Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Comments On An Ugly Behavior: Racism

Get comfy for this one, kids, it’s going to be long.

I read a great blog today which got me thinking. Please read said blog before reading mine, as I use terms and refer to definitions explained by Robin F., a guest writer for Macon’s blog. It can be found here.

Did you read it? Come on, read it, it’s good… Okay, now that you’re back, here goes. Being among the race of people this blog was addressed to (that is to say, white), I was very interested to take what I had read, examine my life, and see if I had ever made any of these mistakes.

I do not remember ever asking any of my PoC friends to explain racism to me. I knew what racism was. Or at least I thought I did. I can remember the first time it struck me that racism really and truly existed.

Perhaps this realization came to me at a later age than it should have. I had grown up in a very diverse neighborhood and attended very diverse schools up until age ten, when I moved to a mostly white suburb of northern New Jersey. I was starting either the seventh or the eighth grade. There were very few black families living in the town, and thus very few black students who attended the town’s public schools. Over the summer, a black family had moved into town, into a neighborhood that was included along the same school bus route as mine. This family was richer than most in the town, as the father was a mildly famous NBA player (my father got a kick out of playing one-on-one basketball with him during the boring parts of my brother’s Little League game against the athlete’s daughter’s team).

The basketball player also had a son who was a grade behind me in school and rode the same bus as me. One day on the bus, I overheard other students making snide comments about this kid. Racist comments. I couldn’t believe it. The basketball player’s son was likeable, friendly, and had become popular in his new school. I had thought he was also friends with the very kids making these statements. I couldn’t understand why they would put him down, and further, why they would use racist remarks to do it. It was hard to realize that no matter how smart, good-looking, kind, or popular this young man was, there was always going to be an unmovable obstacle in his way.

Of course I cannot remember now what was said, but I do remember asking my mother about it later that day. Up until that point, I had thought the kids making the comments were reasonably likeable and had not had much of a problem with them. Until that moment, racism in my mind had been this ugly, amorphous cloud that had hung over the United States throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and up until the 1960s, but had dissipated since and had not really existed at any point in my lifetime.

Well, you can imagine what happened next. After noticing it for the first time, I started to notice it everywhere. I’m sure you can attribute it to my white privilege that I did not notice it before. I’m sure that kid and his entire family had noticed it and had been dealing with it all of their lives. So what was there for me to do? And since I had previously thought the kids making racist remarks were good people, was I unknowingly guilty of any racist behavior or thoughts myself? Had I ever had a thought or repeated an idea that promoted racist patterns of thinking? Was thinking that Asians were generally very smart racist behavior? Was an innocuous preconception, for example that black people are often better dancers, in fact racist?

I can remember two examples of pervasive racist behavior that had been taught in social studies class. One example was thinking about what you would do if you were walking down a sidewalk by yourself and there was a black man walking down the same sidewalk in your direction. Would you cross the street to avoid passing him because you were nervous he would hurt you? I thought about this. I didn’t think I would, but when was the last time I had been walking alone on a sidewalk? The other example was: If you had to choose between getting on an elevator with a black man or a white man, which elevator would you choose? If you chose the white man, that was supposed to mean you were secretly a racist, or at least that was how my eleven-year-old mind understood the hypothetical scenario. I always thought that I would choose the elevator with the black man, because I had come to associate rapists and serial killers with white men. I was pretty sure my social studies teacher would assume we had all chosen the white man even before she explained what choosing the white man meant, so was I guilty of covering my “true” feelings? And if not, was I then guilty of lateral or reverse racism? (More on reverse racism later in this entry.)

As I’ve gotten older and learned more, I have given this topic much thought. I’ve realized that even small, stereotypical generalizations, like the ones I listed before, are racist patterns of thinking. Though the surface level of the thought or statement may be intended positively, they subtly mask negative thoughts, regardless of whether those who repeat them share the negative opinion. I’ve started to let the guilt (or the fear of secretly being guilty) fall away. I think there are many white people, myself and those I consider friends included, who are not secretly hosting racist opinions. Maybe that’s na├»ve of me, but that’s what I believe. As Robin wrote in the blog I referred you to, guilt helps no one if that guilt is unwarranted. I shouldn’t feel guilty that I was born white. I should accept that my skin color grants me privileges that others may not be granted. What I should feel guilty about is if I let myself forget this privilege, forget that I am lucky, and start to form perceptions of other people without this privilege in mind.

