Posts tagged race
Posts tagged race
… Race Matters [was] written by Cornel West back in 1993. West’s analysis of the state of American politics was so spot-on that it still applies today, go figure. I’m going to disregard how discouraging I find the fact that liberals and conservatives are still making the same arguments twenty years later. West spends his first chapter addressing another issue that also persists today.
West’s first chapter is entitled “Nihilism in Black America,” and it covers precisely that. To put it succinctly, blacks have had to deal with nihilism since first arriving in the New World and are as in danger of succumbing to it now as ever before, if not moreso.
I’m aware of the feeling of black hopelessness; it has persistantly creeped around the periphery of my life. In my immediate family, hope is strong. Hope got my parents a brick home and their son into college. Hope, hopefully, will land me a job straight out of college. But at the same time, my grandparents’ neighborhood has steadily declined since my mother lived there, affecting the young family members still raised there. Politicians still avoid talking about these issues. Enough has remained the same that growing up in the 90s and into the new millenium, I still heard the sentiment that the white man doesn’t want the black man to have anything.
What West does is provide a reason for this hopelessness. Yes, “racism” still exists, but in a more abstract way. When blacks complain about being harassed by cops or overlooked by taxi drivers, whites respond by bringing up all the whites that don’t exhibit such behavior, as if this somehow erases the racism that was still present in the initial experience. Blaming the white man was easier when racism was not only systematic, but explicit; it was written in textbooks, preached in churches, and displayed on street corners. Now, when even conservatives emphasize the adoption of colorblind professional and educational practices, pinpointing the problem is more elusive. Blacks still see it, but it’s much more difficult to articulate it, and even more difficult to organize against it.
The social bonds that have held together black communities are losing strength. When blacks had no where else they could turn, they could rely on the church as an escape from the social hierarchy forced upon their daily lives. Now, blacks have other outlets. With white kids all over the country immitating Jay-Z and idolizing Michael Jordan while their parents elect Barack Obama, blacks have come to expect a cetain degree of racial tolerance in most places that they go. The problem comes in talking about the places that they can’t. They still exist, but now that the places black people can’t go are outnumbered by the places that they can, there lacks a single institution that can reach and organize black people, and there isn’t a clear institution to organize them against. The movement for civil rights has become diluted ever since equal rights became something that most white Americans hold in high esteem. Whites defined what equality meant to them, and the country has been moving towards that ever since.
Yet despite how similar the definition of equality may be, the experience remains different. The problem is, how? And after that, why?
This is where West’s analysis comes in. He describes the way capitalism has altered American values and values within the black community. As social bonds have weakened, they have been replaced by an increasingly relentless wave of marketing. But the values of love, patience, and caring are not values pushed in the marketplace. Conservatives are right in pointing out a deficit of values in parts of the black community. Where they drop the ball is that they refuse to acknowledge why. Liberals are at least right in wanting to provide the economic programs and incentives necessary to begin to alleviate the problem, but they, too, skirt around the root cause.
Black America isn’t suffering solely because it is disproportionately poor or adversely affected by prison, drugs, and discrimination. Black America is losing hope because it exists within a country that thinks its eyes are wide open and refuses to open its eyes wider. Broader America refuses to see that it still makes blacks feel not that they are afflicted by problems, but that they remain the problem. America still has yet to view all Americans as Americans and to help one another as such.
This piece has been edited for timeliness since its original posting. The piece can be read in its entirety by following the link.
I have a friend who identifies as a strong conservative. Yesterday, in defense against something I said, he claimed that he does not and will not feel white guilt. His primary lines of defense were that he has done nothing wrong and that his ancestors, the Irish, were treated worse than slaves.
I will address the latter first, since it can be addressed relatively succinctly. Part of American political and social discourse has been over acknowledging how bad blacks have been treated and holding up false dichotomy where whites have been spoiled throughout history and blacks have always found themselves at the bottom of the totem pole. History is never that simple. As my friend recalled, there were jobs that Irish immigrants were asked to do because the work was considered too dangerous for slave labor, which was expensive to sustain and replace. However, this does not amount of worse treatment than slaves, because while the jobs may have been awful, the Irish were not stripped of their status of being “free” men. Their English peers may have portrayed the them as ape-like and assaulted their social character, but they did not codify this difference into law.
