Sunday, November 23, 2008

I Don't Know How African-Americans Do It

I’m exhausted. Really. I am what my mother used to call “sick unto death” of White folks’ thinly veiled commitment to their position of racial privilege and their smarmy, sniveling need to feel put upon by all those Black folks wanting “something for nothing.”

“I never got anything I didn’t work my butt off for,” White people declare defensively, causing me to have to try to remind them for the umpteenth time that people of color work their butts off, too, but all too often without the pay-off Whitey expects and can usually count on.

“I never owned any slaves and besides, that was a hundred years ago.” Whitey continues, “Why can’t Black people just move on and get over it?”

“Well, let’s see…” I counter, “Could it possibly be that they’re not thinking about what happened a hundred years ago, but rather about the way African-American men are still four times more likely to be unemployed than European-American men at every educational level? Could it be that they’re thinking about how law enforcement and the criminal justice system is continually demonstrated to function in a deliberately discriminatory manner toward people of color – and doesn’t change those practices despite being nailed for them repeatedly? Could it be that they’re checking out how even the President of the United States cannot expect to be shown common respect by many White people if the tone of his skin is such that he would be labeled ‘Black’? Ya think?”

“All I know,” Whitey huffs, “is that my grandfather came to this country with nothing but the clothes on his back and he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps…”

“Uh-huh,” I agree. “But he came with boots on. Most African-Americans came shoeless and naked and were stripped even of their names. They worked not only brutally hard, but for no pay at all for hundreds of years. It’s real hard to put together a nest egg when you get no pay at all; when your wife can be raped in front of you and you can be killed for even thinking about trying to protect her; when you, as an African-American, have (as the courts said decades after slavery ended) NO rights any White person has to honor."

"Then, like that wasn’t enough," I rant on, "African-Americans went from not being allowed to go to school at all to being relegated to schools so much worse in every way that even today, White people break their personal banks sending their kids any place else than public school, if they can pull it off at all. And all along, right up to the present, every kind of socialization process in this nation not only tells White people (no matter how stupid, how poorly educated, how mean-spirited, and/or how clueless in every way they may be) that they’re ‘better than’ people of color, but tells people of color (no matter how intelligent, how well educated, how gracious, and how reasonable they may be) that they’re ‘inferior to’ White people.” Good. grief.

And my favorite line of all is, “Okay...but everybody gets oppressed in one way or the other…”

I try to imagine what that oppression against White people looks like – really I do. But I can’t. And that’s when I get tired. Tired of listening. Tired of explaining it. Tired of thinking about it. Tired of watching the parade of broken-hearted children of color who've learned not to think it will ever change. Tired of watching White folks preen and priss their hour upon the stage of life as if they earned their moment in the sun.

Sometimes, I think they deserve what they’re gonna get. But the trouble is I’m White, too. Or at least I look White. And that’s good enough. Good enough to get me the privileges and benefits I don’t ask for. Good enough to keep me out of the line of fire directed at people of color for no other reason than the fact that it’s a norm in this society. And good enough to require me to do something about the situation. I can't help being part of the problem, but I can be part of the solution, if I so choose.

I didn’t ask to be me. But on my darkest day, at least I'm White-looking. So I can be tired, if I want to be. But since I can’t abdicate the goodies, I can’t skate on the responsibility of at least attempting to address the situation either. I wrote something similar a week or so ago. And just before the election, Abby Ferber did a good job of describing the mindset of Whiteness -- and what to do about it.

And in the meantime, this poem by Pat Parker reminds us that White folks can't begin to know what "tired" feels like.

For the White Person Who
Wants to Know How to Be My Friend

The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black.
Second, you must never forget that i'm Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don't play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven--don't tell
me his life story. They made us take music
appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don't expect me
to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass--
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you're foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better
lovers than whites--don't tell me. I start thinking
of charging stud fees.

In other words, if you really want to be my
friend--don't make a labor of it. I'm lazy.
Thanks to Macon D. for tipping me to this poem and to the Angry Black-White Girl's blog.


Anonymous said...

CS, you do sound exhausted. But thank you for the passionate post. I FELT it!

We just need to keep those feelings that we're fighting a losing battle as distant as possible. I like to keep in mind that the bigger the bottom of the cage becomes, the top will inevitably fall in on itself.

I hope you find some time for R&R over the (short) break.

Be well! :)

Changeseeker said...

Thanks for the warm fuzzies, Anonymous. They're much appreciated. You're right on the money about staving off the sense that we're fighting a losing battle. That's very important, I think. And I do see progress. I mean, progress is packing up to move into the White House even as we write. :^) I'll make it a point to start hitting the gym, though, and make sure to rest and laugh over the break so that I don't spontaneously combust or something. That wouldn't be cool and is definitely NOT necessary.

