Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Not a Black and White Issue

I always feel a little funny writing anything that talks about a group of people, and I must admit that thought crossed my mind as I wrote yesterday's post. But when someone e-mailed me to say the post was racist, I found myself defending what I had written.

I think of racism as something that results in unfair treatment or derogatory statements about a group of people characterized by their race or Hispanic origin. I am well aware of these categorizations, because this is a big part of the mammoth survey I work on. The people in these various groups take great pride in bearing the title of their group and you would not believe the efforts they go to in order to make sure their group is treated fairly statistically. In many cases, this is a matter of entitlement that can mean a huge swing in revenue from government programs.

I like to consider that I am one of the most broad-minded people on the face of the earth when it comes to treating all people fairly. So being told my statements constituted racism made me wonder if the real intent of my post had been missed altogether.

Yesterday's post was supposed to be about celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., in music. It was about black people and white people coming together on equal ground to do so. It was poking fun at white people whose hearts were in it, but whose bodies just didn't cooperate in the same way. The evidence of this was not anecdotal, but rather it was obvious.

But perhaps the bigger point was the feeling of awe and jubilation and love for our fellow man that this music evokes. It is almost magical in its ability to draw us in and hold us as we sing the same words over and over with the energy and sound constantly rising.

I felt happy to be in the midst of an audience that was so completely mixed and to be hearing all those musicians who were also intermingled. It was actually about 180 degrees from feeling like a racist.

So if you read that post and branded me as a racist, please understand that my intention was otherwise.


Blogger Richard said...

Not having read the e-mail you received, the only thought that occurred to me while reading your post was that it reinforces the stereotypical view that certain races are naturally rhythmic and others are not (I made a little inward groan).

While I try to be careful with my words not to offend anyone, the truth is that if someone gets offended it is their problem, not mine. Wonderful piece of Vulcan philosophy in the Star Trek episode "Journey to Babel", "There is no offense where none is taken."

Unfortunately, too many people fall into victim mentality (this seems especially true in the US) and are always looking for confirmation that they are being victimized.

When I was in university, it was considered racist to call someone black, they were now “people of colour". I remember reading a pamphlet a group had put out claiming that a asking someone where they were from was racist. That a Caucasian having non-Caucasian friends was racist, because the Caucasian had the privilege of choosing to have non-white friends, a person of colour did not have the same opportunity or privilege. There was a fair bit of rubbish as well, but I think those were the most egregious.

It did come and bite me on the nose one day, when I was talking with a Japanese friend. To describe a mutual acquaintance, I used the term black. She angrily retorted that I was never to call her "yellow" because describing people by colour was racist. I was taken aback and after a little discussion discovered she had gone for racial sensitivity training. A few months later, a different Japanese friend trying to explain to me why she was unhappy in Japan and wanted to leave, "I am a banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside."

12:30 PM  
Blogger steve said...

If one could be called racist because they think white folks can't dance...Well, I know lots of white folks can't and you included... and I don't much think Dancin' or what you like to eat or how good an Athlete you are has much to do with Racism...
This is pretty small potatos compred to the way colored folk have been treated in this country.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Aileen said...

Personally, I didn't view the post as racist. I'm not sure what the answer is- it seems like it is virtually impossible to discuss the general differences between groups of people without risking sounding racist (or sexist, or ageist,or whatever).

Unfortunately, it's such a sensitive subject that it often seems safest to just avoid the topic. Which of course is destructive as well.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear people of all races being racist on a daily basis. I am waiting for blondes to come out in protest and can't quite figure out why they haven't. Oh well, I say you know in your mind who and what you are Barbara. You are a good and honest person. Only a good and honest person would re-evaluate and respond and apologize where none is needed.

My message to the world, loosen up! Relax! Have fun! Life's short and there are bigger problems to worry about!

I hope your mailer is a perfect person and soon reveals the level of their deity!

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't see any racism in your previous post. You were simply observing what you had seen at the event.

2:39 PM  
Blogger KassyK said...

I don't see anything racist either in it. If anything, I have to stand up for the white people that CAN DANCE. You looking at one them. :)

3:26 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm sure there are those out there who would agree with my e-mailer. I'll probably steer clear of this topic for a long while. I'm not sorry I wrote the post because it was an evening to remember for many reasons.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I see what yuou mean and agree totaly. It's an observation that most people can see. It should be noted with pride whether you are black or white and you've made that clear.
Much of the whole jazzstyle is rooted in black history,certainly viewed in awe by many.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Note to Old Lady: There's a whole de-blonde movement now for real blondes to dye their hair darker just to avoid the stereotype! Yikes!
It's all in the interpretation and what you do with it through actions.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I'm the person who wrote the post to Barbara and I stand by it. Reinforcing stereotypes is racist. Whoever it was who talked about 'victim mentality' - are you white? I've heard the same thing said about Jews when they speak of the Holocaust - is that the same kind of 'victim mentality'?

