Saturday, March 21, 2009

Individual vs. the group

I’m not racist, I have a black friend/cousin/relative/spouse/etc.

I’ve heard some form of this statement many times, from many people, and in many forms. Usually it precedes some statement disparaging another race, or a question about said race. It is a sort of personal defense, or proof, to deflect potential accusations or suspicion when a white person enters into the mine field of racial discussions.

Now white people aren’t the only ones who use this, I have heard black people use it too. Strangely enough I have only heard them use it in reference to other minorities, not whites. As in, “I got Asian friends and all, but why do the Koreans own all the stores?”

Many white people have no problem getting to know or befriending a black person, or any other minority for that matter, but still fail to understand or feel comfortable with groups of minorities. Realize that in doing so you are ignoring, discrediting, or simply missing a large part of who that person is.

The ability to like or love an individual in no way proves a level of understanding or appreciation for the group that person belongs to. Quite often the love for the person comes as a result of ignoring or discrediting that person’s group.

I have been told that I don’t count when someone was disparaging others of my race, as well as where I come from. Those telling me this meant it as a compliment, it was not.

I AM white.

I AM from Utah.

To say that I am not like all the others who share these things is to rob me of who I am. Could it be that if you like me than just maybe there are others from my group worth liking as well? Could it be we are not as bad as you think? What if some of the things you like about me, I gained due to my background?

Here is a small test. Be honest with yourself.

Sure you have a black friend, but how do you feel when you stumble onto a large group of black people? Are you comfortable being the only white person? If you see a TV program or movie with a mostly black cast, what do you assume? Is this friend of yours different than the"others"? Do you view said friend differently when they are in a group of "their" people?

Realize that the proponents of Apartheid in South Africa, Jim Crow in America, and even the Klan have professed to not disliking minorities but simply want the group of them to be kept away.

Now to be fair, someone using the “but I have a black family member” should not be automatically discredited. Loving an individual is a start. For race relations to move forward we have to take those who have a “start” and bring them the rest of the way. When this self professed non-racist then asks why black people think its cool to fail at school, don’t slap them… answer the question. I would probably answer the question by pointing out how the football team in my nearly all white school made fun of my decent grades. I would point out how the smart kids were rarely the “cool” kids in my school (this is not to say that many of the cool kids were not smart. Many were smart enough not to act like it in order to maintain the social rung they wanted). Maybe I would suggest, “ask a black person if they think Barack is either smart or cool”.

Point being, help in the process. The question this person asks may sound crazy, but when is the last time you actually learned something while getting told you were stupid?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Today’s racism and the effects of yesteryear

Too often we mistake dealing with today’s racism, or racists, as the same thing as dealing with the affects of our country’s racist past.

There is a real disparity between the races in terms of family structure, income, education, and general quality of life (healthcare etc.) that can trace its roots to a set of laws and practices espoused by those in power and upheld by the general populace, 40 years ago. The civil rights movement fought against this system and won the legal and legislative war.
With unjust laws and systems swept aside, government and society is/was left with the affects those policies left behind. Attempts were and are being made to not simply integrate those who had been separated but also repair centuries worth of damage.
That is the purpose of Affirmative action, civil rights litigation, the black national congress, NAACP, and any myriad of other groups, associations, or policies. They are aimed to repair the damage done to those who do or have fallen victim to racist policy, not to erase racism.

It seems that most black people understand this, most white people don’t.

This difference in understanding is at the heart of the modern race problem. Black people, despite winning legal protection, see little to no progress in the hearts and minds of the general population. The racist laws are mostly gone but the racists remain.
White people mostly believe both were destroyed together.

Reality is that the civil rights movement and the moral authority it exerted did a far better job at condemning and ostracizing racism than most black s realize, but far less than whites assume.

So now we have two sets of people speaking the same language but working from two diametrically opposed bases. Black people speak of today’s issues as if they are a continuation of the same battle from 40 years ago, lumping problems with today’s racists, be they police or business owners, and the affects of old policy, i.e. achievement and economic gaps, together. White people feel attacked personally by the general or sweeping nature of the complaints and think all the problems are self inflicted (a tendency formed with the exaggerated idea that the REAL problems were solved decades ago).

How much more productive would the efforts for progress be, if those acting as voice would separate the individuals of today from the legacies of yesterday?

Acknowledge that there are still racists; call them out individually when they show themselves, without the assumption that they represent the whole.

Explain how disadvantaged communities still feel real affects from yesterday’s policy and couch today’s proposals as a condemnation of the past, not a slap to the face of the present.

If we don’t, we will not only keep repeating our mistakes, but things will get worse. Misunderstanding, if left to fester, can grow into an inoperable terminal cancer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Are we cowards?

I got edited off of someone’s blog the other day.