Anonymous said...

I tried to explain this to a Spaniard this evening who said:

"Well, if I go back to Havana and try to reclaim my family's house, now occupied by persons born after 1959 and who have no money and nowhere to go, would I be justified?""

My answer now although it was hard to come up with in the moment is:


Hey Changeseeker,

I have a new version of "To The White Person Who Wants To Be My Friend"!

Please, allow me to humor you and share!

{drum roll please}

Number 1: Please, stop acting shocked and impressed just because I happen to be the third generation of educated professionals in my family. (Newsflash: All blacks did not grow up in *gasp* the working classes! Second newsflash: There have been blacks in the upper classes for several generations now. Wow. Imagine that.)

Number 2:Do not assume that I know anything about R & B or hip hop...or that I should know.
White person calling on the phone: "Guess what? Beyonce was on Oprah today!"
Me: {turning down my Vivaldi CD} "She's a singer, right?"

Number 3: Do not ask me questions about black people who are complete strangers who happen to be passing by while you are talking to me.

White person: "Gee Lisa, look at that lady's hairstyle! How fascinating! How did she get it LIKE THAT?!"
Me: {shrugs} "I've never seen that lady before. I don't know her hairstylist."

Number 4: Don't act shocked when summer rolls around and you begin to notice that I am getting a tan. (Newsflash: This covering over my muscles is called SKIN. Skin tans.)

Number 5: When you are around your white friends at work and I happen to come by to join in, don't start changing the conversation to trite topics that you THINK blacks discuss regularly. (Newsflash: I read the front page sections of fifteen newspapers every day, pay attention to the stock market, keep up with international affairs and have an extensive personal library.)

Number 6: Please do not act surprised that I am not teary eyed simply because a biracial man has been elected president after breaking his neck to appease the white electorate. Just ask me in six months what I think of Obama. Right now, I am just not that impressed.

Number 7: Please, don't mention how impressed you are that Condi Rice and Michelle Obama (or other well-educated blacks) are "so articulate". (Newsflash: Is it really such a stellar feat to be able to speak grammatically correct English? By the way, don't most children learn phonics and verb conjugation in...preschool?)

Number 8: When commenting at blogs that are hosted by black people, stop mentioning "well I am white and..." {sigh} Please, tell me why announcing that you're white at these blogs matters to anyone...except YOU.

Number 9: Don't stutter and become uncomfortable when saying the word 'black'. It only leads me to think that you are using another word to refer to black people when I am mot around.

Number 10: Don't think that dating or marrying a black person means that blacks will think you are not racist. Don't think that mentioning how many black friends you have will lead me to assume that you aren't a bigot. Most blacks are WELL aware that the entitlement of white privilege is a mindset that few persons will ever fully dismantle.

And for extra credit points: Understand that I am not a hypenated American. I am an American. If you know other blacks who feel differently about how they want to be referred to, then do not assume that I should think, feel, or BE like other blacks. (Newsflash: Blacks are individuals, not clones.)

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Profacero. Great answer! I'm going to remember it for next time.

BWBTT, your "rant" is so well done, I'm going to read it in my Race class tomorrow. Let 'em chew on THAT while they're having Thanksgiving dinner with the folks that helped them get as racist as they are. (*giggle*)

Sorrow said...

"Sometimes, I think they deserve what they’re gonna get"
please don't wish anything negative on anyone.
Let what they get be a world where no one see''s color, religion, or gender as anything more or less than what it is.
thats the change I want to see,
thats the change I want to work for.

Changeseeker said...

You know, of course, Sorrow, that I wish no one ill. What I meant in that statement is that what we plant will grow. Another way to put that is we reap what we sow. That is not a mean-spirited idea. It's a fact. And in that sense, racists do deserve whatever it is they wind up getting. Just as we all do. What we must be committed to is the practice of modeling love in the hope that they will stop planting what can only result in their own suffering. Yes?

Macon D said...

A very nice post, changeseeker, and I'm glad you liked the poem.

BWBTT, it may not be for me as a white guy to say, but I'll say it anyway--that's an amazing list! And since you wonder why, as per your list, I find it worthwhile to announce that I'm white, well, I get a lot of flack whenever I seem to presume or assume much of anything about black experience. How, after all, can I know whether your list is really all that representative of black experience? Or, wait, maybe it's just YOUR black experience. Or, wait . . . gulp, what's a white guy supposed to say?! about b-b-b-b-black experience?


