First, let me begin by explaining why I am writing this post. I am a member of a book club with some friends that I really enjoy getting together with and discussing books that we have chosen to read. In October I was hosting that month’s meeting on a book called the Book Thief. It’s actually a WWII novel (which I loved, as a side-note) and during one part of the discussion the question was posed by someone asking the group if we felt racism was still an issue today. Fair question. I ignorantly assumed that everyone would agree in the affirmative that it is, but was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. Everyone comes with their own experiences and different points of view, which I can respect…but I became surprised with how uncomfortable I became hearing people say that they just didn’t think it was an issue in our country anymore, or that at least things are so much better than 150 years ago. For a blond haired, little white girl I was surprised to note the emotions brewing within me during this topic and I tried to not say anything too emotionally charged. I expressed my opinion and others politely disagreed. I felt that things were amiable, as they should be, and we moved on. I couldn’t even tell you now which ladies expressed which opinions. Unfortunately, the words from that conversation have bounced around in my head for the last 2+ months nagging at me. Then the other day I came across this article and it hit a little too close to home:
I’ll summarize…A white mother was flying on an airplane with her adopted black (19 month old) toddler. The baby began to scream during the planes descent due to pressure in his ears. The man sitting next to the woman told the mother twice to "shut that (N-word) baby up" and then slapped the baby across the face. Now, I will concede that the man was going through extenuating circumstances with a terminally ill child and I feel for him for that…I could even dismiss some level of him losing his temper due to those circumstances if it weren’t for him laying his hand on the child and for the racial slurs involved. While I do not pretend to know how I would respond to the kind of stress this man was under, I can guarantee that it would not involve racial slurs. The fact that this man resorted to those kind of thoughts and words under emotional stress still shows me that those were part of his deeply rooted mindset and outlook, whether he normally expressed them out loud or not.
This story would have angered me regardless of the make-up of this child’s family, but perhaps it hit even closer to home that this was an interracial adoption, as we are trying so hard to pursue ours. Add on top of that me having just barely finished a civil war novel called 'Candle in the Darkness' (by Jane Austin) and all those feelings and thoughts that I’ve had over the last couple months needed an outlet. There was one part of that novel where a girl from the south who was a sympathizer for the slaves moved to the North. During one conversation she had she pointed out to an active abolitionist (white) reverend that while she believed in freedom for the slaves, that the prejudice and discrimination she saw in the North toward the free black people there wasn’t really that different in concept.
So, all that got me thinking back to the conversation at our book club where people were talking about “how much better things are now” for blacks. This quote perfectly summarizes my opinion on that subject:
“I truly believe “Are things better?” is one of the most useless questions in a discussion about racism. It’s another in a repertoire of rhetorical tricks we use in this country to avoid the hard work of addressing racism in its modern form. By reframing the conversation around how much progress has been made, we further the false narrative that racism is a problem that belongs to history. While we pat ourselves on the back for not being as horrible as we once were, we allow racism to become further entrenched in every aspect of American life.”
The full blog post that I pulled that quote from can be found here. It’s worth a read, but here is where I give my blanket apology for some of the language contained in a couple of the links I’m going to provide. Obviously, the news stories provided have clean language, but some of the opinion pieces (and on such an emotionally charged subject) like this one do contain language so…if that offends you then I guess don’t read those! :): http://www.thenation.com/blog/177330/yes-america-has-gotten-better-about-racism-it-really-doesnt-matter#
I do believe there is wisdom in celebrating heroes in the civil rights movement and recognizing progress, but I also agree with the author of the previous quote that often people (perhaps sometimes unknowingly) hide behind the guise of progress in order to face current problems of racism today. And mitigating those modern problems is, in my opinion, offensive to those that have to face them.
Another term that really irks me is when people claim with pride to be “color blind”. I do not see that as a positive end goal to achieve. I believe the diversity in our races and ethnicities should be recognized and celebrated, not ignored. In comparison, I am proud of being a woman and while I do want respect and equal opportunities as a woman, I do not want to be viewed as a genderless entity. Similarly, I do not believe that most people of color want to be viewed as colorless. Rather, I believe their race is part of who they are but shouldn’t define their abilities and opportunities or the respect they receive.
"Being 'color blind' has somehow become an excuse for being blind to racism. It has become a way for white Americans to discount the very much present racist experiences of persons of color in this country.
That quote is from a great article titled, "I'm a White Kid from Texas, and I can tell you: Racism is Still a Thing" Well said.
The following video that accompanies this article about Forest Whitaker being accused of shoplifting is well spoken. There are several parts I like, but especially the part where Etan Thomas says that he doesn’t want people to look at him and “see a blank space” (being so called color-blind), that he is a black man and proud to be…but that there needs to be respect.
