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...