Friday, November 09, 2012

The ties that bind us.

I tried a few times to write something about the outcome of the election. But this is it in a nutshell: Republicans, people think you are racist. And sexist and homophobic, but I'm just gonna focus on racist part right now. Being racist is no longer seen as socially acceptable, so as long as you have that label following you around, you probably aren't going to win many more national elections.

Now, I have lots of Republican friends, and I know that they are no more racist than my friends who are registered Democrats. So really it is more of an image problem than anything. Maybe I'll write more in the future about things I think could help you change the perception, or you can shoot me an email if you're really interested. But it's time for you to have a come to Jesus talk about the future of your party. Because as I've said before, you do have ideas that I think would be amenable to people of color (at least some of them,) but the messages are getting muddled in a bunch of stuff that people are not interested in hearing.

Ok, moving on. Watch this trailer:

This is a movie that's coming out soon. I probably won't see it, because it doesn't look that interesting to me. I do like that it's about mental illness, because that is something that doesn't get enough attention.

But the reason I am writing about it is because black people often complain about how there are not many good roles for black actors in Hollywood. There is a black actor in this movie, Chris Tucker. And who does he play? The white main character's friend. Color me surprised.

So then I go to thinking...Why aren't the main characters black in this movie? Now is the part in the blog post where I ask a bunch of questions. This is what it's like in my brain--questions, questions, questions. Pretty much all the time, unless I'm watching one of the Real Housewives shows.

Could one or both of the leads have been black people?
Would they have had to change any of the details of the plot just because the skin color of the actors was different? Like the fact that the male lead wears sweatpants and a cross? Or likes football? Or just got out of a mental institution? Or that the female lead is interested in ballroom dancing? Or slept with a bunch of people at her job? Are any/all of these things quintessentially white?

What about Robert De Niro? Could he still have played the male lead's dad? Could De Niro still be the dad and there just never be anything in the script about why they were different races? Or maybe the male lead was adopted. Does the race of the actors change everything in such a fundamental way that it has to be addressed somehow in the dialougue? Or does it make it a completely different movie? Or a movie that will make significantly less money because white people won't go see it?

Louis CK recently cast a black woman as his ex-wife on his show, even though the actors that play his children are white. As far as I know, he hasn't explained it on the show, he just has a black ex-wife and white kids. Colorblind casting, and a black actress gets work. Although not really colorblind, because Louis did say that having a black woman in the role does bring something...
He doesn't say what (I'm assuming because the audience started to laugh,) but we know what he means--spice, flava, oomph. Are these things quintessentially black? Or more specifically, black female?

And this brings us to the conundrum. Well, two conundrums actually.

The first conundrum is that when you take a multicultural class or diversity training, one of the first things you learn is that the I don't see color way of looking at race, is the first stage of racial identity development. To put it more harshly, this is the least evolved/most racist way of looking at race. So when someone says, I don't care if you're black, white, blue or green--This is a clue to people who have done a lot of work around diversity issues, that they are talking to someone that probably hasn't done a lot of work around diversity issues.

But ultimately, isn't this what we are striving towards? Like Dr. King said, judging someone on the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Of course we see race (because we have eyes and notice the difference between brown and ecru,) but should race matter? Should we make any decisions (small or large) about people based on the color of their skin? If so, which ones?

Ok, second conundrum. People of color are very quick to call a white person racist when they associate negative characteristics with people of color. But at the same time, they are willing to embrace so-called positive characterstics--even though they are both just stereotypes. Like black people don't want to be called drug addicts or welfare queens, but they are open to reinforcing the idea that they are great dancers, or have swag. And when is the last time you heard a black man say that he had an average to small-sized penis?

It's like, you can't have it both ways. You want to say x,y and z aren't true because you are black, but a,b and c are true because you are black.

I'll tell you what I know is true about every other black person over the age of 10 that I meet. I can't tell you how the person is going to talk, what his or her name is, where they are from, if they go to church, how much money they have, or whether or not they like ballroom dancing.

But I can tell you that they have an experience of racism that they can share with me.

They can tell me about the first time they were called the n-word, or the time someone told them they were dirty or stupid or just less than simply because they weren't white. Every single black person I pass on the street--I know they have a story about this. And it is this that binds me to them; makes me feel a sense of connection.

We may not have anything else in common, but we have that. I hope that they love and want the best for black people the way that I do, and when they smile and say "hey" to me, a complete stranger--it makes me think that they might.

