The Wild, Wild West of Race Relations

I have to confess that whenever I write about race in this space, I feel a pang of momentary discomfort…why, you ask? Because inevitably a reader will tell me either via email or a comment that I am being sensitive, that they don’t see race, all people are equal or some variation of that sentiment. The subtle implication is that as a Black woman, I am creating mountains out of molehills.  

The news cycle of the past week was the reminder that 92% of the time if my intuition says that race is an issue, I am most likely right. This past week was one for the books as far as happenings here in the US, to quote humor blogger Luvvie “This week has given me outrage fatigue syndrome.” The United States Supreme Court also known in certain circles as the SCOTUS (by the way, is it me, or does SCOTUS sound like a nasty infection?) handed out some real life changing decisions. For the most part though the SCOTUS let it be known that in their minds racism is dead. Alrighty, now!  

If race and racism were dead, we would not be witnessing the explosion of the high priestess of butter and sugar’s empire. Paula Deen, a marginal cooking personality with dubious Southern recipes (pretty sure her red cake recipe was my grandma’s, but it is all good) learned that not bothering to change and become more accepting and or tolerant of diversity is no longer simply PC, feel good shit. The inability to be tolerant and or accepting of difference will come back and tear a hole in your ass. You cannot admit that you have referred to Black people as niggers, dream of slave themed weddings and create work conditions that are hostile to people of color and not expect to suffer for it. Paula may not have known that before but she does now.

This past week the trial started for George Zimmerman; the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who thought a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin armed with iced tea and skittles was soooo threatening that he had to shoot and kill him.  However as the trial kicked off this week, everyone’s attention has been on Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon before he was killed. Turns out many people including fellow Black people don’t find Rachel Jeantel to be the best representation of all that is Black. She is large, she is dark, she does not speak the King’s English in a manner that is pleasing to many white and Black people, and therefore she is a problem.

I have read countless articles and blog posts on Rachel Jeantel and watched a few of the video clips of her testimony and all I could think is what is the problem? For starters, she lost a friend, not only did she lose a friend; she was on the phone with him when his life was senselessly snuffed out by a vigilante, wanna be John Wayne type. Add in the fact that she was just 18 when this happened, my goodness, how traumatic.

America has never been particularly kind to Black folks, we are never allowed to slowly grow up and become fully formed and actualized beings. If we, did Trayvon would still be alive because Zimmerman would have acknowledged Trayvon’s youth and humanity rather than putting him the dangerous box. In Rachel Jeantel, we see the youthful air of pride and defiance that is accepted in young whites but in young Blacks, it will always be seen as a negative.

Rachel Jeantel is a young, multilingual woman from a working class background, for that she is branded as “ghetto” because she does not measure up to certain standards of what is truly acceptable and respectable. By the way, who decides what is acceptable? Is there a department of acceptable and respectable?   Of course those of us who have been on this rock long enough, see signs that the media wants to put Rachel in her box. When a person of color can’t be figured out or does not assimilate well, you the person of color becomes the problem. It is easier to brand someone else more problematic than it is to check our own assumptions. To check our own assumptions require heavy emotional and mental lifting, it means that we open ourselves to the possibility of having our world view not only shattered but learning that the very foundation that we sit on may be nothing more than hay.  

In the end, to quote an online pal, “we are living in the wild, wild, west of race relations in America.”  We may have a Black man and his family living in the White House, but that does not mean racism died in November 2008, in many ways we opened up a new chapter in our nation’s racial history, one that intersects with class and requires that we eventually acknowledge this intersectionality.




9 thoughts on “The Wild, Wild West of Race Relations”

  1. Bill,

    Thank you for your recent comment on my blog, I am familiar with the case that you mentioned. All loss of innocent life is a tragedy, period. I am going to wager that you are not a regular reader of my blog, otherwise you would know that my family is multiracial, my partner is white. I want justice for all.

