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Race in America Post-Beer: It’s No Longer Black and White

July 30, 2009

Well, thank the hops the date has come and gone.  Police Sergeant Crowley, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., President Barack Obama and surprise special guest Vice President Joe Biden all gathered on the White House lawn for a brew.

If you want to know who drank what, go somewhere else.

If you want to debate the contents of this post (not the same as discuss, mind you) and the assertions therein, go somewhere else. See the tag line?  “You can disagree, but I’ll still be right.”

It’s likely you have no idea where that comes from and you mistake it for blind egoism.  I assure you it is not.  The fact is that the tag line of this website is a simplified lesson I have had to learn as a Black woman facing racism in America on a constant basis.

Racism “up North” isn’t the same as racism in the South.  In the South, people keep it real blunt.  “I don’t like niggers”- you know where they stand.

In the North, it’s just the opposite.  Folks will go out of their way to appear to love nigg- I mean Black people, while their actions speak another truth entirely.  Racism in the Pacific Northwest is covert, for sure.  Because it is not cut and dry, or as black or as white as we might like, to fight it, one must do more than recognize it.

Many of us make the mistake in wanting to convince White people when they are racist, that they are racist.  We want to get them to agree with us.  We want that validation for our feelings, which is, well, valid.

But now I’m going to break out some KOS; if you don’t know, ask somebody.  Do you know what internalized racism is?  It could somewhat be related to the clinical term “post traumatic slave syndrome”, a concept pioneered by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, a Black woman.

Internalized racism goes back before Leary’s professional career- it’s as old as being Black in America- really.

You’ve seen the video of the Black child who, when asked to picked the best doll to play with, picks the White doll.

Countless sista’s with blond weaves and sky blue contacts.

Going to the back of the bus as an inherent reaction to bus riding.

Killing each other.

The neverending battle between the light skinned and the dark skinned, the good haired and the nappy headed.

The culture of ignorance our children embrace.

The list is endless; all of these things are internalized racism.  It is often subconscious- that means we don’t even know that we’re doing it to ourselves and to each other.   People who are bit more blunt may refer to this as the “slave mentality”; the lie becomes truth.

Another level of internalized racism is the need for White people to validate racist experiences when they happen; if they don’t agree, we face an internal battle of what did and did not happen, a lot of anger, and a lot of resentment.

I was fortunate, and I do mean fortunate, to, at a critical point in my life, stop looking for validation about racism outside of myself- particularly in White people.  I stopped focusing on “proving” when something racist was going on.  I found myself constantly, through out life, furious when I’d called race to the carpet only to have the White people in the scenario shake their heads and say “nope, no racism here!”

I had to transition my mentality and my word (because we language our lives) from racism as an accusation, to racism as a fact.  How is this done, you may ask?  It’s simple.  Just claim it.

I have more than 10 years in cultural competency training, in the boardroom and in the streets.  I understand that coming to grips with race and privilege is a very personal journey that people either choose to walk, or they choose not to walk.

I’ve learned how to spot it, how to define it, and how to have the conversation about it- with the willing and the anything but.  I have seen White people react in ways that were all purely emotional; some have broken down in tears and cried, some have just given in, hoping to move the process along faster, some have stormed out, some have demanded that I leave, some have demanded the conversation stop, some have cussed, thrown things…some have been brave enough to face themselves.

All the while, I’m confident.  Why?  Because I don’t need any of them to agree with me for me to know that I am right, and to assert race, racism, and racist acts or mistakes into a situation.

For so long, we as a people have struggled with how to carry the weight of racism, especially when it touches our loved one or our children.

Racism hurts.  It pisses us off.  It makes us cry.  It’s scary.  It makes us feel powerless against an irrational force.

Racism kills.  It has no mercy.

Racism evokes emotions when people are hit by it.  We want to scream and cry that it’s unfair.  Yes, sometimes we want to call White people names (cracker ass cracker comes to mind) and cuss them out.  It’s a natural and understandable reaction based on the pain racism causes.  We don’t want to talk.  We don’t want to hold hands, sing a song, or sit down in the yard and drink some beers.  Sometimes we just want to slap you in the face.  Or punch your teeth straight out of your mouth for the disrespect you’ve shown.

Hey, I’m just keeping it real.

Resentment is built over these clashes of race and power.  It makes everything harder the next time around- and there’s always a next time.