My friend is able to recall his Irish heritage, which I can not do. Slavery was a process that ripped Africans from their homes, killed untold millions on the passage over (a degree of genocide that no other American immigrant group was forced to experience), replaced their language and religion, and deprived them of their ancestry. The idea of having and raising a family was not a given, but a form of resistance, and no matter how poorly any other immigrants were treated — and they were, undoubtably, treated pretty badly — they did not have to fight just to get their peers to acknowledge that they had families and their own family names. Only Native Americans have been more wrongfully treated than African Americans deliberately, consistently, and systematically over the course of American history.
This friend also raised the point that whites get all the credit for slavery, when the Africans were enslaving themselves. This is true, as slavery existed in most parts of the world in one form or another. Europeans generally did not hunt down Africans and rip them from their homes themselves. They offered African leaders clear incentive to do it for them. They flooded African societies with new technologies and economies that turned slavery from a result of war to an economic stimulant. Slavery was no longer a byproduct of war, but a primary tactic. A leader could reduce his enemies’ numbers while growing his own economy and better arming himself for future battles. Europeans turned a pre-existing system of slavery into substantially larger slave trade, one that took Africans from a culture they were familiar with to an entirely new world, if they were “fortunate” enough to survive the journey. This sytem was established long before Americans became involved, but we actively engaged in the system and partook in it after the British had lost their stomach for such things.
Okay, that was succint. Now to move on to the former point, that my friend has personally done nothing wrong. This is true, he never enslaved a black person, and judging by his treatment of me, he doesn’t view people of other racial backgrounds as inferior. This is good. Does this mean that he should not feel guilty for the sins of his fathers? Well, yes and no (as a humanities major, I’ve found that to be the answer to every question).
First, I clearly do not intend to incriminate him personally when I express any need for white guilt. He was not alive when slavery was practiced, nor does he live in a region that practiced slavery. Even if I don’t refer to his ancestry as white and focus on it primarily as Irish, the Irish do not escape from the race debate clean. They may have been demonized and caricatured in similar ways to Africans (to the point that before slavery became a hardened American institution, they were on comparable ground), but they did not view blacks as their equals. They despised blacks, with whom they had to compete with the same low level jobs. And as the Irish gradually became accepted as white, they did not fight to bring blacks up the social ladder with them. They were happy to beat down on blacks from their new higher vantage point.
Okay, so I’ve re-established that everyone that ever existed in American history was racist (that may be hyperbolic, but work with me here). Should my friend now feel guilt? Well, I think guilt is the wrong word, but it is a powerful force. Lets explore this.
I’m American. More specifically, I’m African American. For most of my country’s history, my ethnicity’s biggest threat came not from outside the country, but from within. While conservatives and liberals alike feared communists, Koreans feared the Japanese, Jews feared Germans — and later, Palestinians feared Jews, African Americans primarily feared their fellow Americans. Until modern times, African Americans had more to gain from an outside force toppling their white oppressors than maintaining the status quo (and yet they still fought in every major American war). When I look over a history book, for most of its pages, my enemy lies at home.
Still, I’m American, and on the international stage, I identify as such. Thus, I feel badly about how Americans treated Native Americans, the Mexicans during the Mexican American war, immigrants at home, the Japanese during World War II, Arabs in the Middle East, and, really, what feels just about every corner of the world. I feel this way, even though during most of these time periods, people of my race had no say in how any of this was done and generally saw these people as shared victims of the white man. I feel this way because as an American today, I want to strive to make this world a better place, to be aware of and to work to repair the damage our country has done in parts of the world, and the damage it continues to do. Some people may read this and think I’m just another apologetic liberal who refuses to acknowledge the good America does in the world, but that simply isn’t the case. In absolute dollars, America is the most generous nation in the world when it comes to foreign aid, and as our honorable soldiers have just recently displayed in their daring rescue of Iranians captured by pirates, we’re even willing to help those who nationally may be closer to enemies than allies. But America doesn’t need to be reminded of the good we do in the world, and we don’t make foreign policy blunders on account of our being too humble. We improve ourselves by remembering and acknowleding that we do make mistakes and how we’ve made them. Besides, focusing on American successes is irrelevant to my larger point in this post.
