Tuesday, December 05, 2006

confidential and anonymous

I am a graduate student in psychology. Maybe I already said that--maybe not. Anyhow, I was in class last night listening to a presentation in my research methods class. We had to do an assignment where we had to develop a measure and then give a brief presentation. One group chose to make their measure about couple satisfaction, and the students in our class made up the bulk of the sample.

Pretty interesting survey: it asked about shared interests, values, household labor, sex, hobbies, etc.

At the end of the survey I noticed that one of their demographic questions was race. I was hestitant to fill it out because I _knew_ that they were probably not going to have a racially diverse sample (I am the only person of color in my class,) and my concern was that if I indicated my race, the survey would no longer be anonymous, and they would have pretty detailed information about my level of satisfaction in my relationship.

I thought about it and decided that I wasn't going to check "white" because I was not white. But I was concerned enough that when I turned this survey in I made a point to say to one of the group members, "Make sure that you get some other 'African-American' respondents because I don't want it to be obvious what survey is mine." She assured me that they would.

Lo and behold, when they are presenting to the class they have gotten no other African-American respondents, so my results are availalable for everyone in class to see. So much for "confidential and anonymous."

Now is the part where I say: I don't think these women are racist dumbasses who did this intentionally. I know both of them: they're friendly people.

However, I think what they did was extremely irresponsible. It was very short sighted of them not to realize that if they had a demographic group of only one person, it is pretty pointless to present the results. First, because it has absolutely no statistical significance. Second, because the results are no longer confidential if the respondent is easily identified by others.

It also makes me upset, because I went through the trouble of bringing my concerns to one of the members, only to have her basically lie to me. It's like, "If you're not going to have a racially diverse sample, don't tell me that you are. That's just rude."

So I debated sending them both an email saying that I thought it was irresponsible, but decided against it because I thought they would immediately become defensive, and I didn't feel like dealing with it.

So instead I write about it on my blog, for who knows who in the universe to find it and read about it.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

And all I got was this lousy t-shirt...

I'm going to tell you a little story about my Halloween. I went to a party where the theme was "drag." The most obvious interpretation was that you were supposed to come dressed in drag, but guests were free to be a little more "creative" if they wished. I personally think it was just a way to give guys a way out of dressing up in women's clothing, but whatever...

So most people at the party did come in the clothing more common for the opposite gender. I was an old man--Hawaiian shirt, floppy hat, flip-flops with socks--it was a good look. There was one guy who came as a cigarette. And then there was another guy who came in wearing a t-shirt that said:

"I got dragged in Jasper, TX and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

His t-shirt had fake blood on it, and I think that was pretty much the whole costume. He saved us the pleasure of seeing him in blackface, but the point of the costume was clear. He was coming as James Byrd Jr., the black man who was dragged to his death by two white men in 1998.

How clever. And funny.

A lot of the people at this party were gay, and I doubt that this dude would have come as Matthew Shepard tied to a post if the theme had been "Wyoming" or something like that.

The whole incident pissed me off for several reasons: 1) The guy thought it would be funny to come as a person that was a victim of a hate crime. I understand that people like to dress up as dead people for Halloween, but I have never heard of a person coming as a murder victim, much less the victim of a hate crime. 2) This guy would not have worn this costume to a party full of black people, so why did he wear it to this party?

I have the answer to my own question: He wore it because he knew that more than likely no one was going to say anything to him about it. I got all kinds of excuses from my white fellow guests about why talking to him was not a good idea: It's a party, everyone's trying to have a good time, he didn't mean anything by it, etc., etc.

There are always a ton of excuses that can be made to try to avoid putting yourself out there for something that doesn't directly affect you. I find as I get older that my patience is wearing thin for people who like to make excuses. If you don't give a shit about racism because as a white person you benefit from it, then just say that. I can understand that, it makes logical sense. But don't act like you care (like some of my white liberal friends,) and then fail to do anything when your feet are to the fire.

That's all for now. As always, I welcome your comments.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Peach would work

The other day I wrote to the proprietors of spanx.com about the names that they use for their color choices. This is the first time that I have ever done anything like this, but the books that I read about this sort of thing say that you have to take action of you want anything to change.

