Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I'm not qualified to talk about racism

It's so hard to look at events in this country and not feel like there is something terribly wrong with the way certain segments of the population are treated. To me, that's an undeniable fact, but I know plenty of people who are more than capable of denying it. I spend a lot of time reading about all of this stuff - crime statistics, history, psychology, personal accounts of how racism has affected actual people - and yet, sometimes, no matter how many examples I throw at people, they remain mired in a fog of casual racism.
From their perspective, they're not racist. Of course they're not racist! They don't hate black people, they just know that black culture is hopelessly violent, black men are drug using thugs, black women have too many kids with too many baby daddies, and sometimes unarmed black children are killed and that's sad, but it's collateral damage because do you know how many black kids really do have guns these days? (I do want to note that this is not my perspective, but it is the sort of thing that I have actually heard from some people that I know.)
I'm totally qualified to talk about how racist some white people can be - it's amazing the sort of shit that people will spout off to me, thinking that I agree with them. I am equally unqualified to talk about the black experience in America, and I think that that's the story that needs to be told. It's like when there's a congressional panel on birth control or abortion, and every fucking person sitting there is a man. As a woman, I find that incredibly frustrating, so I can kind of imagine what it must be like to be an African-American to hear a bunch of people who don't share your experiences talk about what they think racism is like. Here are some articles that talk about racism far better than I ever could.
The Case For Reparations
This long form article does a fantastic job laying out the systemic racism that has defined the black experience in America. It's not just about slavery, although obviously that has had a huge impact; the next 100+ years saw violence against blacks, housing discrimination, less access to education, political disenfranchisement, and more. My own city, Chicago, figures prominently in this story, and really opened my eyes to just how segregated the city is and what that means.
Applying 'Broken Windows' To The Police
Broken Windows is a theory of policing that cracks down on minor infractions in order to prevent larger ones. It's a theory that's taken hold in a lot of places, but it seems as if the same standard is not applied to the police themselves. In many of the instances of excessive force against black men, the officers involved had prior allegations of misconduct. If police treated their own with the same strict scrutiny as they treat the rest of the world, how many instances of police brutality could be avoided? To me, this is one of the most important issues that we could address as a society.
The New Racism
This is what I see more often than not. There are so many people who deny that racism is a factor anymore, but believe the worst of any black person because it fits the narrative that they have in their head.
Actually, Blacks Do Care About Black Crime
Another one that I hear all the time is "why aren't blacks out protesting all the violence in black communities?" For starters, there's something very different about a group of people that are supposed to enforce the law using their authority to kill with impunity, and regular violence in a community that is usually investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Moreover, there are plenty of people in the black community who are speaking out about violence in their communities, and working hard to promote jobs and education in order to prevent violence.
Why did Darren Wilson think Michael Brown had super powers?
Good question. Why would a man who is 6'4 and 200+ pounds feel so threatened by a teenager who was not significantly larger than himself? Basically, people tend to attribute super human characteristics to African-Americans, such as strength, speed, and ferocity. Think about the way that people talk about black athletes, and you might recognize what I mean.
Obviously, this is just a small dose of the wide variety of pieces that have been written about the issue, but I think they offer a good primer about the current situation. If you have any articles that you've found particularly enlightening or interesting, please feel free to share.


  1. I can tell you right now I have experienced all sorts of racism and prejudice and I will just give you some examples. I have had blacks (american blacks, afro Caribbean, African, etc) be racist against me. They don't want to enter a friendship with me, smile at me. or even have my children play with theirs bc mine happen to be fair. I see this ALL the time. I was also a teacher of HS girls who many were girls of color (all sorts ie latina, afro-descent etc) and most of my students couldn't stand "white" people and would spew hateful things all the time. So I have seen it both sides. I also see it within my own Latino culture where dark Latinos judge and want nothing to do with white Latinos for whatever stupid reason. My husband I experience all sorts of Latinos refuse to speak to us in Spanish bc they judge us on the fact that we have fair skin and couldn't possibly be Latino. Ignorance much? For some reason those who are of color are not aware that our culture comes in all shades and colors. It all comes down to judging a book by its cover, being uneducated (ie not traveling, learning, knowing different people), and being plain 'ole ignorant. We don't have major race problems here in NY. Why? We just deal with it. Some may not like it but they won't go up to people and say and do nasty things. I am sure some people do but its not like it seems to be in smaller towns. Why? I find this to be all nonsense. People need to be judged on the sort of person they are-are they kind? are they cruel? rather than gender or race or whatever else. Madness, isn't it?? Loved your post! xox

    1. I certainly agree with you that people should, as MLK said, be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
      One thing that I feel like I have to say is that while it can be really painful to have someone reject you, especially if it feels like it's because of something as superficial as your skin color or perceived ethnicity, that's not really the same thing as racism. Racism is entrenched and systematic, and comes from a group that is in power and is directed at a group with less power. I believe that you may have experienced prejudice, but a social rejection from someone who does not wield any power over you is not the same thing as being denied a loan because of your race, or being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race.
      I would also disagree that New York doesn't have any race issues.
      This is a list of unarmed black men who have been killed by the NYPD in recent years. Stop and frisk and other policies that disproportionately affect blacks are another, less deadly but no less insidious example of racism there.

  2. Replies
    1. I'd been wanting to do something like this for a while, and you really inspired me to try to find a way to do it as an ally. So thank you!