Friday, December 16, 2011

Follow up fridays

Let's get to it, shall we?

From Anonymous on my post about the Sephora mailer [Note: this is normally where I would be putting in hyperlinks, but blogger is being all stupid and not working right. So no links today, sorry readers.]

Anonymous said...
I would gladly use that $15 card if you dont want it. there still accepting expired ones. need a gift for my lady. Email me please the Code and pin!!!!

Sorry, mailer is on it's way to being recycled. But Sephora ususally has a lot of coupon codes floating around, maybe see what google can find for you?

From my Asian friend, weezermonkey:

Can Asian people say "nappy"?

I think one just did ;) Hee hee.
Personally, I don't really care who says "nappy." Like most words, I think it is all about the context.

And from another(?) Anonymous on my post about the Useless Crap and Coffee Store:

Racism has existed since there became more than one race on the earth. Probably even since someone gained a different hair or eye color from someone else. Unfortunately, it will continue to exist long after you and I are dead and gone. The fact that it consumes you so much is sad. Do I think you're an angry black woman? No. I think you're just angry. Period. This just happens to be a convenient and prevalent avenue for you to vent. Also sad. When all is said and done, at the end of your life, are you really gonna reflect back on other people's ignorance? It took you days to finish writing this? Really? Get over it. Better still...get over yourself.
Just in case you're wondering if I'm a white racist "attacking you back", I assure you, I've been considered Negro, Black, African American, Black American and whatever else we've been considered for the past 55 years. Life is way too short to let something like a person's color or another person's reaction to my color take up a single moment of my life. Honestly, I feel sorry for you. Not because you were followed in a store, but because you let being followed in a store consume you. Shame.

Anonymous, I don't believe that racism has always existed or will exist forever. I wouldn't be writing this blog if I did. I think the rest of your points were addressed in my original post.

I'll leave you with this quote from Goethe:

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."

As my mom would say...marinate on that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fewer words than usual wednesday

So, it's actually Tuesday, but I am hoping that I can get this blog post done tonight, and then come Wednesday, just press 'post' and be on my way. I've got a good feeling about it.

The picture below is the cover of a mailer that I got from Sephora this week.

When I saw this photo, My first thought was. "Whoa, they're putting black chicks on the cover of their mailers!" Then I thought, "Nah, that isn't it--this is 'specially for me. How did they know I was black? Oh, yeah it's because I order a lot of black hair care products from their site.

Not only is this lady black, but she's dark skinned and her hair near her face is nappy. Well played, Sephora; well played.

[Note to my white readers: I can say "nappy" because I'm black. Theoretically, you can say "nappy" as well, since it's a free country and all. I would just suggest that you know your audience and proceed with caution. Ok, moving on...]

This was the picture on the inside:


Sephora was offering me a $15 gift card. But if you look more closely, you see it is really just $15 off of a $50 purchase. And if you want to buy online, it is $15 off of a $65 purchase, since you have to spend $50 before you get free shipping. And of course, the products that I usually buy (for black people,) are not available at my local brick and mortar store. So I decided to pass on this deal, though I do appreciate the effort of putting a pretty black woman on my direct mailer.

This whole black lady on the outside/white lady on the inside got me thinking about a comment that a reader left on one of my posts a looong time ago. I've actually already wrote about this comment before, but I am writing about it again, because clearly it stuck with me. Dana said that she probably wouldn't buy a game that exclusively featured black children on the front of the box. It is this thinking (in part,) that makes me think that they only send this version of the mailer to customers they are pretty sure are African-American.

So, white readers...if you got a mailer just like the one I did, do you think the black lady on the front would make you less likely to buy something from Sephora, more likely to buy something from Sephora, or have no effect?

Did anyone else out on the interwebs get this promotional offer from Sephora? If so, how did the placement of the models differ (if at all,) from mine?

Do any marketing people read this blog? I would imagine marketers have done studies on this stuff: Are white consumers less likely to buy products that use black models/actors to sell them? Are black consumers more likely to buy said products? Why?

This is already pushing the limits of "fewer words that usual," so I am going to wrap it up. As always, I am open to hearing any and all comments you might have on this topic.

And if you haven't already, I would encourage you to check out my last blog post. I got some thought-provoking comments on that one; you should read it so you're not all lost on my next follow-up friday post.

Thank you and good night!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just cinch it!

I've come up with my fair share of theories in my day. Some... we won't talk about here. But another that I recently conjured up has a lot to do with race and inequality, so this seems like a prime spot to put it out there.

As I think I've said before, I spent a fair number of my 32 (almost 33,) years of working in retail. Along with giving me the skill of expertly folding t-shirts and sweaters (even without the little board, tyvm) I also gained pretty in-depth knowledge of what retailers look for when trying to determine if someone is a potential shoplifter. Well, I guess I should say should be looking for. Because as the story that I am about to share illustrates, some sales associates are poorly trained and let their own preconceived notions get the best of them. But now I am getting ahead of myself.

The thing that might be surprising to know is that a lot of the warning signs of a potential shoplifter are things that might seem pretty innocuous. I am not going to list them all here, in case some criminal is googling "how to shoplift." But I will give one example: talking on your cell phone.

I know, right? I am sure that many of you have talked on your cell phone while browsing in a store.

Because so many of the warning signs are reasonable things like talking on your cell phone, good sales associates quickly learn that you need to have at least a couple of the indicators present before your antennae start going up. Which brings me to my story: I needed to do an exchange at a store recently. I wanted to return a gift that I had purchased for someone that I decided that they probably wouldn't want, didn't need, and might or might not appreciate. It was a total impulse buy. I also needed to get some coffee. I am not going to name the store, so we'll call it the Useless Crap and Coffee Store.

So, I go into the Useless Crap and Coffee Store to do my exchange. I have a bag with the useless crap inside. It is the same bag that I got when I made the original purchase, not some random bag from xyz-mart (that is another signal for potential shoplifting, coming into a store with a bag from another store that is not nearby.) When you come into a store with a bag from that store, good sales associates know that you are most likely coming in to do a return or exchange. WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS DOING.

So, I come in with my bag and immediately go to the coffee section. As I am perusing the coffee selections, a young sales associate comes up and stands about 18 inches away from me. She doesn't say anything, she just starts touching the items on the shelf in front of her. I would say "straightening," but I really don't think that is what she was doing. I did not turn to look at her or acknowledge her in anyway, because that is what a shoplifter would do. So, I stand there for awhile, decide what coffee I am going to get, pick it up and start to head towards the register. The time that I decide to leave the coffee area is the exact same time the sales associate decides she is finished touching the items near the coffee. As I was heading up to the register, I saw some items on a baker's rack and I picked one up and looked at it. When I put it down, the sales associate decides to touch the baker's rack too. That is when I really started to get pissed off.

But, I just went to the front of the store, did my exchange and left. The woman who checked me out was friendly, which helped me to be less mad. She told me about how coffee gives her diarrhea. Not exactly appropriate cashier/customer small talk, but I appreciated her making the effort nonetheless.

Now I am going to tell you my theory, and then I'm gonna get all deep and hearfelt on your brain.

My theory is that to many poorly trained sales associates, being black is one of the warning signs of being a potential shoplifter. I know that is not some groundbreaking revelation, but let me explain. I am not saying that black people are constantly followed around in stores. I know that is the popular narrative in our society. I acknowledge that it may be the experience of others, but it is not mine. Most of the time when I am shopping, I believe that I am treated like white customers--whether that is good, bad or indifferent.

