Thursday, December 10, 2009

Race in America: D responding to J responding to D

Wherein D owns what she says, smooths D-Fave J's ruffled feathers, and elaborates, possibly inciting deeper discussion or perhaps further division.
Wow. I'm kind of surprised to read this from you at this point, D.
Ok, I'm just gonna say this. This sort sounds like I'm your pet project and I backslid or something. Am I supposed to be sorry for my comments? You should know by now that there is almost always deeper thinking behind my ideas. Rather than shame or disappoint one another, let's get right to them.

There are a lot of issues at play here and perhaps the best way to tackle this is to deconstruct them.

Tiger Woods. All the hullabaloo surrounding Tiger Woods seems to be an issue of racial politics. Who owns celebrities? Can we share ownership of mixed race people? Am I allowed to claim Obama as one of my own? I am not ignorant of the "one drop" rule, nor do I have any problem with the black community using it as their own barometer of those they wish to claim. However, high achieving people are claimed by virtually everyone. Case in point: Michael Jordan. He is claimed by his family, his hometown, his high school, his college, his teammates, fans of his sports team, North Carolina, Illinois, Chicago, his racial community, his nation, just about every fucking person everywhere. Why? Because we ALL want to align ourselves with uber talented, insanely spectacular people. Who owns Michael Jordan? No one. Son of a bitch has more money than Oprah. Well, he did until he got divorced.

I will concede that a lot of what the field negro says, he says to be provocative and to initiate discussion. So when he says that Tiger Woods is just getting his come-uppance for rubbing elbows with the massah and forgetting about his blackness, I take it as tongue in cheek. But the field spends an extraordinary amount of blogspace advancing the idea that high-achieving black professionals fool themselves into thinking they are powerful. That the black power elite are neither powerful nor elite because the real white power elite can jack-slap them back out to the fields the first time they forget their place. He usually suggests this idea after a powerful black person has fucked up royally. Although I have learned a great deal from the field and respect him immensely, I think this idea (if indeed he actually believes it) is preposterously naive. He violates common rules of logic when he applies his pet theory not to the broader community of high-achieving black professionals, but only to those who have fallen from grace. It is easy to say Tiger's fall is the result of the white man's displeasure with the n****r after the black man has fucked half a dozen women outside of his dream marriage, lost a variety of contracts with morals clauses, and embarrassed himself in public.

But can we please concede that Tiger Woods is NOT subject to the same prejudices, indignities and pressures as the rest of the community of color? He's fucking fantastically rich! We're not talking Bernie Mac rich or Eddie Murphy rich. We're talking audience with the President rich. We're talking Michael Jordan rich.

I would remind the field of Obama's comment on David Letterman regarding racial backlash. Do you think for one minute that TIGER WOODS the GOLFER forgot that he wasn't white? Do you think for one minute that anyone in his professional life has ever let him forget that he is the great black golfer? That he is the barrier breaker? That he is a role model for a new generation of black youth? Speaking for myself, I celebrate the Tiger Woodses and the Michael Jordans of the world for their incredible talent and not for their color. Maybe I have the luxury to ignore their race, but I have no less right to them than you do.

African American as a race. I will absolutely allow that the shifting vernacular is not a plot to piss me off. I believe, as you do, that changing terminology is a result of an evolving sense of community. I also would like to point out that I was never irritated by this, simply pointing out that it had changed and that the term isn't reflective of racial composition. I know a number of Caucasian people from Mexico who receive whatever special considerations are given to those who are considered Hispanic by virtue of ambiguous racial definitions. Further, I was pointing out the general wackiness of a blogger's self-identified nitpicking about race when she didn't actually identify by race. Capishe?

