the idea that color matters.

It seems to me that as Americans either we try to get past racism, or embrace our racial culture so tightly that we squeeze out everyone else... right now, the country is doing both at the same time, and it simply cannot work. I believe it's the former that everyone should be working toward, but it's even less likely to happen than it otherwise might be, because of the activities of those who see racism as a reason to bind the community together and exclude the Other, rather than as a problem needing a shared solution.

Finally, I think I'm still not getting across what I mean... it's not that I feel like I'm being dragged down from the lofty goal by people pointing out their personal experiences. Not at all. It's when those experiences transmute into the concept that progress is therefore nonexistent in the general case, and even worse, that "white people" are by virtue of their place in society unable to even recognize their own inherent racism, much less do anything about it, that I get frustrated.

The idea that "white people" can't see the racist forest for the trees of white privilege is fundamentally racist as well. It's worse than counterproductive, it's insidiously destructive of the whole concept of judging others on their actions. I love hearing about other people's experiences... but I can't tolerate "my experience with somebody else whose skin is white lets me make assumptions about you." That's deeply racist, regardless of whether the skin tone in question is white or black.


Fantastic posts from everyone... they've really made me think and that can never be bad. I hope these excessively long replies are doing the same for others...

the circle is complete said...

Many of the "isms" of the world are fundamentally divisive by nature, since they elevate one group above another, usually with the results of that elevation impinging on relationships, societal and personal.

Sexism: One sex is better than another.

Elitism: certain persons or members of a certain class or group are better than another.

Chauvinism: one gender is better than another, group or kind.

Nationalism: one nation is better than another, esp. that nation's interest to that of another.

Racism: one race is better than another.

From that notion of race, behavior follows. It may be subtle or it may be blatant.

Both do harm, because they deepen the rift, the division between the races.

As long as any people believe that they're better than, be they white, black, brown, or yellow, then fallout from that belief is inevitable.

Actions follow beliefs.

Our beliefs form our perspective, our perspective our perceptions, our perceptions our experiences, and our experiences our beliefs.

The circle is complete.

What must be jettisoned is this belief that somehow "better than" distinguishes us, sets us apart from the rest of us.

It doesn't.

Until all of us can come to accept the other as one with the whole, then the division that we all say we deplore will continue to define us: how we act, behave, and think toward the other.

Better than is the enemy in all relationships: be they relationships between the sexes, between classes, between genders, between nations, or between races.

Ban "better than" from our thinking, and we can change the world!

Jusus said...

Having a conversation with the boss and a white coworker, jumps right in when he was not in the conversation. However I have learned to deal with this problem,I simply walk away, leaving both parties to see how rude that interuption was.

Wilma said...

A couple of questions:

At what point did you start to feel like the examples you all described here were part of everyday racism?
Did you feel paranoid at first and does that feeling go away? Do you come home after such a day at the office or college and talk about it with family and friends? Or has it become so frequent that you've come to the point of not mentioning it any longer?
Are you able to maintain respect for people who act like you've all described? And are you or have you been able to be around (white) people and feel comfortable and at ease?

ebw-educated black woman said...

@ spool, about your "whoa" moment... imagine you being the black couple you speak of, and getting that "whoa" reaction on an almost daily basis.
Despite your teaching your children, "that being dark-skinned is something worth anything more than a passing glance, you still had that "whoa" moment, and I'm assuming your children saw you have it. Actions speak louder than words, and thats largely what we're talking about here.

@ Wilma, you ask: At what point did you start to feel like the examples you all described here were part of everyday racism?
In kindergarden,(early 70s) I was the only black child in a little one room schoolhouse. (I went to live with my Aunt and her white husband, so I could start school. Having been born in December, in the state where my parents lived I would have had to have waited a year. Since I could both read and write, my mom wanted me in school-hence the move.)
As if the fact that my aunt & uncle were an interracial couple wasn't enough to provoke certain reactions--the fact that I could read and write at age 4 shocked, surprised and always prompted comment from my classmates parents.(I was the only child there who could read & write--and I was reading books like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, as opposed to, say, Dick & Jane) I remember when I fingerpainted, some how everything ended up as a big pool of black paint. When I colored pictures of people, they were always brown. (This always prompted comment, too.) I remember coming home and asking my aunt to take out my pigtails and style my hair in an afro. So I suppose I was aware of everyday racism at a very early age.

