Monday, June 29, 2009

Bad Math


In math you cannot know the sum before you know all the numbers to be added.

If you pre-suppose the sum is ten, then find the added numbers are 5, 3, 2, and 2, you are wrong. You cannot simply throw out one of the 2s to make yourself correct.

It is ridiculous in math yet we do it all the time in social situations.

We all have opinions and make generalizations whether it be about class, race, gender, age, whatever. We think we know the sum but very few make an attempt to find the individual digits to be added up.

Of course I know white/black people, I see them everywhere. I know because I watch, I pay attention. So goes perception.

I can look at a number 9, but if there is no context, I'll never know if the paper is upside down. Now if I can find 3+3+3 then I know it is in fact a 9.

What happens more often is people find 3+3 and then try to make up another 3, rather than accept that they might be wrong. Rarely does one consider the 6.

Most of us don't really want to know the answers, we only want to know if we are right.

The more I ponder this, the more I think I'm right, which helps prove my point.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who's Keeping Track?

Perception is not always reality.

I have an idea for an exercise. It might be uncomfortable but my curiosity is getting the better of me.
I write under a broad generalization that the average American does not have much meaningful interracial or intercultural interaction.

Is this true?

Not only is this true for others but is it true for me?
What I propose is that starting Monday, we start keeping track. The more detailed the better. Keep track, mentally if that is most appropriate, written if needed, of the race or ethnicity of everyone around you in every situation. Now I know that we may not know the actual racial background of all we see, or the ethnicity of the guy crossing the street while you are pulling into the parking lot, but for this experiment just guess. Do this for an entire week and next Sunday, report what you found.

I know, I know, race isn’t supposed to matter and many are uncomfortable paying attention to this sort of thing. Others may seem to pay attention to little else. Either way, as with most things, an occasional closer look can be revealing. You may find you were right, you may not. Sometimes you could be both right and wrong.

Take the church I attend as an example.
I once heard another member describe it as predominantly African-American. I always thought it was more 50/40/10, black, white, Latino. I was unsure who was right, so before opening my mouth, I decided to investigate.
The next Sunday I counted. I sat in a place where I could see almost everyone and took notes. There were about 170 people there, 80 white, 80 black, and 10 Latino. I kept track for a couple other Sundays just to see if that one day was a fluke and found the numbers remained fairly steady. I was ready to claim a victory (in my mind as I told no one what I was doing or even that I disagreed with the original person’s description), till today. Today I attended a Sunday school class I do not normally attend. The same one that other member usually attends. This class had about 5 white people, 12 black people, and two Latino. That class would surely be seen as predominantly black. I think it was worth noting that this Sunday school class would be where more actual interaction takes place.
Seems we were both, in a way, right.

I think it would be an interesting topic for discussion, and if enough of us participate we may find some norms. At the very least, you may find if your own perception of your surroundings is accurate. A reality check of sorts.

I think it would be useful to share with each other. Most of us see our own existence as indicative of the norm and somehow exceptional at the same time. Reading what others find will also help us understand others as well.

Who is willing?
(you can comment anonymously, not everyone is comfortable with this sort of thing)

Friday, June 5, 2009

the "other" side

Invisible Man, Soul Man, and Black Like Me all try to show white Americans what it is like to be black in The United States. One is a metaphor, two are chronicles of white men going undercover, one fictional one not. I found another way to learn the same lesson, maybe more powerful, surely more modern.

When leaving lily white Sandy Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, people told me Atlanta was a black city. I did not realize how black till I stepped out of a panel van with my luggage at the corner of Ashby and Bankhead.

I looked like no one else. Just in case I was unaware of how much I stood out, people would stare at me everywhere I went and occasionally children would loudly point out my race. Billboards were different, they had black people on them. Not just the ads on busses but everything. Even the two greatest icons of whiteness, Jesus and Santa Claus, appeared black hanging on the walls of people's homes. I did not own a TV but they were everywhere and all tuned to shows like Moesha or Martin. I did not have a radio but everyone else did. Not once did I hear a screaming guitar lick or even a folksy ballad. What I did hear was a beat, sometimes smooth horns, and lots of rapping or singing. No rock style screaming.

It was fascinating at first. I was not used to the attention and enjoyed talking and learning with everyone I met. The fascination soon wore out and got tiring.

I lost my identity and just became the white guy. I could not have a conversation without race being brought up. I had other things to talk about, there was more, but I was rarely allowed to get there. Police regularly stopped me to ask if I was lost or needed help. When they found where I lived they would call me names and predict my needing their help soon. A few promised my surely needed help would not come from him, because I was just asking for trouble by being in this neighborhood.

I felt vulnerable and scrutinized all the time. I got used to it and achieved some comfort, but it never completely went away.

Occasionally I would get what would seem a brief rest when visiting white areas or white friends. Not really. White strangers would not, could not relate to my experience and I had no reason to feel I was anything like them. Friends and family would often joke about some new mannerisms and tastes, claiming I now thought myself black. They questioned my awareness of my own identity.

I found this ironic since I had never been aware of my whiteness before entering this black world. Once in that world, everyone and everything reminded me that I was in fact white. This new self awareness was met with other whites questioning who I thought I was. It was very lonely. I lived there roughly two years. It was almost 12 years ago.

I still haven’t forgotten those days and I still visit.
I remember those lonely days when I hear a white person question why the black kids sit together in the cafeteria or ask why there would be such things as historically black colleges. I remember it when I listen to some white person complain about what words they aren’t allowed to say or how it is unfair that a network named BET is allowed to exist.

I think about those days often and how small that area is geographically compared to the whole country. I realize that without me making a real effort, I will never experience that again. I realize how easy it was for me to leave that black world and retreat back to my white one. My white world is all over. It seams to just be wherever I am, and I move a lot.

I realize that for those who don’t look like me, that period of life, the one where they are the outsider who sticks out, IS their life.

I got worn out after six months, what does one do after 40 years?