Monday, July 26, 2010

A Complicated Issue With No Simple Solution

I had a good vacation but I made one mistake. I watched too much news. I got to see and read too much coverage about the Shirley Sherrod, NAACP, Tea Party and Fox News fiasco. It was hard to watch that stuff. It seemed like everyone except Mrs. Sherrod wasn’t thinking clearly. After the health care debate got out of hand I have been able to deal with these racial issues because I know three things. 1. The president’s administration won’t have your back when the drama starts. They don't want any parts of the race debate. 2. Organizations like the NAACP have watered down the issue of race to the point where it’s become limited to name calling and hurt feelings. That doesn't take away anything these groups have done in the past. I respect and honor that but fighting racism in these days and times is much more layered than just someone saying the N word and we have trouble dealing with it. 3. What Fox news is doing is way more about brainwashing white people than it is about me. When we play along we just help the process.

The saddest part about things like this is the way people keep trying to put the issue of race into one box. It’s either has to be all the way one way or the other. In 2010 race is a complicated thing. There are so many ways you can talk the situation that it’s almost impossible to come to a clear conclusion about anything. My opinion changes from situation to situation. I’m much more serious about the systematic things like education and the justice system. I’m much less affected by the name calling and stereotypical things. Only people willing to be opened minded should even attempt to discuss it openly. There are so many other things to take into account than just skin color. There’s education, geographic location, economics and all kinds of other factors. A lot of the issue has to do with life experiences. That actually makes racism more confusing because people can ignore personal experiences in favor of generalizations. We could be living in a country where no two people have the same exact views on race unless they are too dumb to think for themselves and just follow what someone else tells them.

I can only speak for myself. The best way I could describe my attitude about race is that I have a necessary acceptance of a certain amount of superficial racism. I’m sad to admit that but it’s true. Too many white people have done things for me in my life to paint them all with a broad brush. It would be unfair and dishonest to sit here and tell you that I think all white people are trying to hold me back. I couldn't look those folks in the face again if I did that. Besides, I was raised to believe that I could make any person respect me if I carried myself the right way and that’s been true 95% of the time no matter what race the other person is. At the same time I listen to talk radio, I read blogs and internet comments. I know that there is a section of the population that is judging me based on something they heard on the news or watched on BET. I realize that no matter how well I treat my kids, or how hard I work, there will always be someone that looks at me as inferior.

When me and my friends go to a nice restaurant or Best Buy there’s going to be someone in there thinking to themselves that their money is paying for my steak or buying my new television. I can’t do anything to change their minds even if I showed them my check stub and made them realize I make more than they do. That’s their problem and not mine. Why should I be miserable and let them mess up the taste of my steak because of their closed minds? The funny part is that the person doing it is probably telling it to his son and they are both wearing Reggie Bush jerseys. My main focus is my own actions and making sure that the next generation has even better opportunities than I have. That’s the way to move past all of this in my opinion. We just have to work and educate ourselves through it because talking isn’t working.

Some of the people who read this won’t agree with me. Then there will be some others that wonder why I am being so lenient on the white man. Others will read it and say I am lying and can’t wait for the next FEMA check like the rest of the blacks from New Orleans. I could respond to all those people all at once and tell them to get together to kiss my ass but then we would be right back where we started from and that’s exactly what’s happening now. That’s why we need to start ignoring some of these things in the media if they are not going to deal with it seriously.

8 comments:

sussah said...

Hi Cliff, thanks for your thoughtful writing. My reaction when watching how Shirley Sherrod handled this situation was, I hope if I'm ever being grilled on the spotlight like that, that I'll be that plain and clear in giving good answers. I was glad that the normal mainstream media did point out that she had been taken completely out of context. If you think about the other prejudices in our culture, gender, sexual preference, IQ, class, etc., the changes have not come easy there either. We're supposed to give each other a break, but people are too fearful of something being denied to them on the basis of somebody else getting the respect they deserve. sp

Beauty Jackson said...