Just kidding--thanks again.

Changeseeker said...

Welcome, Macon. You raise an interesting question (even as both you and BWBTT keep us laughing). On one hand, I can only imagine how irritating the average White folk's "as-a-White-person" pontifications probably are to people of color. Yet in sociology, I've been taught to locate myself firmly in the context of my perspective (which is undeniably important to whatever I say or write). And, as you mention, I've been pointedly instructed a time or two not to think I understand all things racial. So, caught in this bind, what's the "best" practice - both personally and politically (especially if you consider the personal to BE political). BWBTT, any thoughts?

Free said...

Outstanding post!

I'm tired too. In this post-election month, I've had this conversation ad nauseum and they just don't get it. I haven't officially unjoined, but I recently stopped daily visiting a group of supposedly very Spiritually minded people who express nothing but vitriol toward our President-elect. Half of their comments are just too deeply rooted in ignorance to believe and, though they deny it, the other half are very thinly-veiled racist sentiments. Scratch's ALL ignorance. I tried to link them to your blog thinking that maybe it was better if they entertained notions of White privilege from one of their own. Of course, this didn't make a bit of difference. Sadly.

As stated, I've pretty much left the group, because I find it difficult to talk to people on Spiritual matters who can be so willingly blind to every day truths. I just don't have the patience for it anymore, so I've had to shake the dust off of my feet and keep it movin'. ;)

I'm relieved to know that there are White people like yourself, like some of the bloggers that you highlight here and like the millions that voted for President Elect Obama who "get it" and who are also tired of the ones who don't.

Be Easy,


Changeseeker said...

Hey, Free. I've decided that racist people aren't "spiritual." And while I use a veeeery broad brush to determine "spirituality," I also use a veeeery broad brush when it comes to determining who's racist, as well. Any tinge of White Supremacy of any kind is plenty. And, of course, any attack by a White person on a person of color that is rooted in the person of color's "race" is racist. Duh!

"Criticisms" of Barack Obama not related specifically to factually documented policies are just racism wrapped up in skin. We need to consider and brainstorm how to approach or respond to this stuff because, aside from weakening the social fabric of our nation, it eggs on crazy people who are subject to do God-knows-what. Hmmm. Sounds like a post, huh? said...

Macon D,

Har, har. Hardee har har.

If I may mention a little known fact...

One thing that seems quite common among some of the white people whom I have encountered over the span of my that there is a tendency to weigh everything they hear from blacks on some ILLUSION of what is "representative of all blacks".

There isn't ONE person's experience in this country that can be DEEMED "the white experience".

There isn't ONE person's experiencce that can be DEEMED "the black experience".

I've listened to many ignorant black people over the years INSIST that their experience should become the definition of "the black experience" for all blacks. You may have noticed a few blacks even writing scholarly articles about "the black experience"....AS IF they get to decide how all of us should define "the black experience"?

I think not!

The problem with the illusion that it is possible to identify ONE profile that "MOST" blacks must fit into is that black people belong to every socioeconomic class (just as white people do).

When you factor in the numerous class differences that exist, there will never be ONE profile that becomes the "representative sample".

Is the late Jaqueline Kennedy "representative" of most white women? Or Britney Spears? Or Hillary Clinton?

Of course not.

Some how there is a desire to paint blacks with a broad brush and then stare at the canvas and declare "well surely, THIS is what most of them are".

Someone, pass me the Tylenol.

There is a lot of irresponsible reseasrch that draws conclusions about African-Americans as a whole WITHOUT ever mentioning that their research sample is from the lower classes. Oh...I get it...whatever the blacks in the lower classes think and do can be scientifically applied to ALL blacks everywhere!

Sarah Palin...poor one told her that there really is no such thing as "Joe Six Pack" who represents MOST white men in this country.

There's no such thing as "Tanisha Coors Lite Pack" either. *smirk*

Gee, I'm pretty funny. Why hasn't Jay Leno called me on the show yet??

Changeseeker said...

BWBTT: I'd hire you for MY late night show! Kudos for pointing out how academics (who ought to have a clue or at the very LEAST are supposed to be committed to "value-free" research -- riiiiight) apparently miss the little teeny tiny reality that po' folks in the inner city or the Mississippi Delta do NOT "represent" Black people in general. Wonder how those academics would like seeing "research" published that lumped them in with "Joe Six Pack"?

