I once read a book entitled, Afraid of the Dark: What Whites and Blacks Need to Know About Each Other by Jim Myers and it got me thinking as to why does it have to be so tough to talk about race? Perhaps because most of us think we’re already expert on the subject and know all there is to know on the topic. Most of us are all wrong.
Here’s a passage from Myers:
The Mythological Sports Divide:
high style………………………….low style
That last one is still very true. I read an interview in Sports Illustrated with famed basketball coach John Wooden and he said while he wouldn’t ban the dunk entirely, he does like to see players miss when they dunk.
Again, from Myers:
It is likely, then that white Americans by the millions have never participated in a serious, intense, and honest discussion about race with a black person, because to most white Americans, this is a scary proposition. Most Americans remain wary about it, even if they also believe that blacks and whites should talk more about race.
Whites, in particular, fear that they may say the wrong thing—without intending to do so or knowing what made it wrong (This fear is related to the belief that black people are mysterious and unfathomable; you just can’t figure them out.) And when I ask black people how often they discuss racial issues with whites, most say rarely or never, another measure of the current racial dialogue. As a result, both blacks and whites often hold their tongues in each other’s presence.
For example, we know from polls that 57 percent of whites believe that “many” or “almost all” black people do not like white people—one good reason why whites might want to avoid discussions. But whites have other reservations, too. They expect the discussion will inevitably focus on black accusations against whites—and whites will be forced to defend the actions of slave owners and segregationists or admit some manner of defeat or inner failings.
Many whites look upon discussions about race as situations where whites cannot fare well, because whites imagine that black people have all the critical advantages:
* Blacks have better arguments, involving obvious wrongs done them in the past.
* Blacks are more practiced at the passionate give-and-take of such discussions.
Part of the problem as I see it is that blacks and whites tend to discuss the same subject differently. Myers refers to Thomas Kochman’s Black and White Styles in Conflict which focuses on the racial differences in discourse.
“If black discussion tends to be loud, animated and passionate and white discussion tends to be calm, ordered and dispassionate, the differences are also in line with stereotypes we have about blacks and whites.”
“For many black Americans, a sense of feeling and conviction is required to convince listeners you are telling the truth and care about what you are saying. But many white Americans prefer calm, reasoned discourse and are uneasy when the discussion gets too heated. As a result, blacks can wonder if whites who try to sound calm and reasonable are sincere. They suspect duplicity; whites don’t seem to be saying anything they really believe in. Meanwhile, whites can worry that blacks who speak with passion are letting their emotions run riot. Maybe they aren’t thinking rationally. Maybe they will turn violent if they don’t get their way.”
According to Kochman, “White culture values the ability of individuals to rein in their impulses. White cultural events do not allow for individually initiated self-assertion or the spontaneous expression of feeling…because white culture requires that individuals check their impulses that come from within, whites become able practitioners of self-restraint. However, this practice has an inhibiting effect on their ability to be spontaneously self-assertive. Consequently whites find themselves at a disadvantage when engaging in debate with blacks.”
“Even when whites are a majority in the room, they believe that one powerful black speaker can negate whatever advantages number may bring. And whites are likely to be the majority in the room, a reality that plays out in most integrated situations whites encounter. And this, in turn gives blacks to be wary about joining in a discussion about race, for they can expect to be outnumbered by whites.”
“Outnumbered as they usually are, some black participants will wonder if it is wise to speak openly in a integrated discussion about race. Some blacks will decide that silence is the best option, on the theory that you never know how whites will react. Other blacks will choose their words carefully, opting not to say what they might have said in black surroundings.”
I emphasize that last part, because just as Whites often feel muzzled when they speak about race, so too do Blacks. Personally, I’m not shy about saying what I think whether it’s popular or not. I don’t see it as my job in life to make White people feel relaxed about talkin’ bout how they really feel. But then I don’t shy away from confrontation and I know mine are not widely shared sentiments. Most folks–Black, White and otherwise, would prefer to choke back what they really think until they’re certain they’re among friendly settings.
With the election of Barack Obama apparently a lot of people feel free to finally unload all their racist fears and paranoia they’ve been toting around. The twisted part is if anyone says, “Hey, you’re being racist,” their reply is to shout you’re trying to muzzle them with poltical correctness and suggesting any criticism of President Obama is racist.
I am far more distressed by the name-calling and the cartoons, and the death threats and the gun-toting and the disrespect that’s nodded and winked at as “a few extreme elements” at the tea parties and town halls than I am about whiny right-wingers or Keith Olbermann babbling about how there is no decency on the Right because conservatives won’t distance themselves from the radical, racist fringe.
I don’t know where ANYONE has said any or all criticism of President Obama has a underlying racial/racist subtext. I sure haven’t said anything that damn stupid. I criticize Obama myself and I don’t think I’m racist against the White portion of his DNA.
But I’m wary when racism is totally taken off the table as a prime motivation in the angry opposition to the president. Jimmy Carter may have used too broad a brush, but too many conservatives are whitewashing the bigots clustered among them and giving them political cover.
There is no “post-racial America.” The whole Gates/Crowley affair should have aptly demonstrated that was pure fiction. There’s just us. The 50 Divided States of America still fussin’ and fightin’ over the enduring problem of race after all these years.
There is racism involved in the opposition to Obama. That IS a fact. There have been too many death threats, unfunny cartoons, bad jokes, insulting images, guns brandished, names called and ignorant insults to be written out as just isolated incidents by a few nuts and bigots.
There are legitimate concerns to be raised about Obama and the Democrats based upon differences on policy issues. That doesn’t begin to get to the essence of what’s going on in the heads of these folks that are standing up at town halls and marching at tea parties weeping and wailing, “I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!”
If you’re a Beck or Dobbs or Limbaugh it’s always two minutes to midnight and you’ve just awoken to hear footsteps creeping up the steps and the doorknob to your bedroom is slowly turning. These wealthy and comfortable men make their wealth and stay comfortable by scaring the hell out of people too lazy or stupid to think for themselves. They tell them it’s nothing that they’ve done wrong (except not vote Republican), but while they were sleeping “the socialists” took over and now they want to take your money to give to ACORN and illegal immigrants bleeding all over the floors of emergency rooms.
There have always been demagogues who have found receptive audiences when they tell them it’s not their fault their life sucks. It’s the fault of “those people” who don’t think like we do, don’t believe in what we believe in and don’t listen to rich guys like me who tell you how screwed up things are now.
Ever since the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the method employed to shut down discussions of race is “playing the race card” and it gets pulled by conservatives when they go too far in racial discussions.
Well, the Right pulls a race card all their own and they do it not to enhance debates about race, but to stifle it.
So I’ll make it plain: everyone opposed to the president is not a racist.
But there are racists among those opposed to the president.
Can race be discussed sanely? Sure. Let’s grab a beer, shoot the shit and own up how screwed up we all are and how big our racial blind spots still are. Here in this vast, impersonal place all I’m seeing is people trotting out their “racial resume” as if to say, “See, I’M not prejudiced.”
Still, it doesn’t mean all that much if you’re telling your kids to be colorblind. That’s great, but if you tell them that at bedtime and by the light of day you’re providing aid and comfort to racists, papering over the gap between how you THINK race is lived and how it IS lived and believe being silent about the vast differences in how people travel along the color line in America, you’re not part of the solution. You’re only perpetuating and prolonging the problem.