What I am saying is that if a black person has one of those innocuous warning signs I mentioned earlier, them being black is considered another warning sign, so now they have two. I really don't believe that a white, almost 33-year-old female, that was dressed like I was dressed, and acting the way I was acting would have elicited the same behavior from the sales associate that I did. So basically if I am doing anything out of the ordinary for a shopper, I am going to arouse suspicion. As I typed that last sentence I thought to myself, "Even just walking into these places arouses something, BECAUSE THERE ARE HARDLY ANY BLACK PEOPLE WHERE I LIVE." But that is something of a tangent.

Suffice it to say, most sales people have enough common sense to know that to just start following me around as soon as I walk in the door would be racist, and they dont want to be racist, because racist people are bad. So they just leave me be. But if I come in with a bag --Oh, it's on.

Meanwhile, a white person is gong to have to be acting all kinds weird before someone notices them. That's why shoplifting costs companies billions of dollars each year, because most people don't get noticed.

Now the deep heartfelt part: The bag I had was from the store I was in, so like I said earlier, that shouldn't have even been considered a warning sign. That makes me sad that this girl chose to behave the way that she did.

There were three reactions that I could have had when this was occuring.

1) I could have punched her in the face. That is what my Id wanted to do.
2) I could have calmly turned to her and said, "There is no need for you to hover over me while I am shopping in this store. I am here to do an exchange (then I would have pulled out my useless crap and its receipt.) Your behavior gives the impression that you think I am a common criminal, and I don't appreciate that."
3) I could have acted like nothing happened and gone about my business, which is what I did.

I realize there are proably an infinite number of other reactions I could have had, but I don't have all day here, people.

The reasons I didn't do number one include:

I'm a lover, not a fighter. Additionally, I do not like jail.
Also, punching her in the face would have reinforced the stereotype that black people are violent. I learned in therapy that I can't carry the burden of positively representing the black race on my shoulders, but some things are easier said than done.

The reasons I didn't do number two: I didn't think I would be able to stay calm enough to effectively get my message across. Also, I believed that there was a very high possibility that she would just deny her behavior/the motivations for her behavior, which would have made me even more upset. As Dr. Phil says, "You can't change what you don't acknowledge." And if she wasn't going to acknowledge, there was really no point.

Why did I want to punch her in the face? I have to believe that this is a question that some of you are asking yourselves.

What is the big deal, myblackfriend? I don't really see what she did that was so wrong? It's not like she called you the n-word or something!"

I can see that point. She stood a little too close to me, didn't say anything, and touched some stuff I touched. Not really assault and battery worthy.

And that's when it hit me (no pun intended.) I wanted to punch her in the face for Emmett Till. For Troy Davis. For the reality that people like her get promoted to manager, and teach their associates that this is a good way to conduct business. Because there are people in the 21st century who think that because the name on the application says Shameka, assume that Shameka "wouldn't be a good fit" at Useless Crap and Coffee, and don't even call her in for an interview.

And this my friends, is the crux of the argument. It's also the reason why we have such a difficult time discussing race in this country. I see what happened at the store and Emmett Till as closely connected. It's hard for me to explain how/why, and if you can't see it, that makes it hard for us to dialouge. Not impossible, but hard.

Yes, that was in the past, but SOME REALLY FUCKED UP SHIT HAPPENED IN THE PAST. Oh, and I just remembered a black guy got murdered by being repeatedly run over by a group of white teenagers someplace down South a few months ago. That wasn't the past.

It has taken me about two weeks to complete this post. Everything after me coming up with the hilarious name for the store was written after a long break.

During that time I was thinking, "Just how annoyed was I by that girl's behavior in the store? Perhaps I should attempt to quantify it for my readers." I decided that I was as annoyed as you might be if your friend showed up to meet you an hour late without calling. Not cool, but not the end of the world.

"I wonder if someone is going to try to attribute her behavior to something other than my race?" You can do that if you want to, but I was there and you weren't. Also, ask yourself why you're so resistant to accepting the idea that what I am saying is true.

"Is everyone going to think I am an angry black woman?" Keep in mind, eveything I write about on this blog revolves around this one theme, and it is only one aspect of my life. I don't write about how I had a bomb ass muffin at Mimi's Cafe yesterday, because the subtitle of the blog is not thoughts on delicious muffins . I am generally a nice, positive, happy person and I think most people who know me well know that.

AND, I am angry too. It's the anger Sam Jackson's character talks about in Pulp Fiction. Righteous anger.

Ok, I just googled it and he doesn't say righteous anger, he says furious anger. But he does say righteous in the speech, and you get my point. I have every right to be angry, and the idea that I don't exists solely to keep me (and you) from trying to change things.

I'm gonna end it here. If you have any thoughts that you would like to share--leave me a comment.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

Today, I wanted to share what I think is a little known fact about the Montgomery bus boycott.

Now, we all know the standard story. One day, Rosa Parks was coming home from work and decided that she wasn't going to give up her seat on the bus to a white guy. She got arrested, and a year long bus boycott ensued. Finally, the bus company caved and decided to let black people sit wherever they wanted. Pretty straightforward, right?

The little known fact part is that Rosa Parks didn't just spontaneously say, "Oh Lawd, I am just too tired to move to the back of the bus today." The boycott had been planned for quite sometime; they already had the mimeographs ready to go publicizing it once she got arrested. They were originally going to have a teenage girl (her name was Claudette or Cassandra or something like that,)  because they thought it would be a good strategic move to have a child get sent to jail. They eventually decided against her though, because she was an unwed mother and they didn't think that would make her the best poster person.

I think this fact is important because it shows that the boycott from the very beginning was a very deliberate, organized act. It challenges the narrative of the sassy, outspoken black woman. Now, there is nothing wrong with sassy and outspoken black women, but it is always helpful to add to the variety of representations of how black women are/can be in the world.

The reason that I think this is a little known fact is because the only place that I have ever heard about it is in an elective class that I took my freshman year of college. There were probably like 15 of us in the class, but for some reason we were placed in a lecture hall that could seat 500. That last part isn't really relevant to the story, but I share it because I always thought it was weird.

I am curious to know if you knew this, and if you did know it, how/when you learned about it. So, if you'd like to share that answer with me, or just talk about anything else that's been on your mind, leave me a comment.

Oh, also Happy Veterans Day and Happy 11/11/11. I made one heck of a wish at 11:11 today, and I hope you did too (:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who's the fairest of them all?

A few months ago, I asked my readers why they thought white had become the standard of beauty. After talking to her mom, my white friend JD offered an explanation that had to do with the Dutch Masters.

Do the rest of you talk to your moms about my blog? I hope so.

Anyhow, I told JD that I was going to read a book called The History of White People . I did, and now I want to share what I learned. This one's for you, JD...

I have to start by saying that the book was really long (400+ pages) and it's been awhile since I read it. It makes me think about reading comprehension, because the whole idea of reading stuff is that you remember it. But I think that is easier said than done sometimes. Okay, I am getting off on a tangent.

There were two reasons that I took away to explain why white = pretty.

1) When the concept of whiteness was getting popular, Americans were really interested in the Greeks. For whatever reason (I'm guessing the whole "founders of democracy" thing,) all things Greek were awesome, including Greek sculptures. The features of those people in the sculptures were celebrated and the whiteness of the plaster (or whatever sculptures are made out of,) was celebrated as well.