I also want to write a bit about the idea of reverse racism. As I have now learned (courtesy of Robin F. via Macon), there are two definitions of racism. I am embarrassed, but willing, to admit that I did not know this before. Again, I will direct you to Robin’s post to get a full description of the two definitions. From this point on, I will assume you have read and understand the definitions. Up until this point, I would have spouted off the first definition. Again, chalk that up to my ignorance. However, as I have now read, this is not the accepted definition by many sociologists. This idea strikes me, as I now have a reason for the nagging voice in the back of my head whenever I hear someone bring up reverse racism. In her entry, Robin writes that, “racism is prejudice plus power.” If operating under the assumption that this definition is correct, which I will be, reverse racism cannot exist.

I’ve never been able to put into words why groups like the NAACP and UNCF do not bother me in the slightest, and yet I find the idea of a white counterpart abhorrent (though it does not deal with issues of race, I plan to write one day on my differing opinions of the Bohemian Club and the Belizean Grove). That’s because there can be no counterpart. These groups are reactionary groups. They exist due to the oppression and exclusion PoC experience by a group that holds institutional power. White people who feel offended by such groups should take a moment to think about why there does not need to be a white counterpart. What privileges have you (if you are white) been afforded because of your skin color? Do you really need a group to give you more? Likewise, I can’t imagine being offended if I was called honky or cracker (I never have been). Would you be offended? If so, why? These words have never been associated with years of oppression and suppression of a group of people, as other words have been, so what weight do they carry?

So now I’m going to take this into politics, as I am always wont to do, it seems. Recently, through watching the news, I have heard and seen much racist behavior. Who is this racist behavior directed toward? Why, President Obama, of course. “What?!” I hear you cry. “But you said racism cannot be directed at those who hold institutional power! Isn’t POTUS the most institutionally powerful position there is?” Well, I would have to say that it is. But! I would also say that the election of one black President does not erase centuries of oppression, and that racism cannot be turned on its ugly head over the course of a few months.

President Obama said himself that he was black before the election. He is not new to dealing with issues of race or hate speech that is filled with prejudiced rhetoric. Even as President he is not immune. Though small, there is a very vocal group of people claiming that the President is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore ineligible to serve as her President (including Congressmen! Watch this video). I ask you, would anyone have dared to question any of the previous 43 President’s birthplaces? Especially after documentation was made public? I find it hard to believe that these accusations stem only from the fact that his father was not a citizen. It seems to me that his father being Kenyan and black might be a clearer explanation for these people refusing to accept the facts.

Another example, which sickens me, is that it seems to have become common practice for people to bring firearms to events at which Obama is speaking. Okay, maybe common practice is a bit of an overstatement, but it’s happened more than once recently. Yes, it is absolutely our (as Americans, if you are an American) Constitutional right to own firearms, and to carry and conceal these firearms where that is also allowed. This does not help me sleep at night, but so it goes. What is the point in taking guns to these events? Really?

The only conclusion I can glean from this behavior is that these (white) people are attempting to assert their presumed power and superiority over another group of people by carrying Even-If-You-Are-The-President-You’d-Better-Not-Mess-With-Me-And-My-White-Privilege guns. Hm, I wonder what models those come in. These people are flexing their muscles, as they are threatened by PoC assuming positions of authority. They are essentially saying that they have no intention of allowing PoC to ever overcome years of racism, and that anyone who is going to try would do well to realize that people like them are out there and ready to stop them. I have absolutely no evidence to support this opinion and understand that not everyone agrees with me on this, but I have yet to see examples of this behavior directed at any other President, Democrat or Republican. Maybe I'm showing the level of my paranoia with this opinion, but there it is, and these people scare me. I dread the day one of these gun-toters extends the boundary of our Constitutional right with one of these firearms.

As Robin F. writes, what is there (for white people) to do about all of this? For the millionth time I will refer you to her post that includes her suggestions, as well as Macon’s other entries. I am attempting one of the mentioned tactics, which is to think about your own patterns of thought and behavior and spread these ideas among other white people.

This concludes my entry and I thank Robin F. and Macon for making me think and re-evaluate my own ideas. I apologize for the disjointed nature of this post, but hope you enjoyed reading anyway! Leave me your comments, if you please!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My mistake... Or was it?

