Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Racism: How did we get here?

Is it just me or has there been an issues involving race and racism since the election of President Obama in 2008?  Who knows – maybe the issues have always been there.  Maybe we just pay more attention now… I don’t know.  I mean, we all knew the elevation of President Obama to the highest office in the land would pull the scab off of our race relations in this country.  It was always there, dormant.  Everyone was just living; dealing quietly with the inconsistencies in our daily lives.  Maybe, it took the election of the first African American to our highest office to force our issues into the mainstream.  To be honest, I would say that this was a no-brainer to most black folks.  Most of us that gave it any thought expected it.  But this post isn’t about the racism that exists in our country –we know that.  It is about a trend, that may have been there all along, but I’m just seeing it.  Granted, I could be completely naive, but there appears to be a genuine lack of understanding and/or perspective on what is or isn’t racism. 

I think it is safe to say that the plight of African Americans isn’t really…inconspicuous.  As piss poor as our school’s curriculum on African American history is, we still learned that it was NOT the founding fathers who freed the slaves – it was Dr. Martin Luther King that did that.  You would think that at this point, the line of demarcation on what is or isn’t acceptable is pretty well defined… wouldn’t you?  So why does it feel like it is crossed everyday?

Seriously, what would provoke a teacher in Virginia to teach a lesson on slavery by mocking a slave auction and having the black kids line up on the wall while the white kids bid on them?  Better yet, what makes her think that is okay?  Why wouldn’t a white political staffer make the racially unacceptable connection between a Black president and monkeys and apes?  Better yet, what makes her think it’s okay?  

Why does it feel we are moving the wrong direction in finding a common understanding on what is or isn’t racism or racially discriminating?  Do we (black folks) shoulder some blame?  Have we done a poor job in agreeing on what IS actual racism or even worse, have we done a poor job on educating the masses.  I guess to an extent I can agree that someone can – unknowingly – say or do something that many black folks would see as racist and that person not actually be racist –at least that’s the category I place “FHTG” and “The Donald.”  However, folks like them lose me when they start to argue after the fact that everything is fine, and that black folks are delusional and are “playing the race card.”  What else would explain why over 60% of African Americans and Black people feel as if the Tea Party has a racist message, but yet the Tea Part vehemently disagrees?

Can it be that black folks are hypersensitive and find racism where there isn’t any?  This could cause confusing.  It could also put White people on the defensive, and we all know that means NO progress.
For example, look at these two ads:

Dove Ad
Naomi Campbell Ad

Both have been called racist (see here and here)… but I’m not so sure.  We can argue that they are in poor taste.  But racist… ehhh… I’m not convinced.   It is highly possible that allegations like these dilute the entire conversation making even harder to find consensus on REAL race relations.

Maybe it feels as though race relations are getting worse because many White people feel that race relations is a zero-sum game – at least that what I gather from the Tufts University study.  Meaning, if the quality of life for Black people are improving, that must mean the quality of life for White people are getting worse.  I believe we saw this with the Michigan Law School affirmative action case where a potential student actually felt slighted when a minority student was accepted.  They felt that “their spot” was taken.  So, am I to believe that removing the advantages that White people have and leveling the playing field isn’t about equality for all but actually about making life worse for white people?  According to the study… yes.  

Tufts find the White people believe that they – not Black people – are the primary victims of racial discrimination:

White and black estimates of bias in the 1950s were similar. Both groups acknowledged little racism against whites at that time but substantial racism against blacks. Respondents also generally agreed that racism against blacks has decreased over time, although whites believed it has declined faster than blacks do.  However, whites believed that racism against whites has increased significantly as racism against blacks has decreased. On average, whites rated anti-white bias as more prevalent in the 2000s than anti-black bias by more than a full point on the 10-point scale. Moreover, some 11 percent of whites gave anti-white bias the maximum rating of 10 compared to only 2 percent of whites who rated anti-black bias a 10. Blacks, however, reported only a modest increase in their perceptions of "reverse racism."

Maybe this was just a small sample group, but it does help to explain why there is such a huge gap in our understanding of our current political conversation.

I don’t know.  I don’t have the answers.  But I am very interested in finding this one out.  I hate to think that all we did was push our racial problems under the rug until Obama came and we removed it.  Tell me that’s not the case.  Tell me I’m off base.  If we are really in a post-racial society, then why is there so much disagreement?

Did the election of President Obama make race relations better or worse?
Why does it feel as though the dialogue on race is worse?

Is racism worse for White people than it is for Black people?

Are Black people overly sensitive?
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