It’s always been hard for me to tell the difference between denial and what used to be known as hope. – Michael Chabon, The Wonder Boys
I’ve written several shitty first drafts on the subject of race and racism in America. I haven’t posted them. I keep asking myself what I have to add to the subject, since I’m a middle class white woman.
The answer, of course, is my own experiences.
One of the most revolutionary moments I’ve experienced is drenched in irony. I was working in a corporation at the time, in human resources, and one of the training materials we used were videos by a guy by the name of Morris Massey, a professor of marketing and sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
His thesis was and is that our values are formed by where we lived and what was going on there when we grew up. Our values are formed by the age of 10 or so. He went on to say that he was born and raised in Waco, Texas, so “of course, I’m a racist.”
That just floored me! A white man admitting to being a racist? I was in my 30s by then and that was the first time I had ever seen a white person admit to being racist.
That has stayed in my mind for 30 years now.
I’ve lived in all-white suburbs and gone to all white schools. I learned about history from textbooks written by white people, taught by white people. Of course I’m a racist.
I could expand this and say that I’m American so of course I’m a racist. I’m not saying this is something to be proud of, you know. I’m saying this because, if we never admit this to ourselves, we will never grow, never learn, and just keep repeating the same stupid mistakes over and over again and I’m bored with the same stupid mistakes. I would like us to make some new ones before we go extinct.
Science is quite clear about race: there is only one, the human race. Modern humans walked out of Africa and skin color, eye shape and color, etc., are evolutionary strategies, nothing more. We are all related to one another and we are all related to most everything here on earth.
But America is particularly fucked up. This country was founded on genocide and built with slavery and we have never, and probably will never, acknowledge that past. It’s been, excuse the pun, whitewashed in our history books. George Washington, the richest man in America, the one who lusted after land and was a large slave owner, was the father of our country. Native Americans called him Town Destroyer. And he was among the enlightened class.
That was just the beginning. It has never ended.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his book, Between the World and Me, notes “My experience in this world has been that the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration. And the word racist, to them, conjures, if not a tobacco spitting oaf, then something just as fantastic – an orc, troll, or gorgon…….There are no racists in America, or at least none that the people who need to be white know personally.”
“Need to be white”…now there’s a phrase that’s made me stop and think. Do I need to be white? Or do I count myself as such because that’s what I’ve been trained to think?
Racism, it strikes me, is a spectrum of beliefs and opinions.
If the tobacco spitting oaf (and the KKK) is on one end of the spectrum, the smooth and likable CEO of any company anywhere might be on the other. These people don’t hate blacks. They just don’t want to live anywhere around them, have their children go to schools with black or brown kids, and only hire them because of those pesky government regulations. They are “the other”. And it is all about comfort level.
Pamela Ramsey Taylor, of Bickmore West Virginia, after the election, posted this on Facebook: “It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House. I’m tired of seeing an Ape in heels.” And Beverly Whaling, the mayor of Clay, WV, posted this: “Just made my day, Pam.”
Both lost their jobs in the shit storm that followed. Both women said exactly what every white person has ever said after something like this…..”I’m not a racist.”
Melania Trump is an illegal immigrant, a woman who has posed nude, who may or may not have worked as a high class call girl, and has had so much plastic surgery that she looks weird. She’s lied about having a college degree. And she plagiarizes.
She is white. The “ape in heels”, who possesses two college degrees and was a wonderful first lady, is not. Michelle Obama, objectively, showed kindness, graciousness, class, but strength, too. If black can’t be admired under any circumstances, isn’t that racism?
Donald Trump’s father was a member of the KKK. He was a slumlord in NYC. What do you think Donald grew up hearing?
And to think I was excited about Barack Obama’s election to the presidency.
I wasn’t so naive to think that racism in America was dead, or even on the run. But I did think it was a huge leap forward, for a country that codified slavery in our Constitution, and counted black men as 3/5th a human being.
I thought we would finally have some real conversations about race and perhaps even become a bit more enlightened.
The backlash to Black Lives Matter tell that tale. It seems to be perfectly legal and okay to murder unarmed black men. Juries refuse to convict cops.
The struggles of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota further illustrate this. None of the police who are protecting the pipeline are racists. It has nothing to do with “the merciless Indian Savages” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and everything to do with enforcing the law, right?
How can it be that we can have racism without racists?
I was born in 1957, so I became aware of the world in 1967-68. A lot was going on then. The Vietnam war predominated, but Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated around that time, as well.
Right around then, I became aware of the Holocaust.
I was waking up to human’s propensity for needing a scapegoat, for needing violence, for exclusion and all of our other less than stellar behaviors. That was not the way I framed it to myself, of course. I believed for decades that people were basically good and that evil existed in only a few.
Live and learn. I’ve done both, and yet, I’m still so surprised, still so stunned that the same shit happens over and over again.
The travel ban and fear and loathing of Muslims….been there, done that. Someone actually asked me (on social media) what was wrong with killing Muslims, since they want to kill us. I responded with common sense: You are more likely to be killed by cancer, an auto accident, or a home grown white guy with an AR-15 than you are by a Muslim.
And I hate religion! Homo sapiens are hardwired to need to tell stories. Religion is just an outgrowth of that. And it’s been used ever since to kill people. It’s strange to defend one set of believers to another set of believers when I think they are all delusional.
Every “ism” is founded in fear.
Today, here in America, it tends to cluster around the Obama’s. People are not rational. It can’t be explained. Objectively, Obama was not the worst president ever. I voted for him the first time and not the second, because I had and have real reservations over drone killing, targeted assassination, and the Patriot Act. Objectively, the ACA came from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, that Mitt Romney used for the Massachusetts miracle. That is one of those stone cold facts. But the reaction to “ObamaCare” is not based upon anything other than race. And simply by reading what republicans say to one another on social media has convinced me beyond doubt that Trump is white backlash. That white hatred is so virulent that they are literally cutting off the country’s nose to spite it for electing a black man.
Slavery was the foundation of western civilization. The slaves changed nationalities, color, religion, sometimes, but slaves did the work so Aristotle and Plato and all those white guys could sit around and think and ask questions. Would the Roman Empire have existed without slavery? Most of us are too damn tired from the fight to survive in this world to do a whole lot of thinking, we’ve just accepted what we saw and heard around us for the first decades of our life. From what I’ve seen of the world in my 60 years, damn few people do much thinking about anything, especially these days. Fewer yet have enough moral courage to examine themselves deeply and find themselves wanting. Fewer still to then make changes.
I have no hope for humanity. That I can be surprised by how awful it is tells me I still have some work to do on the whole denial thing. Apparently, that desire to believe that we are better than our actions is deeply, deeply embedded.