Failure to Acknowledge

Pop quiz: What s the single biggest impediment to an alcoholic or any other kind of addict getting the help he or she needs to break the addiction?

I’m sure that most of you get an A on this quiz, because it’s pretty obvious to most people.

It’s the failure to admit that you have a problem to begin with. As long as an addict says, “I can quit any time I want” or “I’m not hurting anyone else” or any number of other excuses that minimize or deny there is an addiction, the person will not get help. Or if the person does, it will be help that does little or no good.

Maybe the person changes their ways slightly. Gets drunk less, for example. On the one hand, you could say it’s improvement, but is it really a good thing that the person is driving drunk only a third of the time now? That’s still potentially deadly, for the alcoholic and all the poor innocent bystanders. Or maybe the person only gets drunk and beats his or her children violently a quarter as often as before. Is that improvement? Yes. Is it good? No. Is it enough? No.

This is largely what has happened with racism. Too many people say things like, “Well, I don’t do anything racist” or “Slavery and Jim Crow is over and has been a long time.”

Those are good things, certainly. But did ending slavery end racist acts and policies? No. Ending Jim Crow didn’t do that either, as there are many ways to discriminate. Not hiring qualified workers or color simply because of their color. Arresting people of color more often and giving them harsher sentences than whites. Revitalizing white areas or making downtrodden areas attractive for white people and leaving impoverished areas to languish or forcing people of color out of the neighborhood to make room for the white people.

The cycle of privilege goes merrily on, and while there has been improvement, and continues to be in some areas, the basic problem remains: racism.

It remains in part because it can never truly be eradicated. But it flourishes quietly and continues to harm people of color in the United States because too many people live in denial of its existence and power.

People like Thordaddy, who once posted here before I banned him, and who posts at Big Man’s blog and other places. Heck, you can go to the comments of this post to see how he does exactly what I’m talking about (by the way, many of my own comments there are going to see revamping and repeating here, so if some of the rest of my post sounds familiar, you’re probably a visitor here and at Raving Black Lunatic, and I apologize for the repetition). He suggests (and sometimes has said outright) that because blacks have rights, and more than they did at one time, that racism is a myth, and that blacks are simply lying that racism is increasing and that their lives are as bad as in slave time.

First, I don’t know of many blacks who claim that things are just as bad as they were in slave times or Jim Crow. What they are saying is that a lot of bad things are going on, and some thing that were improving are now getting worse.

And it’s true. Because too many people claim that when things got better, the core problem vanished. It didn’t. And if you blithely ignore that the racism remains, you give it room to grow again, like a weed in an untended garden.

Failure to acknowledge racism is permission to let it grow.

Of course, the problem is that no one wants to be labeled a racist, as Big Man pointed out in his “Stigma” blog post.

Racism, as a word, is a pretty neutral one. Racism doesn’t mean evil in all cases. If I see an elderly female Asian behind the wheel of a car and assume she will be a bad driver, as I do about 90% of the time, that is racist. Is it evil? No? Does it harm her? No. But it is racist.

We’re all racist. The trouble is that so much baggage has been attached to the word that it is assumed to be a pejorative term. And so no one wants to acknowledge its pervasive power, lest the label be attached to them.

How do we get around that? As Big Man notes, he doesn’t know the answer.

Frankly, neither do I, and I don’t think there is a good answer, at least none that can be broadly applied. Because the answer is for whites to take a good long hard look at history and the current day and to recognize things like white privilege and inequity. Many aren’t willing to do that, because they don’t want to believe it exists, they are ashamed of the prospect, or whatever else.

But let’s say you get them to recognize such things exist.

Then they have to care. And recognition doesn’t always equal caring. Or at least not caring enough.

And if you’re someone who thinks privilege is totally normal and should be encouraged and continued, as Thordaddy does, then you you won’t want to have a society that is fair and based on merit and personal traits (rather than connections, skin color, etc.), and you won’t ever care. Instead, you will try to convince the gullible that racism is a myth and that it hurts no one anymore, simply because it no longer enslaves them or allows them to be lynched with impunity.

And frankly, even if your aren’t as bad as a Thordaddy and you’re simply scared (of losing jobs, of economy tanking, etc.), and you’re white, you might start to see things like equitable and fair treatment as threats, even if only on a subconscious basis. And if you do, you will want to narrow things like the definition of racism, or pretend it’s gone.

It’s all about education, and people are very selective about what they really want to learn. It requires more self-education than anything else, in order for it to be internalized and be productive, and people are even more selective about the knowledge and learning they will actively seek out.

