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.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Return to Treasure Island.

Hmmm. So when I wrote my last post about the flea market, I really wasn't expecting to get as many comments as I did. Not that I am complaining, I just thought the post that I wrote the week before was more interesting.

Anyways, I figured I would respond to your responses. My old friend anonymous had this to say:

Does everything about race offend you? If she saw you coming and hid the book ( but not before you saw the title), would that offend you?

Maybe there aren't many black folks where you live and she was trying to sell the book to the author's intended audience.

Let's start at the beginning...

Does everything about race offend you?


lololololololol, just kidding. No, anonymous--everything about race does not offend me.

If she saw you coming and hid the book ( but not before you saw the title), would that offend you?

No, it would not offend me. I would think it was weird though. I actually wasn't offended when she showed me the book. It was more like, "Gee you must have very limited interaction with black people if your first instinct after talking to a black person for 30 seconds is to show them something about black people." I actually thought it was funny. People can just be clueless sometimes, and this incident was a good example of that.

If I had been offended, I wouldn't have helped her to make a living by purchasing the book that I was originally looking at.

Maybe there aren't many black folks where you live and she was trying to sell the book to the author's intended audience.

Who is the author's intended audience? What are you basing your answer to the last question on?

So many times when I write this blog, I think to myself: Do I need to make such and such explicit, or can I just leave what I've written as is? I usually decide to just leave it, because that means less writing for me. But more often than not, I get comments that make it clear to me that perhaps there is no such thing as overexplaining/oversharing.

I do not think the lady at the flea market is a mean, bad or evil lady. I am not in her head, but my impression of the situation is that she had no malicious intent when she showed me the book. I do think that her showing me the book came primarily from the fact that I was black. As I said in the original post, I don't have a problem with a white vendor showing me something that is related to being black, if it makes logical sense.

And in my understanding of logic, black person = automatically interested in purchasing black item ≠ logical sense. It's not like the book was just sitting on top of the stack, she actually dug through a pile to show me this book. I am a fan of suggestive selling as much as the next person, but I know enough about selling to know that you are more likely to build the sale if the items you suggest are somehow related to the original item.

Moving on.

yourwhitefriend (who actually is my white friend) made two comments on this post.


For reals. I witnessed this event and still can't believe it happened.

And then a little later:

I have to say, though, that what if she really did just think that the pictures were cool, and had absolutely no idea what the title was (since she obviously had no idea what it was about either, I wouldn't put it past her to be that clueless)? Or maybe she did realize what the title was, but thought you might enjoy the pictures anyway, as someone who was expressing an interest in old books. Wouldn't it have been worse/racish if she were going to show you the book to point out the pictures, but then chose not to for fear of offending you?

Yes, this is giving her more credit than she probably deserves, but it's perhaps something else to think about.

Welcome to my brain, mywhitefriend. There are many times (though not in this particular instance,) where I have strange encounters with white people where I wonder if they were racist/racish/neither. I spend precious minutes after the fact trying to figure out what was going on. This is time I could be using to decide what I'm going to make for dinner, what I think the U.S.'s next step should be in Afghanistan, or who I think is going to get voted off this week on Dancing With The Stars.

Remember when you were talking to me about how rude other shoppers were being at the market? When that happens to you, you know instantly that it's happening because those people are just rude or having a bad day or something similar. You don't spend any time at all wondering if they are rude because they don't like people that look like you. Think of the brain space that frees up!

I realize that don't have to think about such things. But I don't really believe that ignorance is bliss. I prefer to have as accurate of an understanding as possible about the world around me, and often that means analyzing things that happen to me. I don't let racist/racish things that happen in my life limit me in significant ways. However, I also believe in holding other people accountable for their actions instead of deciding to bear the burden all myself. Just like it is helpful for me to learn how to react to things in productive ways, isn't it also helpful for others to learn to act in productive ways? I think so.

Comments? You know what to do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Treasure Island.

Last weekend, I went to a great event. A craft and flea market in my area, filled with locals selling their handmade and/or vintage wares. I went last year and found some great Christmas presents, and I figured I'd go again and see what I came across.

So, I am perusing one of the stalls that is run by a middle-aged white woman. I saw some vintage books, and there was one in particular that caught my eye. The woman running the booth came up to me and said, "That book is old; it was published in 1935." I can't say what the book was, because I don't want to ruin the surprise for the person that is going to get it this Christmas. Then kind of out of nowhere, the woman reaches under another stack of books and says, "Look at this one!" She then shows me:

If you cant see the picture for some reason, the book is called The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. The woman then tells me, "I don't know what it's about, but it's got some pretty cool illustrations that you could take out and frame."

Why is she showing me this book? She said herself that she didn't know what the book was about, so she couldn't have been showing it to me because she thought the books were related in some way. I also never said anything about wanting a book with illustrations I could frame. So, I just smiled, looked at the book for about three quarters of a second, and then put it down and bought the other book that I had been looking at initially.

The moral of this story: If you have a store, don't show me the black related stuff you have because I'm black. If it makes some sort of logical sense, then fine. And if anyone wants to buy me the black related new Lupe Fiasco CD, that would be fine too.

The End.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Music Mondays

I don't get to hear much new music these days. I am a stay-at-home mom now, and I always used to hear most of my new music driving in my car on my way to school or work. But now I don't go either of those places. So I probably first heard this song on my way to Target.

As usual, there is some language. If you 'd like to follow along with the lyrics, you can click here.

