I was a strange child who became an equally strange adult. Fortunately, I married an odd husband and gave birth to two equally unique children. We've been homeschooling for the past 10 years, moving wherever the wind (or jobs) took us. We have drifted into and are currently planting roots in Laramie, Wyoming. Originally, this page was intended to be some sort o blog of our lives from A to Z. What I found, however, is that the obligation of being interesting was completely beyond me. So, instead, this are bits of occasional quirkiness.
Let's Talk About Race, Baby
“If we keep taking steps toward a more perfect union, and close the gaps between who we are and who we want to be, America will move forward.” -- President Barack Obama
All or Nothing
As a nation, we have a lot of difficulty just engaging in a dialogue about race and the inequities associated with it, otherwise know as racism. Recently, the blatant abuses of power by police officers which are undeniably race related have brought the issue of racism into the national consciousness. Well-intentioned white people are looking at the actions of some of their people and feeling, well, uncomfortable and more than a little defensive. "I'm not like that," they protest. "I don't even see color," they reassure those of use with more brown in our skin than they have in theirs, and finish with "one of my best friends is . . . " And this is the heart of the issue. The fact that in our country we do a horrible job of teaching white people about race. I am not talking about placing blame or dredging up history. I mean that we do a horrible job of dealing with the reality of race because we can't get past blame, recriminations, resentments, accusations and hatred on all sides.
So, let's begin at the beginning. Race is a construct. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have serious implications in the real world, but in and of itself, it is fictional. We are all human beings. We can mate with one another and produce sexually viable offspring, so we are not different species. We may speak different languages, cover or uncover our bodies according to different cultural dictates, define maleness and femaleness differently and, yes, even look a bit different from one another, but we have more in common than our external difference might suggest. The theory of race suggests that physical characteristics like the darkness of your skin, the shape of your nose or eyelids, or the texture of your hair is more than descriptive. We assume that these physical difference are proof of character or moral difference much in the same way that we looked at cultural and language differences in the past and ascribed superiority or inferiority to the group based on the degree to which that group differed from the one that had the power to make the labels stick. How we have defined race, in our country in particular, means that race is something problematic for people who have more melanin in their skin, and those with less melanin get to be established as the norm.
Now here is the most important part: Just because something is a fictional story, it does not mean that we can't or won't invest in with so much belief that we make it real. This is where privilege comes in. In Dickens' era people assumed that the poor had no money and were starving because they were morally inferior. The wealthy looked at the material circumstances of the poor and described them as animalistic, immoral, ignorant, lazy and unworthy of help. More than that, it was assumed that the poor had a place and, given their inferior social status, that place was out of sight and out of mind. In addition, if someone from the "lower" classes happened to meet someone of the "higher" classes, then clear deference needed to be shown to the person with more privilege and more social power. All of this rhetoric is, of course, quite similar to that being applied to brown-skinned people in our country today. The story that we tell our selves, the narrative that we live by is so steeped in the historical inequities directed toward those that we consider "other," those that have been historically marginalized, that we unconsciously apply the higher and lower class citizen status when we look at the people around us. We regress centuries in our thinking and assume that there is a "negro beastiality" an "asian inscrutibility" a "native nobility" that is both attractive and threatening in its difference from the norm.
The Politics of Policing
This attitude of entitlement, the assumption that there are those who are more deserving of respect and consideration by virtue of the circumstances of their birth, is most evident at the junctures in our culture where civil behavior breaks down, namely in the interaction with those whose job it is to protect society and those who are seen as an automatic threat to society as a result of their difference. Police officers are, in general, more violent, more hostile, and more reactionary to those people whom they view as being threatening. Whether you are simply walking down a suburban street while black or actively committing a crime, you are still marked as a criminal according to the standard created by the inequities of race. What this means is not that brown skinned people are naturally criminal. It does not signify that the poor people lack morals. Most of all, it does not mean that those outside of the majority deserve to be murdered, beaten, incarcerated and degredated. Most people reading this will agree with me; however, because the reality of racial oppression is outside of their own experience, they doubt that it really exists. In the video below we see police officers arresting a black man for violating the curfew imposed after the Baltimore riots of 2015. We also see a police officer politely asking a group of white curfew breakers to disperse.
"I was almost another dead black male."In our new #Animation TRAFFIC STOP, Alex Landau remembers a night he was severely beaten by the Denver Police following a traffic stop in 2009. Alex talks with his mother, Patsy Hathaway about how that night changed both their lives. Watch: #TrafficStop
When President Obama was elected into office, pundits declared that we now live in a post-racial society meaning that our history of racial inequality has been expunged, whitewashed if you will, and we live in a new color-blind world. In a sense this is correct, not because we have achieved racial equality, but because people who are uncomfortable with the reality of racial inequality use the existence of a black president as an excuse to deny the seething cesspit of hatred that is just around the corner. Ethnic minorities occupy a double blind position in our society, by which I mean that our authentic lives and voices are hidden and silenced, but our cultural production about these authentic lives becomes part of the narrative which is used to oppress us.
it’s really not my job to make you understand me. But I’m allowing you to see me. -- Jill Scott
In the video to the right, we see a community torn apart by fear and anxiety. What stands out, however, is the thoughtful deconstruction of how black culture is marketed to and subsequently coveted by fashion forward white people. Taken out of context, the audaciousness of blackness, of minority expression, appears to be merely a way to flout conventions established by the dominant culture. In the safety of the white suburbs, gun-toting gang members who talk about murder as casually as they would discuss drinking a cup of coffee seem as picturesque as Robin Hood and as romantic. What is not conveyed is the pain of living in a war zone, the horrible metallic scent of blood, the wailing of mothers who have lost babies, the looks of terror on the faces of children who have been scarred for life. What is not conveyed is the ugliness, the trauma, the loss. The other thing that is not fully conveyed is the strength, the beauty, or the resilience of a community that is torn apart day after day by internal and external forces, yet still manages to rise.
The see the glitter that we put on top of our pain . . . They want to be like us without the pain under our glitter
What's Race Got to Do With It?: Cultural Exchange vs Cultural Appropriation
As discussed earlier, in spite of the fact that race is a construct, we creates narrative about race which are designed to maintain the existing power structure. However, it would be a gross oversimplification to infer from this that cultural production is discrete. In other words, even though there are forces which maintain the separation of people based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and more, there are equal and opposite cultural elements which bring us together.
Consider, for a moment, the case of Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who altered her hair and skin so that she could pass for black. However, unlike the millions of white women who tan or experiment with dreadlocks and braids or who get injections and surgery to plump up their lips and round out their buttocks, this woman took it one step farther. She didn't want to be a tourist trying on blackness as a symbol of personal daring; she wanted to be black -- to the extent that she divorced herself from her family and ultimately became president of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington. Culturally, she explained, she has always felt an affinity for blackness and wanted to align her physical self with her identity. Interestingly enough, although the nation as a whole was perfectly willing to name Caitlyn Jenner a hero for daring to live as her authentic self, Dolezal, instead, was declared a traitor by both blacks and whites alike for crossing the cultural divide.
"Passing" is not a new phenomenon.
The Problem of Political Correctness: Free Dumb of Speech
Racism Is Not a Shirt: Why "Reverse Racism" Is a Misnomer