Anonymous said...

Everyday, I have administrative hearings with clients. Before the clients arrive, they're informed they'll be in front of Attorney So and So. When they walk into the hearing room, they look at me and then look around like someone else is supposed to be hearing their case.

When I go to court and sit in the section reserved for attorneys, if it's a court that I'm new to, the bailiff will come tell me that defendants sit in the back or that if I'm the defendant's girlfriend, I should go sit in the gallery. When my cases are called, I always turn and look at the people sitting in the gallery, so I can see the moment of shock on their faces when the judge speaks to me cordially and handles my cases first.

It's annoying and if you could attach a fee to everytime you have to deal with it, there'd be no need for a discussion about reparations, cause you could buy 40 acres and a mule withe the money.

Anonymous said...

Hell yeah racism exists! - www.anythingblack.wordpress.com

McGow said...

I worked for a white guy once who really enlightened me over drinks. He was a northerner and we both worked in the south. He told me that even though he played basketball at a major program in college, every time he steps on the court, he feels that the black guys--regardless of their skill set--automatically assume he's incompetent (until he drops 30 on them). White guys feel corporate america is their basketball court and they are the black guys, he noted. Fair or not, I've found it to be a painful truth.

spool32 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jus' Plain Ol' Me said...

After the number of comments written thus far, I'm not sure anyone will notice this, but I'll share it anyway.

I am black and my wife is white. A white couple that we know and socialize with on a frequent basis (at least once every 1 or 2 months) has recently adopted a child from Russia. At one point, during the adoption process the woman indicated that they chose to adopt from Russia because they wanted the child to look American.

Subconsciously, the couple equated looking American with looking white. I cannot underestimate the implications of that mindset. It presumes that non-whites aren't really American. Accordingly, it's not unheard of for non-whites to then be treated as second-class or non- citizens.

Subtle and (probably) unintentional. But it's still there.

spool32 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spool32 said...

(damnit, I can't manage to properly close an html tag this morning... )

@ebw: Yeah. I hope a couple of hours of normal conversation between two dads mitigated it. Like I said originally, it's taken 5 generations to go from Confederate Army to race being unremarkable... it comes to fruition with my kids, who I'm sure will see racism for what it is as they get older, but who will have childhood experiences lacking in the "pro-racist" overtones that my father (and others) taught me to get past. I sincerely hope that counts for something in the long term. Neither myself nor my kids would ever assume a black guy with a nice car must be a dealer, or infer from questions that somebody's been "aff-actioned" into their job title, etc. The difference is that I don't do it because I actively reject the stereotype, whereas my kids won't because it simply won't occur to them... it's outside their frame of reference.

One important reason this is true, I think, is because my kids get their media impressions of black people from stuff like , not from

That's an angle I think hasn't been discussed here so far, but it's enough for an entire thread on its own.

spool32 said...

((OK, I give up on the link tags... something's screwy with blogger, as the preview looks fine but the published comment is horked. You get the idea, though :) ))

Anonymous said...

How do I experience racism? Let me count the ways... Being told how articulate I am, the look of surprise when I disclose where I went to college and say, no actually, I didn't go through the HEOP program. Sitting in a Starbucks with the NY Times, my cell phone and an Americano and having the white woman next to me turn and clutch her bag every 30 seconds. Or when I accompany my mother to the Hospital for Special Surgery for knee replacement and having the intake representative ask for her Medicaid card- AFTER telling her the name of my mother's private insurance carrier. My point is this- if I counted the number of racist encounters I have in NYC on a daily basis I wouldn't have time to do anything else. My partner- who is white- could rattle off the racist responses we get when we're together and 180 degree difference in the behavior of the same people when she is alone. Racism exists folks, and the sad truth is that the denial of racism is the thing that perpetuates it.

Robert said...

I don't see any non-black posts so I'll chime in.

I'm a mid 20's Asian American man who works at one of the top financial firms. One day, I just got back from meeting a client in the office and went downstairs to get some lunch.

I was walking through the lobby with my lunch in a bag and some white guy asks me if I was from some Chinese takeout place.

It's also important to note that I was wearing a suit at the time.

i.l.l. said...

@ Robert, Thanks for your perspective. I do believe the race discussion too often ends up being only black and white. I sometimes get so passionate and worked up about my own experiences that I forget to think about how other people experience the world.

