“If we all could just admit
That we are racist a little bit,
And everyone stopped being
Maybe we could live in –
–Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, Avenue Q
Though I have an inherent distrust of the wisdom of puppets (is that racist of me?), the gang at Avenue Q have a bit of a point. I think the nature of our society causes us to feel more comfortable around others who share similar backgrounds to ourselves. While I don’t necessarily agree that everyone is racist, I think that we need to recognize our prejudices if we’re going to move past them.
Before relating a story about some racist rhetoric she’d encountered, a friend of mine prefaced her tale with the following statement: “You know a lot of white people are racist…”
I shook my head, not willing to accept the implication of her premise: that racism is a characteristic present primarily in people of western Eurasian descent.
“A lot of people have prejudices,” I said. “And a lot of it simply stems from a lack of understanding of other people and their points of view, or a lack of adequate exposure to different cultures. But there are people in our society who take advantage of cultural misunderstandings and uncertainty to pit us against one another. I believe that the majority of people who express racist sentiments do so as a result of having been deliberately deceived. If a person is consistently taught that another racial or ethnic group is causing the oppression of his/her own group, it’s likely to breed bigotry.”
Well, I said something like that, at least. I don’t have a transcript. It probably wasn’t that eloquent.
Anyway, my friend backpedaled a bit, seemingly surprised that my girlfriend and I didn’t readily agree with the idea that “a lot of white people are racist.” By the way, my friend is white.
I’m half white and half black (Barackian, as I enjoy saying). I spent my most formative years influenced primarily by black U.S. culture — you know, hip hop & chitterlings & family members in prison. Still, I make a concentrated effort in life to look at things objectively. I still believe that most people want to be good people, to do the right thing. But peer pressure and propaganda are proven methods of throwing good people off track.
A while back, I updated my Facebook status with the following:
“Your enemy is NOT another race or another ethnicity or another nationality or another religion. The only true disparity in this world is political and socioeconomic. If you have an enemy, it is those with power & wealth who pit us against one another in order to maintain & increase their control. If you’re a bigot, you’re a tool. Literally. That is all.”
I was moved to write that after reading some comments that someone had posted to a news article, comments which referenced problems being caused by the “groidian nation”. A quick Google search (don’t do it) confirmed my suspicions: that the term “groidian” was derived from the term “negroid”; in effect, it was a racial slur that I hadn’t previously encountered. People tend to be braver when posting things online; the anonymity gives them the courage to say things that they wouldn’t say in public. And people who reply, either in agreement or dissent, only tend to amplify the sentiments of the original commenter.
Though my Facebook posting was meant to be thought-provoking, it admittedly was not very well thought out. (There’s only so much stupidity that I can see without getting a bit frustrated with the sources.) So I wasn’t very thorough in my argument, and I received a bit of a rebuttal to the effect that our real enemies are those who convince us that we as individuals are not capable of shaping our own lives. My response?
“I agree that to convince a person that they are less capable than they are is a form of attack. I was moved to write what I wrote because I’m tired of seeing bigotry online & elsewhere. I’ve seen it from black people & white people, from conservatives & progressives, from religious people & nonreligious people. Usually, along with the bigotry comes an attitude that ‘this group of people is oppressing my people or attacking our way of life, thereby keeping us from living how we want to live or being as successful as we want to be.’ I believe that this attitude is intentionally perpetuated in order to maintain political and economic power. I think the enemy that you mention is actually the same enemy that I mentioned (at least in part). Because convincing some people that they are weak (often along demographic lines) feeds into the separatism and segregation that weakens us all as a society. And it’s done in order to maintain political power. That’s the way I see it.”
That one, by the way, is an exact quote.
See, I do believe (as I said earlier) that most people want to do the right thing and be good to one another, regardless of skin tone, ethnic origin, religion, or favorite ice cream flavor. But many of us, as we go about our complicated lives full of uncertainty and high fructose corn syrup, are vulnerable to manipulation by people who benefit from our division and distrust.
