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alive, awake, aware

Race is on the brain – and I’m alive.  I’m awake.  I see the “news” coverage of Barack and the insinuations that somehow his manhood is questionable because of his bowling prowess [or lack thereof].  I didn’t miss the 40 year anniversary of MLK, Jr’s death.  I got the memo that somehow Mariah’s record-breaking single means less.  More pointedly, I know someone who’s being bullied out of his house by a crooked mortgage company.

And it seems to me – now that the ‘race conversation’ has been opened up by Barack and (indirectly) his former minister – that white people (liberal and otherwise) are feeling increasingly comfortable to come forward and claim the out that Barack provided in his speech.  You know – “a similar anger exists in segments of the white community” – as though it really is similar.  I know he’s a politician, and he can’t win on black votes alone, but it was stifling to me that he had to add the caveat.  If you’re gonna make things plain – make ’em plain. Black people are not immigrants.  The whole point is that the experiences of whites and blacks in this country cannot be compared as though they are the same.  The denial of this point is the root of the “resentment [that] builds over time”, according to Obama.

As I’ve mentioned before, the desire to claim that you’ve made it ‘on your own’ is common, but almost entirely impossible to be true.  No man is an island, no one accomplishes great things without help.  Because this is contrary to the ethos of individuality inherent in America, my assertion can inflict almost physical pain on some people, but this makes it no less true.

It seems though, that everywhere I turn, white people are asking why they can’t have WET (white entertainment television), or Miss White America, etc, etc, etc.  Telling me I’m too sensitive, that I should teach them how to not be racist offensive, and that they can’t be racist because – they voted for Barack, have black friends, have a family member who married somebody black, etc.  And then, when I get tired of explaining, when my patience wears thin, I’m not doing my part to foster dialog and ‘healing’.

But you know what?  I’m over that.  I’ll be in teacher mode when I’m in teacher mode.  Not when someone demands it.  Reading an interview with Vernon Reid, I found a worthy quote that reminded me of what we’re actually dealing with

Part of the genius of Institutional Racism is that long after Ol’ Massa’s Gone Away and The Last Overseer hung up his whip, fear has been a constant companion of the African American, justified or not. Black performers are uniquely vulnerable to that fear, because the stage exposes and further objectifies. The safest route then is to merely entertain, to make and keep people “happy” (unchallenged and unchanged, but edified). Not to take anything away from the skill and talent required. This is a long and powerful tradition, subverted, raged, and signified against, but potent nonetheless.

This fear is also alive.  Present and nearly palpable in those very same discussions about Barack’s former pastor, about Condi’s reminder that she is actually black; in the discussions about higher STD rates in young black females, higher HS dropout rates among black youths, other gaps and inequities that scream out loud that the revolution hasn’t happened yet.  And of course, in the fact that I have to explain that the revolution isn’t about turning the tables, and making white people the slaves of black people, but that it’s about righting the wrongs and giving the power to ALL the people.

The fear is the reason Barack and the rest of us have to give white people an out.  An escape clause to grab hold to so they don’t have to feel (too) guilty.  Cuz white people don’t really believe that mess about them not having anything to do with it – it was just their ancestors.  No, that’s just a straw to cling to, flimsy though it be.

So the ever-present fear is sometimes overcome by the boldness that comes with anger, and then we get Rev. Wright’s sermon – not railing against whites, but all of us that fail to stand up for real justice.  Or the outburst from Kanye – saying what the rest of us were thinking.

There are a lot of racial wounds in this country, and it’s gonna take longer than one presidency [whoever wins], to work things out.  Here’s hoping.

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4 thoughts on “alive, awake, aware

  1. The dialogue on race has been opened and closed many times in U.S. history. Racism still exists, but mostly in the older generation. There are people who lived through the 1960s Civil Rights Movement who still view it as something awful.

    And though Obama’s speech was one of his best yet, it will be remembered by many for his remark that his grandma was a “typical white person.” You miss the mark entirely in your remark that “white people don’t really believe that mess about them not having anything to do with it – it was just their ancestors”. Not every white person was a slave owner. Not every white person benefits from white privilege. We’re not all affluent, we don’t all believe that racism is over. But then again, not every black person is in jail.

    We need to look past stereotyping groups and judge people based on their accomplishments and skill, not their race or gender.

  2. “Not every white person was a slave owner.”

    Obviously.

    “Not every white person benefits from white privilege.”

    How do you figure? Do you actually know what white privilege is? It’s not confined to monetary wealth.

    But the most ignorant thing I see here is this: “Racism still exists, but mostly in the older generation.”

    Seriously? I think this may be the most insidious belief – that somehow, this generation has ‘gotten over that whole racism thing’. It means that the instances of racism perpetrated by this very generation are largely ignored/overlooked and the excuses are allowing this generation to continue in their behavior, perfectly oblivious.

  3. Yeah, seriously, that’s why I wrote “mostly”, and I believe racism is “mostly” in the older generations. That isn’t to say this generation doesn’t have it’s own share of racists.

    Never said ‘gotten over that whole racism thing’, and regardless of whether you put it in direct quotes or not you were implying I said that. Don’t put words in my mouth or assume I’m saying something that I’m not.

    Not every white person is benefiting from white privilege (and yes, I know what it is, but thank you for insulting my intelligence) and being racist towards every minority. I agree with your message overall, but you don’t need to stereotype and belittle to convey it.

  4. Pardon me for my stereotyping. I apologize. Once again, I am acutely aware that not every white person is being racist towards every minority.

    On the count that not every white person is benefiting from white privilege, could you give me an example of this? I don’t think I understand what you mean – since it seems you understand what I mean.

    Honestly, I couldn’t say that racism exists mostly in the older generations. I’ve certainly observed more overtly racist and egregious acts from older generations, but I don’t necessarily equate that with ratios of occurance of racist behavior.

    I will certainly try not to put any more words in your mouth. Though, of course, I wasn’t trying to the first time. One further question on your original comment – when you said this:
    “There are people who lived through the 1960s Civil Rights Movement who still view it as something awful.”

    Were you referring to these people viewing the Civil Rights Movement as awful? Or racism?

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