Honesty and Race..how honest can we be?

Today’s post is inspired by a local buddy of mine, who had a Facebook status update that said “Most white people are too scared of appearing racist to be honest”. I must admit this has stuck with me since reading it and I thought maybe it would make for a good discussion on race. By the way to the friend whose status update inspired this, I hope you don’t mind that I stole your thought as inspiration for this post.

Now I must admit I am of mixed feelings when I think about this because the truth is as a society I don’t think we are mature enough overall to have true dialogues on race. Yet the bigger question is how do we get there? Personally I can say that being part of an interracial marriage for over a decade has inspired many discussions on race. For me there is no way to be married to a white man without discussing race. Is it a stumbling block for us? Yes and no. There are times when we clearly bring who we are to an issue, and have to sometimes agree to disagree. Though many times the Spousal Unit will admit, that in being partnered to me and part of raising biracial kids that he has had to leave the comfort of his white male privilege to really get an issue. I also can say that sometimes I am inspired to put down my own assumptions about whites and understand his perspective.

I think for me when it comes to racial discussions, especially those that occur between whites and blacks in the United States, that too many times the white perspective is seen as right and the black perspective is not viewed as valid. One only has to look around in the blogosphere to see examples of this, hell Beer Gate this summer with the Cambridge cop and Professor Gates showed how differently we view the world. For many whites, Gates was either a pompous ass professor or the victim of unfortunate circumstances, with a fair number of whites not seeing the situation as that big of a deal.

Yet on the Black side, we saw it as a huge deal, just one more example of the systematic bullshit that happens when you are Black in America. If you think I am kidding, ask yourself why a sitting president of the United States felt compelled to speak up? Because while Barack Obama may be the president he has spent enough years as a Black man in America to understand that what happened to Gates is just routine business as usual and all the degrees and money don’t stop you from feeling the weight of oppression and bullshit when you are Black.

I think that by and large honesty is a good thing but I think in order to get honest, whites need to be willing to temporarily relinquish their privilege at least mentally and attempt to have empathy. If that does not happen, then you are not going to have a real discussion.

My viewpoint for me is supported by the fact that personally the best interactions I have with white people tend to be with working class, lower class and blue collar whites. Those that the only privilege they often have is white skin, I could go on and one with anecdotal stories about connecting with whites who initially I am nervous around because they look scary to me, in many cases I admit and its my bias that white men with shaved heads that look like skinheads or bikers scare me. Yet just last night I was out and came across such a man at a local eatery and ended up having a delightful conversation.

I admit that sometimes such folks can be scary but I also think that for some of these folks they are aware they don’t have much privilege aside from white skin and in some cases its easier to make a connection.

For Blacks I have to say if we want to engage in an honest dialogue that we too may need to put aside some of our bias and assumptions when it comes to whites though I admit it can be hard.

Yet I will say that in the quest to be honest with one another, it’s also important to be respectful. Take the age old issue of Black hair, yes my hair is different and its ok if we are friends to ask about it but remember I am a human and that maybe being singled out does not make me feel comfortable.

So while honesty is a possibility and there are plenty of whites and black engaging in honest and real discussions, we need to enter them being thoughtful before they can proceed.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue!

8 thoughts on “Honesty and Race..how honest can we be?”

  1. For white people to engage in an honest discussion about race, they have to feel like they won’t be attacked.

    There’s an extra stigma I’ve found a lot of white people see with the term “racist.” They dream up images of nooses and burning crosses (usually in black and white since that happened in 1963, and not again — [sarcasm there…]). It’s why Mr. Bardwell, the Justice of the Peace who refused to marry an interracial couple honestly doesn’t consider himself racist. “I’d never kill a person because he’s black…” he probably thinks to himself. This assessment of what it means to be racist in America makes it all the more hard for a person of color to tell a white person that what they said or did was racist, because that doesn’t even compute and they become defensive; they feel attacked.

    We put a lot of emphasis on how white people feel in those conversations about race, but what I’ve always found being the black person is that my feelings are not often validated. I’m often having to spend too much of the discussion explaining away “alternative assessments” because no one wants to take a moment and consider that as a black woman, I’ve seen racist stuff, and I know what I”m talking about. Everything has a potential alternate explanation and this faux post-racial society we live in has a lot of people thinking that “racism” is never the explanation.

