Monday, March 30, 2015

Let's Talk About Race, Baby

I find it ironic that people say the racism is over in this country because we have a Black president. I mean, take a look at how he’s treated by the far right, the racist jokes, the racist comments, and then take a look at how he’s treated by the GOP. It ain’t over, y’all, not by a long stretch, and it won’t be over if we don’t talk about it, and talk it down when we see it.

Of course, I don’t mean the way Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wanted to talk about it. I like the idea of a conversation about race, but I don’t like the idea of my barista starting it just because he wrote #RaceTogether on my latte cup. And I guess Schultz didn’t like it either, or else his business suffered when the program went into effect, because Starbucks has stopped the practice scarcely more than a week into it.

Okay … so if we aren’t talking race while sipping a mocha frappuccino, when can we talk about it; and should we?

I say yes, and I’ll give you just one example why:

One day a co-worker was complaining about a guy who was working in her yard. Oh, he wasn’t doing anything bad, but she felt she needed to be home while he was there in case he decided to break into her house and steal something … because he’s Mexican, you know, and that’s what they do.

I said to her, “You know, Carlos is Mexican, right?”

And she literally smiled at me and said, “I know, but he’s one of the good ones.”

Yeah, we need to talk about race; and not just the anti-immigrant racism, which tends to be aimed at the more brown-skinned immigrants because they don’t look like ‘us,’ but also the blatant racism against anyone of color.

We have college students singing about “hanging n*****s from trees” while on a bus ride, and just a few weeks later Otis James Byrd, a black man, was found hanging in a tree in Mississippi.

The two aren’t related, I don’t think, but how can we say we have no race problem in this country when fraternities sing about it and black men are being lynched in Mississippi.
To be fair, no one knows if Byrd killed himself or was murdered, but his body was found strung up by a bedsheet just a few hundred yards from a house where he once lived.

And what about all these shootings of black men, young black men and children? If these shootings were reversed — black officers shooting unarmed white men — you can bet there would be outrage across the country, but when it happens to a black man, the outrage arises mostly from the black community.

Where’s the white outrage, or just plain outrage, at young men being shot dead, or choked to death, in the streets or in a park or at a Wal-Mart?

I know it’s a tough conversation to have because people have to choose their words carefully, lest they appear to be racist, but why not allow folks to stumble over their words during this talk? And then, why not educate the people about their racism? Why not call it out when you see it and hear it? Why not take a stand against people who want to hold anyone down, push them back, because of their skin color?

It’s like with that co-worker of mine. Carlos is ‘one of the good ones.’ 

I said to her, “If a Mexican man breaks into your house and steals from you, it isn’t because he’s Mexican, it’s because he’s a thief.”

You aren’t a criminal because of your skin color; you aren’t less than because of where you come from; you don’t deserve to be shot down in the street because you look menacing.
That’s the conversation we need to have, and one way to start it is to eliminate certain words from the conversation. And they are words we all use from time to time and yet, when you listen to the way they are said, you’ll see what I mean:

They and Them.

I think I told this story here once, about a client who was talking about Obama; this man is a Republican and a racist, though he’s not one because he’s the other, he just happens to be both.  But, when Obama was running for president in 2008, this man, while doing business with us, actually said to me, “I hope he doesn’t get elected,. Because all of them people will be dancing in the streets.”

I replied, “Cool, I love to dance. I guess I'm one of 'them' people!”

He muttered something about 'them' people being a different color.

I said, "Oh, I got that, but what I'm saying is that the people doing the dancing in the streets aren't just black, and they aren't just 'them' people; they're people ... like me."

Different, yes, because we're all different from one another in so many ways, but we're all people, human beings, just the same, and we should all be treated the same.

We don't need Starbucks to start the conversation, we just need to speak up when we hear racism, see racism. Start talking then.

The best way to have a conversation about race is when you hear someone say something racist. Take that second to educate them; take a minute to explain that the color of your skin, or your accent, doesn't make you any 'less' than anyone else; they just make you different.

And, seriously, different is good.


the dogs' mother said...

I've noticed forever, in our paper, if there is a Hispanic on Hispanic shooting there is always a statement about gangs - either is, or is not, a gang related shooting, or they don't know if it was yet.

Adrian Balansay said...

“If a Mexican man breaks into your house and steals from you, it isn’t because he’s Mexican, it’s because he’s a thief.”

Perfect response to her.

Racism is such a touchy subject. I agree we should definitely talk about it. I don't think that it will ever truly go away but for people to make it more aware for everyone, it'll become less of an issue.

I've accepted that fact that racism is everywhere and will continue to be here, just people need to keep it to themselves.

anne marie in philly said...

racism - always wrong. ALWAYS.

Sadie J said...

I've adopted an "I don't get it look" when someone says something racist, as if I don't understand what they mean, asking them to clarify. The fact that they get flustered just goes to show that they know they're in the wrong.

mistress maddie said...

Its amazing to me how we have not learned from our mistakes yet.....and continue to still go backwards.

Mitchell is Moving said...

Oh, how many times have I heard "Yeah, but he's one of the good ones"!

Romanovsky and Philips had an interesting song called "Be Political, Not Polite." Words to live by. If you don't immediately speak up, you are indicating agreement with racist statements.

Different is better than good!

Helen Lashbrook said...

Sadly racism is rife over here too; mostly it is allegedly about anti-eastern Europeans 'taking our jobs' that is the problem, but there is the colour issue too. Some people seem to think that as long as the Political Correctness police hold sway that everything is okay; it isn't, we just pretend it is.

Frank said...

I love your come-backs; wish I were able to think on my feet as quickly and pointedly.

I know I have prejudices toward just about everyone and I will go to hell for it: wealthy people who think they deserve their wealth and privilege; straight, macho-talking men who intimidate others; snobby-trendy-superficial gay men who bore me to death; Republicans; religious fundamentalists.

I understand the reality of racial stereotypes and the fact that they are so ingrained in our cultures - non-whites have cultural biases toward whites too.

It is not a simple thing to overcome personal prejudices, stereotypical thinking let alone to do so as a wider community.

Confronting our own prejudices and those in others as we encounter them - like you do - is, perhaps, the most effective course.

Debbie said...

I'm so sad about all of it. Sad to see how many people HATE Obama, sad that Indiana and Arkansas have passed that fucken HATE "law", sad that there are still people with so much hate in their heart. I want to live in a cave. I hate what is happening in this country. Seriously. I'm depressed.