I don’t want whites to walk around feeling like they owe all other racial or ethnic groups a persistent apology. But just as America can improve its image abroad by remembering and acknowledging what it’s done, so too can white people improve their image domestically (something every other group in America can also do, but stay focused here). Racial affirmative action isn’t reverse racism, it’s an attempt to right a past wrong. Still, it isn’t perfect, but a better way to fix it is to try economic affirmative action, rather than strip affirmative action altogether. To pretend we’re all on the same playing field spits in the face of the reality that just 30 - 40 years ago, we could not even attend the same schools. It ignores the reality that there is no way that in just 30 - 40 years, our country has overcome centuries of systematic discrimination, oppression, and repression. It masks just how many whites also stand to fall between the cracks and how no one stands to gain by letting those who always had the resources to continue to invest the resources in their future generations, while those without have to struggle to catch up.
Our country has to tackle many complex issues in the days and years ahead, issues that encompass economic, social, political, geographical, and, yes, racial factors. To forget the effect any of these factors has makes tackling those complex issues all the more difficult.
And as to my friend, this post was not meant to demonize him in anyway (I am referring to him as my friend, after all — but then again, so do politicians, but that’s besides the point). I enjoy my conversations with him, because they stir this degree of thought within me. There was much that I did not find the words to say as I was talking to him yesterday, and I think it would be a waste not to articulate them somehow. This is less about wanting to change what he believes and more about making sure that I know what I believe.
So with that said, is there a place for white guilt? Yes and no. And I’m sure my professors would be absolutely proud.
- The Thought Painter
Recently there has been an ongoing Youtube trend, “Shit (insert type of person here) Say,” and the most famous of the aforementioned trend is the “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” video that I posted on this site not too long ago; the same video that created a heated discussion on my friend’s Facebook page.
Let me first begin by saying I loved this video. I’ve watched many of the different videos that went along with this trend but I related to this one the most. I did not form a monolithic opinion of all white people because of this one video, (like many of the Youtube comments seemed to indicate) I did however reflect on my life and the many statements similar to the ones in the video that I’ve heard. One as recent as today. I had to explain concepts of black hair to a co-worker. I have no problem with explaining the ideas I have or cultural traits/actions that I personally engage in, however I would just appreciate if the topic is not introduced to me like I’m an art or zoo exhibit being scrutinized, poked and prodded. I’m one person, I do not represent the black race and I simply can not (that is physically impossible).
The Youtuber responsible for this video, Chescaleigh, was invited to the Anderson Cooper show because of all the controversy surrounding her now popular video. The people offended who were personally offended by her video or called it racist missed the point entirely. It’s satire, it’s not pointing to YOU specifically. It’s reflecting on her personal experiences with white women who have made ignorant (NOT RACIST) statements to her in the past. The one woman who claimed that the video is racist because it mentioned black and white puzzled me. Mentioning race and talking about race does not equal racism. If this was a white woman making a video about things black girls say there would be little horror or outcry from the overall white community, they wouldn’t care. Just like there was no nation-wide outcry for the “Shit Black Girls Say” video as racist in their eyes. People of color are often seen in the media in one monolithic sense, a set of stereotypes that are often played and remade and updated. So when words like “ghetto” are used as synonymous with bad or dirty, you are then painting people of color with that image because they are often pictured as those in lower income areas. See how that can be problematic? There can be movies and television shows and jokes about ghettos and “ghetto” people, but where is that same urgency when the millions of people in poverty continue to stay in poverty? There’s needs to be an equal amount of concern about ensuring that neighborhoods stay safe and up to date and have the resources they needs to provide quality education to the children who live there.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X … I feel should be among the must-read books for anyone seeking a thorough understanding of 20th century America. Much of the insight Malcolm X offers is simply remarkable.
With that said, I found it especially thought-provoking when trying to relate the text to the 21st century. Why is it that I can relate so easily to much of what Malcolm X said when so much has changed?