But this is a sad connection to have. It is one that comes from a lot of pain. And it is one that I would gladly give up if it meant that there were no more racism in the world. Until then...I'm holding on tight.

I have covered a lot here, haven't I? To Rebecca and everyone else reading this, please leave me a comment. Because as much as I occasionally try to convince myself otherwise, your comments are important to me. Just like my writing helps you to understand me, your feedback helps me to understand you. So interwebsters, let me know what you're thinking and feeling.


  1. Anonymous11:53 PM

    Well, you covered a lot of ground there. I'll answer one of the main questions you asked: Why aren't the main characters black in this movie?

    The first thing that popped into my head is one of your guesses in the third paragraph: a movie that will make significantly less money because white people won't go see it?

    This is America after all, where money is king.

  2. I am not sure Hollywood always matches up with the agenda's they display in their political lives. They love to criticize but obviously there is a disparity in their movies. I think it is hard to create something that you can't relate to, and so we need more stories like you are talking about to be experienced by those in Hollywood. The more who try, the more will succeed.

    You are a beautiful, intelligent woman. You are doing a great job of writing your thoughts and I am better for have read them. I thought about what you wrote for a while and I am mostly just super sad to think of anyone being so horrible to you or anyone. :(

    This political race was the most painful one I've been through. I am relieved it is over. It didn't go my way, but in some ways I am relieved to know that my religion and my political party won't be in the crossfire anymore.

  3. this post is super loaded and makes me feel all kinds of blah.
    first of all, whenever someone tells me they don't see race, i want to ask them what's wrong with them. i mean, i notice people with red hair. it's not because i suck at life, or hate them. it's because red hair isn't as common as brown, or blonde, or brunette, and so on. so it sticks out a little. and since anyone who is not caucasian is considered a minority, i often notice that they are of a different race. add to that the people who say things like, 'i'm not racist, but....' or a family member who explained to me how, 'there are black people and there are...., there are mexicans and there are....' nope. actually there are just people. and some people do great amazing things. some people blend into the background. and some people make poor choices.
    i have no idea how to go about teaching people that making decisions about a person based on skin color (or even just looking at a person) is a horrible, horrible idea.
    and i am both disheartened to know that my daughter will be called the n world. she will be thought of as less than. and there's really no way for me to prove her otherwise. she's smart. she's funny. she's kind. she's compassionate. she's beautiful. and, she's black. and for whatever reason that overshadows and negates those other things as standing out as much.
    *sigh* i still hope that she will someday be judged by the content of her character instead of the color of her skin though.

  4. Two points really interested me in this post. First is the idea that racism in the R party is just an image problem. Seems to me it is much more than that. There is a long list of institutional policy decisions made by the R party, both in governance by R presidents and by campaign positions that have been really racist in the last 50 years. It's like the D party and R parties switched positions on race during the 20th century, and now the R party is stuck with trying to appeal to their shrinking base of old whites who care so much about race. Among the whites who are 70% of Americans, R did well, but not well enough to overcome the minorities of color who gave overwhelming support to the D party.
    The R party started using race to win after the voting rights act in the1960's. The south went from D to R, and New England went from R to D. This election signals that they cannot do that anymore. That should cause them to abandon that strategy, accelerate the demise of racism, and lead to a two party system that organizes around other policy differences, hopefully differences that really can be debated. Maybe we can have real conversations about big gov't vs small gov't, or a real idea of states sovereignty, or freedom vs gov't protection, etc. That will be good for us all. For now though, let's continue the conversation about race.
    Second, is the idea that there are really NO other attributes of a person besides skin color that can be correctly associated with race, expect for the one of the experience of being targeted for exclusion in one way or another by that skin color. Didn't we meet a black woman in Colorado Springs who claimed not to have been aware that she is black until she encountered that exclusion in college? And so that does suggest that there are other differences: the harmful effects of that targeted experience, the kind of chronic traumatic stress syndrome due to micro-aggressions.
    Reading your question," Should we make any decisions (small or large) about people based on the color of their skin? If so, which ones?", made my heart leap with joy at the possibility of not making any judgments based on race. Imagine a time when a family has all kinds of color in it, and a person doesn't wonder why a parent's skin color is different than a child's, or a person doesn't have to wait for a lite skin person to prove themselves. But for now I make decisions based on race. I tread carefully around race -- perhaps too carefully once, or not carefully enough again, never sure of myself.
    Thanks for this place to have conversation that I hope makes it easier to make judgments that are better.