@ spool32, I think I hear your frustration because you have such good intentions, and you feel like too many people, particularly black people, don't honor them. So, I honor your intentions. I am a bit put off by some of your comments, though. First of all, let me say that I have always had a problem with the term "colorblind."

I hate when my non-black friends say things like , "i.l.l., I don't even think of you as black!" with such pride. The thing is if I said, "Robert, I didn't even notice you were a man! I'm sex-blind, you know" that's just not true. I prefer my friends to be able to recognize that we are, in fact, different in many ways, but we are similar in so many more. I don't mind them seeing my blackness. I sure as hell see it everyday. I mind them treating my differently because of it.

Colorblindness, as a concept, makes me feel like you want to be blind to my cultural identity, which is completely unnecessary to being anti-racist.

Thembi said...

@lolo

You hit a key point about experience - the color-blind life is just not possible when you are "the other" and reminded of that quite often.

Which leads me to ask,
@spool32

Is it your position that black people should just forget about it? That we should simply not allow ourselves to be "worn down" as you said? Because you agree that its rampant and daily but somehow we're not supposed to acknowledge or expect it.

If something happens to me 4 times in 24 hours everyday, Id be a fool to not expect it the next day.

And its not JUST white people who are racist, but I think that our history lends itself to a current of acceptable thought and action with racist undertones between blacks and whites that doesnt quite exist between blacks and asians, for example, or as in robert's example of being mistaken for a delivery man. It's that particular and deeply historical relationship that leads to "racism lite" - someone touching our hair, or doing a little imitation of sassy blackness, or even just being subtly rude.

Weez said...

Mrs. M! Word!
I went to a physics teacher before enrolling to find out if the math I had previously taken would prepare me for the course. He stated "I've had white male students go to medical school after taking this class with the math you've had". No lie!
Nobody had asked him anything about race, gender, etc.
Later while in his class, I wanted to redo a lab exercise so I could more fully understand it. I went and asked him when I might have access to the lab, and the mofo says "Asian students work together to succeed", or something to that effect; he then proceeded to walk out!
I could go on and on!

Weez said...

Trey,
I know that's right! They're always asking nosy questions, because they can't believe you got where you are without "affirmative action".
Then, if you know something they think only white folks should know, they REALLY get pissed!
It's as if, if they're not better than you, they don't know who they are!

Anonymous said...

walking down the street in a predominantly asian neighborhood, and hearing some woman yell at everyone around her to "go back to china"

two guys walk by me having a conversation about how "all chinks are dirty" then one of them points at me and says "although that is one hot chink over there"

BTW, most of the overtly racist comments I've ever encountered came from black people. racism flows both ways

j. ren said...

Here are some good ones :

*Being told how articulate I am (this happens ALL the time)
*Having people ask me if my hair is real, and then touching it
*Being told that I'm one of the "cool" black people by people who likely don't know any other black people, and genuinely meant that comment to be a compliment
*Service at stores: Outside of my immediate area, I live in a predominately white state. What happens at stores is generally in two veins: either I am left standing by the register while the cashiers continue their conversation, or: I am immediately asked what I'm looking for upon entering the store, taken directly to that item, then to the register, and sent on my way.
*I once had to fill out a job application on a sheet of lined paper, even though there was a pad of generic applications behind the desk. They didn't seem to care much what I wrote on it. Did they throw it out afterwards?

j. ren said...

Oh! I left out a good one! Do you guys remember a commercial from about a year ago, where some guy on a bus tells a black woman to "shake her junk" or something like that? Has that happened to anyone before? It's happened to me, and it did take every fiber of my being to not kick this guy's ass.

Ebony said...

@spool32
I understand what you are saying and hope that some responses you receive do not discourage you or your family. I would like to say that I think color blind is the wrong phrase. My husband and I raise our 3 daughters to know that yes everyone is made the way God wanted them (all different colors, sizes, etc) but we are all his children and to treat everyone with respect. We also teach them to stand up for themselves in any situation.

For those who have experienced subtle or blatant racism - what is your response to just take it?!
There is a polite way to correct someone .. it doesn't have to be in front of the whole office, but to pull someone aside and inform them of what they did. Something as simple as that helped me w/a co-worker in the past who did not realize that her assumption about where I grew up was offensive. After that brief conversation we have gradually built up a friendship over the last 3 years.

