racism


A couple weeks ago I had a friendly and helpful conversation about how to get my trailer’s propane tanks filled at G & K Propane in Yucca Valley. G & K is “the place to go for propane around here” according to my dad, who knows about these things, and I’d say he’s right, based on my experience there. They were clearly looking to help, not just make a buck off me, and I really appreciated it.

As I was about to leave, I noticed a bumper sticker prominently displayed in their lobby, the clever if mystifying “I’LL KEEP MY GUNS, FREEDOM & MONEY.. YOU CAN KEEP THE ‘CHANGE'” with Obama’s logo in a red “no” circle. I have a funny mix of irritation and admiration at businesses who put their mouth where their money is like that. Usually it’s a business advertising in some way that they really only want Christians to come into their store, and I think, “Wow, it’s actually more important for these people to not have to be around heathens than to make money. That’s taking a stand.”

Underneath this bumper sticker was scotch-taped a handwritten note reading, “YA FILTHY ANIMAL!” I was upset enough by this that I’m still thinking about it. The bumper sticker is a way to voice one side of a political debate. “Filthy animal” is not. “Filthy animal” is an expression of total contempt, disgust, and hatred. You can kill a filthy animal with impunity, maybe even with satisfaction or pride. I remembered the manager of a restaurant I worked at, stomping a rat to death in the kitchen.

It reminded me of how afraid I was that Obama would be killed–lynched, really–for the crime of having come into so much power in America. How many people in this country would kill the president if they had the chance? Is the person who wrote that one of them? I seriously doubt it, but “YA FILTHY ANIMAL” is a way of aligning with that group.

All this was going through my mind as I decided what to do. I tend to be outspoken when confronted with racism, once even debating a self-avowed racist barber as he cut my hair. I think of it as one of the more useful things I do. In the case of the barber, for example, I got to hear and be sympathetic about this man’s struggle growing up around LA gangs, how scared and angry he was all the time, how members of his family had been hurt. He got to hear and eventually allow some credibility to my ideas about how it was poverty and oppression rather than skin color that made the people he interacted with as a kid so dangerous.

I imagine there is a similar encounter to be had here, but this case, I just left. I was running late and that was enough of an excuse to get out.

Still, I have a decision to make. When I need to refill my propane tanks, do I go back? Do I say, “I’d like to refill my tanks, but first I need to talk to the person who wrote that note on your wall”? Or do I go somewhere else, possibly driving way out of my way, to find propane people who put less offensive things up in their lobby?

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The co-counseling leadership has decided that co-counselors should start saying “male domination” instead of “sexism.” I think it’s a great idea. Calling the oppression of women by men “sexism” has always confused me. I actually made it into my early twenties before I realized that “sexism” referred only to the mistreatment of women by men, and not to the mistreatment anyone by anyone on the basis of gender. “Male domination” calls it what it is. “Sexism” is a euphemism by contrast.

Perhaps it is also time to call racism what it is. We don’t use “racism” to mean race-based discrimination. Racism is when a White person oppresses a person of color. The other way around is “reverse racism.” It’s confusing and verges on another euphemism. Why don’t we call race-based oppression by Whites what Victor in The Color of Fear calls it: White supremacy. That’s what it is.

Reanna and I watched Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair the other day. He says he was inspired by his young daughter asking him “Why don’t I have good hair?” The movie is hilarious because Chris Rock is hilarious, but mostly it’s creepy.  It’s sickening that the idea that Blacks have bad hair is a 6.9 billion dollar industry, for example, but it’s just creepy that the Black hair industry is almost entirely White owned. Billions of dollars is quite an incentive to encourage/advertise the idea that Black women are not naturally beautiful. (Here is a trailer.)

The movie reminded me of this clip I watched in a sociology class a few years ago:

Many years ago, my friend Chad told me if he could make even a very modest living fighting racism, that is what he would do with his life. The idea had never occurred to me before. In that conversation we also talked about how it was really only people who were on the fence about race that were good targets for intervention; good luck changing the mind of an entrenched racist! So where do you find these on-the-fence-folks, and how do you make a living working with them? We made no more progress on the question.

Lee Mun Wah does just what we imagined. He is a “diversity and communication trainer” and the founder of Stirfry Seminars & Consulting. The population of Whites he works with are a lot more egalitarian-minded than I had imagined necessary, back in those relatively naive days–they are Whites who consider racism appalling but don’t see their own part in perpetuating it.

I watched these clips from Lee Mun Wah’s documentary of one of his groups, called The Color of Fear. It was some of the most moving footage I’ve seen this year. If you watch it, watch both clips to the end, and be prepared for some members to express anger. (Keep in mind that (according to my teachers) both David and Victor became diversity and communication trainers after this film was made.) This is incredible work. I hope I get the opportunity to lead groups like this in my career.

This clip was part of a lecture in my Group Therapy class. It’s from video blogger Jay Smooth. I haven’t seen many of his clips but so far they are insightful and entertaining. The clip on top of his blog is about Rand Paul and called “Atlas Ducked.” It’s worth watching just for that hilarious title.

Reanna is reading me a book, called Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, a memoir about a marriage and the history and culture of marriage. I’m only just into chapter 3, but so far, it’s good.

One thing the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, writes is that in 1967, when interracial marriage was made legal by the Supreme Court, seven out of ten Americans believed that it should remain illegal.

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Wow. It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of the most racist crackpot seriously defending that position anymore. I wonder how many of that 70% are still alive, and what they think now? Two generations–the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) and the G.I. generation (born 1901-1924)–have died since then. Two have been born since then–Gen X and Millennial. But two entire generations, Silent and Boomers, are still alive from that time.

I also wonder how many people would still believe interracial marriage should be illegal, if not for that activist-court decision? Could it be that if not for the Supreme Court’s very unpopular interpretation in 1967 that 70% of us would still believe that interracial marriage should be illegal? Would the anti-miscegenation laws have been struck down anyway, by political representatives of the liberal Boomers when they came to power?

And isn’t it easy to imagine that you would have been one of the 30% enlightened people in 1967 and hard to imagine otherwise? Chances are, though, we would have been in the racist camp. This kind of realization is one of the big reasons I doubt the existence of (much, at least) free will. It really seems as if I’ve come to my views on interracial marriage (and most other things) through consideration of facts, but it’s quite likely that the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision had a bigger effect on my beliefs than any of my own efforts have.