Thursday, July 22, 2010

Uncommon Sense or How To Un-Learn Racism?

Every now and then, race in America comes up; and when it does, all sides tend to panic. We're so accustomed to avoiding honest discussions about racism and race relations that when the opportunity knocks to show how much we've matured as a country, we instead dig our heads deeper into denial. And if we do show a willingness to start a conversation it ends up being more of the same show of ignorance and misinformation. Take our latest embarrassment over the whole Shirley Sherrod fiasco, for example, the Black U.S. Department of Agricultural official who used the murder of her father by racist Whites some years past and how she struggled to assist White farmers but decided on focusing on poverty rather than skin color to present a teachable moment for all Americans. At the time she was probably just sharing, not realizing that her N.A.A.C.P. speech was gonna turn into a media/White House frenzy. But some White hater had spliced her words to make it look like she was promoting anti-White sentiments then sent the tainted video clip to her supervisor and boom, she was fired. She got the bad news while driving and had to pull over to hear she had to resign. She did, not knowing for sure what had gone down. Just imagine your supervisor saying they heard or saw something inappropriate about you and so now you got to go, as in right now! You're so dumbfounded at the time that you haven't found all the pieces to the puzzle yet cos you're too busy processing.

Fast forward to when uncommon sense sets in; when N.A.A.C.P. Prez, Benjamin Jealous and Black CNN commentator, Roland Martin blast Sherrod for being part of the problem and not the solution. The solution being N.A.A.C.P.'s upcoming march in October to address racism in the Tea Party. In other words, we'tryina make this sht pop and there you go fucking it up for us! But it doesn't stop there. Conservative White House officials also called for the firing of the sista. (And she is a sista when you listen to how she breaks it down!) Then of course once the media got a hold of the video it was for all the world to see how this ugly American just had to go, even after the elderly White couple said they had nothing but love for her. But Sherrod didn't put up a fight. She just cleared her desk and kept her composure. And that's when God stepped in or common sense, at least. Cos someone with a brain found the clip in its entirety and discovered the malicious editing. You'd think Jealous himself would've paid closer attention, since the speech was given on his turf. You'd think a smart reporter like Martin would've remembered his journalistic oath and checked his facts. And tell me this-- If The White House can't detect the tampering of a simple blog, how are we to trust them with homeland security?

How foolish all these so-called 'educated' people must feel now, after truth prevailed; and how rewarding it must feel to be vindicated! Cos that's the story behind the Story, to me. How you're tagged inappropriate one minute and brilliant the next. So now everyone from Jealous to Sherrod's supervisor who went ghost have had to backtrack on their words and premature ejaculations, while USDA is begging her to take her job back. Plus, Obama had to make that apology call after a few days of procrastinating. Not bad for a sista who was getting ready to be hung out there dry for merely speaking openly and honestly about racism in America. Not a bad place to be when you can tell The White House and it's new tenants, Thanks but no thanks. Not bad when you can show America just how stupid she looks by not having the guts, if not the grace, to move out of the 19th century when it comes to un-learning racism. Not bad at all; and a right on, sista!

What Sherrod initially did, most of us do it every day. Just that we tend to keep our voices close to our bellies and only share with our own. Me and my anglo-saxon friends welcome honest convo on race. They admit they benefit from racism just cos of their skin color yet do their part to tackle it, while I admit our post-kidnapping/confinement syndrome yet do my part to heal from it. That's what makes us true friends and not merely diplomats.. But most Americans can't handle that type of realness. We'd rather make jokes and watch baseball instead. It's the art of avoiding. They teach it to us in our public schools and we teach it to each other at the family table. Unfortunately, even if sista finds another great job or writes a book, this bizness of kneejerking every time someone addresses race will continue as long as we keep talking around the issues. And though Obama made that memorable speech on race last year, a first time for any U.S. President, we're still using the same formulas; still avoiding, still denying. We had out chance back in the 1970's when pioneer of racism awareness, Jane Elliott introduced her 'blue-eyed/brown-eyed' exercise. But White folks just couldn't handle it. They even cried on Oprah's shoulders, 'Please, super Black lady. No more feeling feelings of oppressed people, okay? It's just too hard! But can't we all get along?!?!' The whole point of the exercise was for the audience to experience how it feels to be something other than White.

Nora Lester of California Newsreel writes, "Jane Elliott does not intellectualize highly emotionally charged or challenging topics. She creates a situation in which participants experience discrimination themselves and therefore feel its effects emotionally, not intellectually....she uses participants' own emotions to make them feel discomfort, guilt, shame, embarrassment and humiliation. Jane Elliott would say that protecting white people from the pain of racism only serves to perpetuate it." Because too often Whites say they get it by coming from the brain and not the heart. It's when they 'feel' how it feels like to be treated second and third class that they finally get it; and get us, and all the baggage that comes with that. Using reverse racism as a way of pointing psychological reparations back on you is just another way of avoiding the work. Elliott's exercise encourages Whites to take responsibility for racism, and again because they benefit from it. But this was way too radical at the time, and still is. Putting the blame on the victim is much easier, even if it means opening ourselves up for more embarrassing moments.

This isn't the first time I'm saying this but it's worth repeating-- White people have the luxury of never having to think about their skin color. They just live. And there lies the problem. Because for those of us with darker complexion, skin color is a constant preoccupation, whether it's worrying about being followed in a store out of an assumption that we're there to steal, racial profiling (especially if you're male) or being stared at whenever that damn subway terrorist message comes on (If you see a suspicious package...) It's not the package White passengers look at but your dark skin. And sometimes it's those who look like you who are giving the menacing stares because they've internalized racism so much that they become their own enemy.

So how do we un-teach racism? And not just decorating like coming up with a catchy South Pacific song or Black buffoonery sitcoms that merely distract the masses from inner transformation. Un-teaching begins with acknowledging that whatever we're used to has to change. Our mindset has to match our words. If we say we're not racist, we actually have to act like it by calling each other out on it. But here's the reality check-- we're all racists. Some more than others, but because this country--and to a certain extent the world--is based on the glorification of one group versus the exploitation of all other groups, we can't help acting out the psychosis implanted in our memory banks nor the competition for approval from the one who sets the standards. Racism is not only someone burning a cross on your lawn or calling you a dirty Mexican. Racism is also a Mexican President telling Al Sharpton that Black people don't matter. It's a dark-skinned sista wearing a Korean wig on her head just so she can by-pass Black and go straight to White. It's thinking all Muslims are terrorists and Timothy McVeigh a misguided young man. It's a White person owning African land and hiring Black faces to run it. It's looking at a Black man as merely a sexual object or a buy-product you paid stupid money for to win a stupid game, or adopting an Asian girl and treating her like a conversation piece. Racism is assuming that Persian, Arab, Ethiopian and Islam are one in the same and Latino TV networks only pushing White Hispanics in their shows. It's a Black homeowner hiring a White contractor because she thinks White means right and Black, get back! It's a bunch of Black kids calling you high yellow and your mama still saying sht like He got good hair. Race-ism is only showing Africa as a place where wild animals roam and negating her beautiful cities, beaches and resorts. It's reading skin of bronze and hair of wool, but seeing Greg Allman. It's also blasting a nose off a wonder so the world won't know the truth. It can be as subtle as not touching a customer's hands when you give him his change back and as loud as the rate of Carib girls getting skin cancer from bleaching.

At this point, we're all too far out into the schism. Only way back to any sense of normality is to break the current lines of communication and press reset; starting with giving Orem Akhet's nose back!

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