And now, for something completely different.
Race, and culture, are impossible to precisely define, but I would definitely say there is a "pole" around which the African-American/black culture centers, and a "pole" for majoritarian culture, primarily the culture of those who don't necessarily have to give explicit thought to race.
I would suggest that white people are forbidden from giving explicit thought to race--at least since the 1960s. Sure, as a group, white America has a lot to make up for after 150 years of cross-burnings, lynchings, fire bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, water hosing of freedom marchers, George Wallace attempting to prevent the integration of the U of Alabama, and promotion testing that favors white applicants. I am the first to admit that white America showed its ass. But that doesn't mean we should have to give up our voice entirely. If anyone, anywhere tries to stand up and say something about the white race these days, they are labeled a Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist as a matter of course. Now..I'm not one for patting white American on the back for merely easing up on the pressure it places on the back of the neck of most minority communities. However, I do think that the "struggle for racial equality" doesn't have to always be a "struggle". I think that there are plenty of white Americans willing to talk to other white Americans about race....about the impact and legacy of our (the collective "we" here--referring to majority culture) culture on others. About our blindness to the lingering vestiges of racism. About our improbably but widespread acceptance that the playing field is level, and can be leveled without making anything harder or more competitive for white Americans. I can't tell you the number of young men I know who, upon entering the workforce and understanding that really would have to compete with everyone made some wistful comment about how much easier things were for their fathers. And those comments were full of a scarcely hidden anger. White America hasn't thought these things through--nor had I until we started having or substantive discussions on race here, J. I am willing to act as ambassador for racial equality, but to be perfectly honest, I could use a hand up here and not a slap on the wrist.

I don't know everything. I don't know what to say sometimes. I don't have the depth of understanding and sometimes lack the vernacular to put it in the words that will sink and stick with white folks. But I am trying.

My culture is not the caricature that Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock present to great comedic effect. White America is not Buffy and Chip upset because their tee-time was pushed back half an hour because Obama's motorcade was going through town. Sure, the comedy is in the way white people are ignorant to their incredible privilege and have wackaloon ideas about what it means to be put out, but when this is the pole that I have to swing from, how can I be allowed to have a real voice in the race discussion? It has been my experience (and here I mean ME as an individual) that I am not allowed, outside of our conversations, to be taken seriously in any meaningful public discussion about race. Unless, of course, I concede to the default POC position. And in some ways, J, isn't that what your response to me tried to get me to do?
That is to say, and I'm trying not to be shrill here, but honey, the terms black, Negro, Colored, African American, Afro-American, Black-American and others are not about you. We're not shifting around to annoy you (the bulk you--majoritarian culture), we're shifting around because we want a term that will do the impossible.
Did you just call me "honey"? :p

So it wasn't about whether the shifting vernacular chosen by this community or that irritates me. In fact it doesn't. Race is a shifting construct and I don't give a rat's ass what anyone calls themselves. I'm actually not all that fond of the term "white". I think it is becoming an epithet in itself. Neither do I have any sense of community coming out of the term European American. It just seems alien to me. And not to go all Obama on your ass, but isn't there an American culture? We are not as divided as our skin color would suggest. I don't think by leaving my voice and those of the majority culture (and I'm not talking about Rush Limbaugh's voice here either--I'm talking about enlightened white Americans) can we ever hope to truly carve a post-racial America.

Do I compare the hostility of the minority culture over real and ongoing racism with my "ideological hostility of the oppressors"? No. But when someone suggests that rude behavior becomes a crime when I do it, but doesn't when you do it, I have to wonder whether the community of color wants to have a meaningful discussion about race or wants revenge. Just as there is a die-hard white racist faction out there (*cough* Rush Limbaugh *cough*), there is also the "make whitey pay" faction out there, too. To deny it is to be naive.

By way of segue, there is a crazy professor in our department that regularly terrorizes graduate students by ambushing them regarding language. I heard her verbally berate a colleague's husband for calling a group of us sitting at a table "ladies". Forget that he was offering to "get us ladies something" all she heard was "ladies" and she went OFF on a tirade about how she wasn't a lady, she was a WO-MAN. Same wackjob went off on me because I called her by her first name when we were having a beer. After ripping me a new asshole for 10 minutes, she finally said that it was ok to call her by her first name if we were, you know, having a beer or something, but I shouldn't do that in professional environment. The irony of the fact that we were having a beer when she did this was completely lost on her. I am saying that most white Americans don't want to offend. We want to call people what they wish to be called. No one asks me what I wish to be called. Or my group. We're white. We're supposed to love it. We're white, after all, and every advantage is afforded us automatically.

