Wednesday, December 3, 2008

JOCO White Guy's take on Racism in America

I've read with some interest of May Machete's post on racism. I think they are interesting and the topic somewhat compelling. I encourage you to do the same. On the other hand I get pretty tired of Tony calling seemingly everything racist and especially Johnson County. Johnson County is no more or less racist than anyplace else regardless of the history.

There has been talk that since we elected an African American president it signifies us entering a post racial America. It is an interesting notion but I'm sure many would rightfully claim they feel themselves still constrained by racism.

I'm just a human who was on a societal level fortunate enough to be born white and male.....and I guess you can should throw of a heterosexual orientation in there as well. I would never deny it has it's advantages in the world as it exists today and to do so would be ignorant. So while May's Machete and Tony bring their thoughts on race, discrimination, and gender/sex bias in today's world understand they bring it from a different perspective than this straight white guy. I was trying to think of what would be the most challenging lot in life. I've surmised a black, gay woman really probably has the worst deal in this country. Thoughts?

I think it is important to look at this issue several different ways. I see many of the problems as generational and a function of education and of course seem their worst when they cross pollinate with each other. In other words old and ignorant.

First, from a generational standpoint it is clear that most of our parents and grandparents harbored feelings of racism toward African Americans. Some of them have evolved in their feelings but many have not. Barack Obama discussed this to some extend when discussing his white grandmother and her feelings. I could give you countless examples based on first hand experience. One of my favorites is a great grandmother who is a democrat who was concerned that if Obama is elected that "blacks might take over". She also thinks nothing of calling tough negotiating "Jewing somebody down". She also told me once how she really had a problem with Japanese people. You see her husband fought courageously in the Philippines during World War II that kept them apart for 3 years. She told me she knew she shouldn't hate them but that they tried to kill her husband during the war and it was hard to get over.

The second is education. I find that the more educated people are the less likely to have nonsensical and ignorant ideas about race. You don't likely find college professors as members of the Klan but I also think that some of the African Americans that feel victimized by racism are really being discriminated as much or more by their lack of education, their poverty, and the lack of adhering to the social norms that one often obtains from a good education. I've heard both Obama and people like Bill Cosby speak on this issue. Do people really think less of Colin Powell, Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods, Juan Williams, Condoleeza Rice and Barack Obama because they happen to be black? I just don't see it as much except for the extreme stupid and ignorant. So what makes them different from other African Americans? Education and success maybe?

Does intense and deep seated racism still exist? Absolutely it does. Are we in a much better place that we were a generation ago? No question we have made significant progress. Is there more insensitivity than racism? Maybe. Here is a silly example. I shake my head when I'm with my kids and people ask me if I'm babysitting. Nobody would ask a mother that question. Mothers are mothering or parenting but a dad with his kids is babysitting? It is insensitive and insulting to the seriousness I place on a father's role in the rearing of kids. The world is full of examples just like that but I don't think they mean it as an insult. Are there examples of young and educated people who are racist? No question it still exists.

There seemingly exists a unofficial litmus test of your racism measured against if as a white person if you are scared if you see a couple young black men walking toward you, alone on a dimly lit street. Admitting this without condition makes you a racist. Am I scared? Depends. If they are dressed like Barack Obama I am not scared. If they are dressed in dirty wife beaters and saggy jeans and have an angry look on their face probably so but if they were white and dressed the same way I'd be just as scared.

We all have to make a personal commitment to not stand for racism, unjustified discrimination, sexual and gender bias and that is the strongest statement that can be made. My small neighborhood in south Johnson County is actually amazingly diverse. It is a very nice area. You would even call it affluent. We have several gay and lesbian families, several black families, a few Latinos, a few middle easterners of some sort or another and more than a smattering of Jewish families in addition to all the scads of whites protestants and catholics in the neighborhood and some of them are interracial. We get along just fine. I don't sense any tensions really of any kind and I don't think I'm naive or blind. Why do we all get along so well? I think schools are the unifying force. Can you really blame somebody for wanting to put their children in the best public schools you can afford? If the best schools in the city were at 63rd and Prospect that is where we would live.

A couple of personal stories. I was once in a store on the south side of Chicago. I was standing there in the store waiting for a friend to come back from the car so I wasn't really doing anything....just standing. An African American man about my same age walked in and walked to the back of the store. He and I were the only 2 customers in the store. I was looking at him because frankly there wasn't much else to look at in that little store. He looked around a bit and as he started to walk out he looked at me and opened his coat wide open to signal to me that he hadn't tried to steal anything. He was clearly agitated and upset that I might be "profiling" him or something. I was shocked. Me, racist? Pausing for a second and not sure what to say I said....."I don't even work here man." It was a misunderstanding but he left that store with the reinforced notion that white people hate black people.