If you're a Jew, you can tell Jewish jokes, but if you're not a Jew, it's soooo not cool. For Barbara to speak about her experience is great, but to label black people as having rhythm is one step away from describing them shuckin' and jivin'. It's a gentle racism, but it's still racism.

Are any of these comments from black people? All of you should consider doing some diversity training. It's so eye opening, even to good hearted souls such as yourselves.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Reya: I am white. However, I am also of Polish descent (with an unmistakably Polish surname) and had to endure many Pollock (sp?), meathead comments / jokes / attacks as well as being called or inferred to be a communist (since at the time I was growing up Poland was firmly Iron Curtain). Just because I look white, doesn't mean I did not endure racism (the school I went to was predominantly Italian – bulletins were first in Italian, then French, and finally in English). I endured racism, I endured being singled out, being different. I have (and still have) curly hair. That got me labeled a "girl" because only "girls" have curly hair.

The only advantage I have over a black person, or some other non-white is that it is hard to single me out at 100 paces. But when I am person to person, I have been discriminated against because I am of Polish ancestry. I have no idea how many job interviews I have lost at, or never been granted because of my surname. To give you an idea, it is rare for someone to address me as Mr Przeczyć (not my real surname, but has the right proportion of vowels and consonents), I am almost universally called by my first name, Richard. My surname is constantly misspelled by people who don't care enough to bother getting it right - because they don't care ("what kind of damned foreign name is that?").

Even as someone of Polish descent, I am discriminated by Polish people because I am really of Silesian descent (a region in Poland) and we are considered less than second class citizens. For a long time, our language and traditions were banned, in Poland a Silesian could never aspire to be any better than a labourer.

Crying foul, crying discrimination based on skin colour is a lazy and cheap victim mentality. There is lots of discrimination in this world and there are lots of potential victims - the only true victims are those who choose to be victims (this does not mean the others do not suffer hardship).

I have never felt white, I have never enjoyed what are supposedly the benefits and advantages of being white. Those privileges and benefits only belong to those who are in power (which in Poland would have been "pure" Poles and not Silesians, and in Canada, those of Anglo-Saxon descent). My parents left Poland because there was no future for them as Silesians; my parents left England because of discrimination; while Canada is better, it is not perfect - there is still discrimination. The only ones who aren't going to notice that are those who are too focused on wallowing in their victim hood to care about anyone else around them..

Let's face it, when I go in to be interviewed by a manger named Smith and there is me and others named Jones, McDonald, and Murray. I can assure you I am already disadvantaged. In the same way I am disadvantaged when I am interviewed by a manager named Chan and the other candidates are Wan, Liu, or Chen. It is not a pretty reality, but it is a reality. People are by nature discriminatory, they divide and divide and divide as much as they can - along visible differences, linguistic differences, religious differences, political difference, gender differences, favourite sports team, and the list goes on.

You can argue that I don't suffer immediate visible discrimination. Perhaps not as much in North America, where we have a pretty heterogeneous mix of people. However, in Europe (or among European) immigrants, I am easily placed as a central European based on my appearance. For central Europeans, I am even better placed to my ancestral origins based on nothing more than my appearance.

I agree that reinforcing stereotypes is bad. It makes me cringe (if you read my original post, I say that as well). However, I stand by my original statement that those who get offended by another’s ignorance do so because they prefer to wallow in a victim mentality.

If a man makes a slip, admonish him gently and show him his mistake. If you fail to convince him, blame yourself, or else blame nobody. - Marcus Aurelius

12:01 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Have you seen Bamboozled? I know I always come back to movies, but it's such a good one. "A frustrated African American TV writer proposes a blackface minstrel show in protest, but to his chagrin it becomes a hit." It tackles stereotypes, iconography, popular culture, relationships and a whole slew of other issues.

Of course, it is Spike Lee. He's a talented, talented man.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous David said...

This is such a complex, tricky pandora's box. OTOneH, Barbara was honestly reporting on her observations. OTOtherH, I think I know where Reya is coming from.

It's a slippery slope and we do have to be careful labeling an entire race or ethnic/religious group even with something as benign as "rhythmic". There are some blacks who can't dance and there are some whites who can dance their tushies off. Just like there are some dumb Jews or Asians.

But, I don't think Barbara has a racist bone in her body.

11:06 PM  

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