Monday, March 17, 2008

Does Racism Still Exist? - An AverageBro Town Hall Discussion

Last week was a banner week for, 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?

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