Backstory: Spanx.com uses the word "nude" to describe one of their colors. I think we all know the approximate shade of this color, because they are not the first in the pantyhose material industry to use this word. Problem is, this color is nowhere near to what I look like when I am nude. And I'm sure that the same is true for many other people. Like the title of this post says, it's not really necessary to call it nude, because when we were all using our coloring books back in the day, we knew that "peach" was the color that you used for Ken and Barbie. And peach isn't particularly exclusionary. So what follows is a copy of the email that I sent them:


I am writing to say that I have heard nothing but rave
reviews about your products, and was excited to visit
your website to see what products you might have that
would be suitable for me to wear during my upcoming

My excitement quickly turned to dismay however, when I
saw the color names for your products. The use of the
term "nude" is unfortunate, because women with no
clothes on come in a variety of shades. Most women
when "nude" do not match the color of the products
that you have displayed.

Realize that I am not requesting that you make a line
of products for every skin tone, I understand that you
are a business and that probably would not be cost
effective. I am just asking that you reconsider your
choice of wording in describing your most popular
color, in order to be more inclusive of all women and
to acknowledge the diversity of all of our shades.
This would allow many more women to feel "comfortable
and confident" in your products.

I look forward to receiving your reply.


I put my real name at the end, that change is purely for branding purposes :) I was really proud of myself about the "comfortable and confident" part, because that's what's in their misson statement. Anyhow, I sent that email about a week and a half ago to every person who's email address was listed on their website (about 5 people). So far I haven't heard anything back.

The thing that sucks about it is I really think because I am black, they are not as likely to listen to me as they would be if I was white. Because they can tell themselves that the black person is being "oversensitive." And it's true, I am being sensitive, in the sense that I am paying attention. However, I didn't lose any sleep over it nor was I checking my email every five minutes waiting for a response. I would look at this as an example of just one more annoying thing that I have to put up with.
I am just supposed to know that nude doesn't really mean nude for me.

So if you're white and give a crap, maybe you should write them. If you're not white you can write them too, but try to find 50 more of your non-white friends to do it with you. their email address is contactus@spanx.com

As always, I welcome your comments.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ghetto Fabulous

I am watching American Justice (if you haven't figured it out, I watch a lot of tv--Tivo is a wonderful thing.)
So I'm watching American Justice about the Central Park Jogger case from the late 80's. First: did you know that all the people that were orginally convicted were set free because someone else confessed? So much for that whole "wilding" theory...

Anyway, I'm watching it and there's some white woman talking about crime in NY in the 80's. There was a lot more than there is now, and she says, "There was a concern that the ghetto crime would spill over into the white neighborhoods." What? Let's think about this critically, people: What is she saying with this statement?

White people don't live in ghettos
White people don't live in neighborhoods with crime
ghetto=non-white----> non white people do not live in low crime neighborhoods

Now, she seems to have enough savvy not to say, "There's was a concern that black/Latino crime would spread into white neighborhoods." No no no, that would be racist. But she can substitute the eupehmism, "ghetto" and we think nothing of it.
I'd also like to point out that this woman works for the Columbia Journalism School, responsible for shaping the young minds of the future media. Whoo hoo!

Friday, July 28, 2006

CBS Evening News

Yes, there has been some time between posts. I am something of a perfectionst, and this is not a good thing. So I am trying to work on it, which means that I am going to write about stuff that I yell about to the tv and get excited about when talking to my friends.

So yesterday, I was watching the CBS evening news with Bob Schieffer. I watch this newscast pretty much every night. Why? I want to stay up to date on what is going on in the world. I loved it when Dan Rather was on. I don't love anymore, but I fear change.

So it's near the end of the newscast and Schieffer starts his intro on a story about how gas prices are affecting how people live their daily lives (really?) What struck me about the intro was that he said something like, " Higher prices are especially affecting the poor..." I was like, "That's kind of rude, to just call people poor." But maybe that's just me.

My thoughts quickly moved to, "Well, are they going to show a black person in this story? I hope they don't show a black person in this story." I don't know if this is something that other black people do, but I do it regularly.

Needless to say, the featured person was a home health care worker who was black, and the client that they showed her taking care of was also black. Then they talked about how she was a member of the "working poor" a concept I am very familiar with.

