Thursday, April 04, 2013

Why black people and white people can't get along.

I've been in a funk since before I wrote my last post. The funk came, then it went away, then it came back, and now it's gone again. I think that is typically how it works (at least with me anyways.) I was trying to think about what was causing it, and as far as blog related reasons, I came up with a couple ideas.

I am bummed because Google is planning to get rid of Google Reader this July. I think that is a way that a lot of my readers use to track this blog, and I know that I use it to follow a ton of other blogs that I read. Also, ever since Facebook changed the way they display posts from pages (in an effort to get page administrators to pay,) the number of people that have liked my facebook page that actually see what I share on Facebook has gone way down.

Am I whining? Probably. But what's that saying? Whining will set you free? Yeah, I think that's it...

So if you're a fan on facebook, know that the more that you comment or like my posts that you do see there, the more likely you are to see other things I post. And if anyone has a good (free) alternative to Google Reader they'd like to tell us about, please leave me a comment. Finally, if you want to sign the petition to try and save Google Reader you can click here.

Ok, onto the race and inequality stuff. I have to say for the record that I do believe that black and white people can get along. Some already do on a small, individual friendships level. But if we're talking on a societal level, I just think that it will take a lot of work. Like, putting a man on the moon amount of work. But I picked that title because I think that it is something that an internet user interested in race might search for, and also because I have a little story from my life that I think will help illustrate why some people might think that we can't.

So, in keeping with the making sure our kid's not a weirdo goal of parenting I wrote about here, my husband and I decided to enroll our son in some toddler music classes. They're once a week and we sing songs, bang on drums, all the usual toddler music class stuff. Sometimes the teacher (I'll call him Dave,) lets the kids strum his guitar.

So our son was strumming Mr. Dave's guitar. I realize now I never made up a name for our son. Let's call him George.

Little George was strumming Mr. Dave's guitar. Oh, I should mention that Mr. Dave is white and all the other kids and parents are white too. But you probably already knew that, right?

So George is strumming the guitar, and Mr. Dave says, "George, you have great rhythm!"

Mr. Dave didn't say that to any of the other kids in the class. But it is certainly possible that in addition to being the cutest and most charming participant in the room, George is the most musically inclined as well.

But one of the first things I thought when I heard Mr. Dave say that was, "Oh, you're just saying that because you think that all black people are great at dancing and music and have great rhythm, don't you--Mr. Dave,?!?!!" ::grumble grumble:: white people.

Ok, I am exaggerating; I didn't think all that. But I did think that I was 99.99% sure that Mr. Dave just said it because it was true, without any racial undertones. And if you asked Mr. Dave, he would most likely say that he was 100% sure that he said it because it was true and without racial undertones.

But the reality is there is the .01% percentage in my mind that there was another reason for saying it. And the other reality is that even if Mr. Dave did think there was a possibility that there was a racial element to the comment, he wouldn't admit it, because that would open him up to being labeled a racist because the limited education that he has received about race as a white person is to say that he never sees or notices race (even though he has functioning cones in his eyes,) and to no matter what--avoid being called a racist at all costs.

And that my friends, is why we have such a hard time getting along. A different black person (or me on a different day in a different mood,) might have interpreted Mr. Dave's comment in a different way. And even if we're not talking about rhythm, we could have been talking about athletic ability or being punctual or being articulate or being aggressive or being loud or being exotic or any number of other things. It's like black people have a completely different frame of reference that they use to filter all the stimuli that they receive from the world. The was that racist? filter.

And, at the same time, there is little to no chance that Mr. Dave would ever admit there was a racial element to his comment, even if he knew there was. Because white people's filter is set up where they can't or don't want to entertain the entire race question. They don't want to examine the messages that they receive from the outside world about race, they don't want to admit the negative beliefs that they hold (for whatever reason,) about black people, and they see all these problems around them that seem to disproportionately affect the black community, but there is a hesitation to have an honest dialogue about what the causes of these problems are. Because when most white people are honest, they get called racist.

It's like we've got these two diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world. And nothing is ever going to change until we can both start to see things a little more from the other filter. It's like I said in one of my earliest posts on this blog: white people need a lot more truth, and black people need a lot more reconciliation.

So that's my story. George has finished watching Sesame Street, so now we've got to go and listen to Pandora while we get ready for the day. You know that I want to hear what you think, so as always--feel free to leave me a comment.


