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.


  1. Chunk Hotzomomo9:11 PM

    So, by this definition, would a white person with little money or power be considered a racist. Someone like a former klan member who lives in a trailer and is unemployed, yet still holds a very negative opinion of black people. The irony is, if they are not considered a racist because they have no power, this is exactly the person white folks think about when the term "racist" is used. White people think, "I am not a racist, because I was never in the klan."

  2. Andrea10:56 PM

    I have followed your blog for a while now and I have some responses to this post.
    I think the fact that you said white people do all the racism is a racist statement. 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. Yet regardless of your advantages, 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 also think this post would reinforce that belief because according to you, no matter what a non-white person does it is not racist.
    I think that whether or not a person hears a racist statement or whether they let it affect their life does not determine if it is racist, but it should instead be based on the intentions the person saying it.
    Lastly, 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.

  3. I checked to make sure I was still following your blog, for some reason, not all of your posts have been showing up in my reader. I'm not offended by the post where you used my comment as a springboard for a post. You stated your case well. That poor guy wearing the yellow shirt in the crowd of suits. Even though I was born in a 'suit', I always feel like the yellow shirt guy, so I'd totally give my business card to him. I also like trying new/different foods so anytime I see the word 'ethnic', I usually buy it because I like to try to explore and broaden my base of knowledge. Which is VERY limited because I grew up in a town of about 3,000........99.5% white....That town of 3,000 was surrounded by many other towns about the same size....same, same, same....Which is sad, very.

    I hope I'm not beating a dead horse. Just wanted to let you know I'll be reading and visiting. You have a great blog and make thoughtful posts.

  4. Being white, cracker doesn't bother me in the very least at all. I don't know who started it, or even what it is supposed to mean. So I'm some sort of bread type item that has been baked?

    Beyond that there's some interesting definitions and thoughts in there. In my VERY short and less intense experiences (thus far) with racism I had two things come to mind.
    The first was when we watched a friend who had been pulled over and was going to get a ticket get arrested. Why? Because the police officer noticed there was a black man in the passenger seat. My husband watched the whole thing unfold. What started as a speeding violation (which was legitimate) turned into their car being searched because the officer 'knew the passenger was high.' I have been pulled over a few times for speeding. I have NEVER had to be patted down, had my car searched, or even gotten a ticket for that matter. I often wonder if/how that will change as my daughter gets older. So racism is (in my book)mostly a white man's sin.
    I do know a black woman who hates white people. But frankly, she can do nothing more than treat me badly, call me names, and get angry about the fact that I adopted a black baby. She can't arrest me, and I am capable of just avoiding all interactions with her. Where as people of another race who are being singled out for racism can't avoid those who are hating them. They are their employers, casheirs, police officers, judges, and so on and so on.
    At this point in my life when I hear someone say the comment, 'I'm not racist, but...' I just go ahead and brace myself for their racist comment that is coming. And if my daughter is with me I do the rude thing and walk away.
    It's easy as a white person to read your post and get defensive. But the reality of it is that it's true.


  5. Anonymous7:13 PM

    I see what I think you mean--the large narrative of racism in American has largely been white racism against blacks. I agree that white people are unlikely to be victims of racism. However, I want to point out two things.

    1. People of color can be racist against other people of color. I know Asians who are racist against black people, and Asians who are racist against other Asians. For example, my Chinese-American friend's parents didn't want him to marry his Cambodian-American wife because they look down on Cambodians.

    2. White people can be victims of racism for reasons other than their skin tone. The issue of ethnicity is an important factor. For example, I have a friend who is of mixed Lebanese and Scottish descent. He looks as white as I do--dark blonde hair, etc. But he has a Middle Eastern sounding name--let's call him Ahmed. His grandparents were Catholic Lebanese immigrants, so he doesn't even fit the stereotype of an "Arab." Anyway, Ahmed goes by a nickname, "Andy." He's currently looking for a job and found that he gets a lot more callbacks if he puts Andrew on his resume instead of Ahmed, and he's started going by Andrew with friends, as well.

    This brings up a point that would be interesting to explore: what does it mean to be "white"? I think that people have a certain idea in their mind about what it means, but it's not always articulated. According to the US Census, people of North African/Middle Eastern descent are white, and so are many Latinos, but do we think of them that way? When we say white people are not victims of racism, do we mean people of Northern European descent (I think to some extent that is what we mean)? I'm curious what you think.


  6. Anonymous3:37 AM

    So I looked up racism on Here is what it said:

    1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    It is the third definition that I define as racism. Actually, the third one is responsible for the first and second, IMHO.

    With that in mind, isn't it probable that blacks are as racist than whites, if not more so? After all, we supposedly harbor all that anger over what whites did to our ancestors, on top of not being called for (or getting) the job we applied for, getting the house we qualified for at a higher interest rate, or being afraid that my new residence might be a one-bedroom all-in-one micro-mini condo if the cops ever stopped me and found a blunt. I think you did concede that point, but I just wanted to drive it home.

    By your definition, 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 (see I can get myself in a position of power and perform reverse discrimination as deftly and shrewdly as the next white guy.

    That is, if I don't believe that crap about black people not being as smart as white people...

    You asked your white friends what their reaction would be if a person of color called them a cracker. I would venture to say it would depend on what was in their heart. They might appear to laugh it off, but if they really believed the teachings of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, they would be hurt that the negative legacy of their ancestors has affected other's perception of them today.

    Stop and think about that for a moment. If your ancestors were guilty of some heinous act and you had to suffer for it today, would that feel good? Would you want to wash it away like it never happened? Would you try to make up for it to the victims (descendants) ? Would you be angry if that was what the descendants demanded? Would you try to overcompensate by snuggling up to the descendants? Would you want to hide from your ancestral past? If you were called names because of the sins of your ancestors, would you be hurt by it?

    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. It makes you angry and frustrated. But the truth is, racism is a two-way street and the Civil Rights movement gave us some power, and our future is bound to be brighter, not dimmer. Unless white people are dumber than we think and haven't learned from the sins of their past.

    If you haven't figured out my identity, know that I love and support you in anything positive you strive to achieve. Peace of mind is yours for the taking.


  7. Happy Mom’s Day!
    This is one of the best posts I’ve seen here. And such honest heartfelt r esponses.
    But I think this question about individual acts of racism may be leading down a worm hole. Asking if it might be possible if . . . is like asking if an individual water molecule might go upstream in a river. 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.
    So, why do we white folks always focus on the individual possibility? I think it is because we are hoping for, looking for, the belief that we as individuals are not like that, would never do that, in fact do not do that. Of course we would not, we are good people.

  8. wow these ARE really good comments.