As I mentioned on Monday with my throaway “Separate But Equal” post (I’m always amazed at how many more comments a throaway post can generate than one I consider more substantive, which might get zero comments), I have race on my mind.
Oddly enough, despite having a black wife and two biracial kids, I don’t think about race a whole heaping hell of a lot. I mean, yeah, I visit a lot of African-American blogs and race issues crop up frequently in my life, but I don’t dwell on race relations much. Mostly because my strategy is to try to be as “race blind” as I can (knowing that I’ll probably only achieve race nearsightedness) and also realizing that I’d better not make myself too race blind, as that will interfere with my ability to actually relate to folks who don’t share my melanin-challenged heritage.
So, I see my part in race relations as being an overriding goal to not be part of the problem, and in so doing, I’ll be a small part of the solution. And I don’t talk about race relations much around here because there are so many other people who do it more often and do a better job, and they’re in my blogroll in the sidebar (Raving Black Lunatic, The Field Negro, Ephphatha, Blackgirlinmaine, etc.)
But sometimes, my hackles stand up and I get riled by something. Or, more often, someone. This time, it was a dip named Thordaddy, commenting on a post at Big Man’s Raving Black Lunatic blog (click here to see it; Thordaddy’s commented on some other stuff at the blog, but it’s this post and commentary that will set the stage for my post today here.)
Short version of the story for those who don’t want to jump to another post first (though you really should): Thordaddy is one of those folks who isn’t as violent, crazed, brain addled or uneducated as most of the people who go to Stormfront.org but who still manages to be outraged when black people claim they are victims of societal oppression or racism. I challenged him on a point or two, and mentioned I myself have been responsible for my small but notable part in racism in the past, and suggested that he might want to open his eyes a bit.
He asked me for examples of my “oppression” against blacks. I declined, not out of embarrassment or lack of examples, but because at that point, it was clear he was simply a troll looking for more fresh meat to rant about, and I wasn’t going to accede to his insincere request for clarification. When I said as much, he mentioned that while I may have been in a position to “oppress” black people, he and many like him haven’t, and are sick of being blamed for supposed racism that probably doesn’t exist.
Because I don’t want to engage a numbnut like Thordaddy who already has his mind 100% made up, I will engage the rest of you. And Thordaddy, if you come here, behave your damn self. I haven’t banned a commenter yet, but I suspect you could inspire me. I hope everyone here will read this and give some good commentary, but I especially implore my fellow white folk to read this post.
First off, you might have noticed that I put the word oppress in quotes a couple times above. That’s not to diminish or cast doubt on the idea that blacks still deal with oppression. It’s because Thordaddy missed the point on two counts. First, I don’t think I ever said I oppressed anyone nor was in a position to. What I said was that I have played my part in society’s racist tendencies toward black folks. Secondly, racism doesn’t have to be some bold, overt oppression on the order of calling people nigger or burning crosses on their front lawns.
Look, if people are, in significant-enough-to-notice numbers, treating you differently (and in a negative way) than other people, based on your color, and this happens sometimes over and over in a given day, that shit adds up over the years. Part of the reason I don’t have many notches in my bedpost is because I spent all of junior high and high school and a good chunk of college…and hell, into adulthood…being made to feel that I was not desirable to the opposite gender. Women loved me as a friend; they did not desire me otherwise. That made me painfully shy and fearful of approaching women to ask them out, even though I was very confident and comfortable being their friend.
Sure, you can call me overly sensitive and say that I should have just sucked it up, but I was shaped in a certain way, a little at a time, relentlessly, over years. Same thing happens with black people who have to endure constant little slights from white folks day after day and year after year.
- I have lost count of how many times a white waitperson or cashier has shown my wife where to sign a credit card receipt. No, I don’t mean they tell her which copy to sign (merchant or customer copy…that even happens to me sometimes). They point to the signature line for her and inform here that that’s where her signature goes. I have never, never been treated like that level of moron as a white person. I have yet to witness any other white person treated this way.
- Go looking for an apartment. It’s still available and you rush right over. When landlord sees you are black, the look in his or her eyes changes and suddenly, the apartment just became unavailable. Or, suddenly, he or she remembers that you not only need to pay first month and security deposit, but last month’s rent as well. I have seen this in person apartment hunting with my wife. Whether they didn’t want her because she was black or us because we were a mixed-race couple, I don’t know, but believe me, you know when you’ve been treated that way. And yes, I once called back in a different voice later. The apartment hadn’t been rented out before we got there. Not that I thought it had; we only lived a few minute’s drive away.
- Go job hunting. Send out resume. They love you on the phone. Then they see you are black in person, their face falls, and you have a very short interview and never hear back. Has happened to my wife multiple times. Or, send out a resume with a name that “sounds” black (like my wife’s full first name does). Virtually no responses for months. Then, send one out with your nickname (which sounds more “white”) instead of your legal first name and suddenly people all over are calling you back. My wife has dealt with this before, too.
- Go shopping. Have security guard follow you around, even though the profile for the average shoplifter is middle aged white woman, not young, well-dressed black woman. My wife hasn’t just reported this to me; I’ve seen it first-hand. Often.
- Oh, have I mentioned the several times that Son of Blue has been harrassed by police officers for such risky and suspicious behaviors as walking home from the store, taking a stroll with a girlfriend, etc.? One time, the cop harangued him on the way back from a local store, while he was carrying a very threatening steak-and-cheese sandwich and fries. When my son refused to give his name or answer any more questions without myself or his mother present (he was a minor) the cop virtually threatened him with a trip to the police station, even though our house was a 30-second drive away. Cop was all bluster up until the moment I answered the door and suddenly he saw that Son of Blue’s father was a white man and not the black man he had apparently expected to be able to walk all over.