What these guys forgot about was that those sculptures were originally painted, and that the paint wore off over the ages. So that bright white color was not an accurate representation of what the Greeks looked like. It reminds me of the realization that dinosaurs might have been all sorts of wacky colors, and that we don't really know since all we ever see are their bones.

2) When the whole idea of white women being beautiful started gaining steam, it was in reference to these women (the Circassians) who were basically being kept by powerful men as sex slaves. You know, like a harem? These women were praised for their beauty, when in actuality they were about as good looking as non-Circassian women. The author posits that is was the sexual availability of these women that was so attractive to men, not something specific to their appearance.

I just had a realization as I looked back up at the title of this post. We all know fair is a synonym for pretty, but it's also a synonym for white! Whoa, man...

I thought the book was good, and I would recommend it if you are interesting in learning more about the emerging field of "whiteness studies." it seems to have some similarities to African-American Studies and the like. It makes sense, because if groups of color can be analyzed and examined, it would follow that the ins and outs of whiteness can be too, and not in some trite "white people can't dance" sort of way.

If you have more you'd like to add, leave me a comment.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fewer words than usual Wednesday

I know it's Thursday. I could give you excuses about why I didn't post this pic weeks ago. However, I have found that when I am reading other people's blogs and they spend time giving me excuses about why they haven't been posting, I'm all like, " JUST SHUT UP AND GET TO THE BUSINESS!"

Ok, I don't really yell like that; I was exaggerating for comedic effect.

But yes, this is a picture that I have had on my phone for several weeks.

Now, if you've been reading my previous fewer words than usual wednesday posts, you can see that this one really breaks the mold I have talked about before. If you haven't been reading them, you can click here , here and here.

We've got ourselves with a trio with a bona fide black person in the middle. And an Asian person on the side! And maybe no white people at all! Well, that lady in the brown shirt might be white, but she might also be Latina or Italian or something! And it's the cover of a major retailer's Sunday paper insert! Yahoo! Progress!

But then I started thinking about this time in college when this black guy was in the quad talking about the game Monopoly. I went to a pretty liberal University that would have speakouts, where they would set up a microphone, and people would go up and "speak out" about whatever they wanted to. So anyway, this black guy compared the United States to the game Monopoly. You have two teams: white people and people of color. The white people team gets to roll the dice three hundred times (to represent the approximate number of years that people of color were legally oppressed in this country,) before the people of color team can even roll the dice once. Of course, since they are such good monopoly players, the white people team buys up all the property, the railroads, the utilities and builds houses and hotels. Then, for whatever reason, they decide that the people of color team can start rolling the dice. The people of color are like, " Wait a second, you already bought everything!!" and the white people team is like, "F*ck you, pay me." (Bonus points if you can correctly identify that pop culture reference.)

So what does this have to do with our trio of beauties above?

Given that things have been so skewed for so long in white people's favor, what can/should be done now that would make things more even? I am not even talking about property or railroads, I am talking about advertisements. Since we've had hundreds of years with white people being overrepresented in advertisements, what's fair? Hundreds of years of white people being underrepresented? A decree from this day forward by advertisers that all groups will be accurately represented? Just a few years of white people being underrepresented, so they can see what it feels like? Ads like this one thrown in wily-nily whenever an ad director sees fit? Or maybe nothing specific or concrete, since that might be reverse discrimination?

I am glad to see the ad above, really I am. But at the same time, I think it's pathetic that the ad is such an anomaly given the multicultural society we live in. Many of us would like to see more ads like this in the future, but I wonder what it is really going to take to make that a reality. And the even more cynical side of me wonders if ads like this are just a fad and will fade as soon as we don't have a black president anymore (yeah, I said it.)

I can honestly say that I don't know what the answer is. And I can also honestly say that I am interested in hearing what you think, so you should leave me a comment.

Friday, September 30, 2011

It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand...

You ever have one of those months? I've been in a funk lately, but I am getting the feeling that the funk might be over soon. We'll see...

I wanted to talk a little about Troy Davis, and what the events surrounding his execution made me think about. If you don't know who Troy Davis is, I would invite you to click on that link. I would also like to take this opportunity to chastise you (nicely, of course,) for not being more involved in the goings on of the world around you. Things are happening every day. And it might not seem like they have any effect on your day-to-day life, but I can assure you they do. It would probably be best to stay up on the happenings.

Ok, so a little while after Troy Davis was executed, one of the brands that I follow on Facebook made a status update that said something like, "Another black man dies at the hands of the criminal justice system. RIP Troy Davis" Then, the first comment after that was from a white person who said something like, "The death penalty affects white people too, this is a universal issue that affects all of us."

My first thought was like the segment on SNL when Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers were hosting where they just go "Really? Really." a bunch of times.

I totally get what the guy was saying. I understand that the death penalty affects people of all races. But I also understand that it affects black people disproportionately, and so it makes sense to talk about Mr. Davis' death in the larger context of black men and how they are treated in the criminal justice system.

I think a big part of my annoyance with this person's comment was the timing. It wasn't very long after the execution, and his was the first comment after the post, which leads me to believe that this his first reaction to the posting was "Let's not make this a racial issue."

It's like, why can't this be a racial issue? Why do we always have to show how problems affect everyone before people start to give a shit? What if the death penalty was only applied to people of color? Would that make killing an innocent person any less wrong? It's like the new trend in diversity training: Let's show how sexism hurts men, let's show how racism hurts white people, let's show how homophobia hurts straight people. On the one hand, I get it. But on the other hand, I'm thinking to myself, "Why can't we care about things before someone shows how they directly affect us?"

That person's comment got me thinking about the more general practice of one marginalized group co-opting another marginalized groups strategies/tactics/slogans/etc. Here are a few examples:

One time I was at a protest where the protestors just started shouting "¡Si se puede!"

In keeping with the "N-word", now we have the "R-word" and the "F-word." I guess it's actually "the other F-word," because the original F-word is not the word I am referring to.

Have you heard that quotation about, "First they came for the ______'s, but I didn't do anything because I wasn't a ______" ? I heard it applied recently to dog owners, to protest a pit bull ban. "First they came for the pit bulls, but I didn't do anything because I don't have a pit bull."

Is banning a breed of dog really the same as the killing of millions of innocent people?

I'll just go ahead and answer that one: No, no it's not.

Which leads me to my point: When you co-opt another group's struggle, it does more harm than good. It makes you look insensitive, which is ironic because you are asking other people to be more sensitive towards you. Plus, it's lazy. It's like, make up your own thing. The original thing was invented because it fit that particular cause, find your own catchy thing to associate with your issue. You tread on unstable ground when you attempt to link two struggles together; especially when you care/know a lot more about one issue than the other.

The tone of this post would appear to show that I am still in my funk. That is okay, people aren't meant to be happy all the time. If you have a thought or comment you'd like to share, leave it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

That's the sound of the men, working on the chain. gang.

Recently, I watched a documentary about the Prison Industrial Complex (say that three times fast,) called Fair Game?. It was directed by Mario Van Peebles. This is cool because I watched a different documentary several months ago about racism in the film industry that was directed by Mario's dad, Melvin Van Peebles. It's just nice to see the tradition for social activism being passed down from father to son. I also like the fact that they are both using a medium that they are very familiar with/I would assume somewhat passionate about: film.

