Racism and Ignorance and Me

Earlier this week I started a little firestorm on Facebook after reading this article about Prince being honored at the Black Entertainment Television Awards. For those who don’t want to click through, I’ll summarize quickly: I asked for a discussion as to whether or not America still needs awards ceremonies, pageants, etc. that excludes all but a specific race of people. Of course, the danger of initiating that discussion is the seemingly common belief that anybody who would ask must be a racist at heart. That’s not the case, of course, but before I continue this I want to give a little background as to why I would ask. (It has nothing to do with Prince, who I really don’t care about at all.)

I grew up in Enid, Oklahoma. Enid is a very odd small city. Despite its size, it was — and still is — very much a backwater, good ol’ boy city. They did not integrate the schools until 1971 which, coincidentally, was the year I began kindergarten. When I was in high school (Enid has only one high school, and I had a graduating class of over 400 during the height of the oil boom in the 1980s) it was still common for white kids to tell racist jokes, after looking around to make sure no one of the race in question was within hearing distance. The black kids had a stairwell on the second or third floor where they’d gather in the morning, and a lone white kid would seldom dare pass that corner because racism went both ways and there is strength in numbers.

Several years later I was working in a machine shop there in Enid. There was a black guy who took a vacation to see his family in … Georgia? I don’t remember, but it was one of the old Confederate states. Anyway, when he came back he was talking about racism there and how much better Oklahoma is in terms of races getting along. Since then, I’ve kind of looked around me and watched how folks treat each other.

Today I’m an English teacher in a public school in Oklahoma City. My school is in a high poverty district and, while whites may still be the majority there, it’s barely, and if you go white vs all other races combined, there are more students of color than there are white kids. Unlike my high school days of 26-30 years ago, where kids of different races were classmates but almost never anything more, these kids are genuinely friends. Kids of different races hang out together after school, they eat lunch together, party together, and inter-racial dating is at a level that would have been unbelievable 30 years ago. The only time I hear a racial slur in school is when one black kid calls another "nigga", and somehow that has come to be a good term.

I’ve never had the money to travel much, so my view of the country and world is pretty insulated, I guess. Based on what I see around me, and the fact we’ve had black actors win Academy Awards, black singers win Grammy Awards, women of color winning Miss America (or Miss USA, or whatever), ethnic legislators, Supreme Court justices, and now a black president, I genuinely wanted to know if the general public thought it was still necessary to have exclusionary events. Interestingly, it seems the more liberal one is, the more likely one is to say yes.

Maurice Broaddus wrote the longest and most thoughtful reply to my query. I’ve always enjoyed Maurice’s blogs because he’s an intelligent guy with a good sense of humor, and I appreciate that he took the time to write his thoughts and point me to them. And that he decided not to name me as the catalyst for his blog, though I don’t really mind because, as I said, I’m not a racist, nor am I trying to stir up racist sentiment. I hope you’ll at least click through his link to see what he has to say. While I don’t agree with every point he makes, he has reminded me that perhaps my world is just too small. Is Oklahoma the post-racial Nirvana he says we all wish for? Oh no. I know it’s not, but apparently this red state has become a lot more tolerant than many other areas of the country and, as this younger generation matures, I think we’re likely to take giant steps toward that Nirvana.

Back to the Facebook post for a moment … Lots of people pointed out that there are few black actors in leading roles on major network TV. Well … okay. Since they watch it, I’ll take their word for it. They say it’s because people of color are being deliberately excluded. I have no context on which to argue for or against that. When I watched network TV on a regular basis it seemed there were a lot of shows about black people, but that was back in the days of "In Living Color" and "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and Steve Urkel. Since almost all the primetime shows today are about cops or doctors, or are some stupid reality crap, I don’t care to find out who’s on the screen or what color they are.