I agree that racism cuts both ways .. I have witnessed many African Americans behave very rudely to other races .. even my own family members and from a young age I was always one to speak my mind and can say proudly that I have always stopped a person when they were behaving this way.

I hope everyone can just do their part to make a change

i.l.l. said...

@ Wilma,
"At what point did you start to feel like the examples you all described here were part of everyday racism?"
When I was in the fourth grade, there was a white girl I had a friendly little grade competition with. One of us usually had the highest marks in our class, so we teased each other about it. Then one day, for no reason, another (white) girl felt the need to inform me that I was the smartest black person she had ever met! I knew she meant it as a compliment, but I just couldn't shake the icky feeling that came along with it. I mean, according to our grades, I was probably one of the smartest people she knew, period! I understood, then, that it wasn't expected for me, a black girl, to be achieving so much.

"Did you feel paranoid at first and does that feeling go away?"
I can only speak for myself, but I frequently do the "Am I tripping?" check. This is where I try to determine if there could have been other reasons that a look/comment/instance of being ignored could have happened. I try not to jump to racism, because I think that's a heavy accusation to throw around without just cause.

spool32 said...

@Thembi: It's not my position, no... I'm not really sure how to approach it from that side, either, and maybe that starts to get to the heart of the problem... as somebody who has to experience racism, you can't simply ignore it every day. Nobody could put up with that, and moreover: if 80% of the people wearing a blue shirt slap you every time they walk past, eventually you're going to expect it from 100% of them. It's simple human conditioned response to dramatic stimulus... so you can't reasonably ask minority people not to react. Not to mention the fact that it's simply dishonest within your own mind to put on that sort of blinder.

The problem I guess is that some reactions can serve to perpetuate racial divides rather than break them down. How do you draw that line, and find ways to retain or regain your dignity while not fermenting more racial conflict? It's a question to which I don't have a general answer, but I think that part of the solution is to focus that outrage on the people themselves, rather than the people in general, who continue to act with prejudice.

It's a hard question.

As regards colorblindness, I think maybe what we have is a different cultural connotation for the term. I only mean it in the context of Dr. King's famous speech, not in the more absurdly PC-ish "I didn't notice you were black!" sort of way. I don't mean to say that "blackness" (whatever that means) should be disregarded as a feature that shapes the identity of people and has meaning and significance, but that it ought not be a defining characteristic upon which we judge people.

I attempt to form my opinions about people based on who they are, the whole person. Part of that is sometimes going to be a strong ethnic identity, but it's the person I look at first and last, in total... not the person's skin. Racism is about attaching a set of pre-conceived notions to a person based on their appearance... not about acknowledging someone's heritage as a part if their individual identity.

AA said...

Well, I'm ethnically and racially mixed: my dad is white, and my mom is a latina of mestiza race.

What does everyday racism look like for me? Well, I have to admit, I can pretty easily "pass". I really don't know whether most people assume I might be latino or not. I don't feel that I am slighted on a particularly regular basis. But one of the most common, and painful, ways that I feel it is peoples' whole attitude and perceptions surrounding mixed people.

First: "what are you?" Nuf said.

Next, people generally just don't get it, at all. Some of that is not their fault. But I do think people hold the idea that mixed people make up a much less common portion of the population than they actually do. The worst is that nearly everybody seems to assume that you aren't mixed, and identify as just one race or ethnicity, unless you say otherwise. They generally aren't too shocked. But it still hurts that people act like mixed people don't exist. I exist.

And worst of all, by far, is that everyone wants to define others' racial and ethnic identities themselves. Look, society has created the definitions and ideas we have about race and ethnicity. And these definitions are not sufficient. As explained above, the average american conception of race just does not include mixed people. To me, that means that I hold an exclusive, unalienable monopoly on defining my own racial and ethnic identity, until society recognizes that not everyone fits neatly into just one category. And that goes individually for each and every mixed person. If someone I would think of as mixed identifies and black, that's entirely their own business. If Tiger Woods wants to invent the word "cablanasian" for his race, good for him. Nobody gets to tell me what race I am. And nobody gets to refer derisively to Barack Obama as a black(ish) man, when he's gone on the record as identifying as a "black american of mixed ancestry" if I remember correctly.

