Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being afraid isn't racist

Being afraid isn’t racist.
Being afraid at the wrong time is suspect.

Barack talked of his white grandma admitting to clutching her purse when seeing a young black male on the street. It was an example of her irrational fear of black males, despite her raising one. Fear is an emotion. It usually works separate from one’s rational mind and occasionally quite contrary to it.

You can learn a lot about yourself by your emotional reactions. I challenge everyone to look honestly at themselves and think about when, and of whom, you are afraid.

Let me give some examples where race played a part.

I once lived on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta. My roommate and I were the only white people we ever saw there. This is where I saw my first dead body, a man shot at the entryway to our apartment complex. People laughed at me when I told them where I lived and I had police officers, on two separate occasions, tell me I was stupid for living there and not to expect any help when “they” came after me.

I never felt afraid. Why?

Because I knew the people. I was there as a religious missionary and knew that I was respected for that. All my neighbors had a deep respect for religion, even the “bad guys.” In addition to that, I was never alone, there were always two of us.

A few years later I came back to visit and found myself surprisingly nervous. Why?

I had been gone from that neighborhood about two years and no longer knew everyone. I was no longer a religious missionary but a white guy who was dressed nice, looking like I had money. I found myself leaving a friends place after dark, and realized I was alone. I got nervous because I knew that I was a mark. People around here were all broke, that hadn’t changed, and broke people tend to get a little desperate. I looked like I had money, was alone, and yes I am white. Sure race could play a factor. If some broke and desperate young black man, angry at the world, was looking for a wallet to take, what better mark than a symbol of historic oppression… the white guy?

I did not loiter.

Compare that with a work meeting I attended in D.C. not too long ago. About six or seven of us were walking back to the hotel after dinner, about two blocks off the mall, right by the capitol building. I’m six foot one and usually weigh in at about 250lbs. I’m not small. The other guys were an athletic looking bunch, all white guys, admittedly all past our primes, but not a bunch of chumps… so I thought. It was early evening. On one particular block there were a number of rough looking black folk mulling around. We didn’t know it at the time but there is a homeless shelter on that block. There were women and children looking dirty and sad, and a number of shaggy men looking at their feet. All were black. Everyone stopped at the curb like they had hit a wall. One even grabbed my shoulder as I stepped off the curb. I looked around for the car I thought I must have missed, didn’t see one, and looked at the guy and articulately said, “dude!?”
One of the other guys said to us all, “maybe we should walk around.” I think our hotel is only two blocks that way, it won’t take that long if we get there by going over to the mall and then cutting back across,” said another.

I told them to relax and walked on, not waiting for a reply. They reluctantly followed, looking like scared hobbits expecting demons to come flying from the shadows. They all thought I was trying to be some sort of tough guy.

Why would they be afraid?

There were seven of us, all able bodied men. These were families and famished looking men. They were black and they were poor. Two things I learned none of these guys had any experience with.

If any of them took two seconds to think, they would realize that even if any of these people did have bad intentions, we would be the LEAST likely bunch to go after. But they didn’t think, they just felt. Emotion outweighed rational thinking. Why such a natural jump to fear?

I now live in a city that averaged more than a murder a day last year. That only counts the people who actually die, not the ones who simply get shot or stabbed.

Should I be afraid? I know plenty of people who are. They avoid the city and get nervous when forced to certain parts of town.

None have taken the time to think, or looked things up, to realize that out of over three hundred seventy people killed, only three looked anything like me.

Ask yourself, why are you really afraid?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Why the term “African-American”?
What about “Black-American”?
Why any sort of “ – American”? aren’t we all American?
Don’t these hyphenated names just create and maintain division, contrary to the idea of “one” America?

This one is fairly easy, but let me fully explain it. Bear with me.

As early as the 1600’s, black people were being born in America. This began a new generation of black people who had never touched foot on the continent of Africa. These black people and their descendants were no longer African, so what were they?


They were not English, Spanish, Dutch, or at the time even American. There was no America as we know it. From their beginning on this continent they were denied any identity, or rather ethnicity, aside from their demeaned status. Legally no more English or Dutch than a goat would be.

Now of course a lot has happened since then.

The Revolution and subsequent constitution began the foundation of what the mainstream considers “American”. Black people were there, this new culture and identity had a formative affect on them as well, after all, they were now owned by Americans.

In 1808, two hundred years ago, the importation of slaves was outlawed. There were no longer new Africans being brought to this continent, but the ones already here, were still not Americans. In 1857, just in case anyone got any ideas, the Supreme Court reminded us all that black people would never be citizens (Dredd Scott Decision).

Then America had a big war over slavery. America didn’t want slavery, and those who did, tried not to be Americans anymore. This was a big deal, there were a lot of black people, mostly in the south, and they represented nearly all the money, either as property or as means of production, in half the United States.
America won the war and even passed the 13th Amendment in 1865 to free the slaves. The vanquished slave culture did not give in so easily and the 14th Amendment was passed shortly thereafter (1868), making these newly free black people, nearly all born on the continent, Americans!

Now these newly christened Americans got up to speed exercising their new rights and participated in the workings of this country. They were elected Mayors, owned businesses, and even sat in the Senate and Congress. Many white Americans were not happy with this and a systematic and violent campaign was launched to relegate these “citizens” to a non-participatory status. These black Americans did as any citizen would and plead in the courts for protection of their rights. The courts said “no”.

White Americans, thanks in large part to their civil war training, were quite good at using violence, resulting in those black politicians and business’s disappearing in less than a decade. The black Americans persisted in asking the courts and the government for help.
That government consistently said no building up to one great climactic ruling in 1896. This is when the Supreme Court, or “America”, said black people are American but must stay separate from all the other Americans. It legitimized the idea that White Americans make the rules and Black Americans must follow them. To emphasize the point in 1908 the Supreme Court disallowed a college in Kentucky from admitting a black student… even though Berea College, a private school, wanted too.

