Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Flip Side


The Flip Side

Apathy does not make one a racist.

People tend to care about things that affect them. Pet owners care about animals, auto workers care about unions, surfers care about clean water. The more secure a person’s life becomes, and the more dominant the culture, the more influence and freedom that person enjoys. As a person, or group, grow in power and freedom there are less and less outside forces that can truly affect them. In this situation an individual can choose what hey want to care about.
Whales
Trees
Darfur
The World Bank
Cancer
Diabetes
Vaccinations
Autism
Racial Equality
Homelessness
Pick whichever one you feel some passion about and lend a hand, give a dollar, or sign a petition. As a general rule racial equality does not hit” close to home” with the greater white populace and it is therefore not a natural choice of issues to care about. It is just one of a list of things a person can choose to spend some spare time on, if they get around to it.

Now this applies to black people as well, but the list of things that hit “close to home” is usually different. Issues of race are real and ever present. Anyone who is knee deep in an issue finds it hard to understand why someone else may not care.

Racial issues are historically antagonistic and those who are affected are emotionally invested. Wouldn’t it make sense that a person thus embroiled may harbor some resentment toward those who sit on the sidelines? It takes an uncommon perspective for such an individual to sit back and realize, “I am just one cause, on a list of causes, that white person can choose to care about.”

It may be a more natural conclusion, to a person who has experienced, and been taught, that white people don’t like black people, that white’s inaction may be more devious. If the black person has no personal interaction with white people how would they know any different?

Is this conclusion fair to the white person? Absolutely not, but it is understandable.

Apathy does not indicate racism but it does take extra effort and awareness for a black person to understand this… but why would one put in extra effort to understand someone who isn’t willing to do the same?

12 comments:

tristanjh said...

Whoa…
We all have challenges. Some are more visible than others.

You care about things that affect you. Racism is a topic that is “close to home” for you. I respect that.

What I don’t respect is your constant lumping of all white people into one, uninformed, uncaring, heartless group of losers who fail to understand the plight of the black people. Give me a break!

What is important to me? Healthcare. You are right, I care about what hits close to home. I know what it is like not to have health insurance. Do I look down on you because you are fortunate to have a job that provides health insurance? How is your view from the sidelines?

I am fortunate that my life experience has taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I try very hard to understand where all of my fellow human beings are coming from. This is a learned skill. And I don’t think I am being unreasonable in asking the black race to extend me the same courtesy.

tristanjh said...

We all have issues to overcome, Dalyn. I’m not trying to downplay the struggles of minorities. I do believe, however, that the day to day life of the entire human race can be just as painful, but not as easily visible. I have friends who have lost children, friends struggling with mental illness, friends struggling with incredible financial distress. Some are hanging on by their fingernails just trying to make it through the day. The are struggling to make sense of it all. What they are going through is no less traumatic.

Tiash said...

Tristanjh -

People black and white have day to day life issues to deal with, including the list that you mentioned. Unfortunately, the black race has those issues plus the racism issue. Most times it is harder for the black race to overcome the traumatic experiences in their lives when racism is present. It is hard for people to even somewhat be able to understand that which they know nothing about. Fortunately, I have a brother in law who has opened my eyes to the flip side.It has made me more understanding of other races who just don't know what black people experience on a day to day basis. White people may believe they are informed and know what black people endure. But until their children come home in tears because of something an ignorant, supposedly well informed white person has said to them, they will never truely understand.

Rob said...

Dalyn,

Interesting post, something I hadn't really thought about before.

I have been thinking about this the last day or two, and I hope you will humor me and help clarify some things:

1-in the body of the post, you seem to be saying that people only really have enough energy and spare time to work on one or two "causes", and therefore they tend to focus on a cause that they have some connection to or otherwise is "close to home." Consequently, the amount of work someone spends on a given cause doesn't indicate their distribution of feelings, it's just a function of their need to pick something to focus on, given their scarce time and energy. I tend to agree with this.

Then in your last sentence, you seem to be implying that people are somewhat at fault if they don't pick racial equality as one of their causes. This seems to be a little inconsistent with the previous view.