So that's my daily experience with racism. People think they have the right to define others' identity because they don't fit neatly into the categories society has made for us. We're told to choose a side. We're told only one parent counts. We're categorized however benefits others the most, rather based on our own identities.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this counts as a "race" thing, because it actually involves religion. I just think it's a sort of similar experience. Basically, when I "out" myself as a Jew I often get this reaction:

"Oh my GOD!! I think that's so cool!" etc etc, cue a bunch of obnoxious questions.
It's definitely more low key and less... I guess psychologically damaging. But i feel like it makes me the token Jew friend that proves the person is super diverse and liberal.
Anyway, this isn't to say that I think of Judaism as a race or whatever, but it's definitely an "other" kind of thing.

Jon said...

I'm also going to talk about a Jew experience, although I think this ought to qualify as racism or at least incredible stupidity.

It happened in 8th grade, which I know isn't today (I'm in college) but it still impacts me. A girl in my art class actually thought that her cross necklace would burn through my skin. No joke. So I held out my hand and she put the thing on my hand and shockingly the Jew did not spontaneously decombust. She had a look of real surprise on her face.

Sometimes I have to slap myself in order to even believe it. Nothing even close to that extreme has ever happened before or since, although I've gotten plenty of stupid questions and the "token Jew friend" thing that 4:11 anonymous mentioned.

Anonymous said...

A former white co-worker I bumped into a few years ago asked me what I was up to. At the time, I had just been accepted into a prestigious university and was completing a double degree in biological studies and psychology.

I was pretty darned proud of myself, and I joyfully told him about going back to school. He smiled and seemed genuinely happy about it. We talked for awhile, and then he burst out with "Wow, you're so knowledgeable. School has really made you smart."

I was hurt, but ignored the comment even though it made me uncomfortable and then somehow it segued into a discussion about how universities lower their standards for minorities.

I felt like he was accusing me of getting in due to my color and not my great academic record, my high SAT scores or my volunteering experiences. It's like some people feel I couldn't possibly have gotten anywhere by using my brain.

I used to get that a lot from white classmates as well. I was usually one of the few African American females in class. I would sometimes hear white students complaining about how students of color were getting in because of affirmative action.

Those same students were usually failing their classes and were always asking to see my notes, to study with me or would even try to bribe me into doing their homework.

Anonymous said...

~When one of my white coworkers mentioned that she would like to learn how to do the "booty dance," and then politely turned to me (being one of very few blacks in the office) and asked "can you show me how to do it/do you know how to do it?"...WTF?? Really?

~When talking about my hair (which is loc'd) another coworker comments "well so-and-so (a black female coworker) had the same hairstyle some months ago..."...Um, no she didn't...she had braids, not locs! There is a difference!

~And as everyone else has said, the constant "Your hair is so....fun! Can I touch it?" Hell, no!

~The looks that I and my other (black) coworkers get when we congregate together....

I could go on and on, but these are the ones that I could think of.

the way it used to be? said...

i.l.l. said...

"I can only speak for myself, but I frequently do the "Am I tripping?" check. This is where I try to determine if there could have been other reasons that a look/comment/instance of being ignored could have happened. I try not to jump to racism, because I think that's a heavy accusation to throw around without just cause.

For those of you who may think that the above comment is rare, it's not.

We're not all wearing our race on our sleeve.

I live in a predominantly white area, and yesterday I ate dinner at Chili's.

My white waitress practically ignored our table of two as though she had to cross a moat to reach us.

When she finally arrived with the menu, she was as effusive as a geyser with her apology.

I didn't jump to racism as the reason, but considered the time of day, and how busy the restaurant was.

It was late evening and the place was jumping.

I dismissed her tardiness, but I did do the, "'Am I tripping?' check". After years of being a red bullseye for racism, the "check" comes automatic.

In case you're wondering, I did leave her my customary 20% tip, although the service was not stellar.

Although blacks are rare in this area, I do find that whites, for the most part, show uncommon courtesy and deference.

I suspect that its because our small numbers are less threatening, and that I bare my teeth to smile rather than bite.

Anonymous gave her experience with a former white co-worker.

Let me tell you about a former white instructor at USC.

For my classroom instructions, I devised a clever method of organizing class notes and information.

If I must say so myself, it was an ingenious solution.

My white instructor asked me one day, as we walked from one class to another, whether she could use the scheme that I had devised, as she wanted other students to benefit from it.

She praised me for the organizational solution that I had invented.