I don't mean that research on poverty-stricken people of all skin tones is not important. It is. Especially given the sheer numbers of them in this country, the monumental gap between them and those who have it made, and the downward mobility we're seeing these days involving people who never expected to wind up in the economic state they're in. But research rooted in a racist perspective and propped on every side by ethnic ignorance and/or indifference in the researchers is worse than worthless. It's dangerous. At least partly because it helps convince "Joe Six Pack" that "Tanisha Coors Lite Pack" (or worse, "Shamequa Ice Bull 40") is all he needs to know about "race." Sigh.

Macon D said...

Thanks BWBTT, those points make sense to me, and they're pretty much the way I try to operate in relation to these matters.

Gee, I'm pretty funny. Why hasn't Jay Leno called me on the show yet??

You are pretty funny, but Jay's already got Wanda Sykes--more than one black woman comedian would confuse people! *snark*

Anonymous said...

My skin is brown and my folks are from a caribbean country. Now lately saying that might get you profiled, but there it is. (said with some kind of emotion, though it's a mixture of how dare you! try to categorize me and 2. Am i being watched, can i speak freely) So, now I am weighing in on the conversation because I've wanted to for a while. Because I too tried that color blind thing,just to see if it were even possible. It wasn't. Only to have a white "friend" of mine say he was exploring the "black consciousness". I said, let me know when you find out what it is.
There's a sense of shared history if you've been lucky to hear to good and significant history because we all know the disturbing ones get the greatest media limelight and some of those media depictions would at least foment simmering rage, but we can't say that. We are expected to be more gracious, more pleasant, and above all keep that smile on our faces afterall we're the lucky ones, we've gotten our history lessons to a degree. The fact is endurance in America is hard and difficult, but at least it was voluntary for some. And to miss the distinction of how we humans experience challenges is to miss the largess of the issue. If you're stuck traveling to the Antarctic that kernel of voluntarism maybe indeed save your life. If an avalanche strikes base camp at Mt. Everest, that kernel of voluntarism may prolong your life long enough until a search party tries to reach you. Maybe these words will somehow reach into some dormant space for anyone who thinks we should have gotten over it by now: Imagine your children being wrenched from your arms and sent away never to be seen again, Imagine looking into the face of strangers and wondering are we related. If you can imagine this without guilt just see it as a fact, I don't know where I'm going with this but it's emotionally provacative. Then imagine seeing that stuff, racial profiling, resurface during the last 8 years. Imagine the wound being open again. It is far more significant to see what we share, than it is to dwell on "Is this person trying to get over on me." That's my piece and in spite of the comments to the contrary, I'm gonna go to a quite corner and allow the tears to fall while "free at last" rings in my ears.

hope we need said...

But if that stuff is too heart wrench and you need a break from it here's a temporary shift excerpted from another website, cause yeah our world is that large:

"During our latest State Conservationists’ Advisory Committee Meeting held at the PMC, a discussion centered on plant species collection. It was noted by Joel Douglas, Central Region PMS, that other centers in the Central Region had begun the collection and screening of secondary species. That is, these centers had begun working with lesser-known species of grass other than big bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass. They were working with minor species that are not considered the dominant prairie species. Many of the dominant grass species have several named varieties currently in the commercial market. The thought was that we should begin looking at grass species that were more specialty and unique-use species. That reinforced the thought that we had about collecting Redfieldia flexuosa or blowout grass as it is commonly called. This minor species is definitely a plant that has a defined area of use and adaptation. This wind-erosion control plant and used to protect sandy soil types from blowing, thus the common name, blowout grass. This native species can be found growing throughout the Great Plains from South Dakota to Oklahoma and into the Texas panhandle. John Weaver, Nebraska Prairie Ecologist, studied this species in the 1920s and found that it produced roots to depths of 5-to-7 feet. It has tough, wiry, many branched rhizomes, sometimes 20-to 40-feet in length, extended in all directions from the plant. It is an ideal pioneer species that will provide stability in highly erosive situations."
Every time in college when I read this ecology stuff, dominant species, minor species it really put me off, thinking about our selection of terminology is something so vital to our collective survival. I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, I mean species propagation, husbandry, is it just me or did it just bring back references to "Our glory days on the farm." I hope the ladies out there know what I mean in so far as why we may seem less interested in climate change issues as important as it may be. And why we ought to consider it more broadly. So, all I can say is Happy days are here. And in case I have to spell it out, we've always been involved in matters ecological though clearly it's prop up the hope. I have a college degree, and I'm still beholding. This is that creepy popularism thing, that was just an aside, no real offensive intended in fact isn't it time we opted not to offend.

Changeseeker said...

Anonymous: I hear you -- loud and clear.

Hope we need said: I'm not clear what you're getting at. Sorry. Can you help me out?