I think that is one of the rules when it comes to taking action around creating social change: start with what you know; don't make it complicated. If you're a dancer, make a dance. An engineer? Do something engineering related. Have a passion for fashion? Incorporate that into your fight of the good fight. Me? I have a lot of opinions. I also prefer to have a captive audience that can't interrupt me when I'm giving said opinions, so we've got this here blog.

Ok, back to the documentary. The first time I heard the term "industrial complex" with another word in front of it, it was my sophomore year of college, in a Sociology class. We were talking about the Military Industrial Complex. Now I am sure the conscientious PhD student teaching that class gave us a definition of the term. I am also sure that sophomore year of college was a long time ago, and that I don't remember what the definition was. So I will do something else that I like to do on this blog: I'll make up my own.

When I think of an industrial complex, one of the main things that I think of is the idea that the actors involved have to continue to create something that, on the surface, they appear to be against. In the case of the military, it would be war. And in the case of the prison system, it would be criminals. Because think about it, if there was no war/threat of war, there would be no need for the military. And if there were no criminals, there would be no need for places to house criminals. So these organizations do different things to make themselves a necessary part of society. Sidenote: you can agree or disagree with this premise, I realize it may sound a little conspiracy theory-ish. I am just explaining it to you.

So in the case of the Prison Industrial Complex, these prisons (many of which are now private corporations run for a profit, ) need to continue to generate revenue, which means needing prisoners to fill the beds. This way, they can use the prisoners hella cheap/free labor to produce goods, and they can also charge taxpayers lots of money to house, feed and clothe these people. They do this in a variety of ways.

Here are just some of the lowlights that I learned from watching this video:

--All other things being equal, a black man without a criminal record will receive less consideration for a job than a white man with a criminal record.

--Private prisons are using 3rd and 4th grade reading achievement test scores to help them determine how many prisons they should build in the future.

--The out of wedlock birthrate for black children in the mid 1960's was something like 25%. Now, it is closer to 70%.

There was a quote from Chris Rock in this documentary that actually spurred the idea for this post. I was originally going to post it by itself and have that be the whole entry. But then I remembered what I wrote above about having a lot of opinions, so all the rest of this stuff got typed out too. Ok, here's the quote:

" Exceptional black people have always, kind of been rewarded. Martin Luther King's dream coming true is for mediocre black people to succeed in this world in the same way that mediocre white people do."

I think this is a really good way to sum up the sentiment. My problem is not with people who do wrong being punished. My problem is with certain groups being targeted, and punishment being meted out unfairly. I have often thought that if black people were 12% of the poor, that would be fine by me. Because in this capitalist society we live in, somebody's got to be poor.

If we were 12% of the poor, 12% of the middle class, 12% of the obscenely rich, and 12% of the prison population, I think anyone would be hard pressed to say that wasn't progress. But when the numbers are so skewed and not anywhere close to that, we have to look at the other factors that are in play and making things the way they are.

At this point in the blog post, I was all excited because I thought I would be able to give you a link that would allow you to download the documentary for free. But that is not to be, my friends. My itunes won't load, so I don't know if it is available for download there. And I checked amazon and they don't have it. But I would encourage you to check your local listings to see if is playing again sometime soon. It was a very well-written, thought provoking documentary, and I would encourage you to check it out if you have the opportunity.

And if you have any questions or comments about this topic, you know I would love to hear them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

6 reasons I liked The Help, and 6 reasons I didn't.

Ok, it's time for me to share more of my thoughts about the novel The Help . I was originally going to cut and paste your comments from this post and interweave my own ideas, saying what I did and didn't agree with. But then I figured that would be too much work.

So, instead I will go back to my handy bullet points. Some of my commentary is pretty plot specific. I'll try not to reveal the big secrets, but if you're planning on reading the book/seeing the movie and don't want any spoilers at all--maybe you should read this post later.

6 Things I liked about The Help:

1) The relationship between MaeMo and Aibileen. This is probably what I liked the most out of the whole book. So much love and affection going back and forth between those two.

2) Stockett did a good job of setting up a compelling story. She gives us three mysteries in the early chapters, and piqued my interest enough that I wanted to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. Like many of you, I had a hard time putting the book down and finished it in a couple of days.

3) An insider look into the subtleties of white Southern culture (at least Stockett's very narrow slice of it.) I have always been fascinated by subcultures. Like when Skeeter talked about how she wanted to buy Elizabeth a dress so she wouldn't make such crappy home-made ones. And how Elizabeth's mother always made Elizabeth take her to the most expensive restaurant in town, when she knew Elizabeth couldn't afford it. Reading The Help was like getting a glimpse into dysfunctional white family and friendship relationships.

4) This is related to #3. Stockett also gives some understanding of what being a black domestic in the South during this time might have been like. I wrote in an earlier post about how I wondered what things were like for black people on a day-to-day basis during Jim Crow. The Help gives me some idea. However, I have to say that I'm apt to rely on Stockett's take on the white people in the book much more than I am the black people. She is much more intimately familiar with the white experience, because that is the experience that she lived. That could also explain why the Maemo/Aibeleen relationship was so deep, because MaeMo is one of the characters Stockett identifies most closely with (the second being Skeeter.)

5) I liked how Skeeter gave the maids her paycheck from the newspaper while she was writing the book. But did she say where the books proceeds would go once it got published? I don't remember.

6.) I heard that Stockett got 60 rejection letters before she got this book published. Yet another important lesson in the value of perseverance; and what can happen when you don't give up on a goal that's important to you.

6 Things I didn't like about The Help:

1) Overall, I didn't think the book brought that much to the table from a literature standpoint. To me, it read like a novel that the author wrote with the intention of turning it into a movie. I don't like books like that, because they lack a lot of the things that make a book a book, ykwim? In its defense, I read mainly nonfiction. The last contemporary piece of fiction I was was The Road,which was about 20 times better than The Help. It's not about race or inequality, but I would definitely recommend The Road if you're looking for an excellent novel.

2) I felt like the main white character, Skeeter was much more multi-dimensional that the two main black characters, Minnie and Aibeleen. Like I said earlier, I think that Skeeter is the character that Stockett most closely identifies with, so it would make sense that Skeeter seemed more fleshed out as a person. I wouldn't go so far as two call Minnie and Aibeleen caricatures, but I don't think we get as much of a nuanced understanding of them as we do of Skeeter. This fits in with a pattern that I have talked about before of the tendency for white people to be the main idea, while the people of color are on the periphery.

3) I think Stockett's lack of understanding of black people came out in different plot points, some more significant than others. Like, there is a time where she has one of the maids compare her skin color with a cockroach. I really don't think this is something that a black person would do. Of course, I can't say for sure, since I don't share the same thoughts/opinions as every other black person in the world.

Also, when Skeeter decides to pull the prank on Hilly regarding the lawn, she hires two black boys to do the pranking. Given everything that Stockett has already told the reader about how much violence and terror black people are experiencing at that point in time, why would she ask two black teenagers to put themselves in danger for a childish prank?

4) The whole thing with the pie was really gross. I get that Minnie wanted to give Hilly her just deserts, but really? I didn't think that it was an appropriate reaction to Hilly's actions. But I have never found things like that humorous, and I know a lot of people do. I do have to wonder what made Stockett choose that particular form of retaliation. Interesting psychological question to ponder...

5) The whole time I was reading about Skeeter's family and where they lived I was thinking: How much does Skeeter's father Carlton pay his main farm hand? How did Carlton come to be in possession of this plantation? Who got the plantation after Calrton died? What would be the value of this land in 2011 dollars? I wonder where questions like this were on Stockett's radar.