I was flattered and gave her my blessings.

She quickly tempered her praise, however, with this remark:

"Of course, I'll have to make a few changes to it."

In order to bestow praise upon it, why did she feel a need to take my estimation of the project down a notch or two.

That was something I knew I would never do to a student, and thought that, despite her intellectual acumen, she possessed a small and lackluster mind.

Lolo said...

Oh, my. In my eagerness to join in the discussion I see that I have allowed a misconception about my own race and ethnicity. I am not black. I kind of squirm at those kind of posts of "hey, I'm not black but I know what it's like to be treated poorly" so this is difficult for me, personally.

Let's see ~ I'm the child of a mixed korean/chinese survivor of the japanese occupation and a "bastard" son of hawaiian and white parents. That's a quaint term, isn't it? Bastard? Suffice to say that my parents were both outsiders from different continents, cultures, languages.

I recall very, very few white people in our home, in Korea. Which was just plain weird at that time, believe me.

One of the defining moments of my childhood was the day I came home from school and for some reason repeated the word nigger in my mother's hearing. She had me brush my teeth with Comet and after the tears and retching she sat me down and told me that this was word was made up by white men to make sure that the Negro (this was the 60s) feel that they were less than humans and that it was the most obscene, filthy, nasty, hateful thing that one person could ever call another. There was more but that was the gist.

How did this woman half way around the world come to this sort of understanding of what racism was? Besides being the survivor an occupation that will always fill me with amazement? The first, and slmost last, time she came to this country as a new bride who spoke almost no english, she fell down the stairs of their apartment building and laid in the lobby with a broken arm, in pain and shock, while americans passed her by. Noone stopped. She recalled a couple of women who spit on her and called her a filthy Jap. (this was in the 50s)

One woman did, she got her to the hospital and they became best friends. Eugenie and her husband were black and they lived in the same building and her husband was stationed on the same base as my dad.

I feel a bit uncomfortable because you know, the whole "some of my best friends are black" thing is one we've heard said and said and said before ... however.

My father, as an 18 year old with no legitimate claim to family or such enlisted in the Army. His first trip off base after boot camp, an older black woman was yelled at to give up her seat to my dad who was standing. He got off at the next stop and walked several miles rather than endure the humiliation of being ordered by the bus driver to disrespect his elder.

Those, I suppose, are the roots of my parents' journeys to the people they became, in terms of race and their awareness and compassion.

I remember being spit on by Korean women who found my mixed and dirty race to be so offensive that they could express themselves in no other way, even though I was a child and only had my onyii nearby to protect me because my mother would have snatched the hair off their scalps. There was the bus driver who watched as two american boys slammed my fingers in a door and smashed them to a bloody pulp, he drove all the way to my stop without a word and just watched me fall off into the street.

In this country, I don't think I've ever lost a job or a home or a loan or a chance at anything I've ever wanted due to racism but I've had and continue to have experiences that make me angry and sad and disappointed and a little afraid but all I can do is to ask people "why do you say that? why do you think this is allowable? what would you do if someone did this to your mother, sister, child?"

Sometimes I'm not so courteous and the rage just blasts and while I do feel the relief of perpetuating my pain on another in that moment, afterwards I hear my parents' inner voice telling me "you're not helping, you just made it worse" and I'm ashamed.

I've been called a twinkie, a nigger lover, jap, gook, chink, haakujiin, the list is tedious in its ugliness but my parents taught me by word and example that if you keep your heart open, that if you look people in the face and give them the respect of your attention, it can be worth the risk.

After listening to Obama's speech today, I chose to not tune into any more mainstream news and to instead take a peek at the blogs. It's places like this that are having the first real discussions about our differences and our commonalities in ways that are compassionate. Compassion. Intelligence. Nuance. Maturity. Anger.

Not pity. Not facile spin. Not blunt sound bites. Not cynical weariness. Not blind rage.

I wish my parents were here on this earth to witness this moment. I haven't "heard" this sort of reasoned passion and comprehension in a long time.

Okay. Peace.

before the mayflower said...

@lolo:

"It's places like this that are having the first real discussions about our differences and our commonalities in ways that are compassionate. Compassion. Intelligence. Nuance. Maturity. Anger."

I hope this doesn't sound trite or condescending, but the story of your coming of age in the midst of racial taunting and indifference touched me deeply.