Here is what I'm saying, J. I am ready to work to level the playing field in every way. I think there are hundreds of thousands of white Americans who feel the same. If they are like me, they don't understand why we're not being allowed to join the fight for racial equality. We are frustrated and tired. My suggestion to everyone is that you don't allow our frustration to allow us to give up on the cause. That would be a mistake.

Oh, and one more thing. I simply do not agree with this statement.

"Let us say, at best, I think you over-estimate the extent to which "People of Color" think/care about what the majority does."

I think "people of color" care a great deal what white America does.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Since when is African-American a race and other thoughts on racial politics

This is perhaps a roundabout away of getting to my point, but I was reading an article by field negro on Tiger Woods today, which led me to a variety of other articles on race. One in particular by Carmen Van Kerckhove, I found particularly perplexing.

Van Kerckhove self-identifies as Chinese and Dutch. Umm. Carmen, dear. Neither of those are races, but nationalities. That Van Kerchkhove would "nitpick" about race when she self-identifies by her ancestors' national origin is just plain wacky. Which brings me to my next odd example of race in America.

I recently was asked to sign a contract which asked for my racial identity. I was perplexed by the selection. The options were:

African American
Native American
Mixed race

Since when did African American get to be a race? That term has only been around for about 20 years! I am 46 years old and I can remember when black people, regardless of nationality, were referred to as Negroes. At some point in the 60s, Negro was thought of as condescending. So then it was Black. Then it became Black American. Now, it's African American. As if all black Americans are of African origin. I'll be honest. There have been times when I have thought that these shifting ideas about what to call POC was merely a way to prevent white Americans from having any sort of voice in the race discussion. As long as you can shout down the majority group by making them feel prejudiced for daring to open their mouths, you own the direction and tenor of the discussion. Bad form, I say.

The black community seems to think that Tiger isn't black enough. At least, that's my take on it. He doesn't date black women. He doesn't seem to want to be "one of them". I don't have any problem with Tiger's behavior. Tiger self-identifies as Cablinasian (Caucasian, Black, American Indian, and Asian). I sort of like it that he hasn't allowed anyone to own him, racially speaking. I think we should let people be what they want to be. If they don't agree with our ideas of race, so be it.

If we are to split hairs, and since this is my blog I will, shouldn't the options more appropriately be:

Mixed-race with primarily Caucasoid features
Mixed-race with primarily Negroid features
Mixed-race with primarily Mongoloid features
Mixed-race with primarily Australoid features
Mixed race without categorical dominance

I'm just saying. I don't know that I have the answer about how best to identify race in the first place. Aren't we all "Out of Africa"? There is no scientifically meaningful way to describe race. Race is, whatever we want it to be. I think I'm going to start self-identifying as mixed race. After all, my ancestors include some colorful people.

Of course, my comments are not meant to belittle the experiences of persons of color who have been actively discriminated against based on racial prejudices. But when I read a recent blog post on Feministing wherein people say that if a minority calls me an epithet, it's just being rude, but if I call a minority an epithet, it's a hate crime, I wonder how f*#@'d up our ideas about race have really become.

It would seem that Tiger Woods, a mixed-race individual, has had several affairs, all with white women. field negro appears to think that white America has given Tiger a wake-up call to the effect that his ass is actually black. I never actually thought of Tiger as black. I thought of him as Asian. I guess this is my prejudice. He looks more Asian than black to me. But it is almost as if we demand that some racial group own him lock, stock, and barrel.

Like Tiger, we are not all black or all white. We are not all white culture or all black culture. I think that the "black experience" in America has been well enough known to me that it has influenced who I am and how I look at myself. Yes, I have had black Americans treat me as though I had a sheet hanging in my closet because I am from Appalachia. Weren't they surprised to learn how far that was from the truth.

We are a human race. Our blood flows into and between us all. I'm not prepared to throw Tiger Woods or anyone else under the bus based on their skin color, racial identity, or sexual proclivities. Tiger is a man. He has to deal with his stupid shit, same as you and I do. I would suggest that race has very little to do with his current issues. Money and fame make everyone colorblind.