6) A lot of people have been criticizing the book for its portrayal of another "white savior" storyline. I have to say that I didn't really see it that way. I don't think that Stockett intends for Skeeter to be the hero of the book, it is very clear that Minnie and Aibeleen do just as many heroic and virtuous things as Skeeter does. But like I said before, Skeeter in a lot of ways is the main character. She is the one who had the idea for the book, and she is the one that we see driving off into the sunset to her fancy life in New York City; while Minnie, Aibileen and the rest of the maids are left to keep maid-ing it up in Mississippi.

This is what I don't get about why people respond so strongly to this book: What are we as the readers supposed to think happened in early 1960's Mississippi as a result of the book that Skeeter wrote? From what I remember, one white woman and her maid sit down at the dining room table together. And Skeeter gets to go to the Minnie and Aibileen's church and be told how great she is. Big whoop. Hilly's still rich (but embarrassed), Skeeter's still rich and Minnie and Aibileen are still poor.

Now I know I'm starting to sound cynical. It's like, there are already so many books out there that speak to the black experience (many written by actual black people,) why are people so drawn to this one?

The answer (at least in part,) is that Stockett gives us a nice little story, with a nice little ending wrapped up in a happy bow. The bad people are bad, and the good people are good. The good white people do good things, and get love and affection from the good black people.

But it worries me thinking that a lot of white women read this book and thought something like: "I'm going to go out and tell some stories of some poor black people I know. Well, I don't actually know them, but I've seen them before and they seem pretty sad. Their stories need to be told!" It's just such an oversimplification of what we're dealing with, and it annoys me.

The reality is that these issues of race and inequality are so complex and there are so many shades of gray. It's not enough to not be a racist bee-yatch like Hilly. It's not even enough to be a do-gooder like Skeeter. And it is not enough to be the oppressed, yet proud and virtuous black sufferer, like Minnie and Aibileen. We are all much more multi-dimensional than that.

I think the fact that this book is so popular shows that many white people have a thirst for learning more about the history of race relations in this country. This is a good thing. And I know that from the theory of crop harvesting, that some people are going to read The Help and it is going to be an important step on their journey in becoming more in tune with their own racial identity; and gaining a more realistic understanding of not just the history, but the current state of affairs of race relations in this country. That is definitely something I can get behind.

But I am unsettled by the fact that many more people will read The Help and think that the mere act of reading it says something significant about them and their commitment to equality. And that the warm, fuzzy feeling that they get at the end of the book will delude them into thinking that we don't still have a long, long way to go.

I actually have more to say, but this post is already hella long. Maybe another day. But if you have any comments that you'd like to share, I'm all ears.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Public Service Announcement

Here is a another commercial that I think is funny. It's too bad that none of the days of the week start with C, because then I could make it a semi-regular feature, like Music Mondays or Fewer words than usual Wednesdays. Ah, well.

The reason I like this commercial is because it talks about an issue I hold very dear to my heart: soda stealing. It's true, the people who put the thief on blast are black, and I do wonder if that was an intentional casting decision. Black people do have a reputation for being outspoken. And white people do have a reputation for taking things that don't belong to them (ha ha, I'm just kidding, white people (sort of).)

But, regardless of your race, color, creed, or national origin: DON'T STEAL SODA!! It is one of those little things that ultimately leads to the downfall of society. I bet those people at ENRON stole soda all the time.

In other news, it is very nice to see that my post Help me with The Help is eliciting some great comments and discussion. If you are a new reader--welcome! One thing that my long-time readers know, is that I don't post on any sort of regular basis. So if you want to keep updated on the goings on here at, you have a few options...

You can follow me on Google Reader (That's how I keep up with all the blogs I read, but I think you need a gmail account to use it.)
You can "like" on facebook.
You can follow me on twitter.(@myblackfriend)

If you haven't had a chance to weigh in about The Help or if you have, but then thought of something even more brilliant to say after you'd already hit "post comment" click here to add your two or three cents.

And if you'd like to leave a comment about this video, or share any pet peeves you have in the same vein as soda stealing...I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Help me with The Help.

I've tried to write this post two other times. Feeling the effect of knowing my readers, methinks. Blogs (like the entire internet,) started out as these big ol' anonymous things. It's easy to say what's on your mind when no one knows it's you. It's sometimes hard when people do know it's you. builds character.

I decided that my problem with my previous two attempts was that I was trying to say too much. I have a lot of thoughts about this book. However, I've decided that the best plan of action is to keep it short and sweet for now, and save the long and sour for later :p

The movie adaptation of the novel The Help opens today. If you've been living in a hole, The Help is a runaway bestseller written by Kathryn Stockett. It's a story about a group of women in the South during the beginnings of The Civil Rights movement. If you're not familiar with the plot, you can check out the preview for the movie below.

I read this book a few months ago. It's been on the bestseller list for years, so I think I read it kind of on the downswing of the craze. I say that because it was staring me in the face on display at my local library, and I had heard previously that people were having to wait weeks and weeks on their libraries' waiting lists to read it.

To sum up my thoughts: I liked it, but I didn't love it. And I don't really understand why so many people (mainly white women,) did love it. The buzz I've heard about this book far outweighs what I talked about in a previous post about The Blind Side . When I am on pinterest, this book gets posted several times a day by a white woman/girl with the comments like "great!" "I loved this book!" or, "I can't wait to read this!" I would easily say that it the most popular book on the site. And, if you look on Amazon, it's got thousands of reviews and an almost five-star rating. In fact when I went to amazon and typed "t", the prompt said The Help (granted, that could be because I searched for it before--you go to amazon and see if it does the same thing for you.)

So, I need your help...what is the deal with this book? Why are so many white women responding so strongly to it? If you've read it, how did it impact your life? What do you see as the major themes? Why do you think it doesn't seem to be getting as an enthusiastic of a reaction from black readers?

I have some more plot specific thoughts, but I'm going to end it for now. I really hope that those of you that have read it will leave me comments and we can continue the conversation in (a) later post(s). And if you haven't read it, and just want to leave me a comment--that's cool too.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Follow-Up Fridays

I want to revisit this post that I made two weeks ago about an anti-abortion ad that was put up in New York City and taken down the next day. I got some good comments/questions, so I just want to expand further on some of my own ideas, and maybe hear more about what you all might have to say.

My white friend Rebecca said:

Is it true that when the unemployment rates are low and the economy is thriving that crime rates drop?

To the best of my memory the time during the Clinton administration our economy was thriving (we were operating on a surplus right).

Yes, Rebecca I do believe that you are right that when the economy is good, crime rates tend to go down. And you are also right that we had a budget surplus under Bill Clinton (Oh, how times have changed...)

But I also think that the authors of Freakonomics took this into consideration when writing the chapter, and found that crime decreased more sharply under President Clinton than during other times of economic prosperity, leading them to speculate that economic prosperity alone was not an explanation for the significant decrease in the crime rate.

My black friend Michelle said:

My understanding as to why that billboard was immediately taken down was that the parents of the little girl in the ad were not informed (or misinformed) as to the ad content.

Yes, I also heard that the little girl's parents were not aware what her picture was going to be used for. But my understanding was that they knew that it was a stock photo, and models for stock photography know that they don't have any control over where their image is going to end up. It reminds me of that Friends episode where Joey is on posters all around Manhattan that say he has an STD.