I can’t simply say that this is because racism still exists. Such a trite explanation doesn’t do justice to those who feel discriminated against and those accused of doing the discriminating. I most certainly cannot say that the devil is the white man, given that I read the book now only because it was assigned to me by a white professor, and I will be discussing it in a class filled predominantly with white students — most, if not all, of whom will be working to defend Malcolm X’s train of thought. I cannot honestly state that white people, as a whole, are racists, when most of the nice people I have encountered in my lifetime have been white.
Why, then, do Malcolm X’s words resonate so well? This is largely because there are so many topics where I find it’s difficult for me to articulate a feeling to white friends for whom non-white friends require no-explanation. For example, I have a co-worker whom I have much in common with. We both come from rural counties, which is not the norm in a university such as ours. However, he’s white and happens to be a conservative. His favorite Republican candidate happens to be Herman Cain, and when he asked me why I found Herman Cain offensive, I found myself fumbling over words, whereas with my non-white friends, the question doesn’t even have to be asked. Most inherently understand why Herman Cain is offensive. They are offended by him their selves.
The same holds true for issues of how to spend tax dollars. I wouldn’t call most young conservatives today racists. Their politics may feel that way, but my day-to-day interactions with them have shown otherwise. Yet at the same time, our differences in politics remains heavily coded by race. Many of them see social programs as unfair uses of tax dollars, whereas people like me see them as the best use of our tax dollars. I’d much rather see our tax dollars feed the hungry than kill foreigners or prisoners. And given that I come from a low-income family, I know how difficult things would be were it not for government benefits (and I’m not referring to welfare, but to all the other tax deductions and benefits that are woven into our government policy, such as the EITC). The rhetoric of wealth being a result of hard work holds no appeal to me, for my father has worked all of my life and remained unable to pay for my college. The hardest working people, working the most unpleasant of jobs, often make the least amount of money. The idea that hard work is financially rewarded is a myth, something disproportionately understood by minorities whom have been systematically barred from the higher paying jobs. Why should we trust the private sector as the solution to our problems when for most of American history, the private economy has served mainly to exploit us to make someone else rich?
These are questions that many conservatives don’t ask themselves, not because they’re racists, but because their histories have been on the better end of this arrangement. They often see race as an issue that should be made irrelevant (opposing affirmative action, leaving race off college applications) in the name of fairness. I cannot do this, because when race has been used as a tool to deny my ancestors wealth, to completely ignore race now would leave the inheritors of that wealth with an inherent advantage. To disregard race now, as much as I can agree with the sentiment, would only aggravate the problem.
These nuances I’m trying to get at are not clean cut issues. As in, they do not evenly hug any ideological line. It’s easy to provide examples of differences with conservative whites, but much remains the case with liberal whites as well. The whites most criticized in Malcolm X were northern whites, for he argued that their racism was even more harmful. I would call today’s liberal white person no more racist than a conservative white person, but given how many of them grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods, they make similar assumptions that non-whites often cannot make.
Even this is not as simple as I make it sound. But my point is that regardless of how much progress has been made since the days of Malcolm X’s autobiography, the modern day is still so heavily affected by race that much of what Malcolm X said can still be related to, even as things have changed. Much of what Malcolm X says is more hard-line than most African Americans felt in his day, but it offers tremendous insight into why many current day African Americans see racism in things where many whites don’t.
The race card isn’t a card African Americans hold on to, waiting to use at just the right time. It’s the card that as soon as we put down, the deck always has another one to return to our hands. It’s the magical card of which there are more than four, which whites often hate to see played, and African Americans hate to have to hold.
This piece has been edited for timeliness since its original posting. The piece can be read in its entirety by following the link.
I am currently a Virginian, but this has never really been something I identify strongly with. I was born in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and the majority of my mother’s side of the family are Florida natives. My father was born there as well, as with the majority of his family, but now many of them reside in Georgia. I also have family in New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, and California. So although I may have lived in Virginia the majority of my life, it’s just another place for me. I see myself as a traveler, and hopefully when I have the means, I will move to California to pursue a film career.