Now in this broadcast they also showed Condoleeza Rice playing the piano in Malaysia, and she is also black.

But it bothered me because another time I can remember that they did a story about "regular americans" was when they were talking about some new banking regulation that would make it harder to "float" checks, because now they could be cashed electronically. "People" of course were worried about this. And who do they show and interview--two freaking black people again. And this time there was no Condi story to conrast it with.

This irritates me because I am sure there are plenty of white people who are members of the working poor affected by gas prices, and also white people who float checks because they don't have any money. Were they not able to find some of these people to interview? There are already do so few representations of people of color and I feel like the ones that do happen are disporportionately less than positive.

Yes, it's not bad to be a member of the working poor, and if you want to almost bounce checks, go ahead. But I just don't understand why CBS couldn't find some white people for these stories, since they seem to have little problem featuring whites for stories that show them as multifaceted human beings--mothers, fathers, scholars, autistic basketball heroes, etc.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your comments.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Can't we all just get along?

"Why does anyone see color anyway?"
"Who cares what color anyone is?"

These questions were posed by my white friend Jenny. These are questions that I think a lot of people have, and I'm glad that someone asked them. They reminded me of an experience that I had one day at work.

One of my co-workers, (I'll call her Lily) was very short. Of course, many other things were true about her (kind of sarcastic, cool glasses) but short was one of the most obvious things that made her stand out from others, and I'd be willing to bet one of the first things that strangers noticed about her.

So one day at work, we were talking with someone else and somehow the topic of Lily's height came up. She told us that she was 4'11''. Upon hearing this I said, "Oh, if you were one inch shorter, you'd be a little person." She didn't respond directly, but I could tell from her body language and expression that she was not happy about my comment.

Realize two things. First, I did not say, "You'd be a midget." I know that that is a term that many people are offended by. Second, what I said was true. 4'10 is typically the cutoff to be categorized as a little person, and Lily was one inch taller than that. So, why did she get so upset?

I think the reason that she got so upset was because of the connotation that "little person/midget" brought up. When people hear these terms a number of thoughts can come up: child-like, weak, mentally disabled, scary, people in the circus, etc. Lily got upset because with my comment, she thought perhaps I was insinuating some of those things as well. I wasn't, but that's really beside the point.

So...what does this have to do with being black?

I think the reason that some people don't want to "see color" is because of the connotations that go along with acknowledging that you have noticed someone's race.

We see color because we have eyes. Colors are some of the first things that little children can learn. When I look at people my brain immediately says, "He's black, he's white, she's short, she's tall, he's skinny, he's fat. Whoa--he has green hair." I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

The problem starts when we take it one step further with, " He's black and wearing baggy clothes--he must be dangerous. She's blond--she must be stupid. He's overweight--he must be lazy. She's Asian--she must be good at math."

Even with so-called "positive" stereotypes like being good at math; these serve only to limit the possibilities for people to be who they want to be.

What is wrong with seeing me and saying "she's black"? I am black. But what else does that mean about who I am?

The next time that you see a person that looks different that you, try to be aware of what else your brain is telling you about what that person is probably like.

As always, I welcome your comments. I won't be posting this weekend, but I will be back next week with more to say, and I look forward to hearing what you guys think.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Racism! What is it good for?

Yay! I've started to get some comments and questions, and needless to say I am excited. One question posed to me by my white friend Jeffro is, "Why do you think racism exists in this world?" This is a great question and one that I can only begin to answer here...

Disclaimer: This theory is not meant to explain why things like slavery and the holocaust happened. Those were both pretty messed up, and what follows is inadequate to help us figure out what they were all about. I'm talking about current day racism, whatever that means to you. Also, like any topic, it is possible that someone else has written down some incarnation of these ideas before, but I am not basing these ideas off of any particular previous writings. (i.e. plagarizing) That's just the grad student in me coming out...

Basically, I think racism exists because many people have low self-esteem. When a person doesn't feel good about themselves, they try to make themselves feel better by putting other people down. Like the bully on the playground--often that kid is living in a very chaotic and unloving environment. So how does he deal with his anger and frustration? By taking it out on someone else.