Additonally, after doing some more research on the internet, it would seem that the protests of pro-choice groups was the biggest factor in getting the billboard removed. At least according to one of the leaders of a pro-choice group. She wrote in part:

I truly believe that our collective quick action, phone calls and letters to the [billboard] company are directly responsible for their decision to pull the ad.

When I wrote the post, I came across some blogs with phone numbers telling people to call and complain about the ad, saying that it was racist. I'm like, "How is this racist?"

One of the (white) bloggers said that is was insulting black women's intelligence by assuming they weren't smart enough to make informed choices about their own reproductive health. I would argue the opposite; that it was giving black women information they most likely didn't already know that might or might not have a significant impact on what reproductive decisions they choose to make.

Now, I understand that the ultimate goal of the group producing the ad is probably to decrease the number of choices that all women have by making abortion illegal. But I personally don't see anything wrong with bringing to light the fact that there is a disparity in the abortion rates between black women and white women. Just like I don't see anything wrong with highlighting disparities in home ownership, incarceration rates, higher education rates, life expectancy, etc. These disparities exist and they should be discussed.

Michelle also said:

So what if abortions occur disproportionately among Black women?
Black women are at a disadvantage. And that's just the way it is.

I would say if black women are at a disadvantage (at least in part,) due to the legacy of historical racist practices and policies, that is an issue of concern for me. Hell, even if this turns out to be an issue of class and white women are aborting their babies primarily because the don't have the financial means to take care of them--that bothers me a lot too.

The reason that I asked you all if it might be racist/racish to be concerned about the rate of black abortions, is because if a white person was like, "I'm going to have this baby so I can help propagate the white race." We would all be sitting here thinking, "Hmm...white supremacist much?" The whole discussion of the number of white babies vs. the number of black babies can start to sound a little Race War-y. But no one reading seemed to have an issue with that. If you did, leave me a comment and I can try to explain why I don't see it that way.

Both Michelle and my new black friend Dayka (Hi Dayka!) offered up some alternate explanations for why the statistics might be the way they are, or aren't actually the way they seem to be. I guess my answer to this would be that the statistics from the CDC are pretty clear cut, and I don't know that the alternate explanations that you provided would be significant enough to explain away the huge disparities in the abortion rate.

For example, Dayka I know you mentioned that white women are more likely to have abortions through private doctors. This may be true, but most hospitals are required by their state laws to report the number of abortions that occur in their facilities. And I don't believe that two out of three white doctors are "protecting" their white patients by not reporting the fact that the patient had an abortion. Especially when you consider the reporting of the procedures is completely anonymous.

My white friend John Ferguson suggested that maybe more black women don't have abortions, perhaps a subset of black women have several abortions which skews the rates. My response would be: either way, this is a problem.

John Ferguson actually said a lot of other things. John, I wish you and I had been able to talk about this more the last time we saw each other, so I could have cleared up some of the things that I said. But I guess instead, I can do it on my blog where everyone can read it (:

Just a few things I want to clear up:

1) I don't believe that black men are inherently more violent or genetically predisposed to commit more crimes than white men.
2) I do agree with the idea that people born to poor,uneducated mothers are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system. Note that I didn't say commit crimes, I said come into contact with the criminal justice system (i.e. get caught.) So if there are fewer poor black males to target and incarcerate because of abortion, then the crime rate is going to go down.
Just like if there are fewer poor white males to target, the crime rate is going to go down. Remember, the Freakonomics chapter said nothing about race, it focused on class.

As a sidenote, nobody answered my question about if a decrease in the crime rate should be seen as a benefit of legalized abortion.

I think it's interesting that just based on the comments, no one seems to have a problem with the idea that class based abortions are something to be concerned about. Even if it were proven that this had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with class, should it be disturbing to us that poor women have three times as many abortions as middle-class women or rich women? Perhaps it is not racism; it's just classism--does that make it somehow ok?

I think my white friend JD made an excellent point when she said:

It seems like as a society we've decided that age and situation of the mother, the circumstances of the pregnancy, and disability are "good" reasons, whereas race and gender are "bad" reasons [to have an abortion]. Or put another way, if the mother doesn't want a child, it's a good reason; if the mother (or society) doesn't want a particular child, it's a bad reason. [emphasis added]

JD posted a link in her comment to a very thought provoking article about abortions being used for sex-selection in countries like China and India. I would recommend that you all read it.

I think that the pro-choice camp (of which I am currently still a part, ) has painted itself into something of a corner. By promoting this idea of abortions for whomever, whenever, for whatever reason, and fighting tooth and nail any and all attempts to restrict access to abortion, they are insulting the intelligence of the average human being who recognizes that abortion is (at the very least,) an end of the possibility for a particular organism to have a life. And certain organisms are being disproportionately targeted by the procedure.

One of my most favoritest english teachers in college said that abortion was like waking up one morning and having a world class violinist attached to your shoulder. The violinist would die if you cut him off of your shoulder, but if you didn't cut him off, he'd be with you everywhere you went for the rest of your life. What should you/would you do?

I know that there are more comments that I didn't get to and I also know that this post is probably not as polished as it could be. But little dude is doing his afternoon nap wake-up routine, so I have got to go get him. Thank you all for leaving your comments and I hope that we can continue this conversation. And if you are a new reader like Dayka, I hope that you will look over to the sidebar on the right hand side for all the different ways that you can stay connected with me and know when I make new posts.

Thanks for reading; I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high...

Hi! My name is myblackfriend, and today I want to tell you about three books that I really like, and think that you might like too!

The first one is called I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont. The opening lines of this book say:

I like myself
I'm glad I'm me
there's no one else I'd rather be

I like this book because it's pink. And also because it has a little black girl talking about how cool she is, and if other people don't like her...oh well. She's just gonna go on being her super cool self. This is a good message for anybody of any race, sex or age. We can all use a reminder from time to time to embrace our unique us-ness.

The second book is called Please,Baby,Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. This book covers the day in the life of a toddler who finds herself in situations where her parents strongly encourage her to make different choices. I like this book because it has a lot of repetition for young readers. Another thing that makes it unique, is that all the characters are black--even the ones in the background. It's very common to see a book with all white characters, or white main characters with unnamed black characters on the periphery. It is less common to see books with black main characters, and even less common to see books with only black characters.

Lastly, President Obama's children's book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. I have to be honest and say I've only read this book a couple of times. This is because my little guy is still on board books, and I don't want him to rip the pages of this one when we're reading together.

I like this book because is goes through U.S. history and shows how people of all ethnicities helped to make this country great. Like, did you know that an Asian-American woman designed the Vietnam Memorial? I didn't. I do remember their being some controversy when this book came out around the fact that President Obama honors a Native American leader who killed U.S. soldiers and to that I say--give me a break. If citizens of this wonderful country can't come to terms with the fact that the government did some messed up -ish, and weren't always the "good guys," Then we've got a lot of work to do. But I guess we already knew that, didn't we? ;)

So there you have it--three books that I think would make great birthday gifts, baby shower gifts, or just a new addition to your own child's library. I plan to be back tomorrow to do follow up friday on my last post about abortion, so if you'd like to get in on that conversation, feel free. And if you have any favorite books that feature kids of color (or other kids that aren't typically featured in children's books,) that you'd like to share, I'd love for you to leave me a comment.

Friday, July 08, 2011

It's better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again...