2-What exactly do you mean by working for the racial equality cause vs. sitting on the sidelines? In theory I can see your point that if I don't do anything to support racial equality, that might cause black people to suspect I don't care. But in practice, I don't really see how that would play out.

Are we talking about taking time to engage others in race-centered discussions, in order to heighten awareness? Well, I've never known any black, hispanic, or asian people who have tried to engage me in conversations about race (though I'm sure they talk about it among their own). So I tend to be dubious that they would feel put out if I am not always bringing up the topic with them. Plus in theory it would seem more effective if I am bringing up the topic with white people, in order to heighten THEIR awareness. But then how would my black friends know that I am not doing this?

Or are we talking about taking time to march in protests after white policemen shoot someone? Well, the chances of me running into one of my friends there are pretty slim. Most of my minority friends are too busy to go themselves, and even if we were both there, we might not see each other if the protest is big enough. So how would my minority friends ever know whether I did that or not?

I can examine other possible activities, but each time I have to question whether the minorities that I know would ever know how much I engaged in them in my spare time. Consequently I just don't see how my willingness to support racial equality (with my time & energy) is really going to be noticed by the people around me, and hence I have a hard time seeing how in practice my black friends will harbor resentment toward me because of my "sitting on the sidelines".

I support racial equality with my feelings, beliefs, and my vote. But I don't spend much time on it during a given week. (OK, I'll admit I do like to engage white people in conversations about race despite what I said above, but it's only when the opportunity presents itself, and it often is centered around hispanic issues rather than black issues, since I think there is more confusion around those issues. But my non-white friends generally don't know that I do this, so the same principle still applies.) So on an "hours per week" basis, I have to put myself on the sidelines when it comes to racial equality. But how will that get noticed and how will it inspire resentment?

brohammas said...

To begin with I should state that no generality applies to every specific situation or person. We are dealing with societal issues here and as such an understanding of the common cultural views and experience are very helpful in creating a context in which to better understand an individual, or even create social policy or program.

As denoted by the title and first line of the post, I was in great part explaining to black readers that an apparent lack of participation in racial issues does not shed any light on said white person’s views on the subject. This needs to be understood as most black people may not have stopped to think that a white person would need to choose to care about race, the same way a black person would need to choose to care about deforestation in Brazil.

The last line was meant to aid in the realization that there is a natural, or rather pre-existing, antagonism toward whites in the black consciousness. There are many reasons for this, appropriate or not, and apparent apathy on the part of whites is one of them. This is useful knowledge if a white person is wondering how Kanye West could deduce that George Bush doesn’t like black people. Resentment does not need to be inspired; it is for the most part, already there. White people “generally” don’t understand why in the same way they do not realize what privileges they enjoy due to their race. It is a natural tendency to resent those who have what we do not, and seemingly cannot have ourselves.

In some way we are all responsible for the things we omit to act on, and when those things deal with other’s lives we should not be overly offended when those affected may not naturally understand our situation. If I lived in Darfur it may be very hard to understand why the West with all their money and convenience, fail to come to the aid of the dying. They may understand more if I were to explain that I am busy working to pay off the medical bills from an emergency room visit.

As to how one’s views, which are not visible, are to be made plain to those watching is a more difficult question.

This hearkens back to one of my original ideas about the need for intimate (platonic) interaction between races. We tend to only share our views with those we are closest too, and those tend to be the ones we are the most similar to. Opportunities to cultivate interracial relationships should not be squandered. This is a difficult and touchy process, which I think I could offer ideas on in the future, but I feel it is the strongest thing we could do to create a more desirable society.

tristanjh said...

tiash-

I am not claiming to understand something that I don't. As I look back at what I wrote I did not atriculate my feelings as well as I could have. That being said, my main problem with this essay, was the assertion that black people should not be expected to try to understand my point of view, yet I am considered apathetic if I don't go out of my way to understand theirs. I took offense to that line of thinking because I personally make a considerable effort to put myself in other's shoes. While I may have not had much opportunity in applying this to the black race, I still believe it is a thought process that all races need to embrace if there is any hope of bridging the gap between us.

