First, a little background on me. I’m a blonde, blue eyed female, in a committed relationship with an African American male, we have shared love, life and living space for nearly the last 6 years. I have been pointed out as the reason of racial tension at a speech in Boston in the 1980’s by Louis Farrakhan, as the only white face in the crowd – I was easy to spot.
But, this post idea started with two things. The death of Rodney King and a news item about a GOP radio show where the host calls the President of the United States a monkey. Repeatedly. And feels justified in doing so. Discounting both the man and the office in a horrid, racist and ignorant way.
You can read it yourself here: Barbara Espinosa Babble
See- first I was amazed at the gall, and the fact that she is “a journalist” however loosely defined the word has become. And this – is babble. But it made me angry, I was offended and disgusted. Then guilty.
Guilty because I believe that we all harbor a racial bias, and I know that I have that little voice in my head that defines people on first sight by noticing the differences. I also believe that this bias is widespread throughout humans, and readily apparent in the animal kingdom. A genome-encoded survival mechanism that encourages us, by instinct, to gravitate to those most like us. Which, being human, breaks out at it’s most basic level to racial definition. Break it out and it’s like this: I am a Zebra and you are a Water Buffalo – both of us are snacking on the same Savannah grass in Africa. When the lions come – I’m running with the Zebras, because they are my “known” and you run with the buffaloes for the same reason. But, as humans, we are given the ability to reason beyond the instinct.
And just because I’m a blonde and fit in with the wasp-y side of the American scale, it doesn’t mean that I am immune to feeling discriminated against because of my race. I have been called a “cracker bitch” repeatedly by a sloppy female who lived in this complex. The same sloppy female who would ‘hide out’ in her car, or startle and jump with an “eep” should she encounter my other half in the parking lot or entrance to the building. Petty and stupid and since she didn’t ( and stood no chance ) of knowing me – it shouldn’t matter. But it did. It hurt and made me angry and feel “less than” what she felt she was. Which wasn’t much, in my opinion, but I would never be so bold or so rude as to address those issues.
But, it was the 80’s and I was out and about: living my own life and learning those things that I felt necessary. I learned that while I could “notice” someone’s skin tone, eye shape or hair texture, it really had zero bearing on the who the person was, unless or until I made it important. Now, here is where things start to fall apart for me, and I should have someone who can detail what their racial identity means to the “who” they are..but I’m not that organized, and perhaps it will come. But really, I don’t see that any 10 people I could pick out would want anything different out of life, the big things, than I would. Love, a job that interests and intrigues, being able to pay bills, enjoy some down time, raise happy and healthy and productive children, and to find a measure of success that you can attain and define. Sure, I am certain that there are differences in the order, and even the importance of each issue, but we all have those desires in common.
I went to that speech with the specific intention of telling my parents that I had been, and to irk my father. I was young, and acting out. Typical adolescent stuff. My father was raised from the 30’s and 40’s in a less than desirable neighborhood in Baltimore, then after his father took a powder he moved with his mother and two sisters to a rough area in a mill town in northern Massachusetts. In many ways, I consider him a product of the times, but one that was unwilling and unable to change when the paradigm shifted. He was always rather insecure as a human being and an engineer, and fell into that “put other’s down to elevate yourself”. His common response to racial commentary was “I am not a racist, I work with a negro, a Pakistani and an Afrikaans in my process department”. Never did his mention of these 3 men ever contain just their names, like Jon, Rajiv and Hendrick. So, early on, I was exposed to a racially-determined way of defining people, and it was an important inclusion in my father’s definition of his world view.
Left with a predetermined way of defining the people around me, I sought to find the key that would allow me to “not be like my parents”. Also typically adolescent reaction. But, in some strange and twisted way I owe my awareness of my racial bias and my unwillingness to live a life that is based on defining the people around my by their race to my father. Which, I am fairly certain, was not his intended result.
Now I come forward and suggest that we are beyond the time that the discussion about race, racism, racial bias, racial tension and racial discrimination is long overdue. And needs to be happening now, everywhere, in all sorts of forums and groups. It is necessary that we remove race as the “emotional trump card’ from the election discussion – there are far more important issues to be discussed. But simply removing it will do nothing to solving the issue, not even with baby steps. Do we simply discount those who spew their rhetoric on an ever increasing decibel level as morons, beyond redemption or retraining? Is putting this hate speech out there something that should be protected by the 1st Amendment, even though it is oftentimes serving as a “calling card” to others who may be isolated and afraid to act upon their heinous beliefs? What about the frequency of the references that are purely racial and epithet laden in the media, on the street, in the political adverts? Are we willing to delay the discussion to such a degree that it becomes something we are inured to: much like we are inured to the 300th car explosion at the movies?
Were we a less racist nation before people had the internet to come together and anonymously be able to post venom and epithet freely? Is an “openly” hostile or vocal racist easier to discount and deal with than those who perhaps are more subtle, and would we all see it as a racial divide?
What do you do when someone calls you racist? Do you react in a manner similar to my father or do you stop and think if perhaps your actions were motivated by race? Or have you taken steps ( and what ones ) to overcome your natural bias, and how do you know that you aren’t ‘overcompensating’ in the other direction so as not to appear as a racist or racially motivated?
Most importantly.. WHAT do you think?