There's been something I've been wanting to blog about for awhile now, but I haven't. Mainly because I don't want to start crap and also because I am not exactly sure what I want to say. The possibility of crap starting is very high, because it concerns an extremely sensitive topic: abortion.

The billboard above was put up in a neighborhood in NYC a few months ago. It was taken down the next day, amid protests from I'm not sure who.

Now, I have always considered myself pro-choice. But something about the idea that this billboard is so offensive that it immediately needs to be taken down rubs me the wrong way. It is certainly a provocative ad, and the overt racial angle makes it even more so. I have written here before about how black women get a disproportionate number of the abortions in the U.S. They get almost 40% of the abortions and are only 12% of the female population. To me this is not something to be happy about, or even indifferent about.

But part of me feels like if I want to keep my pro-choice label, this is not something I can have an issue with. Because having an issue with the idea of abortion without restrictions is a slippery slope that leads to abortions for no one other than people who have enough money and connections to get them even when they are illegal.

I have also been doing a fair amount of reading about eugenics lately, and it is disturbing to me how closely the ideas of family planning and getting rid of "degenerates" have been tied if you look back in history. And it makes me wonder how much of that pairing is still unspoken today.

Let's make this even more uncomfortable. I don't know if you've read the book Freakonomics, but you should. It is a really interesting book that uses the lens of economics to explain lots of different things that you wouldn't normally look to that field to explain. There is a chapter that talks about how when Bill Clinton was President, there was a precipitous drop in the crime rate that people were not sure how to explain.

The authors of Freakonomics theorized that the reason for the drop was the legalization of abortion. They argued that babies/fetuses/whateveryouwanttocallthem that were most likely to be aborted, are the same people that were most likely to commit crimes. Fewer potential criminals exsiting = less crime. I believe in the book they talked about people most likely to be criminals were males who were born to young, poor, uneducated single mothers. I read the book a few years ago, but I am pretty sure that I remember that they pointedly did not mention race. However, looking at what I said earlier about the abortion rates, and what I wrote here about incarceration rates, what is left unspoken is that many of these abortions were given to black women having black babies.

I have noticed in conversations that I have had with pro-choice women in the past, there are often statements like, "Well, I would never get an abortion, but I think they should be available for other women."

I have always wanted to ask (and now finally am,) "Why is it necessary for you to let people know that you personally would never have an abortion? What are you trying to tell people about yourself by saying that? And who are these other women that abortion should be an available choice for?"

Here are some other questions that I have:

Do you think it is racist/racish for a black person to be concerned that black women are more likely to have abortions than white women? Why or why not?

Should a reduction in the crime rate because of the legalization of abortion be seen as a benefit of abortion? Why or why not?

If you are pro-choice, reading this, and getting mad me...I want to offer something to you. I think that part of the reason you're getting upset is because I am taking abortion, something that is commonly associated with liberals (i.e. the good white people,) and joining it up with not wanting black people around/not caring if fewer black people are around--something usually associated with conservatives (the racist white people.) Think about it.

I am not sure of the answers to the questions that I posed, which is a big part of the reason I asked them of you. I am very curious to hear your thoughts, so you should strongly consider leaving me a comment. Remember that you can leave comments anonymously.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Fewer words than usual Wednesday

I took the picture above a couple of weeks ago. While I remember seeing this game when I was a little kid, I never actually played it. My guess is it is a lot like The Game of Life.

I took this picture because the game depicts not only a black doctor, but also a female mechanic/handywoman. Whoever designed this cover was really going for it out of the box thinking-wise.

That got me thinking: How many black doctors do I actually know?

I know one personally and one professionally. If we move beyond M.D.s to include PhD's, dentists, etc--I probably know 10-15.

I don't know any female mechanics. I do remember seeing a story on tv once about a garage that was staffed completely by women. I think it was in California.

So fair many black medical doctors do you know personally and/or professionally? How about other black people with Doctorates? What about women that fix stuff for a living? Anything noteworthy about your experiences (or lack thereof) to share?

Hope you all had a nice 4th of July; leave me a comment if you feel so inclined.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Be nice or leave.

Hi folks. I've missed you. Our computer broke for a little over a week about two weeks ago. And when my husband jimmyjacked it to make it start working again, I had to spend time catching up on my pinning of stuff on Pinterest (my newest internet obsession.) I've had a lot that I've wanted to blog about, so I figured I'd jump right back in with a random thought that I had while lounging on the hammock in my in-laws' backyard a few days ago.

You know how when someone is dressed up, or just looking good but not necessarily dressed up, we often say "You look nice!"?

We all know what that means. But 'nice' also means kind and friendly and other similar words. I am wondering how much we all equate looking a certain way (clean, fashionable, well fitting clothes,) with being kind and friendly. And if dressing in dirty, unfashionable, ill-fitting clothes makes people tend to think you are not 'nice.' Even in my earlier sentence I called it looking good. The opposite being looking bad. Dressing up vs. dressing down--you get the point.

I told you it was a random thought, but I think it is worth pondering how often we illogically base someone's personality traits on their outward appearance. And how the dominant culture's standards of what "dressing well" means can influence our views about the personality traits of people from marginalized groups. And how people who don't have the means (or the desire,) to conform are judged in ways that are detrimental to them.

If you have your own thoughts to share, leave me a comment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I believe I will run on, see what the end will be...

Oprah's last show is today. I watched her two-part farewell concert, and it definitely made me stop and think about what a positive impact she has had on the world. It's going to be sad watching the final episode, but I am looking forward to seeing who her final guest is, and what she has to say as she signs off.

I know that since she's a black woman who is also a gagillionaire, there is probably lots to be said when it comes to race and inequality, and how they relate to Oprah's life. But that is not what I wanted to talk about today. Instead, I wanted to share something great that I learned recently from watching her show. Not as potentially life changing as the advice "don't let an attacker take you to a second location," but a nice bit of knowledge nonetheless.

First, you should click here.

If you're not one for doing what people tell you to do (or couldn't watch the video for some reason,) above was a clip about a man named George Dawson. He was a grandson of a slave and learned to read when he was 98! He also wrote a book after he learned to read called Life is So Good. Basically, he sounds like he was an all-around pretty cool guy.

What was remarkable in terms of this post was that Mr. Dawson had a school named after him. Well, that is not that remarkable-- there are probably many schools named after black people. What is really the remarkable thing is that it was a school that was made up of predominantly white students.

Typically, when there is something honoring a person of color, it is in a neighborhood that is populated primarily by people of that same race. Like the joke about all the Martin Luther King Boulevards being where the black people live. It is refreshing to see a break from this pattern, and white children learning about a great man that wasn't white. I would like to see this sort of thing more often, because if we have people who have truly done things that are worth celebrating, they should be celebrated by all of us, not just those of us who look like the person being celebrated.

Oprah's last show is coming on in 45 minutes. And as much as she bugs me sometimes, I can bet money that I am going to cry. I hope that as we are all witness to this end of an era, we can continue to be inspired by the great things that she has done, and the unforgettable guests that we have seen on her show. long do you think it will be before we see some Oprah Winfrey High Schools?

Comments? You know what to do.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Follow-Up Fridays

Ok folks, let's see how this is going to go. So many points to go over, and I am not really sure the best way to organize this.

We should start at the beginning. This entire post is going to be about this post that I wrote last week. I would suggest that you read that post, and the comments that people left before we get started here.

