Wednesday, May 17, 2006

as defined by me

*Below is my submission to the Erase Racism Blog Carnival. This carnival's description is "A carnival dedicated to ending racism, White Supremacy and unearned privilege". I have chosen to answer the question "What is racism?".*

It is ugly.
It is hurtful.
It is a learned behavior.
It is about power.
It is borne out of ignorance.
It creates fear.
It creates stereotypes.

It is real.

I experience most often in the form of ignorance. Ignorance in that 85% of the people that I come into contact with on a daily basis have never had a relationship of any kind with any person of color. Many claim “colorblindness”. This (absurd) label supposedly protects them from being labeled racist, but it also helps them maintain their ignorance. This colorblind foolishness, along with a heaping helping of political correctness, leads to the painful “description game” that we’ve all witnessed a time or two.

colorblind person: I was at Starbucks the other day & I saw that lady from HR.
Person Of Color: Which one?
cbp: Oh you know, um…*continues to hem/haw*
POC: You mean Brenda?
cbp: No, the other lady…*more stuttering*
POC: Sarah?
cbp: *frustrated*…No! You know, um…
POC: Well, what does she look like?
cbp: She has brown hair, not too tall, not too short, really pretty smile…
POC: *confused* The black lady? Carol??
cbp: *embarrassed* Um…yeah. Carol.

Obviously this is a silly example of colorblindness translating into an inability to acknowledge a person of color as a person of color. But really, every single person who lays eyes on me can see that I am a black woman. No “PC Points” are earned by pretending not to notice. Omitting my blackness from a description of me tells me that my heritage has no value; that my race is irrelevant; that my culture is not significant.

It is great to recognize that we are all human beings. It is disrespectful not to recognize our differences. It is great to teach children that no one person (or race or religious belief or gender or sexual preference) is better than any other. We do our children a disservice when we don’t teach them to learn all that they can about other people and to respect what makes them unique.

I have met many people who choose to remain ignorant about matters of race. Maybe they are uncomfortable talking about it. Perhaps they don’t think it’s important. Could be they watched a few music videos and UPN sitcoms and don’t need to “gather any more data”, thank you very much. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I evaluate a relationship to determine if it’s a friendship or not, one of the most important questions I ask is, “Does this person take an interest in me and in matters that are of interest to me?”

This reminds me of an observation I made a few years back. I was at work, the only black person employed in a position for which a bachelor’s degree was required, and needless to say, the only person of color in the room. It was a closed door thing, we were doing some mindless thing and the mood was very laid back & casual. The conversation somehow moved to hair or something and one young lady said, “yeah, I’ve just gotta know…I hope this is ok to ask you, but I’ve really been wondering…why in the world do you wear that plastic thing on your head when it rains?” (I am all about having an emergency rainscarf or curl bag on me just in case!)

Were it not for the sound of my uproarious laughter, you could have heard a pin drop. The other 2 people in the room looked like she had just punched me and they were waiting for me to knock her out! I know DAMN WELL neither of them knew answer to her question, but they sat there looking like she had just broken some bigtime PC rule by asking. This was one of those times when I said to myself, “Self, this gal is someone I can deal with honestly without censoring myself or wondering what kind of bag she’s coming out of.”

And to this day, she is a really good friend. She never hesitates to get knee deep in whatever is happening with me, whether it has racial under/overtones or not. I mean let's face it, how in the world was she supposed to know what will happen to my hair if I let it get wet? She sure wasn't going to find out by watching TV or reading magazines (unless she subscribes to Essence or Black Hair). We talked for hours and hours and hours after she came to see my performance in Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”. When she doesn't know something, she asks. Remaining ignorant is not acceptable to her. She is a critical thinker so she knows that I don’t/can’t represent all black people. But she also respects me enough to know that our cultural differences are not only real, but they are valid.

Certainly I know that these 2 examples of colorblind foolishness & politically correct dumbassery are not at all examples of overt racism. Not at all. But I know for sure that the concepts on which these behaviors are founded keep racism alive and well.

I suspect that the “I don’t see color, I just see people” attitude has grown in popularity because it’s not cool to seem like a racist. And for some, avoiding being perceived as racist involves, not only resisting the urge to join up with the local chapter of the KKK, but avoiding any conversation that acknowledges race at all. Ignoring, downplaying, trivializing or marginalizing someone’s race (and the skin color, experiences & traditions that help define race for each individual) sounds like racism to me.


Anonymous April said...

Great entry! People "claim" to be color-blind, but how exactly is that supposed to work out? LOL. Thanks for visiting my site too!