No one addressed my question concerning this Wall Street Journal article about whites becoming a minority within a generation and whether or not it would be acceptable then to create blatantly white-only awards. Again, I’m not saying I’m for that; I’m not. I just want to know if it would be acceptable to the new majority if it happened. I’m a writer. I live in a world of "What if …?" Robert Heinlein must have asked himself a similar question before writing his post-apocalyptic Farnham’s Freehold where whites became a minority … and a delicacy. Is it simply natural for the majority to oppress the minority? What will happen when the population shifts? Have we really learned anything? These are the questions speculative fiction is built upon.

Somebody pointed out that Michelle Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother was raped and impregnated by an unknown white man, which, I think, was meant to show how evil whites are. Well, I’m sorry, but if we go far enough back most of us could find instances of oppression, violence, and tyranny in our family history. Rape, sadly, has always been with us and is not a white-only crime. I know his point was that this distant relative of the first lady was a slave and therefore no more than property, but look at how long ago that was. We are not there anymore.

Another person said these awards and such are still necessary because some people make racist remarks about Barack Obama. I’m not sure how to respond to that. Yeah, it happens … but do the people making those remarks represent the majority of America? Even a significant minority? I don’t think so, and I think the fact Obama won a democratic election proves it. There are always people on every fringe who are going to say outrageous things. To counter this, I’d point to the people who twist any criticism of the president’s policies to make the critic a racist. Saying Obama is a socialist or that he was slow to respond to the BP situation may or may not be correct, but neither statement has anything to do with race.

It was also pointed out that race-specific recognition is still needed because we’re still noting firsts. Obama is the first black president; Sotomayer is the first Latino woman on the Supreme Court, etc. This, I think, was the best argument to continue the segregated awards. We’ve reached a point where few people take note when a black man is named the starting quarterback of an NFL team because it’s become fairly common and guys like Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, and others have proven race doesn’t prohibit them from being leaders. Hopefully we’ll get to that point in all areas of society someday soon.

Well, as Adam said to Eve, this thing has gotten a lot longer than I expected. To sum up, I am not a racist. I’m just an Okie who enjoys playing devil’s advocate while trying to elicit meaningful discussion.

8 responses to “Racism and Ignorance and Me”

  1. All I can do is shake my head. I’ve got several responses to this, but in the intrest of letting sleeping dogs lay I’m keeping them to myself. Just know it truly amazes me at some of these responses. Hopefully one of these days we will all learn to get along and become a nation that embraces everyone, and puts all the wrong and bad behind us. We have to learn and grow from out mistakes and not wallow in them.

  2. Uh, Steve – I don’t want to deepen this quicksand pond, but my comment about racist signs, boards and rhetoric aimed at Obama was specifically aimed at your initial comment, which was, do we need such awards in a time when we have a black president? You’re the one who held up Obama’s election itself as some sort of indication that should determine whether or not we live in an age where there’s a need for niche television, and my answer was that the election means nothing in that regard, and racism is still everywhere/ I’ll go farther and say that it especially thrives in the Tea Party, and it’s regularly seen on TV and in the news. I’m surprised you even question the validity of that.

    1. Racisminism
      stereotypes are not a form of racism.
      also, racism can be against caucasians. Is racism still around? yes it is. as long as people have different skin color It will always be around. But the politically correct nature of the moral relativst left has done just as much to trample of the constitution as the facist leanings of the racist neo-con movement. The television does not tell you what to think, it keeps you from thinking. Farenheit 451, a good read that gives insights into where we are as a society, more true to life than 1984 ever could be…communism and socialism have been scare words from the reactionaries on the right just as Racism and intolerant have been scare words for the progressives on the left….oh bother, i forgot to DVR Survivor

  3. Tea parties racist?
    In my post, I supported the continued separate awards because I believe they have great cultural value and emphasized the right of freedom of association. I still believe that. However, I am offended at the comment that the tea parties are racist. That comment is infused with race-baiting. Those sort of comments suggest that one is racist just because one opposes the policies of someone who is of a different race or ethnicity. To me that is demeaning to fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of association and to those who are real victims of racism and hate. Casting aspersions on someone racially because they oppose socialism and/or communism is unacceptable, illegitimate, and likely to lead to unnecessary backlash towards those who hold that view in the public arena.