- Hey, how about the time I was pulled over on the highway for a routine DUI check during some party-time weekend, and the state trooper showed no interest in checking my sobriety (which was 100%) but instead asking me who the black woman in my car was. Now, aside from the fact that she was my wife, what fucking business is it of his who my passenger is? Or why she is there? Unless he’s thinking hooker/drugs/etc. It was a DUI checkpoint. Or how about the fact I’ve been pulled over by police far more often (and usually on bullshit) in my 13 years of dating or being married to Mrs. Blue than I ever was in the dozen years previously that I had been driving.
I could go on, but it will raise my blood pressure.
White people don’t deal with this. Yes, we deal with occasional rude people and disrespectful police officers. But those are almost always people grumpy or having a bad day, and we know that. That is not the same as someone serving you in a restaurant with way more attitude than all the white people at the tables around you. Or serving their food on time and yours slowly and ultimately cold as hell. And then giving you attitude when you request hot food.
This is the kind of stuff that black people have to deal with that whites don’t, unless maybe they have some obvious disability that people ridicule, fear or get patronizing about. And then people like Thordaddy say, “Why should we take a black person’s word that some little stuff is racism at work?” And why not?
Tell me, if you’re white and go out with your friends and complain that your supervisor is undermining you and setting you up to be fired, don’t you expect them to take your word for it? They probably won’t be trying to tell you, “It’s just your imagination.” So why do black people, who spend a lifetime in a nation that is run mostly by white people who complain that affirmative action is unfair (when it really doesn’t impact them) or that blacks are on the dole (when most people on public assistance are white), have to offer a higher standard of proof when they are treated badly?
White people don’t want to be blamed for the sins of their ancestors. I get that. They don’t want to feel like they are paying the price for injustices that no longer occur. But the fact is that racial injustices occur regularly, and we blind ourselves to their existence (which allows them to continue to flourish and contribute to cycles of poverty and oppression in the black community), and we also participate in them, albeit usually in small ways. By ignoring both the problem and our own culpability, we allow racism to go into a more undercover but still very damaging mode.
And here, I will do for you what I didn’t do for Thordaddy. I will share what I look back on with varying levels of shame in terms of my own behavior. They may seem like small things, but remember that small shit piles up. My small slights, committed by most of the people around me, too, add up to quite a bit for the average black person. And no slight against someone else is small. We should be on guard that we treat all people right.
So, what have I done?
- Prior to working at the job where I met Mrs. Blue (where I was surrounded by a higher percentage of black people than ever before), I had very little contact with black people. This was not entirely my fault. I grew up in Silicon Valley in California. Non-whites there were almost uniformly Latino or Asian. Going to college in the Midwest, I attended a Big Ten school that was, not surprisingly, mostly white, located in a town that was, well, mostly white. I didn’t venture into the city much. But still, why did I not befriend the few black students around me (not that I was mean to them, either) while having little or no hesitation about white ones, Asian ones, Indian ones, Middle Eastern ones? Same at my various jobs after college, in which I could easily treat the black employees, who were mostly low-level clerks, with disregard and consider them background scenery. Yet be friendly with the white receptionists who had equally little impact on my daily work.
- By choosing not to associate really with black co-workers, but gravitating readily to white ones (even white folks I found personally objectionable), what message do I send? Not a good one. Also, when those black workers are in positions lateral to my own, how much did I exclude them from important information, job leads, etc. that my white co-workers were readily privy to?
- If I cross the street upon seeing a black person, but don’t cross the street to avoid a more dangerous-looking white person, what message have I sent? Do you think this aids in making a black person feel warm and fuzzy toward white people?
- If I ask a black person what other black people think about an issue, how ignorant is that? Do we ask white people, even in subgroups like Irish, Polish, etc. to comment on how all people of their subgroup feel? Even when we do, it isn’t nearly as often. How stupid is it to act like all black people feel the same way? By doing so, don’t we show how little we pay attention to them and how little we regard them?
Those are examples that leap easily to mind, but I’m sure there are others I could recall if I wanted to pick at the scabs of my past behaviors and preconceptions and tacit approval of other white people’s actions around me that were less than racially fair.
The point is that until we all start treating each other like equals, we won’t be equal. Until we treat all races with dignity, there will be racial oppression, whether on a minor or major scale. We are all part of the problem. If we are a member of the race that is the largest in the nation, and the members of that race hold the vast majority of wealth, and the members of that race are given more breaks by the justice system, banks, etc.—isn’t it our responsbility to stop acting like we are being fair?
We don’t have to give everything away to blacks or any other non-white group. What we need to do is stop acting like they are a bunch of whiners and stop acting like we give them a fair chance, when the truth is far from that. Seeing a few more blacks in positions of power and influence doesn’t change the fact that most blacks are treated worse. A black man with more education than a white man is still at a disadvanatage, generally speaking, in the job search. Black people are treated more harshly than whites in terms of jail sentences for comparable crimes, and they are targeted by police more often.
Every little slight we commit as white people. Every time we turn our backs on injustice. Every time we choose to act like it’s not our problem…
…we fuel the machine. We give racism legitimacy. We make it harder for black people and white people to find common ground. What was done to blacks in times of slavery and Jim Crow and in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement were awful. And those crimes were all only several generations ago. Black people alive today have seen members of their race lynched for no good reason.
There is a huge hole of injustice that needs to be filled in. Not covered up; filled in. With something positive.
White people who insist they don’t do anything racist are, mostly, deluding themselves. Small or large, we should do nothing to demean or belittle a person simply because they are a different color. It makes no sense logically, it makes no sense socially, and it makes no sense spiritually.