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You Can’t Undo Racism By Encouraging Racism

I wrote the following this afternoon during the time that the “Black Lives Matter” protest was going on at the Mall of America. As I write this there are helicopters in the area and it is unclear if that is related or not. The objective of a protest is to make an opinion be known and seek change, typically a city hall or Capitol is the appropriate place to do that. The protestors were informed by the mall management that their location was not an appropriate venue for this type of gathering. Additionally the MOA offered to create a space in one of their parking lots for the event to take place. The organizers continued to instruct participants via social media to enter in small groups to avoid being confronted. Some stores closed their gates, some people were arrested, there was disruption to shopping on what was predicted to be the largest shopping day of the year. Some shoppers avoided the mall, the place was filled with those not making purchases. I imagine there are some who traveled to the mall from a distance to Christmas shop and who will not return because of the protest. In addition to costing tax payers a lot of money by requiring additional police, the lost revenue also cost the state and community substantially in tax revenue. I understand constitutional rights and freedom of assembly but as a Bloomington tax payer I think this was an ill-advised and selfish gesture that accomplished nothing. While I recognize legitimate frustration among those protesting, I am uncertain how breaking the law and potentially causing job loss (that’s the reality of stores not making profit) will elicit change. Maybe that’s where it all begins, stopping and thinking about how our actions impact the larger community we are part of and remembering We All Matter!:

It happened many years ago, as I entered the secure building where I worked and lived and the person behind me grabbed the door to “tailgate” in behind me. As I had done dozens of times before and on several campuses in many states, I turned to inquire “do you live here?”. The typical response was usually either “No, I am coming to visit a friend” or a “Yes” and a fumbling for their own key card to show me. To which I would either show them how the entry panel intercom worked or simply offer a nod and a polite reminder to use their key. College students were prone to not necessarily thinking much about the importance of security in a building housing nearly 500 and were often looking for a shortcut. Role modeling how to be assertive and live in a metropolitan area was actually an aspect of my job. In past situations the person would typically thank me or offer a shrug of acknowledgement. Sometimes I would comment “our building is only as secure as our tenants willingness to address those trying to sneak in with them”.

This day was different though. After I asked the question the response came with a tirade of expletives and a loud accusation that I was a racist. There in front of people whom I supervised and only yards down the hallway from my husband and my own young children. It was on that day I realized that there is no possible way to defend yourself against such an accusation. Once a person says it or believes it, that is fact to them. Despite my claim that I had no idea what race he was when he grabbed the door from behind me or that since he was paying to live in a “secure building” he should also be confirming that those entering belonged there. Not listening to my words, he continued his tirade, his goal was to publicly humiliate me. His words were loud and harsh as he attempted to discredit me. The racism being that he felt he could address me in this manner because I was a white woman served as a glimpse at some rage he carried that gave him permission to degrade another human being simply because of the color of their skin. It was ironic that he wanted to be treated differently because of the color of his skin while making a declaration of the opposite.

Several years earlier, while working at a different school I had been called a “black sympathizer” because of a perceived kindness I had toward the black students on campus. The reality was that I was treating the black students no differently than the white students, in an area where that was not always the case with others. So my behavior looked different. As with being called a “racist” the accusation of being a “black sympathizer” rang true to those who claimed it, not because of my behavior but because of their interpretation of it.

When exploring recent events in the news I am struck by how unfortunate it is that rather than working together to eliminate race, religion, color or ethnic origin as a means of determining how to treat or interact with individuals, there are groups and organizers looking to bring those differences to the forefront and stoke embers of distrust and old perceptions to try to ignite dying flames of hatred that had been tamped out. In most instances there are genuinely good people of every race, occupation and conceivable grouping and likewise there will be opportunists, the lazy and those motivated by evil within a population. We must address them all as individuals and not representatives of the real or perceived groups that they or others identify them with.

