Why I gotta bring up old sh*t like race?
Many make the mistake of thinking that those of us who talk about race somehow “like” it. I hate it. As a person of mixed heritage and experience, having both friends and family of multiple ethnicities, it tears me apart. So, why don’t I just stop talking about it? Why dredge up race when slavery and Jim Crow are over?
Because old sh*t is new sh*t. Sometimes it is dormant sh*t. Racism did not go away and then come back because Obama got elected. That is a ridiculous thought. It is like thinking a weed becomes a weed because the sun came out. It is not the sun’s fault that we have weeds in our garden. It is because there are weeds. The only way to get rid of them is to uproot them. Otherwise, they wait for the sun to rise and the water to run so that they can strangle the other plants in the garden.
You cannot watch Trump’s rise and still think that we have solved our problems. Things like what Dr. Joy DeGruy describes in the video below happen every day.
I know many people seeing this will dismiss it as a simple case of a minor offense. I ask you to consider what is in the video below and consider a private meeting for a home or business loan. I ask you to consider the same attitude in policy meetings. I ask you to consider the same attitudes among the police force, and in zoning boards. I ask you to consider the same attitudes among members of school boards.
When those of us included in marginalized groups speak out we are not thinking about being offended. We are trying to avoid repeating the ugliest parts of our human history.
The thought that racism is our only problem is also ridiculous and demonstrably false. The thought that black people are the only people who experience racism is also false. Luckily, no activist I know, or am familiar with says that, ever.
I have seen people immediately treat me differently when they found out I was of African descent. I have been excluded by both black and white people, putting me on edge as a kid in just about every group. So, I have seen all the sides of racism.
Race is certainly not the only issue that creates advantage or disadvantage
We have classism problems. We have sexism problems. I have also discussed those problems. Many spend their lives at the intersection of those problems. It is incredibly difficult to discuss these issues without people digging their heels in. Recently, I had a discussion with one of my best friends about privilege. I agree that it is a terribly ineffective word. “Advantage” is a better word.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages from my own life:
I have greater advantages in some circles than a white person growing up in poverty in Appalachia. I worked hard for some of my advantages. Earning a Ph.D. while working another job was hard. But my ability to do that was partially created while being raised by two educators around college campuses. I did not have money, but I had access.
On the other hand, there are certain disadvantages to having earned a Ph.D. Most do not think I can work with my hands or do physical labor. I can, but that doesn’t matter once people see my resume. I am automatically assumed to be a head in the clouds “thinker” who probably fumbles around tools. They don’t know I used to fix and maintain machines as part of my last job.
I have also seen the advantages and disadvantages that come with being of mixed heritage. I can blend in anywhere. Everybody thinks they have a cousin that looks like me. I am also a bit on edge, and a bit outside everywhere. Nobody is sure about what or who I am.
There are many kinds of advantages, but we have to recognize that some of them are perpetuated history. When I think of these intersections and advantages, I also know that a careful study history shows that so many of them are ill-gotten from physical subjugation. I do not believe in American exceptionalism. I believe in human possibilities.
Then I think about children who start out running in quicksand because they have a certain color skin, were born in a certain place, or their parents do not have money and access. All this is true in the background of our implied claim of a meritocracy. We do not have a meritocracy, we have a soft caste system. It is not a hard caste system because people “can” make it out. It is a caste system nonetheless because most do not make it out. Why do I believe that? I don’t believe that. It is what we are shown by the bulk of the research on the intersections of poverty and race. If you want to attribute it to family structure, you also have to acknowledge the effect of marginalization and economic stress on relationships. You also have to acknowledge that marriage does not cure poverty.
These issues need not be “wedges”.
If we decide to be brothers and sisters, we can fight for each other. We can have each others’ back. White folks who live paycheck to paycheck working their fingers to the bone can realize that their darker brothers and sisters who do the same thing have yet another burden to simultaneously carry. They can recognize that a black person can win the lottery and still be seen as a criminal walking down the street the next day. I know this is possible and not some pie in the sky fantasy because I personally know many who have grown to this level of consciousness.
The black affluent can (and do) recognize that they are not solely disadvantaged, but have some advantages too. Black folks can recognize the remaining plight of First Nation Peoples is worse. Americans can recognize that many of our advantages, even the environments in which we innovate, are ill-gotten through imperialism and oppression worldwide. Rich investors can recognize how ridiculous it is that they talk about being the only ones with “skin in the game” when workers have actual skin in the game, not to mention blood, muscle, and bone.
Of course, this is all old sh*t. This is old sh*t that is continually renewed because we fail to learn our lessons. Want to start?
We become selfish because we think we can’t afford to care. Not only can we afford to care about one another, and understand each other – we can’t afford not to. Whether we will or not is something I have no illusions about. I know this is an uphill battle. So why do I advocate what I advocate? Because I decided long ago to never stop trying. That is what I decided to do with this gift of a life I have been given. It seems a far more worthy goal for my talents than earning a Mercedes. Plus, have you ever tried running up a long, steep hill? What a great physical challenge!
But if we want to get up this hill, that does not happen with blind eyes and closed ears.
This post originally appeared at The Neighborhood Neuroscientist. Reprinted with permission.
Photo: Getty Images