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.

10 comments:

Akinogal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
brohammas said...

feel free to comment, i did not edit anyone, i just deleted a "spam" comment.

Claudia said...

Hey! Thanks for comment on our blog - I followed the link to you, and have enjoyed your "pages", and the flickr pics - your family is beautiful! If I am not totally sleep deprived (and I might be) your daughter was born the same week as ours. Congratulations! Just for my information, are we all accountable for the things we said and thought when we were 14? I sure hope not! Thanks for all the verbal sparring - I am sure it made me a more thoughtful and thorough person!

And now that I am here, I get to comment on your great blog post! I think you raise an excellent issue, and I have very little experience to give you an insightful answer, but here goes:
When I was 4 years old, I met Hsin in day care. We had both been in the country for 2 years, and our parents didn't speak English very well - it made us kindred spirits (that, and not being part of the prevailing religion - but that's another topic entirely). So we went along pretty well until junior high, when there was a "minority essay contest" sponsored by the state of Utah. Somehow it came up that Hsin was a minority, and I was not (we can argue that national origin is a constitutionally protected class, but certainly not at the age of 12). Anyway, my white face made me less different, and it changed our relationship forever. Weird. Fast forward 20 years. I have lived in NY and DC, and worked with and been friends with people from all over the globe in every color and religion I can think of. Arguably, most of my black friends are like me, immigrants assimilating into American culture, so I am not sure how their experiences apply to the general experience of blacks in America (if there is such a thing), or if I have a good handle on that experience.
I am not sure if I am answering your questions, but I appreciate your thoughtful insights. In a class I took in college about race and social standing, the city I grew up in was discussed because of the extremely low minority population (less than 1/2% - if it had even been 1/2% they could have rounded up and not been a 100% white population). Is there more than one America? I would argue that there are many. In the past decade, I have lived in an area with an extremely high Hassidic and Orthodox Jewish population, and have been pleased to make friends and learn about beliefs and cultures other than my own. I have also lived in an area with an extremely diverse immigrant population (no more than two families in our townhouse block or the next were from the same country), and it was interesting to see how we all got along. We all had a cultural and/or religious base that made us see America a little differently.
In the end, the biggest concern for me is like most - how will this affect my children? Right now, I live in an ordinary suburb where most people look a lot like me. I worry that when my children go to school they might be singled out not because they are a different race, but because of their beliefs - I hear that the Baptists don't like us much, but don't really have any personal experiences yet (the irony of living in a place where they are not part of the predominant religion is not lost on me). I worry that we will be the only parents on the block who refuse to buy their teenagers a Lexus and make them get summer jobs in order to build character and teach a good work ethic. Don't we all worry that our children might be singled out for being different and miss out on opportunities because of that?
In the context of the current political climate, I can say this: would I vote for a black man for president? A white woman? An old white guy? How about a Jew or a Mormon? I guess I would answer the same way that I would answer the question of whether I would have one of these people as my neighbors: The answer is "sure", as long as you keep your yard in good shape and your children behave themselves. It's not about where you worship, what color your skin is, or where you were born - it's about whether we have the same ideals and values. Might that be shaped by your history? Most certainly, but if you have felt typical human emotions of isolation, struggle, and pain we might all be thinking the same thing after all.

Ryann said...

I thought Obama responded well to his former pastor's remarks. His speech can be read or listened to at
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=3511&id=12333-8483367-mnQ8Of&t=546.
In general, I really like the way Obama is confronting the issue of race, and it would be my hope if he became the next U.S. President, that he could help other Americans address it and work through it, too. - Ann

Amber said...

I originally wasn't going to reply, as I thought perhaps my answers would be too similar to yours - but I too hoped to read others answers. It turns out, my answers weren't as close to yours as I thought they would be. I think they reveal my true naivety on these matters. I answered without going back and editing, so please overlook mistakes etc.

Who taught you what to think about race and race relations?
I don't remember it ever being an issue while I was growing up. Sure, we had to get special permission slips signed to watch Roots for what seemed like weeks when I was in fifth grade. I liked the movie, but did I see any relation to MY life? No. Did I believe racism was still an issue? Yes, but for folks in the South or extremists on compounds in Northern Idaho – not me.

I remember Dad mentioning that he experienced living in segregated New Orleans when he was young. I remember his story of his friend when he moved to Arizona, asking if he could come over. “But Dad, he's black,” he warned his Dad. Dad recounts that his father told him that it didn't matter. They were not a house who drew color lines. I was proud of that story.