On to some examples. I could start a very long list of racial profiling by the police. Now this isn’t meant to be an anti-police statement, but it shows that the prejudice and racism still alive in our country carries over into our police force, often with deadly consequences. Two huge examples of this both occurred in the U.S. during my time living in Germany as a missionary for my church. Not only was I abroad, but I did not have access to television, internet or newspapers. So, I learned of the tragic stories of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond later. They were both victims of wrongful shootings by undercover police officers. Both men were unarmed and wrongfully accused. Amadou was a recent immigrant from West Africa here pursuing the American dream and sending most of his wages as a street peddler home to Africa. He was shot 41 times in front of his own apartment as he reached for his wallet to identify himself when approached by undercover cops who thought he was a wanted man. 41 shots, people.
If 13 years ago isn’t recent enough for you, I can give you one from just 4 months ago…in North Carolina 24 year old Jonathan Ferrell was driving early in the morning and was in a severe car accident, he escaped and ran to a nearby home for help, banging on the door. The woman didn’t know him and called 911. When Jonathan soon saw responding officers he ran to them for help and was subsequently tasered and then shot dead. By the people whose job it was to protect and serve him. Of course Jonathan was unarmed.
You want one not police related? Ok, last September in Florida a 17 year old boy (Jordan Davis) was playing loud music with 3 other friends at a gas station. He was approached by a white, middle aged man who demanded that they turned down their music and like most teenage boys when talked to that way an argument ensued…but this was followed by this man pulling his gun and shooting inside their vehicle 9 times and killing one of the boys. And, yes, they were all unarmed. His racist ignorance continues in multiple letters that he has written from prison – a few of them are quoted in this article:http://thegrio.com/2013/10/18/jordan-davis-shooter-writes-shockingly-racist-letters-from-jail/
I could of course continue with examples, and while all of the victims deserve to have their names remembered, my point in sharing these is just to show a few of the examples (albeit extreme ones) of racism that still are part of our society today.
As a white girl growing up in a predominantly white town, I don’t pretend to be able to look at things from the perspective that someone with black skin would…but that is exactly what I have been trying to do more over the last few years as we have pursued our daughter's adoption and therefore becoming a multi-racial family.
Let me be very clear, we are NOT pursuing this adoption with some sort of savior’s complex, or because we feel it is our duty, or to make up for “white guilt”. We aren’t pursuing this adoption in any way BECAUSE our daughter will be black, but we believe that all children everywhere deserve a home and a family and since our journey at this time has guided us to Africa and we know our daughter will be black we feel it our duty to try as best we can to try and view the world from her eyes and see how she will experience things.
While her skin color (and the culture she came from) won’t define her, it will be a part of what will make up the beautiful person that she is and we plan to celebrate that. Also, just because we will see her, accept her, and love her for who she is (and we believe the majority of people in our community will also) it doesn’t mean that she won’t encounter racism during her life. She will. And to ignore that because it is uncomfortable or because we don’t personally have those views only does her a disservice. If she is able to predominantly escape the hateful, scorning side of racism for most of her life we will be grateful…but even at that there are small things that we as white people tend to not notice through our lens of looking at the world. For a lighter example of this, please watch this video (by Micah Bournes) that touches on the humor of what is “normal” by giving an example from a label on a hair product. Seriously, watch this clip:
So, I mean no disrespect to my fellow book club ladies that I love spending time with and getting to know. And while one of the things I like at a book club is lively conversation and even differing opinions, I tend to feel a little bit of disappointment when I hear some of them say that they don’t believe racism is a problem anymore in America. While I am pleased to surround myself with people that aren’t bigots themselves, it saddens me to hear that people aren’t aware that there is still racism in our country. Unfortunately, there simply is. It comes in the form of hate, violence, stereotypes, being snubbed, and sometimes just ignorance. Sometimes people are outspoken about their racial views, and sometimes they cowardly express them anonymously through various online sources. For example, take a look at this seemingly harmless picture of a daddy getting his daughter ready in the morning and read what some of the responses were when he posted it online:
(The dad’s regular blog that he normally keeps is at http://daddydoinwork.com/)
Raising up my voice that racism indeed exists is only a small part of the ongoing effort to eliminate racism, and I am sure that I will continue over the years to become aware of more and more ways to view the world through a colored lens...whether that has to do with the way my shampoo is labeled, or my crayons are labeled...
...my hope is that I will welcome those sometimes uncomfortable realizations that I had perhaps not before seen. I also hope that people will be willing to recognize that just because you don't experience it yourself, or perhaps because it's simply uncomfortable to admit, that racism actually is unfortunately still thriving. Yes even in the good ol' U.S. of A.