Racism is no longer as simple as Black and White.  Racism is damn near in our DNA.  It’s hereditary like heart disease.  Some people don’t know they have heart disease until they have a heart attack, right?

Some people have no idea how ignorant they are about race, and how they think about race, and how they interact with people of other races based on those inherent beliefs.

Many people of color believe there are absolutely no good White people anywhere, ever.  That all White people are racist.  I disagree.  Study the concept of social stratification; much like the cast system, only more covert.

Sure, in America we’re all taught that if we get a good education, if we work hard, we can achieve anything.  That’s not the whole truth.  We know this because we have data that backs it up.  When my son was born, he was born into the reality that he has more of a chance of winding up in prison that in college.  And what did he do to deserve that?  He was born.  That was it.

It’s the same for White people and other races.  We are all born with certain truths that are based on subconscious, systemic structures we don’t even think about any more.  We have to start thinking again.

There are good White people in the world.  Yes, I am going to step out on the ledge and say there are good White people in the world.  Quote me and call me names, I don’t care.  I’m not excusing White people.  The fact is, all White people can make the choice at anytime, and I do mean at any time, to be racist.  They have the power, they can do it, and some do it because they don’t know what else to do.

The foundation of the civil rights movement is emotion; the outrage of discrimination.  The outrage.

But emotion didn’t carry the civil right movement- no, the law did that.  Marches, protests, riots- all of those things had a deep impact on what was going on at the time, but what made the deepest impact was taking it to the next level and taking mofo’s to court and challenging the laws of the land.

Outrage about racism isn’t going to quell racism.  It hasn’t yet, it never will.  The only thing that will quell racism going forward is civil war 2.0 each one teach one.

Alas, we come to the beer.

Gates and Obama both had initial reactions to the event that were rooted in emotion; Gates repeatedly said he was outraged and Obama said the cop “acted stupidly”.  Double snap.

These emotional reactions got everyone talking, because they couldn’t be denied.  Gates was pissed. Obama was pissed.  The cop I’m sure by that point was pissed too, because he is a family man, considers himself to be a good man, and he’s doing a job none of us would ever have the nerve to do, and which none of us ever bother to thank him for (heaven forbid, right?).

People who previous referred to Obama as an Uncle Tom sell out who wasn’t really Black were suddenly rejoicing.  White people stopped referring to Obama as half White, and many of them were gravely concerned about their own standing.

Thennnnn… Obama came back out and made some additional remarks after having spoken to the police officer and Gates.  He praised both men, which made those who had been happy, pissed, and those who were scared, not so scared.

Obama declared there would be brews all around at his place.

Now that the beer has been had, those involved in the situation are sharing their perspective of what happened.  It should be said though, that they didn’t just have a photo op on the lawn of the White House.  There was a previous closed door meeting in the Oval Office, where I suspect the real talk went down, as I’d predicted to a friend that it would 😉

Professor Gates issued a statement via the Root, which reads in part:

Sergeant Crowley and I, through an accident of time and place, have been cast together, inextricably, as characters – as metaphors, really – in a thousand narratives about race over which he and I have absolutely no control. Narratives about race are as old as the founding of this great Republic itself, but these new ones have unfolded precisely when Americans signaled to the world our country’s great progress by overcoming centuries of habit and fear, and electing an African American as President. It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.

Now right there, because Gates doesn’t call the copper a cracker ass cracker, people are going to call him a sell out just like they’re doing Obama.

But I said this in a different post, and I’ll say it again; is this really about Gates?  No, it’s not.  He has his process and that’s fine.  Is it about the officer?  Only as much as it is about Gates.

This is about the next Black person that Officer Crowley comes into contact with when he’s on the job.  That is why beer is necessary in this scenario.  Obama knew it, and that’s why he called for it.  Obama is like a parent.  He does his best to model responsible behavior for the rest of us.  That is why beer is necessary in this scenario.

Yes, it’s true, you can’t talk to all White people, but for those who are willing to be open and learn about themselves, you really should.  You don’t have to, but you should.  And stop acting like having a merciful conversation is somehow a new thing.  Black people have been merciful since we got here. I didn’t say turn the other cheek, I said have a conversation.  That doesn’t lessen your position, it doesn’t let the White person off the hook, it doesn’t give the White people power of you, it doesn’t make you look like a punk ass.  It makes you look like an intelligent person who can school someone who is completely clueless about themselves.