Still, did it apply to me personally? I didn't see it as such. The lesson, “don't be prejudice” was taught overtly in many fronts, more so than any neighbors I knew. How many friends did you have in Utah who's parents intentionally took them to places where there would be riotous mostly naked drunkards and show you that you could still be friendly with them? I only know one family that purposefully exposed their kids to “the others,” and that was ours. In our Utah culture, though, I never considered black “others.” It was simply Mormon vs. Non Mormon, or even active vs. inactive.


How many black people did you know growing up?
As in African Americans? I really can't think of any... I knew many Pacific Islanders, and had a friend who was probably East Indian (I still don't know) and I fawned over the Spanish and American Indian dancers that I watched each summer.

Sure, some of the most athletic people I knew had darker skin, but I never equated the two. There were many white athletic types, and enough non-athletic darker skinned folks that I never made the connection... until I went to college.

I went to college on the top scholarship available for academics at my college. With all the funds I was given, I was still shocked that it cost me much more than I was expecting. I broke down in tears in the financial aid office on my first day of school. When I found out that athlete's received better scholarships that the highest available for academics, I became resentful. I was upset that more resources went into athletics, when academic programs were cut. This happened at ALL three colleges I attended.

I didn't overtly equate the black kids with athletics, but I admit when I saw a tall black guy saunter in late for class, and then sleep in the back row, I assumed that he was a basketball player getting better funding than I was and taking his education for granted. I never did talk to him/them. I never found out their story, sat with them at lunch, or really sought understanding. Should there be a case that they were more deserving of funding than I? One thing I CAN say in retrospect is that if I were a black boy from Georgia, a small town in Utah where the last recorded lynching took place is probably the last place I would want to move. Price, Utah was the first place I remember hearing overtly racist statements, and I remember being severely offended.

Did you sit with any black people at lunch?
In high school, I remember sitting with different people all the time. There were a few times where I did, but I never remember there being a “black table.” I remember a dark skinned person here or there being the only one at the table, or the only one in the classroom.

In college, there was the basketball team's table. This was the one exception where there would be a few white at the table. I never sat at that table... I ate with my half-Mexican boyfriend, and whoever else we felt like sitting with that day. I met non-basketball students who were black, most were exchange students, and I sat with and was friends with them.

How many black people do you associate with now?
I live in a town that is more white than where I grew up. It's strange, but on the rare occasion I see a Tongan or Samoan I feel homesick. When I've spoken with them, invariably they've been from Utah. I have one black friend, and she is the only black person I know in the area, or see on any semi-regular basis. She is one of my favorite people, especially when it comes to how great she is with Jasper.

When I first moved here, I dated a boy who lived in the one area in town where I have ever seen people that are black. (It is the poorest area in Portland, is anyone surprised?) When I saw his elementary class picture, it was like a negative of mine: mostly black faces with a few white here and there.

Once, when we were waiting to get on the Max downtown, a group of black teenage boys come to wait as well. The boy I was dating visibly flinched, and held his bags tighter, and began to move to the other end of the platform. I asked what he was doing, and he said he's seen a lot of violence. I asked him if he'd ever been a victim – I honestly don't remember his answer. I told him my perhaps naive opinion that people will live up to how you perceive them, and that I was offended by his obvious prejudice.

Have you ever had a discussion about race relations with a black person?
Just a little, but not much. Your email has prompted me to want to email my good friend and bring up the topic.

Have you ever had a discussion about race relations with a white person?
I became enemy number one in my college ethics class when I was the ONLY person who defended the case for affirmative action. It was shocking to me that ever other person in the class believed racism was a thing of the past, and that affirmative action was legalized reversed discrimination, outdated, and harmful. The teacher quietly let the debate roll, but did inform me that he was impressed by my broader understanding of many subjects we discussed in class.

Currently, the most frequent race relation topic I have with other whites is regarding illegal immigration. I live on the verge of farm country, where many (very possibly illegally here) Latinos live and work. I am constantly shocked by what I view as outright prejudice.

How many black people have you invited into your home for purely recreational purposes?
I wouldn't, and haven't hesitated. Although, the black friends I've had have been few in total number and we've had common interests such as dancing that are based on recreational purposes to begin with.

After answering the previous questions I now ask, how do you know what you know about black people?
Given my overall exposure, I have to say I'm still relatively naive. I've had black acquaintances, co-workers, and friends, but have never been in exposed to outright African-American culture. (Latino, culture, on the other hand, I have many times been the only white or non-Spanish speaking person in the room.)

Many people take a class in college about diversity. Most kids read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in high school. Is this sufficient?
No. As I recalled from watching Roots, or discussing civil rights in school, nothing related to you or really teaches you until you are exposed to a situation first hand, and then the lessons learned are vastly different from person to person. All the diversity training I've been through wouldn't match being immersed in an experience myself. This holds true for ALL cultural divides. So what can happen to improve things in school? I don't know. Perhaps communication education?