My second story involves a hiring decision in which I discriminated against another person. About 6 years ago, a person I knew well applied for a job at my company. Apparently he did well in his first couple interviews and I was asked my opinion on if I thought he would be a good fit for the job and seemingly he was being seriously considered. I commented that I wouldn't like to see him work for us because I had witnessed many more than just innocent comments of racism towards African Americans. I told them he has a serious character flaw in that he is a racist. I told him I wouldn't be proud to have a known racist working for us even beyond the potential legal liabilities. I discriminated against him because he was a racist and he didn't get the job. Ironically, a couple years later he was fired for forwarding a racist email to coworkers.

Certainly it is easy to point to extremes but what I see more than overt racism is the racism of low expectations. I'm not sure who coined the term but I heard George W. Bush use it in a speech. Let's all assume it didn't originate in his brain. But I think it is right in that assuming any one's potential is low based on their skin color is wrong. I had a football coach who would tell me my biggest obstacle in becoming a great player was that I was white. See, he believed and articulated to me that he believed that if there is a superior race it is black not white. His argument was that anything blacks wanted to do well they did exceedingly well and were the very top of their field regardless if the pursuit were physical, artistic, or academic. He was a white guy. He believed that historic and systemic oppression and racism had kept blacks from realizing their potential as a race. If that notion is true it is clearly changing.

Now, for Tony's take on racism. It is interesting because even as Latinos are such a large minority I always think of white-black race relations when I think of racism. Tony is right in that when I think of the issue of Latinos I think of illegal immigration but not in the way you might think. I get tired of people linking racism and illegal immigration. Tony, I don't think most people I meet from south of our border "just got here". Is it true that people generally think that way? I think it is hypersensitive. Why is it that anybody who thinks our laws should be enforced is a racist? Why is it okay for other countries, who people want to hold up as examples of more evolved forms of society than the U.S., to have stricter immigration standards and not consider them racist? Why can't people understand that for generations people have come here and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and created a life for themselves by initially doing the work nobody else wants and working their way up? I respect that person. Italians did it. The Irish did it. Koreans did it. They all have made important contributions. I would just prefer that people come in legally so we are all playing by the same rules. It benefits us all if we all play by the same rules. If we need to open the doors a little wider then by all means let us do so. I'm for anyone who wants to make a contribution.

Of course the city has sad roots in racism toward Latinos and it is informative to understand it. I'll probably check out the book he recommends. I understand the anger and the resentment about it I'll just never understand why people think that asking people to follow the rules is racist. Maybe Tony can explain that to me. And do you really have to use even that post as an opportunity to blast the co-mayors? You are obsessed with them. But the real question I want Tony to answer is when in the hell is he going to get over to my JOCO house and finish the landscaping his cousins started?


jocosob said...

I notice that the majority of your blog is white in color......You are lucky that you can say that you have a friend with a black blog.

JOCOeveryman said...

I'm so not blog-racist that I didn't even notice your blog was black dude. I'm so proud of myself right now. I've transcended blog color.

jocosob said...

Typical cracker answer. White blogs will one day fall.

SFRBV said...


I think TKC is funny, or at least he used to be. His blog is no longer satirical and humorous, more like annoying and redundant...or perhaps whiney?

I Travel for JOOLS said...

I have an 11 year old biracial granddaughter and live in JoCo. She's growing up in a middle class family with a set of positive values, in a community with great schools, in an environment without violence, and with an increasingly diverse population. I can see absolutely no evidence of racism in her life at all. I've even asked her if she has ever experienced it and she said no.

I think I've just described what the end of racism "should" look like.

JOCOeveryman said...

Travel: That is dead on and exactly what I mean. That is awesome. Thanks for commenting as always.

May said...

Really great post! I'm glad our stuff inspired you to put your perspective out there.

One thing that really stuck out to me here is your saying the litmus test of racism is whether or not a white person is scared to see a black guy walking down the street. I both dis- and agree with this! I think it is often surprising to see a person of color when white people live in such insular pockets of whites, overall. However, if you freak out every time you see a black person, I'd say that is probably a fair sign of racism.

Thanks for the link love here! I will be reading your blog from now on :)