5:33 PM  
Blogger Changeseeker said...

Yeah, it's really interesting the way European-Americans are SO concerned about seeming racist and so UNconcerned about being racist, huh? Good post.

BTW, I figured out how to submit to the blog carnival. Thanks for the motivation.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Rachel S said...

Hey there can your submit it to this address

10:38 AM  
Blogger S* said...

Good post. I think a lot can be taught and learned if people weren't so afraid to ask questions. I've long been at a point where I'm not offended or embarrassed by questions because it's better than having people make assumptions or remain ignorant. I've had the "hair conversation" more than the point that one of my good (white) friends now knows how to spot a "good weave" vs. a "jacked up weave"...LOL. Some things you just have to make light of.

11:17 AM  
Blogger ant said...

Excellent post.

I agree with s* in that alot of things can be learned by asking questions.

I don't think alot of people ask questions because they believe television gives them all the answers they need.

Or, because they're afraid of offending others. Thus, they're left to assume things on their own. We all know what that can lead to.

I thank you for the comments on my blog. Very much appreciated!



11:29 AM  
Blogger Damali said...

excellent post. I struggle with these issues myself, mostly as a parent. When my kids were toddlers, i bought them black books and made sure that they were exposed to "Blackness" and "Africanness" etc...but i never told them that they were Black. When they were 6 and 4, they figured it out. It's not that i was ashamed or afraid, i've just always wanted to protect them from a loss of innocence...i've wanted them to hold on to the belief as long as possible that they were no different from anyone else. That we are all equal. Even tho i know it's not true...that as black males, they will quickly learn how the deck is really stacked.

Now they are 10 and 8 and we often talk about race issues...i don't attempt to shield them like i used to but i still feel sad for the hardships they will have to face...for the assumptions people will make about them because they are black males and wear dredlocks. But i will prepare them. I will make sure their minds are sharp and that they are proud, intelligent, strong and courageous Black men. I won't have it any other way.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Piscean Princess said...

I hope my friend (the one who asked about the rainscarf) will forgive me, but I have to share. This is an excerpt of an email she sent after reading this post:

I am so very honored that you mentioned that particular stupidness on my part, but as you said, how would I know . And as always, I learned something from you about this subject . "Omitting my blackness from a description of me tells me that my heritage has no value; that my race is irrelevant; that my culture is not significant." Well that is just so important for people who look like me, who actually worry about offending someone that does not, to realize.

What started as a shameless attempt to get more traffic on my blog has resulted in my good buddy learning something new about people who look like me. Of course, not everyone shares my opinions, but it's always nice to have multiple points of view/ideas, right?

1:59 PM  
Anonymous girlnextdoor said...

Thanks for sharing your friend's email. I love her comment on how she learned something from you in this post. I learned the same thing about you...but not from this post. I learned it from sitting next to you...getting to know you...becoming your friend. The pride you have in your heritage emanates in all you do. I've learned from you that you are not just someone that looks different than me...but that being black is part of the definition of who you are. Anyone that takes the time to get to know you cannot miss this. You should be proud of yourself...teaching people respect & diversity without even realizing you're doing it!

3:32 PM  
Blogger iaintlying said...

Piscean Princess, great post. Continue to call it like you see it because it is, Exactly what it is. I hope your piece is received well at the blog carnival.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Rachel S said...

I needed to say that I really enjoyed this post. One of the central problems with colorblindness is that it is often a lie. People see color. There's nothing wrong with seeing color, it's what you do with it that is important.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Piscean Princess, Great post!

I saw something incredible a few minutes ago. Maybe there is hope. One of our senior personnel (a white guy) was speaking to two of our younger personnel (one black kid and one white kid). He was telling these kids who could best help him with the problem. One of the kids asked what the guy looked like. The senior guy, without batting an eye, said “imagine me if I was black and you have him.” Both kids immediately began to laugh and started asking questions. One of them asked if they were friends and if they could drop his name. The senior personnel said, “yes they were good friends, but if I could have picked anyone for my brother if would have been him.” I don’t think this guy even realized the impact he was having. I cannot explain the look of awe on these kids faces. I swear that they both looked at each other in different light and began to look for commonalties. I know the guy he described and they are an awful lot alike now that I think about it. I have never heard a white person who described someone of a different race as looking like themselves. Reading Piscean Princess post it has really opened up my eyes.

Piscean Princess. I am working at being better person and thanks for the help along the way.

5:11 AM  
Blogger ManNMotion said...

I think it's better to recognize cultural differences rather that try to pretend they don't exist.

5:09 PM  

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