Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fewer words than usual Wednesday

Yes, I know this picture is a lot like this picture and these pictures from other wordless wednesday posts. But don't get mad at me, get mad at the companies for making so easy for me to find material. Besides, this one's got a ladder! You know, in case the messages from the other pictures were too subtle :p

I apologize for the reflection and blurriness, I was trying to take the pic as fast as possible in case someone who worked in the store decided to come out. And if there's anybody out there who finds pictures that reinforce or debunk my theory, feel free to send them to me at: myblackfriend at my blackfriendsays dot com. Be sure to include your name/alias and where you got the picture from.

Comments? Leave 'em.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

All the news that's fit to print.

Several months ago, my faithful reader JD made a comment on this post that said that I should make a post about all the various inequities that exist between black people and white people in different aspects of life. I always thought that was a good idea, but thought it would require me to spend some time on the internet gathering my facts. And since it's hard enough as it is for me to just sit down and write stuff on the blog, I really didn't know when making a post that required actual research would ever happen.

But then I read a book called The Covenant With Black America. It's a collection of essays written by black scholars that talks about problems facing the black community, and what can be done to solve these problems.

Each chapter outlines a problem, and also has several statistics that help to illustrate the disparities that exist. This means that I no longer have to do research on the internet, I can just pass the statistics onto you all. Voila: blog post written.

I'm not going to change the writing that much. I don't think that's plagarism since I'm not hiding my source, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's some sort of copyright infringement since I'm sharing a fair amount of the material from the book. Hopefully, I won't get sued.


-- 33% of black students in 7th through 12th grade have been suspended or expelled from school at some point vs. 15% of white students.

--for black people ages 16-24, 13% do not have a high school diploma or GED vs.7% of white people from the same age group.

--the nationwide college graduation rate for black students who enroll in college is 40%, compared to 61% for white students.

--46% of black adults scored in the lowest category of proficiency in the National Adult Literacy survey, vs. 14% of white adults.
(Click on the link to get an idea of the skills that the survey seeks to assess.)

Criminal Justice System

--13% of black men have permanently lost their right to vote as a result of being convicted of a felony. The same is true for about 2% of men of other races.

--Black people are about 12% of the U.S. population, and about 44%(!) of the prison population.

--The black prison population grew by 300% between 1954 and 1984, and from 1954 until the early 2000's has increased 900%(!) [Sidenote: What era of time in U.S. history does the mid-1950's roughly coincide with?]

--Young people of all ages use drugs at similar rates, but black youth represent 60-75% of all drug arrests.

--Black youthful offenders are twice as likely to be transferred to adult court than their white counterparts.


--Nationwide, 10% of black drivers pulled over were likely to be searched or have their vehicles searched, vs. 3.5% of white drivers.

--A study on the New Jersey turnpike found that while only 13.5% of cars
on the turnpike had a black driver or passenger, 73% of motorists stopped and then arrested were black.

--57% of black police officers believe that officers are more likely to use violence against African-American people than white people, while only 5% of white police officers agree.


--49% of the homeless population is black.

--Black renters are 20 times more likely to get less information than white renters of similar economic backgrounds when inquiring about advertised housing. Landlords tell them about fewer apartments and don't show them everything that is available.

--Homeownership rates: 49% for black people compared to 76% for white people.

-- Black and Latino people make up 62% of bus riders. Only 12% of the Department of Transportation's budget is spent on public transit, compared to 60% spent on highways, which serve primarily white suburban commuters.


--Black people own/have 1.2% of the wealth in the United States. This figure has not changed since the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Just a couple of things I want to say...

There are other areas of life/additional statistics that are talked about in the book that I don't mention here.

If your first inclination is to question the validity of the information presented, you should read this post.

You might find the stats on prisons/arrests/etc. on a white supremacist website. This helps to illustrate the idea that so much of how we process information depends on our perspective.

This book was written five years ago. I don't think long enough for things to change significantly in one direction or the other.

I think we should all just marinate on what we've just read, and perhaps ponder these questions:

--What feelings came up for you as you were reading?

--How much of this did you already know? The things that you did already know, where/when did you learn them?

--What statistics are most surprising? Least?

If you'd like to read the book, you can buy it on Amazon,or see if they have it at your local library.

And if you have anything that you'd like to share, feel free to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cry me a river...

I said in my last post that I would explain why/how I went from writing a post about how I understand that it's hard to speak out about -isms to actually speaking out about one.

One thing that I know about myself is that annoyed is a feeling I feel fairly regularly. We could try to analyze the reasons behind this fact, but for now let's just say that lots of different things annoy me.

One thing that really annoys me is when white people tell me stories about how they have recently witnessed something racist happen. Okay, just telling me the story isn't annoying. Telling the story in a "Can you believe that ignoramous said that ?!?" way followed up with the revelation that the white person telling me the story just sat there and didn't say anything. Said white person might classify their reaction as stunned silence.

