Ms. Opinionated: How Do I Deal With a Racist Friend-of-a-Friend?

Ms. Opinionated: How Do I Deal With a Racist Friend-of-a-Friend?

Advertisements

10 Warning Signs for People of Color in Interracial Relationships

10 Warning Signs for People of Color in Interracial Relationships

Bill O’Reilly Bashes Beyoncé: Problems in the White Community

Just a few days ago, Bill O’Reilly showed several clips from Beyoncé videos and said something along the lines of, “Shame on you Beyoncé. You’re not empowering women. Look at all the teen/unplanned pregnancies in the black community!”

(Bill O’Reilly just wants to keep young black girls on the right path. Such a kind heart. <3)

“Disgraceful,” said my grandfather, who was next to me on the couch. Fox News is a favorite channel at his house.

Frowning and perplexed, I refrained from trying to question Bill O’Reilly through the TV screen. Instead, I’ll present my thoughts here.

Bill O’Reilly apparently criticized Beyoncé out of concern not only for young impressionable women, but out of concern for the black community. I’ve noticed that O’Reilly and Fox and a lot of news sources in general are quick and almost happy to point out problems they observe as belonging to “the black community.” Violence in the black community. Poverty in the black community. Abuse in the black community. Pregnancy, abortion, sex. You get the idea— you just take any problem you can think of, and you add “in the black community.”

So…where’s the concern for the issues of the white community?

I’m serious. Most of these newscasters are white, aren’t they? And just look at what’s been in the news lately:

-that Clippers guy, his rant and how he was just banned from the NBA

-that Bundy guy (really, how could anyone defend a guy named Bundy?) and his racist remarks 

this racist letter distributed in a neighborhood in Denver

-the KKK launching a neighborhood watch initiative. I sure do feel safer now!

How can you look at this and not see the ENORMOUS problem here?

Why isn’t Bill O’Reilly calling on the white community to call friends out on their racism, to discourage family members from associating with organizations like the KKK, to tell their children exactly why Cliven Bundy and Don Sterling’s remarks were so wrong? Forget the black community for minute, Fox, and take a look at all those aging white viewers you’ve got. There’s a definite problem, and instead of trying to solve it, the white community is just looking the other way, pretending these current events and remarks are all isolated incidents.

The closest any news source seems to have come to doing this is CNN, who seems to want to help the KKK change its image.  You’re right CNN— we don’t need to abolish the KKK, we just need to rebrand them and make them “new”!

As my grandfather would say, it’s a disgrace!

Fellow white people, please join me in my concern. There is a problem here, and it’s OUR racism. If we are the mainstream,  if we are the majority, shouldn’t we be striving to set a good example? We can’t continue to let these kinds of attitudes permeate and represent our community.

**And on a personal note, Bill O’Reilly— if you’re concerned about unplanned pregnancies, why aren’t you more concerned about access to contraception and less concerned about deprecating black female sexuality?

Racism in the Family

My last post ended with a harsh statement, and I feel I’d better elaborate. Calling someone a racist is often thought of as the end, an accusation of a terrible crime bringing to mind the KKK, nooses and lynchmobs. But the cold hard truth is that we’ve all internalized racism in some way or another. This doesn’t make it okay, but it should at least make it easier to recognize. Often (particularly for white people) we enact racism in a way that we can’t even see, and because we can’t see it, we are immediately offended when it is pointed out to us. A person of color, however, doesn’t need to have racism pointed out to them: they experience it directly and perhaps on a day-to-day basis. Rather than write an essay on white privilege, let me take a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fabulous book, “Americanah” to try and convey what I’m talking about:

When you go shopping alone at a nice store, do you worry that you will be followed or harassed? 

When you turn on mainstream TV or open a mainstream newspaper, do you expect to find mostly people of another race?

Do you worry that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own race?

(For more information, read the book. Or just hit up google. Go to the library. Even better, hop on tumblr and search tags like “racism” and “white privilege.” Hell, ask a black friend to be completely honest with you about their feelings on racism. The least you can do is listen without taking it so personally, because let’s face it— you’ve probably used them as a shield in some verbal “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”-type defense.)

More about all this social justice/racism/privilege stuff later.

What I’m saying is, it’s unfortunately normal to internalize a little bit of racism or sexism. Like useless and potentially toxic materials we take in when we eat, these things are there in most of the media we observe. Oftentimes, perhaps most times, carrying that shit with us is unintentional.

But my grandfather is not that type of racist.

To steal a quote from my boyfriend, my grandfather is probably the type of racist who might hear a statement like, “I’m not a racist, but I sure do wish all those black people would go back to Africa,” and nod in agreement. I get the feeling that, like Abraham Lincoln, my grandfather would have freed the slaves and then tried to get them the hell out of here. My grandfather is the type of racist who admires the way black people worship in church, the way black musicians have that extra rhythm, who once saw a black boy being made fun of in school and felt bad but did nothing, who thinks that intelligent black people are somehow the exception. He is the type of racist who has no problem talking and working with any person of color…he just doesn’t want them in his family.

I might be a little resentful.

Let me explain.