I passed by Barack Obama yesterday. At least I thought I did. I don’t go into the city that often, and I just happened to go the day many world figures would all be convening at the U.N. I was walking along 42nd St., and I heard sirens in the distance. In the back of my head, bells rang and wishes abounded, but I did not allow myself to believe that what I was hoping was happening was actually happening. As it turns out, it wasn’t happening. I’ve since looked at videos of a Presidential motorcade and it’s about a gazillion times bigger than what I saw. But as the police cars, lights flashing, whizzed past, and the security agents leaned out of the car windows with menacing stares, I thought my wildest dream had been realized. The car in which I was sure sat President Obama stopped in front of me, and what did I do? I waved. Feebly. And grinned stupidly. It’s possible drool fell down my chin.

Alright, so I was completely mistaken. I’m about 99.9% sure that my excitement got the best of me, and that was in no way Barack Obama that passed in the motorcade. I’m sure it was a dignitary of some sort, because it was definitely out of the ordinary. I’m thinking… Gambia or possibly Djibouti (I have nothing against these countries. Mostly I just wanted to write Djibouti. Christ, I’m an eight-year-old). But as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts. Right? I thought maybe Obama might need a show of support from the people, after all of this vitriolic lie-mongering that has been going around. Not by anyone I know, of course, but still apparently by those of us Americans who represent the “real” people… uh-huh.

Honestly, if this had been last year and Bush’s motorcade had rolled by, I think I would have done the same thing. Maybe I would have given him the middle finger with my other hand behind my back, but that’s it. I’m all for protest, that’s what makes this country great. But I’m not for disrespect, especially where it is not due, and disrespect makes for protest that is fueled out of lies, not truths, and hate, not love. Stupid protesting.

There, I said it. Stupid protesting. When I protested Bush, I did it because he was the leader of an administration that lied and manipulated in order to gain support for an unjust and unwarranted war. I completely disagree with those who are not for health-care reform, but if they feel the need to protest, then they should go right ahead. Public dissent is a great thing, and without it we would never have gotten anywhere. They should gather the facts and speak clearly and passionately about why they are against health-care reform. However, anyone calling Obama a Communist, a Socialist, a Muslim (not that there is anything wrong with the aforementioned three terms, in my opinion), a terrorist, etc. or claims that he was not born in the United States or that his agenda is to destroy America, is not protesting out of real passion. These people are protesting out of fear, and they’re using lies to do it. Unfortunately, there are many out there who are either gullible enough or conniving enough to adopt these lies as truth and further it themselves.

As I’ve said before, I was one of the biggest protesters of Bush policy I knew, but I never yelled “Fascist!” or “Not my President!” Because guess what? He was my President. Though I did not like it, I had to accept it unless I was prepared to move to Canada. Alas, I love Canada and would be thrilled to live there one day, but it was not in the cards. So I was stuck being an American. And what are Americans best at? Independence, ingenuity, passion, and loving and trying to do what’s best for their country. That includes protest. Smart protest. Fact based protest. Not lies or “unfacts.”

Considering I said I didn’t want this blog to be about politics, and yet two out of my first five entries are about said topic, I am not doing a very good job of what I set out to do. Oh well.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gum Drops and Faeries and $300 Loans...

Hello to no one. I cannot wait until I have readers so I’ll know that I’m not writing for naught. Anyway, I always wanted this blog to tell people more about my life, so I’ll pretend for the sake of my sanity that I have readers and talk about myself.

I don’t know if other people think about this much, but has anyone out there cut someone out of their life? It’s something I struggle with, even with people who deserve it. Oddly enough, I have a low capacity to trust. However, I seem to extend the small bit of trust I have to people who have taken advantage of it before. I’m generally too guarded to let these people hurt me in real ways, but on certain occasions I slip up. “Fool me once… shame on… shame on you… Fool me twice, you can’t get fooled again.” Ah, GWB, if only I had listened to your words of wisdom.

The only person who I have ever definitively cut out of my life is someone who did something very bad and unforgivable. Other than that, I have had several one-time, two-time, even three-time friends who don’t deserve anymore chances. So why do I have the hardest time officially swinging the axe they spent so much time sharpening?

Sometimes there are very selfish and tangible things in my way, like TI-83 calculators, paperback Harry Potter books that I stupidly lent out, and large sums of money owed to me. But that’s okay, isn’t it? When I trust someone, I am very giving of what I have. If someone needs money, I spot them. If someone wants a good book, I lend it. Etcetera. However, there comes a time when I would be stupid to let someone take advantage of my generosity anymore (I know, I know, this blog is making me out to be very arrogant). I am very allowing when people can’t repay loans quickly, but break my trust, and I become a lot less caring that you are depressed and having trouble finding a job because of it. That being said, if I pay $500 to buy you a 2nd generation iPod touch with a 2-year warranty for Christmas, the least you can do in return is not make me pay monthly for the Netflix subscription you insisted I needed to have because you don’t have a credit card to put the subscription on and don’t make any money to cover it. Not that that actually happened… heh.

