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)


uglyblackjohn said...

I didn't know that I knew so many Asians until I looked at my FaceBook Page.

I thought that I lived a fairly "white" childhood most of the time until I looked at old photos.
While the lifestyle may have been closer to what is generally perceived as that of a normal white guy - racially it was really diverse.

Here, in the South, an effort has to be made to speak to someone not of one's own race in a conversation that lasts more than five minutes.

Corbie said...

I have tried keeping track and then forgotten to keep track about a hundred times. Just wanted you to know that A) I tried and B) I'm forgetful.

brohammas said...

It seams those of us open to exherting effort for social introspection are a small group.

man I wish comment boxes had spell check.

Lita said...

i love this. it seems that some people are just more 'visibl' than others. its funny.

lyric said...

I spent a week at a quilter's conference in Duluth MN and saw maybe 3 black women out of the thousands there.
Two weeks before I taught at a similar conference in Raleigh, NC and fully a third of my students were black.
No other minorities to speak of in either of those two settings.
I go to the Y and in the classes I take about 1/2 are white and the other half are a mix of black/indian/hispanic.
Neighborhood has about 250 homes and as far as I know about 8 or 9 minority families - most mixed race black and white and all only having moved in in the past three years.

lyric said...

(who knew there was a limit to the characters in the comment box?)
Preschool - each of the kids classes have one or two black children and the rest are white.
Elementary school - my kids go to a magnet school - sort of voluntary integration - suburb kids ride the bus in to an inner city school so it's half and half. lots of indian and asian kids from the suburbs and now lots of hispanic kids in the local school neighborhood now too.
As far as I can tell the middle and high schools are about 1/3 minority.
Out of 200 families at church four are black, four more are international. They often say 10am Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the South so while it's not reflective of the general population it's better than any of the other churches I've been in here.
I have a number of circles of friends and am lucky to have mixed races in almost all of them. And yes - I talk to all of them - it's not just us and them in the same room.

how is that for detailed?

Claudia said...

I have tried this, and have failed miserably this week. I hope I can get a hall pass, and try again next week. I, like Corbie apparently, am not only trying, but also forgetful.

I think I also need more direction - when I'm shopping, do I count the customers only, or the employees? Everyone I see, or just the ones I talk to? Does an obviously Eastern European immigrant count as white?

Amanda said...

I'm with Claudia-- who do I count?

brohammas said...

You count, or pay attention to everyone.
DO you see people of color? Where?
Do you actually interrat with them and in what capacity?
Who is in your home?
Is the other people sharing your environment mostly like you and is the greater society around you the same (racially) as the society you choose to spend your meaningful time with?
The exercise is to get a better picture of those around you.
If everyone around you really does look similar, imagine how the ONE who doesnt match lives day to day.

I have seen that often one thinks they are in a "diverse" environment, but when better attention is paid they will find that diversity represents a very small portion of the actual total.

I have heard many pundits and individuals talk about how white people will soon be the minority in America. While stats can be turned to say this, reality is that it will take adding up ALL the different minorities together to outnumber the one whole of white people.
In other words, white people or predominant as a group... more than latinos, more than black people, more than asians, more than everybody added together... for now.
And even when whites are outnumbered, there will still be more of than than any other group.
That is the reality.
Once we know the reality we have to stop and think about why one would tout, fear, or make newsworthy the idea that white will soon be outnumbered.
A, it isn't true, and B, so what?

yes folks, that was a loosley related tangent.