As I noted, we’re all racist on some level, about someone or some group or something. It’s all levels and gradations, though. And some people’s racism has the power to do more harm than other people’s racism. But because many of us, of all colors, have lost the ability to treat the word racism neutrally and really talk about things openly, we get nowhere.

Racism had long since become a dirty word, and so people can’t see it as an accurate and useful word, and understand that it has gray areas and doesn’t equal “evil.”

There’s not making it a neutral word again. No chance of it. And if you pick a new word, the stigma eventually attached to that will make it a dirty word too, unless people are willing to learn and to grow.

People have to want to learn and see and understand and do better. They can only do that, I think, by continued exposure to one another and honest communication.

But I don’t have much hope for that in this age of Tweets and Facebook and niche discussion boards and hypersensitivity.

I fear we’ve lost our ability to discuss widely, and most of us now retreat to those places and groups where we don’t feel threatened.

I think about my own travels online and among people in real life (not simply the racial ones), and the problem is that so often, I will try to talk about real shit with folks, and then they get defensive, no matter how diplomatic or reasonable I try to be. No matter how hard I try to show that we’re both right and wrong about some things and that some things aren’t cut-and-dried. But it breaks down quickly, and the ability to have real discourse disintegrates.

All too often, I’ve been in discussions with agnostics, atheists, racists, liberals, conservatives, etc., and I can say things like, “hey, I see your point” or “yeah, you might be right about that” but they never budge on their own positions and never consider that their positions need adjustment (or so rarely that it might as well be “never.”)

Discussion is a two-way street and there needs to be give and take. But very few people are really willing to give…not even a little.

It’s very disheartening, and has led me to leave many online venues and to distance myself from people in real life because they only want to hear their own views parroted and supported and reinforced.

I’ve rarely been that way. Yes, there are core concepts that I hold strongly to, but I don’t hold any of them as sacrosanct because all of them rely on my own interpretations and filters, and I know that I can be wrong.

About race. About religion. About money. About politics.

But pride is a powerful thing. And so is fear.

And as long as we hold tightly to those things, and continue to fail in our ability to even acknowledge that a problem remains, we will never fix it.

9 thoughts on “Failure to Acknowledge

  1. thewordofme

    Hi Deacon, I hope you and family are well.

    I hope you don’t mind, but i have a question for you that doesn’t relate to this post at all. I don’t know where else to ask it.

    We are now getting reports from Europe that the Neanderthal genome has been decoded and we have the full DNA map…and wouldn’t you know it the scientist have found that up to 4 percent of European peoples have Neanderthal blood…they have Neanderthals as relatives.

    My question of you is how do you think this will affect the creation vs. evolution debates? The fact that “God’s People” have the blood of pre-humans that weren’t even thought of or explained in the Bible. How does apologetics reconcile an incredibly old (28,000 to +350,000 yo) race of people that could probably talk, and did make tools and bury their dead with personal items and flowers, and may have made jewelry, contributing to our gene pool. So far it looks like the intermixing occurred in the Middle East about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, not in Europe about 45,000 years ago when the Cro-Magnum’s entered there.

    It is truly amazing what DNA science can tell us, don’t you think?

    Someone locally ask me if I thought that the Neanderthal might be the Nephilim mentioned in the Bible and I told him I didn’t think so as the Neanderthals were short (5’2” to 5’ 4”) in stature.

    Anyway, I would be interested to know what your thoughts are on this matter.

    Peace, twom

  2. Deacon Blue

    I’ve talked about my thoughts on creationism/evolution and the whole Adam & Eve story on multiple occasions, both in comments and in posts, but I’ve never fretted much about evolution, nor have I ever felt a need to question the truth of evolution (which I do believe in…I don’t know if it’s the full story of where we came from, but it’s a part of it at the very least).

    There are parts of the Bible that I believe deliver truths but that do so very simplistically and/or symbolically. It’s a necessity. The books of the Bible were designed to pass on knowledge to people with absolutely no capability of conceiving of or understanding scientific concepts that we take for granted today. The Bible is meant to convey meaning and knowledge, but we are also expected to have the ability to filter that through our greater knowledge today.

    I mean, the only way this could be avoided would be if the Bible magically changed to keep up with humanity’s development, which would kind of kick a hole in the concept of “faith” by making God’s existence very clearly obvious.

    So, with that preface, let me say that as far as I’m concerned, most (and likely all) of Genesis is “creation for dummies” and/or symbolic stories and parables.

    As such, Neanderthals don’t bother me.