Is it wrong that I secretly fantasize about all of these people crawling back, needing sympathy and hugs, and I give it to them, only to a week later take advantage of their trust and make them feel bad for what they’ve done? (And let me add that I swear I am a very nice and friendly person).

Okay, this is all for now, but this topic may be recurring. And since this is about me, it will recur and recur and recur, apparently.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Good Idea? Can it be true?

I am at the point in the writing stage during which the elation over having had a new idea has worn off. However, I am experiencing a new, unfamiliar feeling. For the first time, I've let an idea sink into my consciousness for a period of several weeks, and it has not ended up repulsing me. In the past I've gotten easily discouraged by and disgusted with my ideas. It's gotten to the point at which I cannot say I've ever written more than a short story or one act play.

This idea... this one is different. I wish I had followers of this blog, because if I did I'd ask them to keep me to my task. To not let me forget how I feel about this idea now. To hold me accountable. I can't let this one pass me by. I hate applying the term thriller to anything I do, but for now I may have to call this a psychological, fantastic, thriller. I can only hope it lives up to my expectations. And I can only hope my expectations remain high. Eurgh. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb. I am made of ticking time bombs that shatter my dreams.

I also have another project I am in the very beginning stages of, but I think this will involve more than just me forcing myself to write. I might have to ransack my room for this one... more to come on that later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Outrageous and Incredible

Okay. I don't want this blog to be about politics. I have my opinions and have no problem sharing them, but I do not want this to be a theme. However, I must comment on the speech that aired earlier this evening.

To begin, I am an Obama supporter. I am not a sheep. I have opinions that differ with his, and for the most part, I am much more liberal than he is (or than he must appear to be, but that's a different matter). To be completely honest... I am for a single-payer system. I understand, however, that a single-payer system is not really a possibility at this time. What I cannot understand is how certain members of this country can sit idly as they watch friends and relatives struggle, suffer, and sometimes die because they are not covered or do not have adequate coverage. I cannot understand how anyone can think the United States is better off for leaving the uninsured behind, which will happen if the system is not reformed. I cannot understand how many cannot grasp the fact that we are massively in debt due to the current mode of operation. Finally, I cannot understand how some can be so callous and spread information that is blatantly false, solely for what seem to be political reasons.

I sometimes feel immediately surrounded by people who do not seem to care about or understand these principles. Since when did empathy become a grace to be received only by those who enjoy economic prosperity? When did Christian generosity stop extending to the poor? I myself am an atheist. I don't need to subscribe to a set of religious values to know what is right and what is wrong. I believe in altruistic humanity, as do many of the world's largest religions. So how do these values fit into to those values?

My own family completely disagrees with me on these issues, but how would they feel if they lost their coverage? Or if one of us were to fall ill and did not meet insurance standards for coverage? I think they might have a different opinion.

There is a lot more I could and would like to say on the subject, but I think I will stop here.

There are a few more things I would like to bring up. Small, nitpicky items if you will. One: If you are being directly addressed by the President and this speech is being televised... maybe consider not texting or twittering. Two: I was the strongest opponent of Bush policies in most rooms, but had I ever been in his presence, I would not have dared to yell, "Lies!". Disagree with him though I did, he was still the President. Three: Since when did it become appropriate to shield children from Presidential addresses, especially those given directly to children? I am referring to the start-of-school speech Obama gave on Tuesday. Did certain parents honestly think he was going to bring politics into it? If they did, it would not have been hard for them to find text versions of the speech available before it was given, which any sane person would agree was without political agenda. Isn't it wiser to allow children to listen and make up their own minds, and then discuss the speech with them after it is given? And if a parent is absolutely against their child hearing the speech, they certainly should be allowed to demand that their child not be present. Parents are free to make that decision and that's as it should be. But to argue that the President should not address the nation's children, those who are our future presidents, engineers, scientists, artists, etc., is ludicrous. To maintain that schools should not air a Presidential address to students is preposterous. I have a feeling that most of the same parents would have been outraged if a school had refused to air a speech Bush had given to students.

Okay. Rant over. For now.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Intro Blog

I swore I'd never blog. Now I cannot remember why. At this point, I'm not entirely sure what this blog will come to be about. I have ideas, but I plan on shaping it more as I go along. Hopefully, others will come along for the ride. If not, that's okay.