I’ve been meaning to blog about racism for awhile now, but I found this article today, and until I get around to finally actually blogging about it, I think this will do:
Back in the Jim Crow days, there were two basic approaches to racism in the segregated South. You were an aggressor—a lawmaker wedded to segregation, a member of a lynch mob, a scientist trying to prove non-white people were inferior, or your garden variety white person who might use a racial epithet. Or you were a bystander—someone who maintained the status quo by saying, “We don’t want any trouble.”
Nowadays, being racist in public is less acceptable, so people come up with all kinds of excuses for prejudice. Like, “Just kidding!” Or, “I’m not racist, I’m just honest. (Variation: I’m just exercising my First Amendment Rights.)” “I have black friends.” “Posting on Facebook can’t be racist.” And so on. Even amid claims that America is now post-racial, one of the tried-and-true ways to be racist has endured: the argument that fighting against bigotry is more trouble than it’s worth.
Take, for instance, what happened recently at an Arkansas graduation: A black teen mom named Kymberly Wimberly was the top student at McGehee Secondary School in Little Rock. Despite these accomplishments, a white co-valedictorian was named along with her. Was it because this white student had the same GPA? Nope, it was because school officials worried that making Wimberly valedictorian would result in a “big mess” at the majority-white school.
This response may seem antiquated, but it’s not uncommon—and neither is the old-school racism it defends. When Prescott, Arizona, residents shouted racial epiphets at non-white students while they were painting a school mural, the administration’s first thought wasn’t to speak out against racism. It was to lighten the skin of the Hispanic boy depicted on the mural. Why? They wanted to avoid “a controversy.”
As late as last year, schools in states like Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama have held segregated proms for black and white (and sometimes Hispanic) students. Overt racism still exists—one parent in Charleston, Mississippi reportedly said in 2008, “I’m not going to have any of those niggers rubbing up against my daughter”—but others prefer these divided dances because they want to side-step “racial flareups, a fight.”
In this case, fear of violence is code for fear of change. And that’s not much different from the Jim Crow era. A student named Chasidy Buckley, ensnared in the Mississippi prom fight, didn’t mince words when she described what was at the heart of the segregation: “The [school] said, ‘why change now? Let’s just keep going.’ That’s the whole thing with our town. Everybody’s afraid of change. It’s just horrible.”
I’m embarrassed for America.
We have so much hate. It’s not just directed at Blacks, or Latinos, or Asians. It’s directed at everyone – gays, lesbians, women, minorities. (I apologize for any missteps in capitalization – I’m not hip to the politically correct shit these days.)
I remember my high school English teacher Mr. H drawing boxes on the whiteboard and explaining that people need to think in categories.
I’ll give him that.
I personally put myself in many boxes, all at once. The two that stand out are White and Woman. I was so excited to receive a book I ordered just before I went to Chicago about the modern definition of feminism written by two girls about my age.
The one thing that struck me as I was reading the book was how many women said that they never really explored feminism proper because they thought it was for white women. The term “feminism” was too academic, too Ivory Tower, too haughty for the regular woman’s vernacular. And so they avoided it. It didn’t mean that they weren’t living it, engaging in it, defining it for themselves. It just meant they weren’t calling it that.
But they had a hard time seeing themselves as both Black (or Latina, or whatever they were) and as a woman. It was like they didn’t think it was possible to be two things at once. (It’s hard, especially when one or more of the boxes you’ve put yourself in – or are put in – are minorities.)
I’ll give Americans the opportunity to think in categories. Race, gender, economic standing – those things are all categories. You’re free to make observations. But you’re forgetting to observe other important stuff to.
Instead of: “Hey I bet that Black kid is going to steal that lady’s purse. Look at his baggy pants; the kids these days.” It should be: “How nice of that young man to help that lady across the street. Look as his baggy pants; the kids these days.” (You’re still an ageist ass, but better that than a racist, right? I’m just kidding, I’ve got an ageism rant you’re probably dying to hear. – I just made myself laugh.)
But we’ve failed at educating people how to stop it all at observation. Instead, we’ve let our categorical thinking invade our lifestyles, our habits, our daily lives.
We categorize, we lump people together, we judge.
We don’t embrace all of our categories, our weirdness, our faults. We push them away and instead pick the thing we like the best.
I’m a marketer.
I’m a doctor.
Well, what else are you?
It’s a hard habit to break, I know.
There are a lot of pieces that make each of us a whole person – color, gender, passions. I wish we as Americans could try to look for the whole person.
We’re too sensitive to race. Let’s stop focusing on it because we’re creating the “other.” We’re providing the boxes to put people in. Let’s focus on humanity.
Fuck the statistics, we just keep living up to them. You tell someone what they will be and they’ll be it. You’re going to end up in prison. You’re going to end up the President. You’re going to get pulled over if you keep speeding.
I am sad to say that I’m ashamed of how we act like we stand up for rights, and the American dream, and advancement, and equality, and education, and morality – and really, we display very little of that to the world.
We are not a nation of equal people. We are not a nation of prosperity. One in seven of our citizens is on food stamps. (To qualify for food stamps, you have to make 130% of the poverty level or less.) We are a nation of hatred, of bigots, of uneducated, arrogant fools. And until we learn to accept and tolerate, we will get nowhere.
Let’s get together and create a better future.