I think that in an effort to be more sensitive toward those who are not like us there has come a genuinely ignorant obsession with demonizing “racial profiling”. The idea that you don’t see color or recognize differences is actually more offensive than simply acknowledging that everyone is different and trying to learn and be understanding of those differences. I am not suggesting that you make blanket assumptions about people because of their gender, fashion choices or skin color. I am merely pointing out that airlines have not seen a lot of white-haired women of Scandinavian origin using explosive casseroles as a means of bringing down planes and thus efforts to curtail hijacking are wasted out of a sense of “fairness”. That to me is dumb. Don’t cavity search a grandma without cause and don’t ignore suspicious behavior from another individual simply for fear of being accused of something, lives actually depend on it.

As unpopular as this may sound I honestly believe that in many situations we all benefit from (racial) profiling every day. Profiling (racial and otherwise) is why grocery stores nearer to Mount Olivet church in South Minneapolis will carry larger quantities of lefse and lutefisk than stores in North Minneapolis do. It is why if I wanted to track down items for a Hanukkah celebration I might have more luck in the suburb of St. Louis Park than I would in Bloomington. These observations are not insensitive or racist, they are common sense and cost-effective. My friend who works at a chain of supermarkets in a local community consistently sells substantially more fried chicken than any other store in the chain, based on the demographics of their location. People would be outraged if it was unavailable to them because of a need to be equal and only allocating the same amount to each store. This should not offend anyone.

Fairness. I think what people in general want is more about fairness than everyone being treated exactly the same because ultimately, we are not all the same. When a person thinks they can call me out purely because I am white or because I am a woman that is not right or fair. When a police officer pulls me over going 72 in a 55 mph zone I think it is fair to ticket me and it would be unfair of me to accuse them of pulling me over because I am white and a woman. If I were to make that claim, the officer would have no way to disprove my assertion.

In raising our children we must not claim to know the motivations of others and we must guide them in understanding what they need to do to remain safe and the appropriate way to defy authority when necessary. This is not a race thing, it is a civic thing. We can’t make assumptions about people because of their job, their religion, their race or political views. We do not need to agree with others but whenever possible we need to have a tolerant respect for the fact that others have different views. It makes no more sense to think that a black person got arrested for being black than it does to say a black person is on an NBA team because they are black. You get arrested for breaking a law and you get on an NBA team not because of “black privilege” but because you perhaps worked harder and are more skilled than people who did not make the team (regardless of their race). The reverse is also true, a white person claiming not to have made an NBA team because they are white is focused on one narrow aspect of who they are, not the entire package. They didn’t make the team because (regardless of race) there were enough people of a greater skill level to fill the spaces. Parents sometimes look for excuses to soften the blow when their children face disappointments. Don’t let this habit distort your child’s ability to grasp cause and effect. Don’t model disrespectful behavior to others and then expect your children not to emulate it. Our news is filled with the unintentional outcome of children not offered the appropriate guidance in learning how to navigate in society. It’s not the child’s fault but they often reap the consequences.

It is important to remember our heritage but while honoring it not carrying the baggage of previous generations or assuming that we are owed something based on their experiences. When my grandparents arrived from Ireland my grandfather spent years being moved around in an attempt to prevent him from being naturalized (a consistent address for a specific time period being a requirement at that time). My children are aware of this but are not burdened by it. Likewise my children are aware of their religious heritage; Episcopalian, Catholic, Amish, Methodist, Mormon, Christian Scientist and their children will learn someday about why they were baptized Lutheran. It’s part of who they are but it’s not something that makes them judge others based upon their choices.

We could all do better by looking at how we interact with others, finding our commonalities and thinking about our own actions. We don’t have to like each other but we do need to share the same space and some mutual respect would go a long ways toward repairing distrust and inaccuracies.

Telling me that I hold these ideas because of “white privilege” is another divisive and dismissive means of making no effort to understand someone else. While my opinion is of no greater value than anyone else, it is also not of any lesser value because I am white. There is nothing inherently helpful about yelling down a group of people or ignoring their thoughts as a means of advancing ones cause. You already know the color of my skin but honestly it would be my hope that the content of my character would be of greater importance. None of us have control over the color we were born, all of us have control over how we behave after we are born. Choose wisely.

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