I like this song because it is another example of an uplifting rap song. You can't really have too many of those. I like how he talks to kids through so much of it, and the international focus. I have been lucky enough to see Lupe Fiasco in concert, and I am really glad that he makes such thought provoking, well-written and catchy music.

On a quasi-related note: My last post has elicited some varied and passionate reactions. I've enjoyed reading the comments, and am glad to see people taking the time to weigh in on what I had to say. I'm thinking I should probably get started on my responses soon if I want to be ready in time for follow-up fridays. If you would like to get in on the discussion, click here.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

M is for the million things she gave me...

So, I was going to come here and write a post about my mom anyways. But then I realized, hey it's almost Mother's Day! I can make a Mother's Day tie-in somehow! So anyone googling race and inequality mother's day... Boom! My blog.

I was talking to my mom on the phone and she was reading this post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Everything was going fine, she was laughing at all the appropriate funny places and then all of a sudden she said something like, "Ooooh. Uh oh."

I was like, "What?" Cause as far as I could remember, there wasn't really anything to "Ooooh. uh oh." about.

Then she read me back this line:

But it would be somewhat ridiculous to say that I don't care at all what the white people think, because they're the ones that do all the racism andiftheydon'tstopdoingtheracismthenwhyamIwritingthisdernthing? [emphasis added]

My mom is black and was born in the 1950's, and she had a problem with me saying this. So that made me think that perhaps I should take the opportunity to clarify what I meant.

First, I know that the words racism and racist are very charged words, and not things that most white people are interested in being associated with in any way. The United States has a horrible history when it comes to racism, and it is understandable that people who live today would want to distance themselves from these words as much as possible. Plus, because strides have been made since the Civil Rights movement, a lot of what happens today in terms of race and inequality probably isn't best described as racist.

This is why I made up the word racish. If you haven't been reading this blog for very long and have no idea what I am talking about, please click on the link, where I explain in detail what the word racish means.

I want to highlight here a part of the definition that I wrote back then...

This is not a term that only applies to white people--doesn't that make you happy, white people? I thought it would (:

So when I came up with this word, implicit in the definition was the idea that people of color could be racish, but they could not be racist . And that idea is what made my mom say uh-oh. As far as my mom is/was concerned people of color can be just as racist as white people. She then went on to give me some examples.

My mom is not alone. Chris Rock, in one of his more famous standup bits, says that the most racist people he knows are old black men. He then pretends to be an old black man who is nice to a white guy, but as soon as the white guy walks away, he starts mumbling angrily, "Cracker ass cracker."

The thinking being that because this old black man has lived through the Civil Rights movement (and the time before the movement,) he basically hates white people and doesn't really want to have anything to do with them. I'm not doing the bit justice here, it's funnier if you watch it.

So both my mom and Chris Rock have this idea that racism = hating/disliking people of a different race than you, because of the color of their skin. If this is the definition that we're using then yes, in our current society all people are capable of committing acts of racism.

But is not how I would define the word racism, and it is not the definition that I was thinking of when I wrote what my mom uh-oh'd about.

To me, racism has to include some element of quantifiable disadvantage. It could be economic, educational, professional or the like--just something that is significant and has a negative impact on a person's life. So a black man calling a white man a cracker behind his back wouldn't apply, because it doesn't have any negative consequence for the white man--especially because the white man didn't even hear it. And even if he had heard it, it is questionable how much of a negative psychological impact something like that would have. My white friends: If a person of color called you a cracker right now, what would your reaction be? Would you cry? Laugh? Not know what the hell they were talking about? Have your whole day ruined? I'm curious to know.

Here are some things that I would consider racism:

A person being less likely to be called in for an interview because they have a black sounding name.

People of color being given higher interest rates on mortgages than white people,even though they have similar credit scores.

How even though white people and black people use illegal drugs at similar rates, a black person is six times more likely to go to prison on a drug charge than a white person.

The things that I just highlighted are much more significant to me than someone giving someone else a dirty look, calling them a name, or cutting in front of them in line. And I often think that it is things like that that people are referring to when they talk about people of color being racist. The examples that I gave above could be defined as institutional racism, and those are the things that really chap my hide.

One example that I am willing to concede that might be considered racism is a white kid who lived in a neighborhood that was predominantly kids of color and the white kid got beat up by the kids of color. This is because the kids of color are using their physical power to put the white kid at a significant disadvantage. But I will say the claim of racism would be strengthened, if for example, the white kid went to the Latino principal for help and was told that he just needed to suck it up. Because that would be an example of the Latino principal using his power as the principal to thwart the goals of the white kid.

But the reality of the situation is that there are way more white principals than Latino principals, way more white judges than black judges, way more white people calling in applicants for interviews than Asian people making the calls. In short: way more white people with power than people of color with power. And that is what I meant when I said white people are doing all of the racism.

Like I said a couple of blog posts back, it's not about white people being evil and people of color being good, it's about power and how people choose to behave in relationship to that power. And the sad reality is that we live in a society that has us all working to perpetuate the problems, unless we make conscious decisions to perpetuate the solutions.

So mom, thanks for reading my blog and for giving me your honest feedback on it. I probably would not even be writing this thing if you hadn't raised me to be a person who was confident in my abilities, and shown me (through your own example,) how to be a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. I love you (:

And if any of you other readers have honest feedback you would like to give, I am all ears.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Music Mondays

Speaking of Animal Farm , This is the best rap song based on a George Orwell book I've ever heard. You can follow along with the lyrics here. Be warned that there is a fair amount of profanity:

Random fact: The clip at the beginning is from Planet of the Apes.