I feel that we're kindred spirits, bound by a similar experience of racial intolerance, one that has shaped us both.

And what I admire most about you is your willingness to fight off the cynicism and the rage, feelings that are natural reactions to the hatred, and the insensitivity directed towards you.

In the end it would have done you more harm than those who sparked the feelings in the first place.

It's a long journey to that place within, and I applaud you for making the trip.

What the circle is complete has posted here resonates throughout by being, and offers us a way out of this racial nightmare, regardless of who the other may be.

Looking forward to future meetings here in cyberspace.

Tiffany In Houston said...

@Lolo: That was AWESOME. Thanks for sharing!

bdsista said...

Yes, When I was in grad school (Univ.of Md, College Park), I was the only black in my cohort group and had a professor who refused to call on me in class and I left my hand in the air until she grudingly acknowledged my existence. I also had a conversation with two students about travel in Europe and talked about my experiences and I could tell by the looks that they were so put out that I had been somewhere that they had not been that they stopped talking to me. I too as an attorney went to the courthouse with my great aunt in Beaufort, SC to help her look at some land records and research some law and was told by the guard, that "only attorneys can use the law library". I said, "I am an attorney" and he said "you don't look like an attorney" and I said, "This is what attorneys on vacation look like". He let us in. Oh I did have my Bar Card that lets us past security in the courthouses in MD with me as well as my business cards. When we left he apologised and said something nice to my Aunt. I got why and because I also teach Diversity Courses, let him do what he needed for his conscience. Being a BAP, I have shocked many people who do make the assumption about all Blacks being from the hood, etc. I daily deal with people who have no clue about the existence of generational middle class blacks or God Forbid the Black Elite. I don't want to get into a class thing, but my girlfriend who graduated from Johns Hopkins and was on the fencing team who is a Veterianarian, has a plethora of stories as well. We attended Tuskegee together and well, its also really interesting to deal with Black people who don't understand why you like Ballet or Fencing or Lacrosse.....
Most recently my white co-workers are stumped about my hair since I am also a performing artist and get a fresh weave or wear a different wig every two weeks. No they don't touch it. But after several transformations, they don't ask me anymore, they just say, I look nice, which works for me.

before the mayflower said...

bdsista said...

"Being a BAP, I have shocked many people who do make the assumption about all Blacks being from the hood...."

Although we, as blacks, belong to two families, the black family and the human family.

All too often, whites exclude us from the human family, thinking (wrongly) that our black orientation precludes our being interested in anything outside of the black mainstream.

ABoyNamedArt said...

As a Latino, I've shared in some of the experiences mentioned above ("You're a good Mexican!" and all that) but these instances really stick out in my mind. The first three took place while working for a Kansas newspaper, while the last one ocurred over the course of the past year working at a Mexican-owned radio company.

1. At least twice, while returning from lunch with a group of black co-workers, a white person saw us and said, "There goes trouble." It was a different white person in each instance.

2. While getting ready to cover a funeral for a Latino mill worker, an editor told me to take off my watch -- one which my grandfather gave me before he died. His reasoning was that a nice watch like that would look out of place there.

3. While staffing our paper's booth at a Latino community event, I played a Maldita Vecindad CD on a small stereo. A teenage Latina, upon listening to a few bars, pronounced that the band "didn't sound Mexican."

4. In the past year, I've been called a "Pocho" twice and told I "think like an American," despite the fact I was born and raised in Tijuana and am fluently bilingual.

So, yeah, it's still around, not just from the outside-in, but even among our own.

Anonymous said...

I remember I once got a really cute and conservative braided hairstyle. I got so many compliments on it. When I got to the office someone asked me, "Wow, that looks great. But....do you wash your hair? I mean HOW do you wash your hair? Can I touch it? You look so ethnic and exotic!"

I felt like I was on display as a group of my mostly white co-workers surrounded me. I had to literally rip their hands out of my hair. I wanted to scream "I am not on display, nor did I get this hairstyle for your amusement or to teach you anything about "ethnic" beauty trends!!!!"

shonufded said...

@anonymous:

"I felt like I was on display as a group of my mostly white co-workers surrounded me."

I bet that they believed that somehow you would be flattered that they made such a fuss over you.

And, I'm also willing to bet, that if you had shown disapproval, you would have been labeled overly sensitive, and cynical.

Wilma said...