    I understand your anger but how does that help to change things in this country? Your comment is an example of the tit for tat that is happening across this nation, what happened to that white child was a tragedy, and those young men who committed such a cruel and heinous act, should pay and if need be, pay with their lives. However as a statistical whole, what happened to that child was an anomaly. Unlike the type of profiling that lead to Trayvon Martin’s death which is almost a rite of passage for young Black men.

    I suspect that that you and I are not going to see eye to eye, but no one likes being referred to as “you people” my name is Shay and I am more than the color of my skin and my passions are greater than the color of my skin.


    Shay aka Black Girl in Maine

    PS: I tried to email this to you but that email address you left was no good, not sure if that by choice or chance.

  2. And with the verdict of “not guilty” being read that proves it all. I was not surprised — but still heartbroken, if only for that mother and father who buried their child coming back from a corner store with candy and with a man who disobeyed the instructions of a 911 police operator, stalked that kid with an loaded handgun.

    Ladies and gentlemen: If you have a kid of color, keep ’em indoors and drill into their heads that their life is worthless to many around them, so don’t think for one second that we are living in a post-racial society. You will lose your life — probably when you’re in a situation that you least expect it. As for SCOTUS…well, sitting up in their shiny black robes, sleeping in tony Washington D.C.-area homes, contrary to what they may think, we mere mortals with brown kids, especially brown males, are living in reality not in a fantasy world.

  3. I admit that I understand your discomfort with some of the posts though I find your posts insightful and this post is no less insightful than the norm. I am a black woman but the tones some take towards the topic of race and more specifically in the defense of Ms. Jeantel can be counterproductive when coming to her defense. Yours was a thoughtful, insightful and dare I say ‘easily digestible’ commentary that clearly explains your points without disparaging anyone else or further besmirching her in any way.

  4. Shay, you’ve nailed it for me. A gentlewoman to your core when it comes to race issues at the very least, I think yours is the most articulate take on the past week…, perhaps because yours is the only feminine take I’ve read and because comments left seem to be also from women, and being a woman myself, I am just drawn to the truth in these words as if they were shared over a kitchen table. Thank you so much!

  5. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. Racism lives in the United States of America and it is just as strong as it was the day they kidnapped my ancestors and brought them to these shores. I am no longer surprised at how transparent racists are in the 21st century. I am glad they are, actually, because it helps to identify them. In the 1960’s I had hope because at least we were engaged in a dialogue. Yes, there was a lot of yelling and screaming and tears but at least Blacks and whites were talking to each other. Many of us have given up on the conversations because as soon as issues like DWB or the extrajudicial killing of innocent black male teens or wrongful convictions/incarcerations based on race come up, white people can only look through their white paradigm. If an innocent white just turned 17 year old teen had been killed by a NW person of any color, the trial and conviction would be over and the killer would be in prison already serving his time. If a white 18 year old witness who spoke three languages was treated as rudely as Rachel Jeantel was, victim rights organizations nationwide would be up in arms. And the education system would be taken to task for not doing their job in educating this child.

    The only solution is for Black people to keep on running. We will either be running free or running in fear. I know which way I will be running.

  6. Excellent article. You hit the right keys and provided those who are not qualified to judge what is racist or not with a bit of education on the subject. As a 70-year-old Black woman I, too have an innate ability to identify racist behavior and refuse to let those who have not traveled my path in this country question my ability to identify what I have been subjected to for most of life. RACE is a big problem today and should not be under-estimated.

  7. As an older white lady of Irish descent of which I’m very proud (and oftentimes ashamed), all I can say is, “Oy gevaldt”! This is a Jewish expression–look it up.

    I love my Irish Catholic heritage, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also appreciate the heritage of other races, nationalities and faiths as well….I love the USA too, but my favorite hymn is “Finlandia” (aka “This is my Song”)
    I regretfully, shamefully and sorrowfully admit my racist tendencies (albeit unintentional) and humbly ask forgiveness.

  8. I’ll be able to comment on the post after I’m finished howling at the reference to SCOTUS as a “nasty infection”… can’t imagine how long it took an old lady like meself to figure out what the acronym SCOTUS meant. 😉

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