I want to turn to this person and say, " White person, I can believe that you heard so-and-so say that. You know why?

Because so-and-so has probably gone through his/her whole life saying these racist/racish things, and has had these comments met with laughter or silence. So and so doesn't even know you well enough to know you'd be offended; so obviously this kind of stuff comes out of so-and-so's mouth pretty easily. And everytime so-and-so says one of these comments and isn't called out on it, so-and-so gets the message reinforced that saying those things is ok. "

When I hear a white person tell a story like this, there are two things that bum me out. The first one is hearing the story. It's always sad to be reminded of the fact that racism still exists. The second one is knowing that there was a person who knew that something wrong was happening, but didn't speak up. A person who (since they are not black,) can't have their comments immediately dismissed as being oversensitive/having a chip on his/her shoulder/etc.

So, knowing how much stories like this irritate me when they involve people of color, I knew I couldn't in good conscience come to my blog and write about how I had the opportunity to talk to someone about homophobic remarks and didn't take it.

Now, I am not saying that you must speak out each and every time you hear someone say something disrespectful/hateful/ignorant about a member of some marginalized group. I don't choose to take the time/energy to do that and I can see why you wouldn't either. But hey if you want to...knock yourself out.

But what I don't want is for you to come and talk to me about it, oblivious to the very important role you played in the exchange. If you want to talk to me about it like, "I heard this, and I know I should have said something--but I didn't. What can I do differently next time something like this happens?" I can work with that. Or if you want to just keep your story to yourself as you struggle internally with why you didn't do something--I can work with that too.

Maybe now you're thinking, "myblackfriend, you're not being very compassionate/understanding right now. You weren't this mean to Ken --Why are you being so hard on me? I'm one of the good ones!?!!

I just want to interject and say that I am cracking myself up over here.

It's true...if you are a white person and taking the time to read this blog, you probably have a level of race awareness that most white people in the United States do not have. But I think that it is important to realize that you probably have just enough information to be dangerous--remember John Mayer? It is precisely because you are more up on things than the average white person that I am being less forgiving.

It's like gymnastics: When you are a little two or three-year-old and you take a gymnastics class, everyone cheers and applauds for every little move that you do.

Somersault? Whoo hoo!!
Barely marginal cartwheel? Here's your trophy!

That's kind of what Ken is like. Ken is still learning the "don't post slurs on the internet" lesson of awareness. So any movement past that is to be celebrated.

But're advanced. You're like "Hey I like gymnastics, and I think I'm pretty good at it--I'm going to keep taking lessons." So you hire me, your mean old Romanian coach. And it seems like all I do is criticize you. You even break your ankle twice and have to miss your Prom!

You start to wonder, "Is this really worth it?" But when you start boo-hooing to me about it I say, "You don't like it? Get out of my gym!"

That's just my way of figuring out how badly you want it. I don't really want you to go, because I know you've got potential. But if you don't want to work-- Hey, I'm not going to beg you to stay.

That's pretty much what it's like with this blog. This is my space to say what I think/feel. If it is too much for you, then don't read it. If I start censoring myself here...only bad things will happen. Work around these issues is hard; and it is probably going to be hard for as long as you and I are alive. It is only the people who are willing to do the hard work, to ask themselves the tough questions, and to make the tough decisions that are going be the ones moving us towards positive change. Everyone else will just be sitting on the sidelines.

Comments? Leave them below.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The rest of the story...

Awhile back, I wrote about Tyler Clementi's suicide and how it (and the suicides of countless other teens,) spurred me to recommit myself to speaking out about homophobia and also continue to examine my own heterosexist thoughts and feelings.

Well, wouldn't you know it, just a few days after I wrote that post I had the opportunity to put my proverbial money where my proverbial mouth was. Here's how it all went down...

I was on Facebook and I noticed that one of my friends (a member of my extended family actually,) was making comments every so often about gay people that seemed to be intended as jokes, but were very liberal in their use of gay slurs. It's interesting because even with the Public Service Announcements that are around these days, it would seem that using derogatory language around being gay is still pretty prevalent among young people.

So I'm reading my news feed, seeing these comments and thinking to myself, "Ok, I need to say something about this because I consider myself a person who cares about these issues. And if I am a person that truly cares, I have to show it through my actions."

Not long after having those thoughts, these strong feelings of fear and anxiety came over me. "What if Ken (that's my fake name for my relative,) gets really angry? What if he defriends me? What if he talks to some of our other relatives, and it turns into this big thing?"

What's funny about this is that Ken is not someone that I talk to often and see even less frequently; so my concern about what he would think didn't make a whole lot of sense. But as I type that last sentence, I understand that my fear actually does make a lot of sense. Because I (like most other people,) have a basic need to feel liked and accepted by others. Especially members of my own family. And I was considering risking that like and acceptance to speak out about something that many would argue doesn't directly affect me.