On a very related side-note, I applaud Obama's speech confronting the matter. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/us/politics/18text-obama.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&oref=slogin

lyric said...

Hmm. It's a lot to think about and answer. We grew up in a very, very, white place. I seem to remember a lot of pacific islanders and there was a large influx of asian refugees when I was in high school. There couldn't have been a black table because I think there was only one or two dark skinned people, and I think they were latino. Sheltered. I don't know if there can be a sufficient education in that circumstance no matter what is taught. I was mostly friends with and sat with many Aisans throughout school but there just weren't too many other minorities there. We were however prepared well for the future with parents who did introduce us to "other" kinds of people and behaviors and exhibited tolerance and understanding and respect.

Now I live in the South. I think perhaps race has been discussed more here than other parts of the country because the issue has been forced. The topic has been on the airwaves here as long as I've been here.

In interpersonal relationships I think perhaps it is a different story. The races seldom mix outside of professional life and the subject isn't one a white person would wan to bring up with a black person for fear of offending. A nice white person that is. I was shocked a few weeks ago when a friend from a mixed race marriage came back from Bunco with neighborhood ladies and said she couldn't ever go back because of how nasty they were being racially.
These are people I thought I knew. Sigh. We have several black families in our neighborhood now and I've gone out of my way to talk to them but haven't gotten around to inviting them over. I need to do that.
I have had black friends from church in our house for dinner on many occasions. We did get to ask one of them, who lived through the civil rights movement here, a lot of questions and I was very glad she was willing to answer them.

I also send my kids across town to a "magnet" school. Not just because it's a great school. Our base school is good too. The magnet school is very racially and economically mixed. I want my kids to be exposed to that. My chidren have all had white and black teachers as well. They are getting a real world education through experience. One daughter's teacher just lost his job because of race. He disciplined a white student who was a well known trouble maker. The parent sued and the principle wouldn't stand up for him. Pretty much everyone thinks it was a race issue. Especially on the parent's part. It's good for them. I live in a privileged area. I don't want them to be raised with a feeling of entitlement for anything. I'm constantly telling them we don't really "deserve" any of the stuff we've been blessed with. We're put here to make the world a better place, not to server our selfish desires. I learned that from my parents too.

I've also been able to participate in many mixed race events here. We're lucky to have the town's Martin Luther King events chair in our ward so a lot of us get roped into helping out. It's been really good for us.

I have absolutely no problem believing there is more than one america. I have absolutely no problem understanding why blacks would feel the way they do.

I don't have any presumptions about the problem being gone or going away any time soon. It's going to take enough people willing to teach their children to be tolerant. Several generations from now at least. Sigh.

Robin said...

Wasn't it third grade? And I think Mr. E chose slaves based on whether he liked our shoes. I had ugly shoes.

He actually did a lot to form my views on slavery, blacks, and, later, on the Indians. The experience of being a slave for a day was wrenching, to say the least. The little red wristband marking me as someone who wasn't exactly real--someone who could be pushed around with the full support of the reigning society. I was in tears by the end of the day and, when we did role-reversal the next day, I couldn't take advantage of it.

Anyway, I stumbled on your blog by following links through Claudia's and Shalise's blogs. The world was a lot bigger before the internet. :)

hmk said...

Dalyn, you should run for president. You could totally win.
We did read 'to kill a mockingbird' last semester... no, I don't think it is sufficient to teach us about racial division. We didn't discuss it or anything.
I have one very good friend who is black, one who moved here two years ago from Sri Lanka... there is also some very popular black kids at my school. But, they have money to buy name brand clothes, and i think if they didn't they probably wouldn't be so popular. There is a 'black table' in the cafeteria...
Now that i think about it, our high school is rather segregated, more so than i would like. I agree with my mother- the problem probably won't be fixed anytime soon. However, we are trying to do something about it- last month there was a group of girls campaigning against segregation going around the cafeteria encouraging us to sit with people of different races.
~haven

Anonymous said...

you got haven to reply?
IMPRESSED!
-your wife

Siditty said...

I think a lot of people answered these questions so vastly differently from me or my family growing up. I can remember being 4 or 5 and conscious of race. My parents taught me about race, but also observing interactions between blacks and whites. Race was a constant in my life.

I think a honest discussion about race with my white friends would hurt their feelings and be a bit shocking. I am sure I have hurt my husband's feelings, as even though he grew up in predominantly black areas for a short period of time, he had a somewhat naive view of race.