  4. That’s really funny, “Anonymous.” Some Tea Party assholes are opposed to “communism” – of which there is none in the U.S. government – and “Socialism” – sorry, Obama is a corporatist – and some are racist pigs. You just have look at their signs, their shirts, listen to their words at their rallies and on right wing radio. And those who are only concerned with taxes but stand beside the racists are just as bad. You’re offended by my comment? Good, I’m offended by tea party assholes. My opinion is “unacceptable” and “illegitimate”? Yours is ignorant. Communism. Give me a break.

  5. Steve~I can’t say whether you are a racist, but your statement could be taken as such. I choose to take it as a tool to provoke a conversation, mostly because I adore debates and difficult conversations like this. I think you’ve certainly gotten some new information and answers on the topic with this discussion, which would be the point of asking.
    I too, was raised in a very white majority (mine was a northern middle class elitist type) and didn’t even realize how racist some of my thoughts and ideas could be. The difficult thing is that the way we were raised it doesn’t seem wrong, but its not standard of us to think about it from the other side. You know that feeling of exclusion you feel when you see anthos dedicated only to minorities or women? Or the feeling of not-for-me that comes when you tune into BET? Imagine that’s what you got ALL the time. On every channel. In every commercial, every movie, etc. Damn right you’d love an awards show that celebrated people like you.
    I have seen change, like you mentioned, more minorities in literature, movies, even commercials. These are all fabulous, but they’re also accompanied by some pretty nasty stuff. Obama might have made it to presidency, but he also has had more death threats than most other presidents, and look at some of the gut reaction of people who think it’s okay to call him a “towelhead” or worse. The fact that I know many people who refused to vote for him, or think terrible of him just because of his race…Bush at least got the benefit of “I don’t like him because he can’t pronoun nuclear”.
    About once a month I hear someone complain that my neighborhood is “getting too dark”. I hear people who would never dream of being violent against other races, but think they belong somewhere else, somewhere that isn’t in their neighborhood or their workplace or their kids’ school. How is that not racism? And if you grew up on the wrong side of that, why wouldn’t you choose to “self-segregate”, to stick with the people who understood and didn’t give you that shit, instead of fighting for your right all the time to a good job, a decent house and such?
    No, it’s not always like that, but isn’t it hard enough to get by without running into the people who are like that, and who are way more common than any of us want to admit?

  6. The Racinimism
    The above is not a word..I used to to draw attention to the notion that this racist nonsense of wanting to be given special consideration due to one’s race has to stop!
    as far as pageants and awards ceremonies go, what was once white only clubs have integrated to the point that being white generally disqualifies a person from winning anything anymore.
    The racism I see in urban society comes from young minorities who want special consideration because of thier race, regardless of the fact that they dropped out of school or whatever the case may. The National Center for Open Society (I think it is called) does not want to level the playing field, it wants to increase welfare and basically make it impossible for poor white people to do anything but fall into the cracks. if you want to do away with racism, stop referring to race, stop talking about minorities, stop giving handouts to people who have lived on welfare for a decade and force them to work, also get our children reading and give them a desire to get an education, taking away welfare does that because they know the only way they are going to make a living is by learning something!
    death to anti-caucasian racism! I have done nothing to opress minorities! The upperclass and old money establishment in this country is mostly jewish anyway!

  7. Wish I could agree with you that racism in this country is on its way out, Steve. But…
    I just finished writing a thousand words on the history of racism in regards to Halloween, and I was unpleasantly shocked to find a huge upswing in the number of racially-motivated Halloween events since 2007, especially at college campuses. Frat boys dressing as Klan members and staging mock lynchings…kids being beaten to death by masked kids as racial slurs are screamed…
    We’re not advancing. We’re sliding backwards, and it’s not pleasant. Maybe this’ll change when whites become a minority…but I doubt if it’ll change for the better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: