International Blog Against Racism week is coming to a close. I bet you all thought I was going to let this one slip by, didn’t you? I almost did. I feel the same way about IBAR week as LJ user misia does:
I am fundamentally leery of “Verb against Noun $thingy” sorts of schemes. All too often an excuse to give lip service to Noun for a little while so that when one feels guilty later one can assuage said guilt by pointing to it and say “Oh, but you see, I participated in Verb Against Noun $Thingy, so I’m one of the Good Guys,” as well as an object illustration of preaching to the choir.
That whole entry is great and should be read. Because she goes on to say:
…in this case I’ll make an exception in order to bring you this quick and dirty list of ways I have learned — through many years of effort, trial, error, travel, living in neighborhoods in which I was in the minority, activism, being an anthropologist’s daughter, being part of a multicultural/multiracial extended family, and mostly, paying attention to what works and what doesn’t — that have enabled me to be better at interacting with fellow human beings of all races/ethnicities/colors/etc. in sane, helpful, enjoyable, mutually beneficial ways.
At any rate, this particular blogger blogs against racism every week. Or, at least, every week I post. It seems strange for me to have a BAR post yet equally strange for me not to acknowledge IBARW.
I’ve decided to make a contribution in the form of an anecdote. A story from my life.
Several years ago I worked for a small IT company that had four employees, including myself. I worked with three white men of varying Euro-backgrounds all between the ages of 35 and 55. At least one of these men was born into substantial financial privilege and none of them ever suffered economic hardship as far as I was able to glean from our conversations. They were each college-educated, informed, affable men. And they were all of them racist.
Not to say that they were your KKK cross-burning types. In fact, they considered themselves progressive and inclusive. They often used my employment as proof that they had nothing against black people. After all, if they were prejudiced, would they have hired me?
Of course they would have. Despite my angry blackness, I am often considered one of the ‘safe’ black people moderate whites feel pretty comfortable with. I ‘talk white’ (i.e. proper) and I’m light-skinned and I don’t generally give off a vibe of overt ‘blackness’. White people rarely have a problem with me at first because they don’t associate me with ‘radical’ blackness.
Thus, their hiring me was not so much proof of inclusiveness as it was proof that I’m able to make white people comfortable enough to want to be around me/hire me. Even with my education, experience, and qualification, it is doubtful that my employment would have been a slam dunk if I’d arrived with my hair in dreds or a kinte cloth wrap or even with a darker shade of skin.
But, as I said, my co-workers were not closet Klansmen, they were the type of white folks that Dr. King talks about in this passage from his Letter from a Birmingham jail:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is… the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I remember one of the first discussions on race I had with G, the vice-president, was about why more blacks than whites were in jail. He said that this was due to more black people committing crimes and being more prone to crime. I said that it was due to a justice system tilted unfairly in deference to whites. That white people often got lesser sentences for similar and identical crimes and that whites were more often never even charged or tried for offences black people spend years in jail over. This isn’t even to mention the vast number of wrongly accused black people. No, G said, white people don’t get an unfair advantage. Maybe sometimes that happens, but not often. Not enough to matter.
Things got worse from there.
My boss told me that I should have been afraid to live in my neighborhood (Inwood, specifically) because there was a lot of gang activity there. I had not witnessed any such thing. He informed me that of course Inwood was rife with gang activity because it is a Dominican neighborhood, and all Dominican neighborhoods have terrible gang problems.
Our accountant once started a conversation with me thusly: “So, ABW, D tells me that you’re black.” Why was this a revelation? “I thought you were Puerto Rican.” D’s reaction? “No, if she were Puerto Rican she’d have 3 inch long nails and talk like this-” D proceeded to imitate his version of what a stupid Puerto Rican woman would sound like.
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation – needless to say sexism was involved as well.
It’s situations like this that plague race relations in America today. It’s people like these that make it so hard for minorities to look upon this country as a shining example of a racism-free environment. This is the kind of thing we should be fighting against, but it is too often allowed because it isn’t on the same level as whites only water fountains and lynchings. It is a more insidious racism because it is sort of invisible. It takes place behind closed doors and between individuals, not between large groups. Not overtly.
It’s still wrong.
This is what we need to be against. This is what I’m against, what this blog is all about.
I can’t even begin to fathom the damage the time working at that company did to me because, for a long time, I didn’t even recognize this behavior for what it was. For a long time I didn’t realize that this, in one form or another, has been going on all my life and I did not see it. I was taught that this wasn’t racism. No, indeed. I was blinded by the lie white people have spun to make the progress of the past slowly erode around me. The lie they created to keep me complacent while this occurred.
I’ve decided that it’s my job to call people on this shit whenever I can. It inevitably leads to white folks whipping out the privilege shield, but I’ll batter at that, too. It has to stop, and we as human beings need to be the ones who stop it.
I’m against racism in all of its forms. How about you?