I am going to start with Andrea's comment. First, I want to say thanks to Andrea for being a long-time reader of my blog and also for deciding to comment on that post. I hope that if you read what I have to say in response to your comment and you have more to say, that you will leave me another comment. Then you can become part of my small commenting crew that I love (shout out to all my regular commenters :)

Andrea (like everyone,) said a lot of different things. I am not going to post the whole comment, just some highlights.

You said that racism has to involve a disadvantage, and I can tell from this blog that you have an educational advantage over many white people.

I do have an educational advantage over many white people. First, I was born with a certain level of intelligence. Then, I lived in neighborhoods that allowed me to go to very good schools my entire life. I had engaged teachers, and lots of educational resources at my disposal. I also had parents that had enough money for me to do extra-curricular activities, on top of the already great education I was receiving during school hours.

I was also the only black kid in my classes 98% percent of the time. We always hear this story about black kids going to college and it being some kind of culture shock. Not me. I was all, "Hey! More white people--this is just like high school!"

The reality is, my educational experience is not the educational experience of most black people. And I will be the first to admit that I have a lot of privileges that a broke, uneducated white person doesn't have. But I am wondering why seeing people that looked like me was so uncommon in my high school experience, yet so common when I watch these documentaries about our broken education system where kids don't even have books, or teachers that show up to teach them. The fact that I am such an anomaly is a sign of the institutional racism I am talking about.

This is a good segue into Chunk Hatzumomo's question:

would a white person with little money or power be considered a racist.

Great question, Chunk Hatzumomo. This person can be a racist under the hating people of color definition, but not in terms of exerting power over the life of a person of color definition. Except maybe through doing some sort of physical violence, because that is what I would be most afraid of if I came across a person like this.

You make a good point when you say this caricature is what most white people think of when they think of a racist. I think this idea of the uneducated, trailer-living, klan member is a convenient distraction because it allows other white people to say, "Well, I'm not like that guy, let me go along my merry way." Without ever having to look at the things that they are doing that do contribute to the problem of racism.

Okay, back to Andrea.

because of your skin color you don't believe that you could ever be racist. I think that other groups feel that they have a free pass to act in racist ways toward white people because of the same mom/dad thing you were writing about the other day.

I did not say that I could never be racist. If we're using the hating people of a different race definition, I said in my original post that all people are capable of being racist. And even in my mom/dad post, the whole point of that post was that if the tables were turned and the marginalized groups became the dominant groups, that they would have to make sure to fight the tendency to do the things that were done to them, out of some sort of retaliation. Like the guy who pledges the fraternity and gets hazed really badly, and becomes the most sadistic frat brother when it's his turn to do the hazing. I won't call it human nature, but there is definitely something that can happen with people who have been wronged. I first heard it on that show Beyond Scared Straight on A&E: Hurt people hurt people. I think it is probably just easier to inflict pain on others when you've been hurt, than it is to have compassion
for the people that hurt you, or just for people in general.

I have always found the highlighted part of your racish condescending and somewhat offensive. I can't imagine a situation where a white blogger could use the phrase "doesn't that make you happy black people?" without being thought of as racist.

I don't think it's racist, I think it's funny. It was meant as a joke. The reason that I wrote that part of the definition is because one one thing I have noticed about some white people is how upset they get about the idea that there are things that people of color are allowed to say that white people aren't allowed to say (we all know what I am talking about.)

I bet if you took a survey, this topic would be in the top three of things related to race that white people would want to discuss. It's like, "Really? Of everything, this is what you want to talk about?

Now, the phrase being condescending--I could see that. It wasn't my intention for it to be condesending or offensive, so that should settle that part of it. If a white blogger wrote something similar, I wouldn't think it was racist. Racish, maybe--but that just gives us an opportunity to talk about it further, because that's what it means for something to be racish.

Ok, JD is up next

People of color can be racist against other people of color

True. This is called internalized racism. Sorry JD, I could write more about this, but I still have a lot to cover and I am already getting tired of writing. I'm sure you understand.

what does it mean to be "white"?

I think this is an excellent question. I know when I think of white I think first of people who descended from Western and Northern Europeans, followed by people whose ancestors come from Eastern and Southern Europe. I would not consider people from the Middle East or Latinos white, even though the U.S. Census would.

I think the myriad of ways that one could answer this question just helps to support the idea that the entire concept of race is a social construct and doesn't have any "true" meaning. You can read more about my thoughts about what it means to be white by clicking here . There is also a book in my Read More Books sidebar called Learning to be White that talks about this. I also just checked out a book from the library called The History of White People that might give some info--maybe I'll write a blog post about it when I'm done reading.

And now: my mom. I know you are all jealous that your mom's don't comment on your blogs (and vociferously disagree with you to boot ;)

a black person's racism can be quantifiable and have a significant negative impact on a white person. If I don't like my white boss, I can sabotage his success. I can sue a company if I feel discriminated against and impact their bottom line. I can get myself in a position of power and perform reverse discrimination as deftly and shrewdly as the next white guy.

One important thing that I left out of my definition of racism that I thought of in two minutes was the idea that the best examples highlight some kind of pattern. So mom, if there is a pattern of white bosses being sabotaged by their racist black employees, or qualified white males being denied opportunities at every turn because of "reverse discrimination," I would like to see them. And the idea that a black person suing for experiencing racism is itself racist--I don't have a response to that.

If your ancestors were guilty of some heinous act and you had to suffer for it today, would that feel good?

I don't think white people are suffering because of what their ancestors did (or didn't do.) They might feel some combination of gulity, confused, ashamed, angry, proud, neutral, defensive, concerned or any number of other emotions--but suffering is not how I would describe it.

Alas, I am not white, so if any of my white readers want to jump in and let me and my mom know how you feel about the "heinous acts" of your ancestors--leave me a comment.

Perhaps by having a belief that whites are the ones "doing all the racism" and you being a powerless person of color, you are hurting no one but yourself by having those beliefs.

This part of your comment really pissed me off. Do you really think that I believe I am powerless? I know you can't really think that. Right now I am just shaking my head at the computer screen.

The fact that I spend time writing about power and different ways that I, and other people are treated unfairly because of the different ways that we don't conform to the dominant culture is not an example of me being powerless, it is an example of me having power. You say that thinking that white people "do all the racism" makes me angry and defensive. No, having racism done to me is what makes me angry and defensive. It doesn't really matter what I think, it matters what I live and what I see other people living. This makes me angry. This makes me angry. This.

And this.And this.And this.And this.

These things happen whether I write about them or not. Coming here and writing about them makes me less angry, because it lets me feel like I am doing something to change this fucked up world we live in. Sorry mom, I know you don't like it when I curse, but sometimes curse words are the most appropriate words to use.

Okay, I am going to wrap it up. I have to admit, I was apprehensive about responding to my mom on the public forum that is my blog. But then I remembered that what I know about people tells me that the majority of you have complicated relationships with your moms too. This makes me feel less weird about it.

I also want to point out that I spent the bulk of my time talking about privileged black people, underprivileged white people, brown on brown racism, white Arabs with blond hair, and scheming and conniving black employees. What are the reasons for this? Who/what are we not talking about when we're talking about those people?

I'll leave you with a comment from my white friend John Ferguson:

Water flows downstream, and so water molecules flow downstream. Of course for a moment, because of an intervening event (like a rock thrown into the river causing a splash), some water molecules might go upstream. Not too informative about the way rivers work, or where the water is going to end up.

I would really love to hear your comments, so please--share them with me.