Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for April, 2008

Bitch is the New Black / Black is the New President

Bitch if the New Black (via Jezebel)

Black is the New President, Bitch (via Jezebel)

For those of you who missed it, Saturday Night Live is slowly coming back to both political relevance and actually being consistently funny for the first time since Will Farrell left. I think this is the first time they’ve been both since Eddie Murphy!

In these links Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan play out for us a conversation that’s happening all over the country, but is too edgy for most of the mainstream media. Is Clinton a bitch, and do we want a bitch for a president? Does Obama have a shot at the White House because he’s Black, or despite it?

Personally I think that Tina Fey was on point for every single one of her arguments, while Tracy Morgan resorted to easy personal attacks on Senator Clinton… but my goal here is more to present the links than to comment on them, so I’ll stop there and let you judge for yourselves.

Laws and Hearts

In the debate about whether or not racism still exists in this country, I think that the central point of disagreement is whether a country with equal laws can still be unequal.     The civil rights movement did an enormous amount of heavy lifting as far as equalizing the laws of the land.   There is no longer state-sanctioned apartheid, not to mention slavery.    And we are not only explicitly granted equality under the law, but discrimination is specifically forbidden.    So the argument that we are now in an equal society is persuasive, to the extent that the laws are now more or less equal.

But, discrimination law suits are much harder to win than a lot of people might expect.    It’s just too easy to claim you had some other reason for discrimination (the person was lazy, or had attitude or what-have-you).    This is basically what happens when policemen use racial profiling when making an arrest, or when juries convict, and therefore, to my mind, is the best explanation for the incredibly high rates of minorities in jail.

To support this idea, I fall back (as I always do) on the statistics.   More minority people in jail, fewer in college.   Lower average incomes.    Etc. etc. ad nauseum.    When confronted with these kinds of statistics, there’s only three explanations I can reasonably imagine:

  • there is still racism, and/or classism
  • past racism has effects which linger several generations
  • minorities haven’t seized the opportunities given to them

To me, the last one smacks of the same “minorities are lazy” assertion  that has always existed in this country (and, in fact, is the etymology of the slur “nigger”).     If we, as a culture, maintained that people were lazy as slaves, and then were proven wrong; and then maintained that people were lazy under apartheid, and then were proven wrong; then why oh why would we continue to make the same argument?    I’m not even sure how you can rationally argue that an entire population of people are lazy.   Clearly, even if I concede that a whole group of people are lazy (which I don’t) then there should be some *reason* why they are lazy.    And if not, then you must be arguing genetics — which is the height of 19th century pseudo-science-style racism.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who thinks that this country isn’t racist are themselves racist.    What I’m saying is that I don’t think they’ve really thought through their position.     I’m not sure how you can start with the idea that this country isn’t racist and end with any assumptions that are good; but I’d love to hear from someone who disagrees.

The problem of the Black Middle class

One of the great achievements of the last forty years in race relations in this country has been the formation of a strong and present Black middle class.     People like my mother blazed a trail, working their way up from poor rural Michigan farms, into the halls of medical school and onward to high paying government research jobs.    As a result subsequent generations have produced people like Obama and myself:

  • many more of us openly mixed race then in previous generations
  • we didn’t grow up in impoverished situations
  • we’ve attended the best schools and had solidly successful careers from the beginning
  • we have been raised mostly as minorities in a white context, rather than struggling up from segregated ghettoized neighborhoods

In cities with high concentrations of Black people (Atlanta, New York, and so forth) you’re even seeing the formation of entire Black middle class communities.     This, in and of itself, is a great thing.    But it requires that we, as Americans, now revise our definition of what it means to be Black and to add a lot more shading to our goals as a society.    Basically, I think that we need to start taking apart the assumption that poor Black people are representative of the Black community on a whole — in the past this was largely true, but it’s increasingly less so.

The assumption that there is one “Black community” leads the mainstream white culture to use the success of Black middle class people to argue or prove that there is no longer a problem with race relations in this country.    In reality the situation is still extremely dire for poor Blacks.    And in this way, I think, the Black community is quickly becoming more and more like the white community.

Poor white people have a very hard time.    All you have to do is watch an hour or two of the E! channel and you’ll see some ass or another making fun of “white trash” or “blue states” or some other term used to talk about poor whites in some way or another.     The idea that this kind of validation of bigotry against the poor may become the norm against Black people as well makes me ill to my stomach.    Not only do I think that we, as a society, have largely turned our backs on poor White people, but the proportion of poor Blacks compared to the Black community is much much higher than the proportion of poor Whites to the the White community on a whole.

I think that we’ve made a lot of progress on the race-relations front.  But I think that the problems we have remaining hit on deeper issues that we have in this country regarding class.    The intersection between racism and classism is a nasty place to be, but unfortunately, that’s where we are.    As a middle class Black guy, I really hope that we can avert people in my position being used as ammunition against the working class Black folk continue to suffer in a very oppressive society.

Forty years after MLK’s assassination are we closer to the dream?

Chasing the dream (via MSN)

I’ve found the media coverage of this anniversary to be extremely interesting — and for once I’m not angered by the media to the point of speechlessness.    This is exactly the kind of discourse that I think our nation needs, and I found the article to be wonderfully balanced in that it presented arguments that we have achieved the dream, as well as arguments that we have not — often juxtaposing arguments within the same field, such as comparing perhaps racially equal housing policy with perhaps biased behavior on the part of real estate agents.

Since Obama’s speech, I’ve been trying to be conscientiously more open-minded to the point of view that there’s no longer racism in our society.   I completely reject the idea, but I think that the conversation about it is critically important to our society.    And in order to have that conversation, the people on my side of the argument have to be able to have a rational discourse without resorting to name-calling and without estranging and polarizing people who merely disagree.   MLK was a unifier and his appeal was universal.    He wouldn’t have gotten much done otherwise — ultimately the civil rights movement was won through votes cast by white politicians to enact civil rights legislation.

As someone who has felt a lot of racism, I can only imagine how angry the average dark-skinned black person is.    But I do believe that a lot of racism comes out of ignorance about how hard it is to be Black (or Hispanic, or a woman, or whatever) moreso than real malice.   Sure, the malice exists.   But it’s important I think to distinguish between people who are well-intentioned and people who aren’t.   We should be able to have the kinds of conversations which are kicked off by that MSN article with the well-intentioned bunch who simply happen to disagree with us, and that’s definitely something that I have to be a little bit better about.