Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Keeping it on the DL.

As promised yesterday I want to talk about racism on the down low. And I'm not talking about boys who like getting a little boy on boy action in secret. That I will discuss at another time.

Now as a person who lives in an area of the US that is not known for a lot of race issues, and who has been to places where the race issues are right there in your face I can come at this from several different ways. And I will cover a few so buckle up.

First let's discuss the institutionalized type of racism. I'm talking about racism from on high as it were. Racism from people in positions of authority.

Let's talk about the police.

I am not and haven't ever been a knee jerk cop hater. Matter of fact I've known some cops whom I've respected, loved and thought were good at their jobs. Those are not the cops I am talking about. An example from real life mmkay?

A few years ago I spent a day out shopping by myself in downtown Seattle. Feeling cute, all happy and I noticed a man following me all over downtown. Through Westlake Center (mall) into and out of several other shops and it made me uncomfortable and not happy. So, I walked up to a gaggle of police officers and explained quietly and on of the officers put his arm around my shoulders, said thanks for bringing lunch honey and scooted me around the big police van thing out of sight. The other cops, went after the guy.

Turns out, they had been getting complaints from women all weekend about this creepy man following them.

Happy ending, I was treated respectfully and asked if I wanted to be escorted to my bus stop, if I needed anything. The sort of thing I expect from those carrying the weight of the words, "To Serve And Protect".

Now another example.

For a long time five nights a week I walked home via the same route, at the same time. I would get off of the bus and head home. For weeks, several officers in m neighborhood would creep along some ways behind me, spot lighting me occasionally, never once saying a word. For weeks. Now as suspicious as a lone, 5'3" inch woman in an overcoat and carrying (at the time) a pretty business like soft sided briefcase type thing might be, I would think that loitering groups of littering, clearly intoxicated people might be worth more of their time.

Is that racism? I have to wonder.

Even when I was living in an area where it was 98% white (I was quite literally one of two black women in the immediate vicinity) I was only spot lighted (for those that don't know spot lighting is when the cop shine the big light on their car directly into your face) except for the time I was walking home and dropped my purse.

In some of my interactions with police it has been assumed that because I am black and happen to be in a place where shit may or may not have happened, I know something. Or worse I'v been stopped and asked where I am going. On the face of it these things don't sound so bad. Police doing police work. However at 31 years old I have come to loathe the tone.

It's the condescending, you must be doing something wrong tone I have heard from many police officers in and around Seattle. I have been in a car with someone while he was pulled over for driving while black. In a neighborhood with a posted 15 mile an hour speed limit we were trying to find an address after dark and were questioned for about half an hour. We weren't speeding, his tags were fine, his tail lights and headlights were in working condition, we were not impeding traffic, we were not creeping along the street. If you have never been spoken to this way you probably can't really imagine.

It's far worse when you know for goddamn sure that you have done absolutely nothing wrong.

More examples?

I was talking to a black man about my age on the bus the other day, he is well dressed usually not a person you'd look at and maybe think "oh nooo". About three weeks ago while he was waiting for a bus along a fairly industrial stretch of road he was issued a 300$ ticket for..wait for it... spitting on transit property. As in on the sidewalk.

I know the bus stop where this occurred, and it is not a high crime area. It is not a high crack zone. Now why is it I have seen police locally cruise right by men who are not black who are clearly stumbling drunk? Or pissing on things?

Ask yourself.

Now these are not things I've heard or read about in the paper. These are things I have experienced myself. I won't even get into class today.

What about other people? People one can reasonably look at as having some authority in the big bad world.

One thing that stands out in my memory was a student teacher I had. He had come into one of my classes, I had written a paper on my take on Prohibition. It got passed around and he read it an apparently liked it quite a bit.

However when we were introduced I saw the look. It's that look of "Oh yer black". He did have enough class not to actually articulate the thought but it was there. I've been hearing and seeing that reaction I know it on sight.

Yes, folks that counts as racism.


Okay let me break it down for you.

Racism does not have to involve action. Nor does it have to be a conscious thought to be a racist thought or opinion.

Nor does it matter in my view what your intention is. Haddayr (while you're there reading check out her fiction too).

This bit is very astute.

But my feelings were not at issue, here.

Exactly and thank you.

Many people all over the blog world have said this and I will repeat it again myself. Your feelings are not the issue at hand.

I look at it like this.

If I walk up to you and start calling you an asshole and you're offended and hurt and yes maybe a little pissed off, I don't think me getting butthurt because I might not have "meant it that way" is a good reason to tell you, that you can't be offended or pissed off that I said it.

I have seen this happen time and again and sometimes I believe it's inadvertent.

Most human beings when they feel picked on want to defend themselves. However, I do think people need to learn when defending yourself is clearly not the best tact.

As I have said before as well. To my people, I love you, your smart. When you get caught up using a word that someone tells you is really offensive, or hurts them. No they might not be polite, actually they might yell at you. However the answer is not to whine and point, "but I didn't mean it that way".

The best things to do pick one that suits you.

"Oh SHIT I am so sorry I didn't know that's what that meant."
"Really? I didn't know that I'm sorry."

See the theme?

Acknowledging another persons experience does not mean you're ceding your point, nor does it mean you're wrong and horrible, and it doesn't mean you lose the argument. What it shows the person you're speaking to is that you value what they have to say, and have enough class and brains to know maybe you done did something wrong.

Now back to racism and when it's devious and subtle.

Down low, devious insidious racism is way harder for me to deal with than in my face I know where I stand racism. As a person, it hurts my heart far more when I notice someone clutching their purse at my approach even though they've seen me nightly for two weeks.

It hurts me more to think I might've heard someone mutter nigger than someone saying it right to my face. Has this happened to me? Yes it has.

And it's infuriating because on one hand when you point these things out, some people will say yeah fuck that sucks. On the other hand it's easy to get branded as reactionary and crazy and people will either not listen to you or worse laugh and quite frankly I don't generally feel like dealing with that sort of shit.

I would much prefer having someone pointing at me and being forthright in their hate or whatever than not.

It's extraordinarily tiring to figure out if I am being followed in a store because I am black, or because I look like I don't belong etc. It's tiring. And don't tell me not to think about it because I can't not think about it.

I'm probably going all over the place. I'm very tired I didn't sleep well.

I also am still working on my AromaLeigh review. I'm going to do all the colors I bought so you have to wait.

Tomorrow, I have no idea.

Probably fat and um...somthing.

Homo Out.

Tags: ,


1 comment:

mnwhr said...

This is a tough topic. A colleague of mine does work on what he calls "racial battle fatigue". It's how the accumulation of blatant and subtle acts of racism over time impact physical health. For me it's the things liked mumbled comments and women clutching their purses when I walk by that bug me more than being called a nigger to my face.

Subscribe To My Podcast