Stop trying to make the situation one way or another when you know good and hell well, ish is more complicated than that!  Obama can be an angry Black man and also do the right thing.  Officer Crowley can be a good family man, a good police officer (it’s not easy to type it, trust me) and also make racist mistakes.  Remember, I said I’m not going to debate it!

White people are not going to go live on the moon.  Black people are not going back to Africa.

Since we’re all here together we better figure this out to the best of our abilities.  Each one. Teach one.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2009 9:26 pm

    Preach sista preach! This is a great perspective. Damn you’re good…

  2. Nate permalink
    July 31, 2009 2:21 am

    Having grown up in the South, to liberal parents who tried to teach me better, I found myself so mad at someone recently I thought (out loud, to the people I was hanging with) the n-word about someone who’d pissed me off.

    Point is, I thought I was above it. I thought I was a white person who got it. I thought I was post-racism. I thought I felt all people were equal. I thought I was beyond the n-word.

    It just slipped out. I’m embarrassed by it. I’m ashamed. My friends didn’t know what to say. They stared at me in silence. I’m sure they chalked it up to my Southern upbringing.

    Point is, I heard the n-word growing up. I heard it when people were mad. And when I couldn’t express my feelings of anger any other way, it slipped out of my mouth.

    In a fit of anger, I realized racism wasn’t dead. Even with Obama in the white house, even after Martin Luther King, Jr, even after an entire college class studying to “Eyes On The Prize” it– the n-word– came from my mouth.

    I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, I don’t know what to say. It just slipped out. I’m sorry.

    I think I’m beyond it, then I realize I still have internalized racism. I learned it as a kid, from people at school, from TV, from Hollywood, from random people in the Supermarket.

    Some of us are trying. It’s just really hard to ignore racism when you’re exposed to it everyday.

  3. Sable permalink
    July 31, 2009 2:26 am

    Bravo Nate, bravo. Thanks for your honesty. That’s what is needed.

  4. Nate permalink
    July 31, 2009 2:44 am

    Well, Sable, I thank you. Sometimes I think all is well then I read your blog and realize that it’s not. We learn every day.

  5. Stephanie permalink
    July 31, 2009 10:34 am

    “The fact is, all White people can make the choice at anytime, and I do mean at any time, to be racist. They have the power, they can do it, and some do it because they don’t know what else to do.”

    I wanted to paste the sentence so that I didn’t have to keep strolling up to reference it.

    Okay, that being said, as white person who, like Nate, thinks I ‘get it’, I know that I don’t have a choice to be racist. I just am. It’s in my DNA, particularly in my DNA being born into a family of active members of a long Amerikkkan institution. When I was 9, I started learning something different. I started hanging out with my Black neighbors, and lying to my parents about who my friends were. I began learning different culture and different history. Far into adulthood, I still have a lot to learn. What I don’t deny is that I am socialized in this culture, by this society which is economically and racially stratified. There are times when that socialization and my DNA override my intelligence and I act racist. Not by choice, but by ignorance and conditioning. Sometimes I catch myself, sometimes other people have to point it out. My friends who love me enough to tell me the truth are life long friends. We can joke about it afterwards but my ignorance sometimes is astounding to all of us.

    A couple years ago I was at a family dinner with my then boyfriend. I was the only white person in the room. His auntie asked for a Brazil nut to be passed over to her. I didn’t have a damn clue what a Brazil nut was. There was clarity in the room instantly among the family members present about why I didn’t know what a Brazil nut was. Have you ever heard 30 Black people stop talking all at once? It’s a definite clue that you’re outta step. His mom, bless her heart, said “Baby, your family called them nigger toes.” I picked one up and handed it to the Auntie. Who, thankfully, fell out laughing and I was acquitted.

    I know I still have a ton to learn and I appreciate people who are willing to engage in conversation. Let’s not call each other names (I wish I had a dollar for every time I was called a “nigger lover”) but let’s have dialogue about perspective, history, culture and teaching one another. As Sable says, “Each one, Teach one.”

  6. Sable permalink
    July 31, 2009 12:03 pm

    Thank you Stephanie!

  7. SPS Parent permalink
    August 1, 2009 5:51 pm

    “This is about the next Black person that Officer Crowley comes into contact with when he’s on the job.”

    Wow, thank you for this incredible insight.

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