  1. I think there is also a problem that majorities usually have in that they tend to compare themselves to (often ridiculous or extreme) definitions of bigotry: "I'm not a racist, because I'm not a member of the KKK;" "I'm not a homophobe, because I don't like the Westboro Baptist Church;" etc.

    Of course, you can still be a racist, homophobe, or misogynist even if you don't belong to or explicitly support any one bigoted group. However, the problem in majority culture is that one is almost never in a position to have one's fundamental understandings on these issue tested. It's a reason why I believe you can get people saying, "I don't support gay marriage, but I support the rights of gays," or, "Racism is over, because we have a black president." If you have an ounce of understanding about the issues from a not-majority position, then you can immediately understand why these comments are simultaneously ignorant and bigoted.

    But since most of us have some majority-held position on something, we ought to be able to also understand why people who ignorantly say bigoted things don't like to be told that they are ignorant and bigoted. After all, they likely think that they are good, upstanding individuals (and are likely surrounded by people who honestly treat them so and tell them so). And then you (or me) - relative strangers to them - up and tell them that they are both ignorant and bigoted? Well, it's understandable why they disagree.

    Of course, as you point out, they're also motivated to not accept the accusation, since it then places them in the position of actually admitting to being a bigot; something that they (often) want to avoid at (nearly) all cost.

    And this happens with almost any majority-minority interaction, whether it be race, religion, gender, etc. (It's annoying, for example, to keep trying to explain to religious adherents that one doesn't need a supernatural being effectively looking over your shoulder with the threat of an eternity in some sort of damnation to get someone to act morally, but I also have to recognize that most people grew up with never having to challenge the belief in a god or gods that judge and/or guide their actions on Earth.)

    (btw, I'm also annoyed with Google's choice of scrapping Reader. It's the way that I get my daily news.)

    1. In my long parenthetical in my penultimate paragraph, I'm referring to this meme that's being shared by Christians who don't like being told by atheists that they're being silly and hateful:

      Being an atheist is okay. Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay. Being a Christian is okay. Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist or an otherwise hateful person and blaming it on your religion is not okay. Being a reindeer is okay. Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not okay, amirite?

      It amounts to a "sit down and shut up" position from the majority, underlined by the rationalization at the end. Of course, if the first two sentences were modified to talk about feminists, Blacks, gays, etc. (with the second sentence modified appropriately), they would read as being inappropriate. For example:

      Being Black is okay. Being Black and shaming Whites and segregation laws as silly and highly counterproductive is not okay.

      Well, there goes the validity of all social satire on race! There goes any justification for any non-violent avenue of protest that isn't equivalent to, "Ask us nicely, and we'll see what we can do." It is - effectively - an argument that amounts to, "sit down and shut up." Furthermore, it's an argument that you likely would have seen voiced by many liberal-minded Southern Whites before and during segregation.

      Okay, I think I derailed your point by inserting religion into it, but I highly doubt that my liberal Christian friends who posted (and reposted and liked) this meme on Facebook actually saw any sort of religious bigotry or double-standard in its statements. Nor do any of them like to even consider themselves as being anything close to bigoted.

    2. Chunk Hatzumomo2:55 PM

      great thoughts Umlud, thanks for sharing.

  2. Chunk Hatzumomo3:16 PM

    Great post. George sounds cool.

    I am struck by the "going to the moon" amount of work. What should this be exactly?

    Truth and reconciliation seems to be the conclusion. And I do agree that would be good, but there is an additional question of what would be practical. If it seems impossible to find a good and practical solution, I would remind you Steven Covey's habit of looking for Win/Win solutions. If there seems to be no solution, perhaps we are not being creative enough.

    Is it practical for white people to have more truth? To some extent yes, but I wonder if efforts in this arena are like spitting in the wind. White people, like all people, are very busy in their own lives and area's of expertise. To ask them to be aware of and sensitive to the 0.1% chance of racism in their thoughts and expressions may be too much. White people are already afraid to talk with black people out of a fear of saying something racist. Our censor filter has to run overtime, and given all the difficulties of white on white social interaction, white on black social interaction is often too daunting for this very reason. I think a practical solution would involve some sort of "keep calm, what you said was racist but its okay" card. Like what you were saying about racish, or, like what you were saying in your "how not to be racist" post, white people can be told that everyone is racist and its okay.