I’ve gone though a continual search of identity, belonging, and and satisfaction. I went to college at the University of Maryland for 2 years, with the intention of majoring in Architecture, then Government, next Communication, and finally I found my love for Film/Cinema. This is due to the few Women’s Studies classes I took before I left school for financial reasons. They opened my mind to ideas that I identified with, but never had a name for. An introduction to more concrete examples of racism, sexism, homophobia both in the widespread media and on an institutional level. I felt like I had to do something. It inspired me to dream. I want to create films/media that speak to more than just the white, heterosexual, middle-class audience that many blockbusters pander to. More specifically, I want to aide in queer representation, especially queers of color, and help them find a voice and a story.
I’m currently working on a documentary, which uses webcam video footage from people all across the country and a few from the United Kingdom. It explores the idea of sexual fluidity. Sexual fluidity is a concept that wants get rid of the rigid ways of looking at sexuality and acknowledge that many people can change or grow in their sexual preferences. It is still in the editing phase, but I hope to finish it in January.
This year, and part of last year, sparked my interest in sexuality; as well as started my evolution in sexual/emotional preference. What began as purely an interest in lesbian porn, I soon realized that I also had feelings for women, something I’d never explored or thought of before (Other than my high school interest in “The L Word”). This then evolved into my first relationship with a women, a long distance one at that.
Through much thought and research I’ve now come to identify as queer. Not gay, not lesbian, not bisexual, but queer. It leaves room for interpretation, gives me room to grow and change. While I do love women, I also can be attracted to men, trans* men, as well as those that identify as genderqueer. So limiting myself to just lesbian/bisexual doesn’t feel right. Although I may use the word bisexual at times depending on who I’m talking to.- Micky Alexandria
I am a Virginian. I was born and raised here, just as my parents and, to my knowledge, their parents before them. My history is very much tied to my local area, as where my family lives has remained relatively static for generations. Yet despite this, I grew up feeling like an immigrant in the only country I have ever known.
I major in both history and government at the College of William and Mary, and both majors have benefited me intimately, regardless of what career awaits me later in life. The College has a phenomenal history department, in which I have been exposed to many different lands and many different histories. However, my focus has been on American history, for this is the only country I have ever known and the only one I will live in for the foreseeable future.
Still, a focus in American history has left me with a broad range of classes to learn from. I have studied general American history, women’s history, immigration history, and African American history; and all have enlightened me in ways I could have only hoped for. Despite not having a single African American professor throughout my entire time at the College, my professors have provided me with an African American history so richly developed and analyzed that for the first time I have genuinely come to see myself as an American. My history, as woefully under-represented in general K-12 American history as it is and despite being so often excluded from the valued common lore, is intrinsically connected and entirely inseparable from the country in which I live.
The wonderful professors at the College of William and Mary have exposed me to a history of more than how African Americans were treated in America, but how all ethnic groups have arrived in America and undergone their own process into becoming American. I have been exposed to how nothing is inherent about the assumptions we all make, and how the most basic of these assumptions have been created, altered, and forgotten over time; whether these assumptions concern race, gender, religion, sexuality, or any other topic for which nothing is as true or absolute as any of us may be inclined to believe. This may make many of us uncomfortable, but I find encouragement knowing that many of today’s biggest struggles will someday seem as small or be as forgotten as many controversies and norms from the past. For most of Virginia’s history, people like me were not formally considered Virginians, but they were inherently Virginians, for this was where they lived, loved, and died. I may not take pride in Virginia’s Confederate history or “rebel pride,” but Virginia has always been filled with people of different backgrounds and different values. That, too, is part of being Virginian.
Part of this piece has been removed since its original posting. The piece can be read in its entirety by following the link.
This blog is a joint project between Micky Alexandria and myself. Here we intend to consolidate the posts we make regarding race, religion, politics, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other topics considered not fit for the dinner table or unsafe to discuss with the in-laws. Some posts will be new, others will be ones we have already posted on our respective blogs. You’re welcome to join in on the discussion. We welcome asks and submissions, as long as the content is well-written. We hope you enjoy our commentary and the conversation that hopefully results.
Who are we? We’re both African Americans in our early twenties who find ourselves not represented in mainstream American and African American dialogue. I major in Government and History, while Micky intends to focus on Film Studies and Women’s Studies. We’re good friends who agree on many things, but our opinions do differ, sometimes greatly, as do our approaches. Still, one thing remains constant: we are both very passionate about these issues. Thanks for sharing your time with us.