This continued up till, and even past, the signing of the Civil Rights Act in1968.

Let’s give a small recap. The United States at this point has been a country for 192 years. Black people have been deemed legally “American” for 96 of those years.
Of those 96 years black people were only semi-allowed to act as citizens for 28 years (between 14th Amendment and Plessy v Ferg). I say semi-allowed because all historians agree this was probably THE worst time for a black person to try to participate as a citizen. After those 28 years America settled on a sort of compromise.

Black people were allowed to be Americans as long as they kept to themselves, and asked nothing of the government. This was the law for 68 years.

Now ask again why black people may call themselves African-Americans. For 188 years America had been an independent country. Black people were here the entire time but except for a brief reconstruction period, were never allowed to be fully American.

This whole time they continued to grow and develop. They developed religions with accompanying songs and styles of worship. They forged the Underground Railroad with all its legend and drama. They created jazz. They displayed great minds like Douglass, Dubois, Booker T, Langston and Zora. While being held at arms length they stamped their mark on what was considered cool, putting Harlem on the map. They fought as soldiers in wars, despite being denied rights. They formed their own schools, own clubs, own traditions, own foods, own language. All distinctly American, and all distinctly different than white America.

For 188 years they were forcibly separated. For 188 years they grew into their own parallel culture. They became “African-American”. Maybe “Black-American”. It is not my place to give the culture a name, but it exist still the same.

It is now 2008, forty years since the Civil Rights Act. Isn’t it time for things to change?


I have no place to say that someone else should deny what they are and become something new. There is an American black culture. It exists and has for some time. There are those within it who would like to assimilate. There are those who don’t. I personally believe we can, and wish we would, not only peacefully coexist, but easily intermingle. To deny that culture the right to declare itself would be no different than telling a Navajo he can no longer be called that.

Our two Americas can be one. I would say now, more than ever we are “one”. But by being undivided legally or in nationality should not mean giving up one’s personal history. That is and always has been the beauty of America.

Fly your Italian flag. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Be black and proud. Speak Spanish. Do any of these things and you can, at the same time, be American.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 4th, 2008

My Daughter Marlee and I spent yesterday giving people rides to the polls.

It was mostly old black ladies who didn't bat an eye at this strange white guy helping them in and out of the car. Everyone gushed with gratitude and beamed with pride. Two of the ladies commented on how strange the neighborhood looked, they hadn't left the house in years. this election was a lot bigger deal to them than could be imagined.

No one in the long lines complained at all, most smiled, as I wheeled a lady in a wheelchair past them to the front of the line.

I followed one address down a trash strewn street, up to a corner being patrolled by the usual crowd of young men in hoodies and white tees. As I pulled up, one of the guys in cornrows and saggy pants, punches a buddy in the shoulder, throws up a deuce to the others, and hops in my car. He smiled, shook my hand, and said, "I haven't done this in a long time. Could you kinda show me how the voting machine works?"

I let a poll worker walk him through the machine. I wanted the people to see me acting without political bias.

When I gave the guy a ride home he had no problem letting me drop him off right at the crowded corner, as opposed to "around the corner" like an embarrassed teenager, ashamed of daddy's rusty car.

It was the type of day all these people expect to sit around, years from now, and recount where they were. Just like the Hugstable grand parents telling tales of marching with "the King."

I don't expect things to change over night. I will not be surprised if they never do change in a lasting way. But yesterday people were hopeful and no one assumed I was the enemy. Yesterday this city had brotherly love. No matter what happens in the next four years, it was worth it for what I got to experience yesterday.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I'm tired of this. Part 1

It’s my fault. After all, I signed up for it.

I’m not tired of obvious racists. They usually don’t try very hard to hide, you tend to know who they are, and we generally pay them no mind.

I’m tired of everyone else.
O.K. not everyone, let me explain.

No one wants to admit they are wrong, not even to themselves.

Black and white people know very little about each other.

That about sums it up.

Polls have shown, and my experience confirms, that black and white people’s views on race differ dramatically. White people think race isn’t an issue, while black people do. When I say differ dramatically, it could be summed up as; few whites think race still matters, while nearly ALL black people do.

Someone has to be wrong, don’t they?

Maybe I could re-word it a little.

White people don’t think they are personally discriminating against black people and assume other whites are like them.

Black people have their race pointed out daily, if not constantly, and observe how it paints every initial interaction with others, as well their communities, so how could it not matter?

If this is the case than I could make an argument that they are both right. It’s a communication issue plain and simple.
So why don’t we just communicate?

Here’s a suggestion for white people. Ask your close black friend if they think race is still an issue in America, and when they say “yes”, ask them why. Wouldn’t that be a simpler and more accurate tactic than simply reading the polls in the paper or seeing them on TV, and thinking, “black people are all crazy”?

O wait, you probably don’t have a black friend close enough to you to ask that question do you?

Before you get all defensive, feeling picked on and oppressed by political correctness, it cuts both ways.

To black people I ask, “do you hang out with any white people on the weekend”? I know you work with them, go to school with them, see them in every TV show, see them in every political office, every occupation, every commercial, writing for every paper, etc. etc. but does that mean you really know any of them?
Ask your white friend why white people don’t think race matters. If you don’t have anyone to ask that question than you don’t really know white people.

That’s what I’m tired of.

Neither side knows the other, there doesn’t seem to be a general effort to fix that, and it’s getting worse.

I know both and firmly believe that neither is crazy, or… hold your breath… neither are bad. It isn’t rocket science; we just need to get to know each other a little better. So why don’t we?