    Is it practical for black people to have more reconciliation? Probably. Reparations should be looked into more. Yeah, it sounds crazy but so did going to the moon. This is the USA, if we set out minds to it, we can do it.

    Boom! Patriotism slam!

    (go ahead, try to argue against that comrad.)

  3. After reading this, and the comments, I feel like I might live in some sort of utopia.
    We are by no means perfect, but we (as white people) are trying really hard to recognize our thought patterns, things we say, and so on as racist. And we're trying hard for reconciliation. And we have hard, uncomfortable conversations because the only way this is going to change is by talking about it. I know Samuel L. Jackson said otherwise, but where I live, ignoring it just widens the divide.


  4. I will miss my google reader. It is, in fact, how I follow this blog, though I am hoping I will luck out with facebook and catch your posts there too.

    my son, who is approximately the same age as george and is white like I am, is also in toddler music class with me. regardless of my blatant lack of music-class enthusiasm, he loves it. and so this is our third one. (now I'm whining!)

    do you like anecdotal evidence?

    anyway, he seems to have good rhythm, or at least that is a large part of what he enjoys about music. Can you even tell if a toddler has good rhythm? He likes to "keep the beat" whether it's by clapping, tapping his foot, banging kitchen utensils, or whatever. his music teacher and classmates' parents have noticed this about him, and now I'll reflect on how they voiced it. It has not come up when he is strumming something though--that seems like a poor description of strumming, doesn't it? And I do not think anyone has told him he has good rhythm. I think they have said stuff like "he likes to keep the beat" or "he likes to tap his foot." I just asked my husband how he has heard this described about our son and he said, right away, "keeping the beat" and after a few minutes of reflection "something about rhythm, good rhythm."

    I really enjoy your blog and look forward to your posts.


  5. first, apologies for the delay but in my defense - when i first started following you i had one child; i'm up to three now ;). the youngest is 6 mos so i figure i can use that excuse for at least another 6 mos . . .no?

    have you ever heard the theory that the thing you try hardest to avoid is the thing that you unwittingly summon to you?

    so when i posted on facebook that i didn't want to write a book here so i deleted my response - one reason i deleted my response is that one of the things the internet has made me aware of is that my rambling on about my opinion on a topic can be perceived and/or may actual *be* my privilege rearing its head. now, honestly, i'm that way no matter who i'm talking to so i don't embrace the fact that length alone or my desire to participate is privilege but perhaps sometimes my content does belie my privilege.

    that is a hard hard thing for me to wrestle with - it is so anathema to my definition of self.

    but there it was - my comment provoked you actually encouraging a response from me by name - for which i very much thank you! - and i thought "way to make it all about you cassandra!"

    so already you can see that i spend a lot of time thinking about these things and honestly, george could be ready for juliard and i'd probably not say he had rhythm for fear of it being taken as having racial undertones.

    but, the fact that all that is going on in my brain doesn't disprove your theory. i've looked for a space to have these conversations that is a "white space" - not so we can sit around and be self congratulatory but so we don't invade safe spaces for people of color, so that we aren't looking to a blog like yours with some sort of "what do black people want from us??!!" angst. you can imagine the thousands upon thousands of blogs out there i found. /sarcasm o so much sarcasm/

    some day i'll give my history with racism - a subject i've been drawn to since i was about 5 or 6 for some reason but all the twists and turns lead me to be surprised that you didn't think the teacher had racial undertones. i guess i assume that all black people look at our, white people's, statements with the assumption that they are racist.

    speaking of sesame street - are you old enough to remember roosevelt franklin on the original sesame street?

    i didn't get to read your whole "last post" - the one before this (see aforementioned three kids) but from what i read - it's the idea of scarcity and station - have you ever heard of jacob holdt and american pictures? brief over simplification: there isn't enough and if we "give" it to black people then we won't have anything ourselves and 2. we (americans) define ourselves by who we get to look down on.

    sorry for the length and the rush at the end. baby is calling but i will definitely be making sure you show on my FB feed.

  6. Anonymous11:51 AM

    mr dave says george was good, so he is a racist, if mr dave took the guitar from him and put it in a whites kids hand, mr dave would be racist. moral of the story, regardly of what white people do, they will always be called racist, and thats what makes white people racist