Which brings us to the recent drama involving the NAACP, the Tea Party, Andrew Breitbart, Shirley Sherrod, the media at large, the Obama Administration, Sarah Palin… pretty much everyone.
It began when the NAACP announced a resolution stating that the Tea Party should condemn the racist elements within it. Some Tea Party representatives, completely missing the point, responded by accusing the NAACP of both racism and race-baiting. Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams, for example, commented on the “absurdity of a group that calls blacks ‘Colored People’ hurling charges of racism.” (Colored people, of course, was a euphemism at the time the organization was founded. Back then black people were typically referred to with even less desirable terms. Although I don’t think groidian had reared its ugly head yet. The NAACP, of course, keeps its initials in order to keep its legacy. But it rarely refers to itself as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)
Sarah Palin went so far as to imply that racism was defeated by President Reagan. Her references to this country’s “past racism” and to the idea that Obama’s election should have signaled a “post-racial” America would seem to be either naive or deceptive, especially considering the fact that she fought so hard to prevent Obama’s presidency and continues to question his qualifications.
Such defensive responses to the NAACP resolution were common among Tea Party members who thought (and were led to believe by conservative media) that they were being called racists. In fact, they were simply being asked to recognize that there were racists trying to take over their organization in the public eye.
The Tea Party is not a racist organization. It’s a collection of loosely affiliated groups that, at its core, is opposed to the expansion of government. The problem is that the Republicans, perceiving the popularity of the Tea Party and its (mostly policy-based) opposition to President Obama, deeply infiltrated it. And the Republican Party does contain a lot of anti-black racists, who are now difficult for the rest of us to distinguish from the earnest fiscal conservatives.
Why the mostly-Libertarian Tea Party allowed themselves to be hijacked is anyone’s guess. It may be that the loose organization and veneer of shared principles made it easy for Republicans to co-opt. Or maybe the Libertarians thought that they could tame the Republican beast and bring the GOP to their side of the fence, that their shared goals would be enough to overcome their differences. Of course, Libertarians and Republicans are worlds apart on so many issues — abortion, capital punishment, drugs, gay marriage, nation-building, capital punishment, etc — that a happy union was never in the cards. In fact, by allowing the Republican Party to take control of their movement, the Libertarians may have blown their best chance at becoming a viable third party on the national stage.
Anyway, back to the drama. As retaliation for the NAACP resolution, media hacker Andrew Breitbart decided to disseminate a heavily edited video that appeared to show a black USDA employee talking about using her authority to discriminate against a white farmer. In actuality, she was giving an example from her past in order to illustrate the point that discrimination is wrong. But, not for the first time, Breitbart’s media hack operated according to plan: the conservative media ran the story without fact-checking, thereby guilting the rest of the media, the NAACP, and the Obama Administration into reacting in kind.
Andrew Breitbart’s goal is to stoke racial fires by convincing white people that they’re being oppressed, disenfranchised, or disadvantaged because of their race. This is the same tactic that has been employed by conservatives such as Glenn Beck, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Rush Limbaugh, and others. Why do they instigate the racial divide in this way? Because it’s making them lots and lots of money. With the recession and the half-black President, conditions are perfect for them to convince as many white people as possible that black people are somehow taking over the country and destroying its traditions. And they’re able to convince these people to buy their books and listen to their shows and donate to their candidates.
Many black people have been convinced for years that white people are their enemy. It used to be true to a large extent, but many individuals and organizations have taken advantage of perpetuating and magnifying that perception in order to profit off of the discord that arises.
The way to battle that perception is to convince black people that white people are no longer oppressing them, not to convince white people that the reverse is true. That only makes the problem worse, and that’s why the racial situation in this country is not improving.
We all need to tune out the voices trying to influence us, and we need to see one another as human beings. We all have emotions, we all go through struggles, and we all seek happiness and comfort in a sometimes difficult world. We need to stick together, to work together, if we’re going to advance as a society and as a species.
As usual, these are just my thoughts. Feel free to comment.