I thought this was a good post from someone on the other side of the political spectrum:

http://theanchoressonline.com/2008/03/20/obama-psychic-duality-the-churches/

Angel H. said...

aboynamedart:

Thanks for introducing me to Maldita Vecindad! :)

chreebomb said...

You know, after such a harrowing week of white crazy, it's nice to be a part of a discussion that makes me feel like I'm not the only one.

Here are a few of my recent experiences. And as a person who sometimes (mostly?) passes for white (I never know how people see me), I don't experience the blatant on-the-streets racism directed at me. It's usually in more personal relationships that it finally comes out.

Such as the (white) person I was dating who decided to "call it quits" because I was upset with her for dismissing my criticism of the white 2nd wave support for Hillary, complete with the "you're not a feminist if you vote for Obama" rhetoric. Instead of hearing me out, she called it quits, saying that *I* probably couldn't listen to HER about HER perspective, so maybe it was better to just call it quits, as she didn't have the time to process with me.

This after many times telling me how she would be there for me if I needed her, call if I wanted to talk, and did I have anything I wanted to say? etc. In other words, the message was clear: you can count on me... unless you're asking me to check my racism.

It's also having your anger and frustation invalidated by white people who don't get why I'm so "angry." Who in response to my frustration, say that I am just a "discontent person." People who don't know me, don't know how happy I am or am not, and don't really care. They write off my indignation as a personal character flaw and not a response to institutionalized racism, even though it's in the middle of a discussion about race and racism in a class called Race and Rhetoric. Yeah.

It's people assuming I'm white. Or white with a little bit of "something." And when I say "Puerto Rican" they think I'm lying, tell me I can't possibly be right, and did I check with my mom about the mailman?

It's someone white considering me palatable enough--white enough--to get involved with, when they won't get involved with someone darker skinned. And it's me realizing this after my heart's already invested in this person.

It's realizing that no matter how much you love someone who is white, or they love you, that when it comes down to it, you can lose them over your "anger" and your "close-mindedness" and your "hatred of white people."

It's not getting your writing published because it's "too emotional."

I could go on and on, but I'll stop there.

Thanks for asking the question, AB!

before the mayflower said...

chreebomb said...

"It's someone white considering me palatable enough--white enough--to get involved with, when they won't get involved with someone darker skinned."

You're living a dilemma.

Mind you, despite your color, or lack of it, you're still human.

Rather than responding to your humanness, they responded to color.

Although not white enough to pass,
my light tone has made me more acceptable to the white mentality, but not enough to be seen as an equal.

The usual response is: "You're not like other blacks, you're different."

Crossing this line has always elicited from me the following: "No, I'm not different. I'm just like the others. It's just that you haven't taken the time to know them."

Oh yeah, I parted company with these persons. They're not the kind with whom I wish to associate.

I was in the military at the time, but it was possible to keep my distance.

Thanks for sharing. You give another perspective to this white/black thing.

Vindy said...

I had the discussion years ago w/ my white (ex)husband. He has to prove he's incompetent; I have to prove I'm not.

piggie1230 said...

hm. Regarding colorblindness--I was taught to be colorblind very very effectively. I didn't really know the names for racial differences (I don't know how to explain this), and it still really really bothers me to identify someone based on their skin color. I find that this has inhibited my ability to be cognizant of racial 'stuff' (racism, experience, heritage etc), and I wish I had been taught that recognizing differences is okay. Ironically, as I've been advancing in my education, where my interest in understanding other people has increased (forgive me, I'm an archaeologist) I've found myself in increasingly white dominated, racial segregated/tension situations. (I went to public grade school, private high school, then a smallish college in PA, and am now getting my PhD at a certain large conservative school in central Texas) As a white person, I have to say that colorblindness has definitely had a negative impact on my life, and I plan on raising my children to be racially sensitive.

Incidentally, I am a hair toucher. I love hair, all hair. I try not to touch people I don't know and usually ask first. That is to say, its not limited to people who are "different" than me, and I like it when people touch my hair. I think being touchy feely is a southern thing, and its an outgrowth of that (for me).

Vangard said...

to AB: I just discovered your Blog, so I'm playing catch up! :)

When some body doesn't like a white person they can chalk it up for reasons either real or imagined , it's because they think they're an a--hole. With me, I have to take that into account, PLUS wonder is it because I'm Black.

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