I’ve always been close to my grandparents— I’ve been very lucky when it comes to my family. My college graduation and my grandmother’s death weren’t far apart, and during that year I mentioned in my first blogpost, when I was working minimum wage jobs and trying to plan out my life, my grandfather and I sort of became anchors to each other. We had lunch weekly, we went to visit out-of-state family members together, we reminisced. I learned so much from him, about my family, about history, about his political views (always so very different from my own). Most importantly, I learned that people on very different planes of opinion can still love and respect each other, and maybe even find common ground. Our relationship reminded me of an India.Arie song: “If old people talked to young people, we’d be better people all around.”

My grandfather and I had done so much for each other’s perspectives. I hoped this situation, my relationship, would be something to widen his perspective on race. My grandfather loved and respected me, had always encouraged me in my studies and my travels, had scolded me for not becoming a doctor so that I could take care of him, and had never once remotely implied that I should just find a rich husband. There was also the fact that, as far as men go, my man is pretty great. Handsome, funny, smart, well-traveled. Not just good with people, but genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. My grandfather would need a pretty big wall of denial to think otherwise.

But what would drive it home, I thought, was that my boyfriend has the same hometown as my grandfather, the same name as my grandfather’s brother, and served in the military just as my grandfather and most of his family did.

So I told my grandfather about my boyfriend, his name and where he was from.

“He’s not black, is he?” my grandfather asked. I couldn’t believe it.

“Yes,” I said.

“I don’t know if I like that,” he said. “I always thought a cardinal shouldn’t be with a bluejay.”

On a bird, differently colored feathers may denote different species. But that isn’t so on a human being. I’ve seen the insides of many different human bodies, and the ingredients are much the same— fat, blood, muscle. Bone if you go deep enough. I told this to my grandfather. It didn’t seem to drive the point home.

“You talked about bones?” my little brother said later. “You should have told him that we’re all white on the inside.”

My boyfriend and I laughed. But my grandpa’s thinking bothered me for multiple reasons. Some were based on principles. Others were purely selfish— didn’t he love me? Why couldn’t I change his mind?

I did end up bringing my man to Memorial Day. He and my grandfather shook hands, chatted, and were friendly.

This is awesome! I thought.

Weeks later, my grandfather took me aside and said, “You should be with a nice white businessman. Your friend should be with one of those beautiful dark girls from Ebony magazine.”

I’m not sure why a businessman, but otherwise, I followed my grandfather’s logic pretty well: my “friend” and I didn’t match, and so while he would never say an unkind word to my man’s face, he would always silently disapprove of his relationship with me.

So What Happened Next?

Well, when we saw each other again a week later, and the next day, and the next, and that kept happening continuously…I figured out that we were probably an item.

Also, he said, “We are dating, right?”

Not long after that, my mother asked why I was never home anymore…who was he? Thinking about it now, I’m almost a little insulted. She couldn’t think of any reason more exciting than a man? Maybe I was out adventuring. Maybe I was going out to clubs or had become a drug addict. Maybe I’d gotten a new, night shift job. Unfortunately, parents know us far better than any of us ever want to admit, and mine know that I am not remotely as interesting as I think am.

So I told my mom about my man. That wasn’t so bad. She was sweet and understanding when I needed her to be, as she so often is.

Telling my father, however, was a little weird. Telling my father anything can get a little weird, though, because with him nothing is ever what you’d expect. Let me attempt to put him in perspective. At 19, I proudly told him I passed up an opportunity to try marijuana, and in seriousness, he asked “Why didn’t you?” At 23, I told him there was no way I got a job with a prestigious agency because I’d smoked marijuana in the last year, and he disappointedly said, “I didn’t know you did that.” My father is a man who reads books not for stories, but to temporarily enter another world and absorb the ambiance as though he were wandering in and out of a garden party. He’s a man who isn’t remotely religious, but has read the entire Bible and quieted family dinner parties by pointing out the cruelty in the Old Testament. He is a registered Republican, but hates Mitch McConnell and has voted at every possible turn for Ralph Nader.

Just to give you an idea.

On the subject of boyfriends, my conversations with my father have been simple. When I started dating at sixteen, he told me, “If you can have sex without getting pregnant, that’d be good.” I’d barely even kissed a guy yet.

So when, at twenty-three, I told him about my new boyfriend, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he told me to think twice about marriage, because it makes you legally responsible for all of your spouse’s debt. If they die, you’re the one who pays off those student loans.

(On a personal note, let me say that marriage is something I often imagine. In terror.)

Then, my dad asked me, “Is he black?”

“Yes,” I replied, surprised. “Why did you ask?”

“Some things you just know about your kids.”

I can say with some certainty that I’ve never known my father to be racist. But to my death, I will never understand what he meant by that remark. At the time, it worried me. Now, it merely confuses me.

After a few minutes of talking, my dad said, “Why don’t you bring him to Memorial Day?”

By this, he meant bringing my new boyfriend to my extended family’s Memorial Day picnic. Which was a cool thing to suggest— it meant he wanted to meet him, and it meant that he understood in the things I said how important this man was becoming to me.

But it was also a worrisome, gut-wrenching prospect. Because the picnic was at my grandfather’s house. And my grandfather is a racist.