    For black people and white people to have honest conversations about race, both sides need to feel like they won’t have to spend most of the conversation defending themselves. There has to be an environment that allows a person to express themselves and be heard. At the same time, both sides have to be prepared to reconsider things. Though I’m pretty well-versed on what it means to be Black in America, I don’t doubt that there have been times where I thought something someone did was racist, when in fact it was not; just like there are white people who may have not realized their actions were rooted in some unfortunate prejudice.

    The bottom line is that there does not yet exist the type of trust we need to have honest race discussions between the races. Hell, to be honest, some black folks don’t want to discuss race with another black person and the same for some white folks. Some of us would rather believe we do live in a post-racial society (whatever the hell that actually means).

    Oh, and hi. 🙂 I’ve been lurking for a few days. Great blog!

  2. I’d love to see you write even more about this. As you know, I’m of the opinion that no matter how blundering or stupid or even accidentally hurtful we may be, we should say what’s on our mind. It can all get worked out in the end, or not. But at least that way people will be authentically themselves.

    (Also, fwiw, I’d never single you out unless you’d already done it to yourself. 🙂

  3. I’ve spent the last 9 days trying to be honest about race working my guest post at Siditty’s (87 comments). It’s exhausting, and I’m not sure it’s appreciated. Scoring points by being offended is way too tempting for some people.

    Am I allowed to drop a link?

  4. The best article that I read following the H.L.Gates fiasco that best summed up my feelings was this one:

    For me, I don’t understand judging anyone by how they look and not what they do, how they are, instead. Those sort of assumptions floor me everytime.

  5. Hi Shay,

    This is a great topic! I think that there are many black folks who don’t want to examine their OWN bigoted assumptions and attitudes but they want to scrutinize the bigotry of white people….but I’ve encountered plenty of white people who refuse to call out racism among each other and instead what to claim “it’s a bit misunderstanding” or “it was unintentional”. Sure. Ok.

    I have listened to black folks railing about a “racist” incident that was actually an instance of classism. So I do understand when white people choose to scrutinize how the “racism” label is being applied by blacks. Many times, the situation is racist but other times, it’s not even about race, it’s all about class. Many blacks see every instance of mistreatment as being about RACE…when sometimes, it isn’t.

    I think that many whites feel defensive when race comes up and they are around blacks because they don’t feel they should “own up” to what other whites have done since they don’t feel they are responsible for what OTHER whites have done.

    One white person told me: “I didn’t own any slaves, so why do I have to atone for slavery?”

    Another one of my white friends asked me once, “why can’t blacks get over the whole slavery thing?”

    I find that very often, black people DO expect whites to take accountability for the actions of other white people – but they don’t want to take any accountability for the actions of other blacks…. Hmmm.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
    Lisa

  6. Hey BGIM. I read this last night but had to think about what I would say since you wanted some real thought about it. You covered so much of the basics: introspection, respect, and trying to look at the other person’s point of view that short of devolving into blaming them all for everything, I wondered what else I could add.

    We generally know exactly who the haters are. So do gays, the disabled, those persecuted for their religion, etc. There have always been witch hunters and book burners.

    This leaves a lot of good people from all walks of life whose culture and upbringing is so different that the chances for misunderstanding are high when they come into contact or see something in the media.

    If they (or we) have had some bad experiences with a few folks from another lifestyle, that can compound the problem. An analogy is a child or even adult bitten by dog, and is left nervous or fearful not only of that dog, but all dogs. That actually happened to me over the summer. I got bit by a big azz dog in an elevator. I met my new roommate a couple days later, and he had one. I’ve been around dogs all my life, but I was afraid to pet her – and amazed at my reaction, because that dog is a sweetheart. But she’s a dog, and thus, not like me.

    So it is with people and the way they think. “Otherness” can provoke anxiety with things go wrong, even when the other has more in common with me than ‘differentness’.

    Hmmm. Maybe a better example is the war between the sexes. Guy/girl has bad relationship with opposite sex parent, or as a teen or adult, gets played by partners, and becomes mistrustful of the opposite sex.

    The kids and young adults in my very racially mixed neighborhood grew up and went to school around each other, and for the most part, get along extremely well. I don’t mean that polite hello/goodbye sh*t either. They party and go to movies together. Frequent contact with one another has made them fairly color blind.

    This is one of the keys to people enjoying, rather than fearing, one another. If fixed news would step out of the way, I think the kind of discussions and color blind social interactions that so many of us long for could take place.

  7. Lisa…you made some excellent points!

    Shay…I can relate to every word you’re saying. I still hope there will be a time when we can all drop the bullshit and be really honest about this issue.

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