So, after I decided I needed to say something, I also just happened to decide that I needed to clean my house. So I did some vacuuming. Then I did some organizing of my books and papers. Then I did some straightening of my couch cushions. Next thing you know it was almost 5 o'clock, and time for me to go pick my husband up from work. As I was driving to pick him up, I thought to myself, "Making this decision to speak to Ken is really hard. Maybe I won't say anything. Then I can make a blog post about how hard it is, and how my difficulty helps me understand why my white friends don't speak out about racism."

[Spoiler alert: Luckily, that is not what this blog post is going to be about, and I will explain why later.]

Eventually, I decided to stop my procrastinating, and started to take some steps that were going to help me say what I needed to say to Ken.

I went for help to the same place that I go to find answers to many of life's burning questions: Google. Google is actually my homepage, so I went there and typed in: How to respond to homophobic comments or something like that.

I came across a British site that said if you hear a comment like this, you should turn to the person say "Well, isn't that a disgusting comment?" and turn away.


I think reacting in that way would primarily serve to make the person making the comment feel shamed, which would most likely lead to anger and defensiveness. That was not the reaction that I was going for.

After, clicking on a couple more links, I realized that I would pretty much be on my own when it came to crafting a response to Ken. This is what I came up with:

Yo Ken-

I wanted to write you about some stuff that I've seen recently on your wall. I've debated writing this message for a couple of days, but finally decided that it was better to say something than to not.

I think that the gay related comments that I've been reading recently are not very cool. I know that you and your friends are probably just joking around, but anti gay comments, lead to anti gay feelings, which lead to anti gay behavior. Maybe not by you, but I'm sure you've got some young impressionable people among your FB friends.

Besides, you are a funny guy, and I know that you can find other ways to show that fact that don't include putting other people down.

So, that's it. I hope that I can still maintain my favorite [insert familial relationship here] status. If you want to talk more about this--you know where to find me.

Change Ken to his name and to my name and you've got the actual message unedited. There are a couple of things that I think are important to point out about what I wrote.

1) I tried to make the message as brief as possible. I didn't want any extra words, because I felt like the more extraneous words the greater likelihood the message I was trying to convey would get lost.

2) I tried to speak his language. He's young and hip, so I tapped into my young and hip side by using totally up-to-the-minute slang like, yo and cool. :p

It's important to note that I wasn't being inauthentic, I use those words even when I'm not talking to teenagers. The point is that since he's a young guy, I used a more casual tone than I would have if I'd been talking to my Grandma.

3) I started by telling him that I debated even writing him about it. The hope is that by expressing my hesitation, I am making myself a little vulnerable to him, which might make him feel less defensive.

4) I made the point clear that words can lead to actions, which is why something as minor as a status update is important.

5) I didn't claim to know what his intentions were, or make any assumptions about what him using that kind of language meant about him as a human being. I feel strongly that if I am trying to influence others to be more compassionate, the best way to do that is to be compassionate myself.

I've gone back and forth about whether or not I should tell you all about what happened next. I've decided that I shouldn't and I've got a pretty good reason.

I know, I know, some of you are now thinking, "Oh, it was a complete disaster." I will say that it wasn't. I will also say I was satisfied with the outcome.

But the reason I don't want to share the details is because if you go back to the first paragraph, what I am committing to doing is not changing the behavior of others. Since I don't have superpowers, I don't have the ability to control what other people do. What I can control is my own behavior. I can decide, "I'm gonna say something. And I'm gonna say it in the way that I think gets my point across most effectively."

I interviewed a guy once who was applying for a fundraising position who said, "It's not my job to raise money, it's my job to ask for money. And as long as I'm asking for money in the best possible way, I am doing my job." Love that answer.

When we confront people about -ism's--we can't control how they respond. All we can control is how we present what we have to say, and how we respond to whatever reaction they might have. Of course, we're doing it in the hopes that it will change behavior, but if that becomes the focus. it becomes really easy to stay in this place of doing nothing. We can psych ourselves out before we even take action by saying, " Oh, that is not going to work. She's not going to change her mind."

There's some other saying (I can't remember the exact wording,) about how if you don't try, you are 100% guaranteed to fail. My goal is to attempt to throw a wrench into the workings of the status quo. To be true to myself by refusing to remain silent. To say to people, "Everyone does not think like you do. Here's another way to look at this." I hope by sharing my message to Ken, I might be able to help you when you want to say something to someone but are afraid; or feel like you just don't know how.

I could talk about an analogy involving farming and therapy, but I think I've shared enough sayings and stories for today. If you have any thoughts, comments, questions--feel free to leave them. And if you'd like to share what superpower you'd choose to have (I think I'd go with invisibility,)...feel free to leave that too.