Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

I really wish someone would actually answer the questions in my essay

Sure there is a double standard, so what?

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s pastor of 20 years, is under fire for his tirades against America. The radio honks are moaning about his racism and Obama’s close ties to that man and his church. The conservative Republicans, who have long been cast as old, white, bigots, are pointing and shouting. What this man said is readily available and I do not intend to spend time there. What is remarkable is not Wright’s rhetoric, but the fact that so many white people are surprised and/or offended. Maybe remarkable doesn’t carry the right connotations. Perhaps “telling” is a better adjective. Here is why…

There are two America’s. Black people know this, white people don’t. There are probably many more than two, more like three or three and a half. It’s been this way from the end of reconstruction. We all knew this to be true up till the late 60’s, then white people turned around and forgot all about it. It seems once an event or movement has been written about in a history book, or taught in school, we consider it over and done with. WWII was in 1941, Columbus sailed in 1492, the civil rights act ended slavery in 1964 right? Now yes, WWII ended with Japan’s surrender, Columbus has been the subject of statues for a few hundred years already, but the civil rights act was not so long ago and had nothing to do with slavery. I would like to take some time and address what has happened since.

First they signed the law.

Then nothing happened.

Then there were a bunch of law suits.

Then some people tried to go to school but weren’t allowed.

Then there were riots and sit-ins.

Then the National Guard came.

Then Snoop Dog hit it big and Colin Powell was made Sec of State.

What notably never happened was us “all just getting along”. When the dust settled thirty years ago we all just sort of started legally coexisting. Schools, but not lunch tables started to mix. We got jobs in the same office, but never sat next to each other on Sunday. We, or should I say; those of us who live in urban or Southern areas, work and learn together and then quietly go our separate ways. We are in the most crucial aspects, still separate. This is the real issue of Wright’s comments. This is what I want to talk about. I wonder if anyone will listen?

I do not wish to excuse the hatred of anyone. The following statements may seem one sided, condemning white people, that is not my real intent, but white is what I am, what I know, and the ones I wish most to reach.

How do the two races learn about each other? I have never heard any one else ask this question and wish more people would answer it thoughtfully. I will answer for myself first as an example that may or may not be indicative of a generality.

First it was Elementary School when I met Christian Lelepali. He was Hawaiian.
Then our fourth grade class participated in the famous blue eyed/brown eyed object lesson to teach us the evils of jim crow, slavery, and racism. This was at the same time Walter Payton was setting records, Lawrence Taylor was destroying everyone, and Jerry Rice was golden.
The closest thing I knew to racial conflict, or contrast, was Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson.
My parents taught me that all people are the same no matter what they look like.
Christian Lelepali was the fastest kid in school.
Then Mtv came on the scene and I realized black people sing and dance. Except rappers. They come from California, can’t sing or play instruments, and shoot people.
Then I met Royce Bradley, he disappointed us all by not being good at football but was to be admired because no girl could resist him.
I read “Native Son” on my own during high school and was bothered by the comparison of Bigger Thomas and Jesus. We read “they’re Eyes Were Watching God”I learned in American History about slavery as a parallel story to the Govt.’s treatment of Indians. Both were unfortunate and to be understood in the context of a different time when people had strange, misguided ideas, and no cars. Kids started wearing baggy pants, Africa medallions, and blue bandanas. Bandanas and Raiders jackets were shortly thereafter banned on school grounds.

From ages 1 to 19 this was my education. What was yours? I was taught fair principles from parents, high minded ideals from school and literature, and culture from sports and TV. I knew one 14 year old black person. I considered myself rational and well informed.
Was I?

Here are my questions to white people:
Who taught you what to think about race and race relations?
How many black people did you know growing up?
Did you sit with any black people at lunch?
How many black people do you associate with now?
Have you ever had a discussion about race relations with a black person?
Have you ever had a discussion about race relations with a white person?
How many black people have you invited into your home for purely recreational purposes?

After answering the previous questions I now ask, how do you know what you know about black people?

Many people take a class in college about diversity. Most kids read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in high school. Is this sufficient?

I have kept these questions in mind for some time now as I interact with all sorts of new people. More often than not, it becomes obvious that most white people have never considered these questions. Only slightly less often I become aware that most white people see these questions as irrelevant if not inflammatory because black and white Americans are the same and one should not think of them separately. That would be racist. That is what we are taught at home, in Elementary, in our HR training, and in diversity class.

Now when people with this upbringing hear Rev Wright say we should be singing “God Damn America” rather than “God Bless” they are offended. When they hear a preacher say his parishioners should look out first for the black man they are appalled. Racism is wrong, that is racist, and so is that man. Maybe so, but consider this…

When we white kids were playing tag and forming our views of the world, what was happening on the other side of the tracks? If a black person were asked those questions regarding our racial education how would they answer?

This is a legitimate and crucial question in understanding American society today. This is why there is still two different America’s. Our views of the world are influenced greatly by who is teaching us and with whom we interact regularly. We don't interact with each other enough.

My parents were not segregationists. My parents wanted me to understand right and wrong. My parents were also very white and as such were automatically grouped with society at large, including the government and all it’s history. To ensure I did not follow the ills of the past I was taught not to discriminate, treat everyone fair, and rightly so.

Are these the same lessons a black parent would teach? Maybe, but wouldn’t they also include additional or different lesson?
Would your parents view on the pledge of allegiance be different if they had been drafted to fight in Korea but had to sit in the back of the bus? What is a more useful lesson to the draftee’s child, treat everyone fairly, or how to act if someone calls you a “Ni----“? Would your view of law enforcement be different if a relative had been hung without a trial?
Would you think the civil rights era belonged in history books if your parents, the ones teaching you about race, were sprayed with a fire hose?
Right about here is where most whites start saying, "that wasn't me with the hose. I didn't do it. Don't blame me." This is not about blame. This i not about you. This is about understanding where someone else is coming from.

The ones teaching my generation about race are the ones who lived through the civil rights era and I say the race of that person greatly slants how you view that time, for good or bad.

Let’s address if it’s bad. People are taught wrong headed things about race all the time. Of course people do not solidify their views simply by what teachers and parents teach them, but by experience. Here is the problem once again. For generations it was understood by black people that whites did not like them. That dislike went to the extent of danger, and parents taught their children accordingly. Many returned that dislike.

Are people of different races now sitting down at the dinner table together? If these two groups, who have been separated for so long, for centuries, are still separate, how much do they really know about each other? What personal evidence has the average person seen that other's minds have changed? If for generations you were taught someone else doesn't like you, and you don't know any white people, how would you know if things are really better? Because the law says so? The same law that needed federal troops to force local governments to obey?

As a missionary I was always astounded by how many people did not want to listen to me, but were more than willing to tell me what I “really” believed in.

How does this lack of intimate interaction influence our views? I ask a white person to honestly consider what your view would be if the situation were different. If your parents were black, lived through the sixties, and have never had a real, in home, relationship with a white person, how would you view whites? If your government, which was made up of whites, kept you legally subservient till a major political upheaval forced a change, would you naturally have good feelings toward government? If a whole group of people legally restricted you from interacting with them, till only recently, and then they still don’t interact with you, would you think they don’t like you?

The sad reality is that these questions are not hypothetical if you are black.

Is anyone doing anything to try to change things?

Can we really be surprised that a black reverend, in a black church, has some resentment toward whites? Can I be surprised that the isolated, white right don’t get where this guy is coming from? I say this man has done more than expose how he feels, he has exposed how divided our country really is. My fear is that due to lack of cross racial communication this situation, this election, will only drive the two sides further apart.