We’ve all seen those stories from the southern United States where an elected official, usually White and male, says something overtly racist. The story is usually presented by a so-called Liberal media source and usually is an opportunity for White Liberals in the northern parts of the United States to taunt and poke fun, and usually in smug tones, point out how much smarter/better/more advanced we are here…
…which of course is bullshit.
There’s an awful lot of the same happening in non-Southern states. Northern politicians are just usually better at blowing the dog-whistle, using language that every other White Person and most Black people know is racist code, but everyone is often just a bit too polite to call bullshit.
Then there’s the even more subtle slights. The deaths by a thousand pin-pricks.
Remarks from White women to Black women when they decide not to process their hair for a change, or touching a Black woman’s hair, or asking to.
Noting that Black people are always late and never acknowledging that EVERYONE is always late – especially galling when being reprimanded publicly for being late as you watch other people quietly enter and set their purses and bags down and take off their coats moments after the tirade directed at you has begun.
Looking around your workplace and noting that you see very few Black men, but each time there’s layoffs, there’s always a Black dude on the list. Each time there’s a new hire, he or she usually is a younger version of their boss. Each time there’s a promotion, its not you. Maybe next time. Maybe next year, as you watch people who were hired the same time as you put forth less effort, and slowly move up the ladder from Manager, to Director to Vice President. The higher the climb, the more the faces are White, and male. Lately, there have been more Women in the upper ranks and on the Executive boards, but rarely are they Asian, or Latina, or Black. When they decide to go in a “new direction” with a position at work, its funny how its rarely decided to include you in that journey, even though when the recession hit and jobs were being cut all over, and you did the “good employee” thing and took up the slack for the two or three empty chairs in your department, all you got was a half-hearted “thanks” and the occasional mandatory “enforced-corpoate-fun” at some chain restaurant, or maybe a pizza party?
Then there’s more of the tiny slights, like standing inside a Black person’s personal space while getting coffee or shopping without verbal acknowledgement, or at least a nod and a smile or a polite “excuse me,” meanwhile, maybe a minute or two later within the hearing of the person who has been ignored, always saying hello or nodding and smiling when an approaching stranger or newcomer is White.
Its comforting to point and snicker at the backwards Southerner and say “that’s not me.”
But fairly often, in actions and words and assumptions, he is you, he’s just more honest and obvious about it.
So, next time you see one of those stories and start laughing, take an opportunity to ask yourself, “is that me?”
Did you just clutch your purse in the elevator when the Black guy got on?
When you all went to lunch, did you bother to ask the Black guy, too? Or did you justify the slight by telling yourself he always packs a lunch? Never did it occur to you the reason that he always packs a lunch is because going hungry waiting for an invitation is not something anyone wants to do.
Have you ever remarked that the Black person was “well-spoken” and felt your eyebrows go up in surprise? You do realize we all saw your eyebrows go up, right? You also realize that the ability of a person to state a point clearly and intelligently is not an ability reserved to White people?
Did you make a point to compliment that Black woman on her hair when she chose to wear it straight, when you don’t say a word when she wears it natural or braided? Black women are bearing a burden. On top of all the Racist slights and tiny pinpricks, Black women are expected to be stoic and always pulled together. 2/3 of their husbands, sons, uncles and fathers wind up bound, usually via the short track of suspension/expulsion/unemployment/crime/and jail, so, often she is the sole support or primary bread-winner in her family unit. Images in the media of Black women subtly and sometimes not so subtly push the idea that lighter and Whiter is better. More hair, even if its not your own, or burning chemistry put on beautiful curly hair to torment it into falling waves, hours and small fortunes spent in the pursuit of a standard of beauty imposed over four centuries. So needless to say, a Black woman’s hair is a sensitive subject, and one best not broached by your temptation to touch her hair.
I write this as I think over the idea that we acknowledge Black History in the shortest month of the 12 months of the year in this country. I write this because Black people’s labor helped to build this country. Black people are an integral part of this country’s history since its inception. We should not be relegated to plastic cutouts and a cursory paragraph about the Underground railroad.
I write this because the media takes the time to point and gawk at the Southern White Male lawmaker who is saying what he has always said, but now its shocking because its on camera. Its a useful target and tool for all of us in the Northern US to make ourselves feel superior, but its funny how that same media doesn’t seem to take the time to look at Boards of Directors across the country, mostly White, mostly male. The media doesn’t take the time to look at the racial and gender make up of the people we choose to represent us, when more than half of the people in this country are not White and male, yet most of those who write our laws, enforce the law, and sit in judgment of us happen to be White, and male. The media doesn’t take the time to note that when layoffs happen, an unusually high percentage of Black men always seem to be on the list, or that when infractions occur in schools, in colleges and in our justice system, the penalties are always harsher for Black men. That Black on Black crime is a term readily bandied about, but when a White Person kills another White person, you never hear about White communities up in arms and demanding that White people should be more responsible and controlling their fellow White people. When a White person shoots up a classroom or a theater, they are always “troubled” and “disturbed” and “lone wolves”, but a Black person only needs to get in front of the wrong bullet, or be choked out on the wrong sidewalk, and immediately he is a “Criminal”, a “Thug” or a “Terrorist.”
…and in case you were wondering, yes, I am an “Angry Black Man.” Please, stop giving me reasons to get angrier.
I’m not saying we should walk about on eggshells, but let’s just say that the comfort level we have in laughing at that older southern White man’s faux pas and racist behaviors might need the occasional reality check. We all have our biases, but not all of our biases have the ability to determine the success or failure of another person solely based on skin color, gender, and assumptions.