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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

If you have to ask if something is racist, does that make you a racist?

So, here is what the post above was meant to include, until that post got a little unwieldy, I decided to cut that one off and make this a separate entry, partially because of the nature of this one.
This is in reference to the workshop I am leading on Race, described above and again here:

2A “ Race Relations – Discussion to Action”

We have been asked for decades to have a national discussion on race. This workshop will briefly be part of that, then we hope to spend a majority of our time developing ideas for specific actions we can take or lead others to get involved with. Please come ready with ideas, suggestions and an open mind, though not so open that things fall out.

(Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever led a workshop before, but ah, there I go off on another digression.)
So again, a goal of the workshop is to not go down the usual path such discussions take, where we are all of the same mindset and we spend the whole time patting each other on the back for how upset and concerned we are and where no one feels comfortable saying anything controversial or provocative. And apologies in advance, but this list, and the discussion on Saturday will generally, though not exclusively, focus on issues between whites and blacks (and will generally use the word "blacks" instead of "African-Americans" only for brevity purposes), because that has been what we've most been aware of and had to deal with in our lifetimes, though I do think it is important to acknowledge that there are many forms of racism against other minorities, and other -isms, all of which likely stem from similar places in our individual, and hopefully not collective, souls.

So my first priority in this discussion is to provoke folks a little bit so they maybe get a little agitated but also are comfortable not being the worst person in the room, regardless of what they say. I think one of the biggest hindrances to the National Dialogue on Race, as President Clinton called for about 20 years ago, is that people are afraid to say what's really on their mind, without being attacked or made fun of, and I think we need to recognize that growth only happens in an atmosphere of acceptance and support and love.
My second priority is to define the word racism.

My third is, once we have addressed, if not necessarily exhausted, that topic, to move into how to figure out how to try to address racism in our day-to-day lives, but that isn’t necessarily the goal of this email.

So with priority numbers 1and 2 in mind above, I thought I would read this list to the group to see how they react, perhaps with nodding understanding, or confused outrage or maybe even some additions to the list:

What is racism exactly?
Is it racist if you…

-          Meet a person for the first time and feel guilty because the first thing you noticed about them is that they are black?

-          Smiled at a black person mostly just because they are black and you want to show them that you aren’t a racist?

-          Had no problem describing the skin tone of a white person as particularly light or dark-skinned, but would never do so about a black person for fear referring to their skin color would “prove” you’re a racist?

-          Have been in your car and found yourself in a dicey part of town and locked the doors and then wondered if you were being racist for doing so?

-          Laughed at a racist joke just because it’s funny even though you tried your hardest to be indignant about the joke? And would you have laughed just as hard if you substituted the word Quaker (or insert the name of your faith here) for the descriptive noun in the joke?

-          Found yourself agreeing with Bill Cosby’s lectures to blacks about what they need to do but felt that if you were to say the same things you’d be accused of being a racist?

-          Have been in a situation where you were the only white person in a room of minorities and felt weird about it?

-          Tried to remind someone of who you’re talking about, and the person you’re describing is black, but you describe every other thing about them trying as hard as possible to avoid saying that they are black, even though you know that if that was the first thing you’d said to describe them, the person would know exactly who you were talking about?

-          Have seen young black men walking toward you on the street and finding yourself reacting a differently than if they were white kids?

-          Have wondered why it’s ok for blacks to use the n-word but you can’t?

-          Have wondered if it is racist to think that blacks, in general, are better dancers/singers/jumpers/runners/athletes? And wondered if, that being a compliment, why it’s a bad thing? And wondered, if you believe that to be true, if there is a genetic reason they are superior to the rest of us, is it then also ok to assume there are possibly genetic reasons that they are inferior in some ways? And is it racist if you find yourself wondering if they are better at those things because they are descended from slaves where only the strongest, most physically superior survived?

-          Get a mental picture of a welfare recipient, and you immediately picture the person as black, even though a majority of welfare recipients are white?
-         Think that using racial profiling to pull people out of line at airports might actually keep us safer? Does it make as much sense to pull a little old lady or child out of line as it does a young person with a 1-way ticket to the destination?

-          Find yourself wondering if welfare as we currently practice it has done more harm to minorities than good?

-          Read a story about an inner-city kid “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” and wondering why they don’t all do that?

-          Wondered if affirmative action and minority set-asides do more harm than good? Or think they are unfair?

-          Think “reverse-racism” is not as big of a concern as what we call racism instead of considering that they are equally bad?

-          Only define racism as involving blacks and not other minorities…or majorities?

-          Wonder if it’s fair to call Barack Obama black, when he’s just as white as he is black?

-          Meet a black man and immediately assume he is a sports fan?

-          Find yourself being surprised when a black athlete is interviewed on TV and he is more articulate than you expected?

-          Describe a black person as “articulate”, especially when, if the person were white, that description wouldn’t even have entered your mind?

So, there's the list. I hope I haven't offended anyone, but I do hope I've provoked some of you. My own sense that it is OK to think all the things above and it's a shame we can't explore all those thoughts out loud and examine them and work through them in a non-threatening atmosphere to consider, but not necessarily agree on their relative validity. 

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