    It could be that God stepped in at a very specific point in evolution and began to exert some direct relationships with humans (like Abraham) when He felt they had reached the stage at which He needed them to be for His grand plans to begin in terms of humans/souls/salvation/connection/redemption/etc.

    It could be that there were a literal Adam and Eve who represented the first beings with souls. If that were the case, God might have literally created them and the explanation for two people populating the world is more about two people seeding beings who were already here, and “kick starting” the gene pool and evolution toward a spiritual path.

    It could be that Adam and Eve are singular stand-ins/surrogates on a symbolic level for a story of broader themes of men and women broken from their connection with God.

    But all that is conjecture. And, frankly, I don’t see it as terribly important.

    I don’t even really care whether humanity broke faith with God (original sin), or if God had to create a situation that broke the connection with humanity as a way to guarantee them true freedom to pick His path or Satan’s.

    To me, none of that matters, as I see the search for God and the effort to embrace one’s spiritual side, and to better align oneself with God, as the crux of things.

    The journey and the goal are what are truly important to me.

    The origins of humanity have very little bearing to me with regard to that spiritual search.

  3. Big Man

    Glad you turned this into a blog post. As I’ve said before, once people recognize their own failings it becomes a lot more difficult to treat the failings of others with such disdain.

  4. Big Man

    On the creation thing…

    I have not seen any “proof” regarding the creation of life on this world. Not the level of proof that non-believers often demand of Christians, who are quite open with the fact taht our entire belief system is built on a leap of faith.

    I belive in evolution. That life has changed over the time it’s been on the planet as a result of outside stimuli. That’s obvious.

    I just don’t see how evolution explains the origins of life.

    Strangely enough, it would appear that when Darwin wrote his often quoted tome even he doubted that folks would give it the time of day because he suspected it was too fantastical compared to the generally excepted knowledge of the Bible. Now the exact opposite is true.

  5. Deacon Blue

    I agree, Big Man, about the recognition of failings and greater understanding of the failings of others…I sometimes think that when the Bible calls for humility, it’s much less about “I’m worthless” or “I’m not special” or “I must abase myself” and so much more about simple honest self-reflection. I think within the sphere of humility, we can recognize what makes us special, but that still needs to be put in context of where we fall short.

    As for evolution/life/etc. the universe seems a rather unfriendly place for this thing we call “life.” It may be that we’ll find it’s more common than we think, but the universe seems ill-designed to spontaneously create organic life. So I tend to see a creator/artist/overseer’s hand at work.

    But I also understand that some people figure, “The universe is a big place, so why not a random spark of life here and there?” But until someone can show life from inorganic matter experimentally in a naturally self-replicated/self-renewing system, I will remain dubious of the “lightning strike in primordial soup” type theories. I don’t rule it out, and it still wouldn’t be a nail in the coffin of the notion of a creator, but I remain dubious.

  6. societyvs

    It has been my experience that minoroties are less racist in their overall worldview (could be because of media). I rarely find a minority person that doesn’t believe all people deserve equal rights based on one’s culture. However, the white population contains more than enough people that do not see it this same way…and that is also becoming more few and far between.

    However, I am starting to see this in a new lense as I discuss with white folks and the use of ‘taxes’ and ‘money’. That debate is starting to become the new breeding ground for the outright racism of the 50’s…now it’s couched in ideas of ‘paying for others’. This seems to be where I am seeing most of the racist rant coming from, and it is only in Conservative circles.

    I think minorites need to know what is going on here – racism has moved from the community and law books to the economic boardrooms.

  7. Deacon Blue

    Money is becoming a touchpoint, that is true…and a blazing hot one at that.

    What is odd is that as powerful as money is, whites will still rally around whites of all types, instead of rallying with people of color in their same socioeconomic class.

    The powers that be have done a wonderful job of the divide and conquer notion…so that whites don’t see themselves in the same boat as people of color…and so that even different people of color don’t see themselves in the same boat as each other.

  8. mac

    Now you’ve gone and done it Deacon. You knew this would happen at some point…I agree completely with you!

    I have had this conversation with a good friend several times. He’s a black guy and possibly the least racist person I have ever met, to include myself. I recognize some things in myself, many I have changed, some I am working on. But we all have a bit of racism in us. I think we are bombarded with racist ideas throughout our childhood, some of it sticks.

    Children may be our only hope. We need to stop the cycle that is racism NOW ! Let’s try to raise our children so that skin tone doesn’t matter. At least not in any social/economic way…us pale red haired white boys will still get sunburned easily, no worries 😉

  9. Deacon Blue

    Hawaiian Tropic and Coppertone will never go out of business as long as blondes and redheads continue to propagate.


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