Rob said...

Dalyn,

I agree with everything you said in your response. And I do agree that one's views will become evident to those around them, given enough time and conversation.

But I don't see how a person's activism will necessarily be noticed, in order to inspire any resentment. If you are a public figure, especially a politician such as George Bush, then every civic cause you work on will be noticed and publicly critiqued. But I am struggling to see how this would play out for a Regular Joe.

Consider two hypothetical people, both white males. Both live in racially diverse cities and count black people and other races among their closest friends and work colleagues. Both feel strongly about racial equality. Both feel that the black race is disadvantaged in opportunity and therefore support political initiatives like affirmative action and spending federal tax dollars to improve schools in black neighborhoods. Both take the opportunity to correctly inform any of their white acquaintances & relatives whenever they make uninformed comments about racial issues.

Person A makes a point to make time for political activism, several hours per week, half of which is dedicated to racial equality, half to cancer research & awareness. He writes letters, attends marches, and participates in fundraisers for these causes.

Person B would like to do the same, but he is less organized and can't ever seem to find the time. His week gets consumed by his work, his family, and his church duties. He did run in a 3k fundraiser for cancer research a year ago after his mother contracted the disease, but so far that's the extent of his activism.

Your original post seems to imply that Person B's inability to find time to be an activist for racial equality will inspire resentment from his black acquaintances. However, I would venture that, unless they love to talk about themselves, it is unlikely that anyone outside of their close friends will ever know how much activist work each does. And if their efforts (or lack of) go largely unnoticed, how could this inspire greater resentment for Person B?

I recognize that this wasn't the main point you were trying to make in your post, but it is a point with strong implications, and I think it needs to be addressed, given that most racially-conscious people find themselves more like Person B than Person A.

Amber said...

Rob, it seems to me neither Person A nor Person B in your scenario would "inspire resentment." Though one may have the ability, time, and motivation to participate in what are seen as activist activities, there is one thing they have in common that DOES *show* others, of both black and white races, that they do care.

Here's why: they both "count black people and other races among their closest friends."

One of Dalyn's early points on this blog was asking those of us who are white how many black friends we have, how often do we invite them to our house for social reasons, etc.

It seems to me, that a person can participate in all the activist causes they want, but it's what people see them do in their social lives that will cause others to form opinions.

For example, I used to work at a non-profit organization that would work on environmental issues, as well as consumer advocacy when mega-corporations overtly wrong communities. But when I would see many of the employees outside the building smoking (and then proceed to throw the butts on the ground) - contributing to environmental hazards as well as supporting some of THE bad guys in the business world - I would scratch my head and wonder if they really did care about the issues.

However, when I see someone who quietly grows their own home garden, and/or shops at the local farmer's market, that person stands out to me as someone who is making a real difference in these matters - whether they are deliberately doing so or not.

Ideally, we could all choose to be more like the person who prioritizes time to do those typically activist things. But, if you're someone who hugs your purse tighter when a black man boards the same public transit you're on (which I'm not saying you are), those actions are what will be seen and judgments based on.

brohammas said...

Hey Rob,
I think she just said you carry a purse!

brohammas said...

Rob,
The essay works off the sad assumption that resentment is preexisting. Niether person A or B really inspire ill will as history and a general understanding within black culture have already done that.

This resentment is not usually targeted at any individual but more at a societal situation. These subjects are usually not broached in any but the most protected environments and are therefore difficult to dispell.

Mr.s A & B should understand that there is likely a pre existing resentment and that whichever actions they choose will feed into that predisposition.

With this in mind, if these individuals do have black friends or aquaintances, what they do and say in those people's presence will go much further than any pettition signed or other overt activism that may or may not be seen by black friends. To make matters more complicated, black individuals are not all in one political lock step and a white attempt to pander may be quickly exposed.

It is my experiance that a wise course in bettering relations is for a white individual to first understand that there may some skepticism toward them from black people, and not be offended by this. General friendliness, comfort level, and inclusion will do more to dispell resentment than marching in the streets.