Once, matters of race were clear: you can not drink here; you can not sit there. Now, as you mentioned, I find them a bit more contextual. It's funny that the entire Sherrod debacle was as simple as a matter of context.

The thing about Fox News is, it doesn't cater to moderate opinions that it wants to sway. Fox News caters to staunch conservatives who "want their country back." Jumping when it says how high will accomplish nothing - unless your plan is to feed the beast.

I supported the brother, and I think he can still accomplish good things, but I never expected him to put on a dashiki when revolution breaks out. He's not just the President of Black America, so I can't expect him to.

But here is where his inexperience shows. Frankly, we all should have seen this coming.

K. said...

I recommend this brief essay by Orlando Patterson. It gets at much of what Cliff addresses, and contains a clue as to why President Obama treads lightly.

Cliff, your forbearance is incredible. That thought of an American citizen -- or anyone living here -- having to have a necessary acceptance of even superficial racism doesn't surprise me, but it still depresses me.

Not So Old Soldier said...

Cliff this is well written and well explained. The whole episode was not a surprise for me. Sad to say, but I've come to expect disapointment on this issue. Until we are ready to be honest and respectful about our race issues I don't know how good it can be for the next generation. After all, we pass a lot on to our kids. I'm hopeful for the future, but at some point we in this country have to stop putting things off and hoping for a better future.

Clifton said...

When you gonna get back to blogging FM?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to start calling you Wise Cliff. Wish more people read your work/play. If you lived in certain other cities, you could shop in Best Buy with no one noticing you. But you wouldn't be in New Orleans. Sherrod's response was outstanding, and the job the Administration offered her is a no-win job. That's an Ag tradition. No one should watch Fox news. Watching The Simpsons is OK, though.

Paul D. Fernhout said...

Here are some thoughts from a multi-ethnic research institute on how to productively talk about racial issues in the USA:
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: Talking About Race

Here are some thoughts by Thandeka, an African-American UU theologian about how not to talk about racial issues in the USA (and, like the point Shirley Sherrod made at the end of her talk, she suggests class remains a huge problem in the USA that needs to be addressed, because as she says, the USA does not work too well for most white folks either, even if it may work somewhat better than for most non-white folks):
Why Anti-Racism Will Fail

Howard Zinn (light-skinned) in the last chapter of A People's History of the United States makes much the same point; from: The Coming Revolt of the Guards: "How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scarce by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred - by economic inequity - faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices."

Here are some thoughts by a white psychiatrist (John Cannell) who studies vitamin D deficiency on what he calls a "Tragic Injustice" of political correctness combined with discrimination leading to a failure for everyone to take some African-American health issues more seriously and do more research on those issues sooner -- issues that are now effecting everyone as we all spend more times indoors and have been told to fear the sun:
Autism and The Black Community: A Tragic Injustice

That point is echoed by this Black health researcher (Curtis Duncan) from a different direction: Why Michelle Obama is More Likely to Die From Breast Cancer than Hilary Clinton.

So, maybe some more pieces of the puzzle from several different directions... Mostly agreeing regardless of skin color (why I noted it).

From my own thinking on this, I'd wonder if there are two broad categories of people who hold problematical views on some subject like racism (or any other -ism, see "Rankism") -- those who are ignorant/misinformed and those who are closedminded? Ignorance and misinformation can perhaps often be dealt with relatively straightforwardly by education and experience; closed-mindedness is a whole different problem and may take a much broader approach to help such people grow, because some people are just not open to new ideas on a subject. Unfortunately, we have a mainstream compulsory school system that tends to beat curiosity out of most people at an early age (as shown in a recent documentary "The War on Kids"). And then, as Thandeka, Shirley Sherrod, and Howard Zinn all said, our socio-economic system then sets groups of people against each other in different ways once they are out of school. Given that, it's really a tribute to human nature we have made as much progress in so many areas as we have, even if we have a lot further to go.

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