Saturday, April 12, 2008

I'm a White Chick Who Cares About Racism - Ask Me How!

If you stop and think about it, racism doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Of course, a lot of “isms” are that way, particularly those that let you say you are somehow magically “better” than that person over there. I mean really, if you’re going to be better than someone, why not have a good reason?

Why should white people be “better” than black people? Or men better than women? Or rich better than poor, straight better than gay, etc. We’re all just people, together, you know. None of us asked to be born different colors.

Today, many people, especially if you’re American, reading this post will find it merely of passing interest that left-handers like myself have historically been discriminated against. Because left-handedness is a sign of the devil. Catholic schools a short generation ago, and other cultures (and here I’m thinking of a specific former colleague, a second generation Japanese-American) forced their children to write right-handed. Some still may today. Physical force. And people used to discriminate against the Irish, here, in America. Wacky, huh?

Now, for everyone who just chuckled at the insanity of such notions, I want to ask you a question. What if you brought for just a moment that same laughter, that same skepticism and sense of amusement to some of your own beliefs? That same “wow, that’s pretty wacky, huh?” to your own table.

Consider the idea that the guy on the corner is a gangbanger who’s gonna put a cap in your ass just because he’s a guy standing on the corner who happens to be black. Or that that black woman over there with the stroller, the one getting on the bus, is on welfare and happy to be so. ‘Cuz welfare’s so much fun. Do the vast majority of poor people, white and black, choose to be poor? Of course not. That’s just silly. Like a lot of things, it doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, once you stop and think about it.

So, what I’d like to do today is encourage you to stop and think, instead of just assuming. What’s that thing you might’ve learned as a kid? When you assume you make an ass out of ‘u’ and me?

Yeah, well. So, how about a few less assumptions?

No one chooses to be discriminated against. That would be silly.

Now, black people in this country have been climbing out of a hole that the slave trade dug, and they’ve been climbing for years and not out yet. It’s a big goddamn hole. The fact that white people dug this hole doesn’t mean that you (if you’re reading this and are a white American) are a bad person. But what is bad, and what all of us, especially white Americans, help perpetuate when we make assumptions based on color, is the idea that black people belonged in that hole, or that there’s something wrong with them today because they’re not all the way out, or that the hole doesn't even exist because, slavery's, like, over, right? It’s a BIG goddamn hole that got dug partly thanks to the idea that whites were doing Africans a favor by bringing them to the Americas and converting them to Christianity. Well, if you put it that way, that’s a bit much, don’t you think? That’s pretty disrespectful of someone else’s culture and beliefs. That’s assuming that they’re “less” because they’re not like you. And on top of that, there was the idea that because they were “heathen” “savages”, they weren’t real people anyway.

Because you could never treat real people like that, turn them into *slaves*, whip them like animals, and live with yourself, could you?

And you know what? In all the ways that count, “they” ARE “like you”.

We all are born, play as children, love our moms, want to marry Mr./Ms. Right, read comic books, call the plumber, save loose change in a jar, ride the bus to school, get a “C”, are tongue-tied by that Perfect Boy/Girl in school and later, alas, at work, eat things that are bad for us, say stupid stuff and regret it later, want things we can’t afford, and want to give our children better lives than our own.

None of that changes because of color. Look back at that guy on the corner, giving in and having a cigarette even though he knows he shouldn’t. Look at that woman on the bus, the one with the folded up stroller and the baby in her lap. She’s just like you, just schlepping along, raising her kid, thinking about tonight’s dinner.

Skin color’s got nothing to do with it.

So, if black people are still in that hole, how are they climbing, and how deep is that f****er? I’m not sure I know the whole answer. Racism, like other isms, is pervasive. It’s not just about the act of enslaving someone physically. It’s everything else, it’s all the ideas that led to slavery in the first place and still operate to keep black people from climbing. It’s *hard* to identify ALL the ways racism has affected our lives, from loans under the federal housing act denied to blacks but granted to whites and black people not being served in restaurants and excluded from unions to boot, to sentencing guidelines that punish users of crack (more likely to be black) more harshly than users of cocaine (more likely to be white), to advertisements that say white features are the most attractive. I mean, shit, man. WTF?

And if it’s so pervasive, how do we fight it?

We fight it day by day, event by event, bit by bit. We fight it by saying to someone making a stupid assumption, or a dumb joke, “hey, that’s not cool.” We fight it whether or not we’re being discriminated against ourselves. We fight it because you could just as easily have been born black instead of white, and would you want someone to discriminate against you? Hell, no.

No one chooses to be discriminated against. That would be silly. But you and I, regardless of our skin color, can choose to fight against assumptions that hold people down rather than lifting all of us up.