[I've been workin on this blog for a few weeks now (I know -- crazy). But the recent news of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay hate-incidents at my alma mater, Oberlin College has forced me to get my ass in gear & publish it. This is a topic that obviously needs to be rapped about.]
At a gathering of friends the other night, a friend of mine began going off on racism.
Specifically, this friend was saying how wack it is that so much of U.S. history is distorted, diluted, & even deleted. This friend commented that white people are scared to look back into their own history & ancestry for fear of what they’d find out about their people’s role in slavery (& the implications that may pose regarding their inherited self-image).
–> Now, take a look at the picture you’ve constructed in your mind of what you have just read:
- Who is this friend speaking out in your picture?
- Who are among the friends listening?
- Do the races of the people in this scene matter?
Would it make a difference if the friend who went off was of white/of full European ancestry speaking to a room of black people/of full African ancestry? Or vice versa? What if it weren’t so polarized — say, the friend was multiracial/of African & European ancestry talking to a mixed room of white people/of full European ancestry and biracial people/of African & European ancestry?? (There are endless other –racial, gender, spiritual/religious, differently abled, etc– combinations of constituents that could make up this scene. For the purposes of this post, my scope focuses more on racism against blacks in America.)
The point my friend was making about incomplete/distorted American history is a good one that I believe should definitely be examined more thoroughly by us in the U.S.
I’d like to pose that the crux of this point is made clear by (what I believe as) the fact that it really does make a difference who’s making the point & who’s listening. That those circumstances create a total scene-changing element highlights the (sometimes) subtle, yet profound, dynamics of race in this country.
Many of us (often unconsciously) think and talk about race differently depending upon our own ancestry & the (known or assumed) ancestry of the company we are in. It’s a touchy topic. Some of us are super-sensitive about it & feel the need to make sure we step painstakingly carefully around it. Some of us want to brush this issue aside –tired of talking about it, unclear of what the point is, doubtful that any real good can come of continuing to this seemingly bottomless pit of dialogue. Some of us would like to disappear the issue & claim that we “don’t see color.”
We know (on some level) how huge an issue it is – else it wouldn’t seem so endless, sensitive, irritating, & daunting.
Discomfort is a good indicator that something is up. But also, total comfort/indifference can reveal a lack of awareness. A friend who was a listener at the aforementioned gathering spoke to me about it a few days later. He noted how intense the conversation was & how it didn’t make him uncomfortable as much as it made him realize how homogenous his group of friends is. What struck him was that he hadn’t really ever considered that before & that he should try to diversify his circle of friends.
One reason that racism is such a huge issue in this country is because it is so deeply & thoroughly ingrained the very fabric of our society that it’s as if many of us can’t even see it. Often those of us who can see it take it for granted and convince ourselves to forget that it sh/could be any different. But, bidden or not bidden, it is there. It is there in entertainment/news media, fashion, health care, law enforcement…pervading most elements of our social infrastructure.
Rarely do those of us who actually benefit from these repercussions of our sordid history want to examine & reflect upon that. And even when we do, it becomes an issue that’s hard for others to swallow.
So, what’s the point…what’s to be done? (Yes, this text is bigger because it’s the most important part.) There’s no easy answer or way out. But it’s clear that there’s a lot of cleaning up to be done. And it will take some serious work for all of us.
We must reflect on our experiences, our heritage, our preconceived notions, our privileges. We must study the work of people who have made it their mission to examine the big picture of this issue. We must create safe spaces to talk through this process of revealing unconscious bias & understanding how we can work to increase awareness of what we consider “other.” We must act & speak out against media, social, & institutional structures that support & are supported by racism & other forms* of discrimination.
This is a huge issue. I know it can’t be condensed into a single blog entry, but it needs air-time in this country. It needs to be considered, deeply, on so many levels — & we each play our own part in that. This blog entry is my effort towards nudging that awakening, a humble one, at that. I hope to hear from you about this. I hope to write more about this. I hope each time we endeavor to address systematic prejudice and oppression, it lifts the haze around these issues a little more –bit by bit– and we get closer & closer to actually transcending them.
As I said before, this blog entry is focused on the specific expression of racism against black people in America. However…please note that all forms of discrimination & oppression are linked. I bring this up to make the point that the web of discrimination has numerous elemental overlaps of systematic oppression –but– *please* also be mindful of the reality that each socio-cultural expression of prejudice against a particular group of people for their economic status, gender, abilities, mental health, sexual or spiritual orientation, nationality, race, etc, has it’s own unique history — it’s own cultural context that really must be taken into consideration. Solidarity [unite & conquer] is a powerful force against these issues, but it calls for extending our understanding of these contexts.