My little dig at the end may serve as a reminder to person B that if he simply keeps to his own cubicle at work, only has two friends who are both white, and goes on about his business, whether fair or not, he will be suspect.

It is not fair, hence my post.

OrganizeU said...

Amber sent me this post cause I have some supposedly funny views on race. That it is funny. As someone who constantly makes fun of both sides (white and black..black and white) cause I can, I am both. I think what makes talking about race so hard it not what is said, but how.

People do bring emotion to the discussion…they get worked, either cause the don’t wanna be called a racist, or they are a racist, or perhaps they wanna prove that they care about blacks, or they are black and don’t wanna fit in.

Blacks to often want what we think “is owed us” (see Dave Chappelle for references) and fall in to the trap of continued victimology.

Whites, are just as laughable when thinking about race and talking about it. “Some of my best friends are black. “ I can only laugh when I hear someone say that. At least it is geniue and innocent. At least they are buying hardcore rap music.

How about these “uncle toms” er…sell outs? I mean Clarence Thomas, black Republicans? Really? Are these black people serious? Neo-Nazis, skin-heads, and young girls who are nazis folk singers. Can they be more cliché?

Anyway, I doubt that I added anything. I am off to ‘Limewire’ some Maroon 5 on my Apple computer and finish watching Scarface and smoke some Newports.

Siditty said...

What I don’t respect is your constant lumping of all white people into one, uninformed, uncaring, heartless group of losers who fail to understand the plight of the black people. Give me a break!

Most white people don't understand the plight of black people. It utterly shocked my own husband when I told him that I think about race every single day. It shocked him, I felt I had to think about it. It shocked him when I told him I fear for him to put my picture up on his desk as work, as it might hold him back.

I think white people are aware of race and racism, but they fully don't want to or can't understand it completely.

In terms of health insurance. I came out of college working for insurance and healthcare seems nice when you have it, but it is truly not affordable, even for those of us who have it. To use over half your check to insure your family is not fun, and many people have to make a decision to decide whether or not to risk not having insurance.

I am fortunate that my life experience has taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I try very hard to understand where all of my fellow human beings are coming from. This is a learned skill. And I don’t think I am being unreasonable in asking the black race to extend me the same courtesy.

That is akin to telling black people to get over it. It is like if you have an acquaintance that constantly talks behind your back and steals from you over and over, do you continue to surround yourself with that acquaintance, or do you distance yourself from them? Remember it was until the 1960s that racism was legalized, systematic, and widely accepted as the norm. These views didn't change overnight. Thinking for centuries that a person is essentially chattel to thinking of that person as an equal does not occur overnight, much like being weary and apathetic to those who had that mindset doesn't go away either.

We all have issues to overcome, Dalyn. I’m not trying to downplay the struggles of minorities. I do believe, however, that the day to day life of the entire human race can be just as painful, but not as easily visible. I have friends who have lost children, friends struggling with mental illness, friends struggling with incredible financial distress. Some are hanging on by their fingernails just trying to make it through the day. The are struggling to make sense of it all. What they are going through is no less traumatic.

Did you ever think minorities have those struggles too, apart from struggling to be a minority?

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I can examine other possible activities, but each time I have to question whether the minorities that I know would ever know how much I engaged in them in my spare time. Consequently I just don't see how my willingness to support racial equality (with my time & energy) is really going to be noticed by the people around me, and hence I have a hard time seeing how in practice my black friends will harbor resentment toward me because of my "sitting on the sidelines".

Why must you have your efforts noticed for them to be worthwhile?

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Blacks to often want what we think “is owed us” (see Dave Chappelle for references) and fall in to the trap of continued victimology.

I really get sick of this assumption, and is Dave Chappelle a spokesperson for all blacks? I think what most black people want "owed to us" is equality, and when ever it is asked we get equality, it is seen as whining or complaining. Yes there are some blacks who want to play perpetual victim, but there are plenty of whites that do the same, the only difference is the few blacks who do this are represented as the majority, while the whites who do this are considered the minority.

We want to work, raise our families, and do what white families do, we just want to do it without people assuming it is handed to us because in their minds we are less than them. It is frustrating.