When you can use a derogatory word about someone else, or think that an entire group of people are dumber, lazier or less trustworthy than you--it makes your chest puff up a little. Of course, it is only a temporary puffing up, but it serves its purpose at the time.

Think about it--why would a person who was secure in him or herself worry about what other people are doing, or how lazy they are or aren't? It doesn't happen, because thinking about other people and the many ways that they don't measure up takes time and energy. Besides, people who are secure in themselves, recognize that their worth is not defined in comparison to others, whether they appear to be better or worse off.

So that's my short answer to a very complex question. I'm interested to hear what you think, and I want to send a special thanks to all the people who left me comments yesterday--it made me smile.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's not a tumah!

This post is about my first experience with racism. I was at five years old, at the day care center where my dual income family often left me. I really loved that day care center, the ladies that worked there were so sweet, and we sometimes we would do jazzercise tapes to stay in shape. But I digress...

So I'm at the day care center getting my play on at the water station. There was a reading station, water station, craft station, etc. So I'm playing with the toys in the water and there is this other kid across from me. He wasn't a regular like me, I think his parents had brought him there so they could have a date night or something. Anyhow, we're both at the water station and this is the conversation that occurs:

Him: Do you know the terminator?
Me: Yeah.
Him: What's his name?
Me: Uh...the terminator?
Him: No, his real name.
Me: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Him: That's what you are.
Me: (confused) What?
Him: (getting exasperated) His last name! That's what you are.
Me: (pausing while I get it) Oh.


I never told anyone that that happened, like the ladies at the child care, or my parents when they came to pick me up. I don't know why, but I think the fact that I remember it so vividly over 20 years later is a sign that it had some sort of impact on me. I'm wondering how I knew what a n*gger was at the age of five. I'm guessing my parents had already filled me in.

I'm also wondering what white people think about that word and who uses it. How often do you hear it? Can you remember the first time? Is it a word you think only uneducated people use? Is it acceptable in the context of telling a joke? Or by older people who don't know any better? Is it a word you've never heard in your presence before? These are the things I would like to know...

Monday, June 26, 2006

My first post

Hello and welcome to the inaugural post of myblackfriendsays.com You're probably wondering, "What the hell is this?" A reasonable question...

myblackfriendsays.com is a blog where you can read about racial issues and ask me (your black friend,) questions or for advice.

" Well, who the hell are you; and why would I want to ask you questions or for advice?" Another reasonable question...

I am a black woman in my late 20's. I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods and went to predominantly white schools. Like many people in this type of situation, I always knew I was black, but it was not something that I gave a lot of thought. Granted, there were definitely experiences (usually negative,) that reminded me, but it wasn't until I entered graduate school that I really started thinking critically about race.

One thing I began to notice was that the white people I knew were interested in talking about racial issues. But at the same time, they were extremely apprehensive to speak because they didn't want to say the "wrong thing." So as a result people, have all these questions and comments that they want to make, but they stay silent to avoid creating any kind of conflict.

I believe the only way that we are going to make any progress on this issue is if we are able to talk honestly and openly about our beliefs and experiences. And so, this blog was born. I'll write about things that I think are important, you'll ask me questions and we'll all be better people for it.

"I'm not convinced. Why should I listen to you?"

Okay, now you're starting to get annoying...

You should listen to me for several reasons:

1) I'm black and you're (probably) not. Being black is like living in Minnesota. You can't really know what it's like until you experience it. BUT, if you have a friend who lives in Minnesota and they tell you all about it, you can learn little random stuff like where the best place to park is when you go to the Mall of America.

2) I have a background in psychology. This means I know how to be nice to people, so you shouldn't be afraid that I am going to go off on you for asking me a dumb question. It also means that you don't have to only ask me race-related questions, you can ask for advice about your life, to get my unique perspective.

3) I'm really smart. I'm not trying to brag (that much) but let it suffice to say that it has recently been verified by an outside source. This means I have creative ideas, and when you read this blog you're going to see things that you don't see most other places. It also means I totally kick ass at trivia, but that is not as relevant.

So I'll leave you now. I hope you'll become a frequent visitor, tell your friends, and that we can all learn something in the process.