It was a post by a white guy, who was complaining, about a black guy complaining.
The black guy, America’s Attorney General, was calling American’s cowards when it comes to talking about matters of race.
The blogger said the speech was too negative and that white people don’t like to talk because they always come out being the racist.

The string of comments were applause for the blogger’s calling the govt. out on their anti-white stance. One inferred that politicians just use race as a smoke screen and another pointed out half black relatives as proof they weren’t racist.

How could I pass this up? I don’t know this blogger and I assume most everyone else who frequents it are personal friends. I guess I was crashing the party.

I commented that Holder’s words were a condemnation of ALL Americans, not just white ones. I offered that in my experience it is true that people don’t like to talk about race and would rather hide from or ignore issues that are in fact very real to a lot of people. I hit “publish comment”, double checked to make sure it posted (it did), and went on about my business.

Later that day I doubled back to see what the blogger’s response was. My comment was nowhere to be found.

I think this proved Mr. Holder’s point and I’m sure this object lesson was completely lost on the blogger.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Juvenile Justice

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I spent most of my day in a court room.
I was there as a character witness for a 16 year old boy who is being tried for assault with a deadly weapon and armed robbery. He was 15 when the crime was committed and the hearing I was attending was a review before a judge to have the defendant passed back down to the juvenile system.

The young man is about 6’2” and 220lbs. He is very dark skinned and usually wears a huge fake diamond in his ear.
I met him when he joined my church a couple years ago. Today was my first time sitting down to have a conversation with his mother.

The judge prefaced the hearing by stating he had never seen a case quite like this. He had before him the contrast of a young man who not only had a spotless record but a pile of letters vouching for him. These letters, the judge noted, were not from the usual suspects; parents and the little old lady next door, but otherwise independent third parties like teachers, coaches, and church leaders. The record and letters were juxtaposed against the evidence and brutality of the crime.

A lonely man was out walking his dog when a group of youth beat him with a 2x4 and stole his cell phone. After tracking the cell phone usage the police found the young man in question with a group of his friends. The victim pointed out the big one with the earring as the wielder of the weapon and the police claim they found the phone in his possession when he was apprehended.

I have a very hard time believing he did it. He has always been polite, quiet, but not in a silent brooding way, and relaxed. He attended church services and youth events on his own. I was tasked with finding his mother to get adult permission for activities and responsibilities. This was always difficult.

I spent some time in the summer working with him on football skills. I had attended Philadelphia public school football games before and was appalled at the low level of coaching. Not that they were bad coaches but more that there were only two of them. When I played and coached there were always around 12 coaches on a high school staff. Two is no where enough to aspire to a mediocre level of play. This kid had the undeveloped size and coordination to be more than impressive. I have some experience and offered to help. He was a tough case. Why?

No aggression.

I attended his games. I went one on one with him over the summer and always the same issue. No aggression. Combine that with size that outpaced his strength, and he had along way to go before the pro’s came calling. He was a bit of a force as a sophomore simply because the other kids had trouble moving someone his size around. But he never initiated anything. He simply lacked energy, strength, and that mean streak that is condoned and even valued on a football field. I considered him someone that could be a prospect on paper if he hit a weight room, but knew that anyone who met him would know he did not have that edge.

The prosecutor mentioned that even after posting bail and being returned to his mother’s care he had 10 absences from school. He even got suspended from school less than ten days before this hearing. His mother almost cried when explaining to me the suspension was only for possessing a hooded sweatshirt which was in violation of the school’s policy. A zero-tolerance policy. The defense read the letters, pointed out his clean record, and was going on when the judge cut him off.

“I know that in our system you are considered innocent till proven guilty, but I am not the judge who will be hearing this case, so I can say this…” The judge began. He then read aloud a statement from the victim who told in broken English how he lives in constant fear and pain. He does not have dental insurance to repair his broken teeth. His face and jaw are a network of wires and he had lost 30 lbs. since the beating. The judge explained that it was obvious to him that the accused showed one face to all the adults he knew and another on the street. He was granting the motion to pass him back to the juvenile system only because he was so young that he may have a chance at being reformed. He stated that the juvenile system was better prepared to work with the young man.

He then finished by stating that the proper place for him was in detention, revoked his bail, and looked him in the eye and asked “how do you sleep at night?”

With that they took him away, still wearing the tie I had just tied for him, and we all left the courtroom. On the way home his mother explained to me that their cousin knows who really did the beating but refused to snitch. She also told me she was giving the defendant’s room to his little brother’s and cousins.

My wife says I should believe the victim and the physical evidence (possession of the victim’s phone). I know that just because I see someone in one light, I should never assume they are not capable of acting differently. I have trouble seeing this docile and amicable boy swinging a piece of lumber at a stranger, not because I think he is nice, but because I have seen him play football.

But I wasn’t there.

I will be there for the trial. I will write another letter, and I will tell what I know about him. I wish I trusted the system. I wish I trusted my own judgment.