04 May 2014

the hate is strong in this one....

Over the last couple of weeks, a conversation that is at the center of my existence has been at the forefront of discussions in this country. The conversations of Cliven Bundy and of Donald Sterling have made the discussion of race something it has been necessary to have. Important to have.

Safe to have. 

And I think this is where the problem lies. We only have conversations of race when they're safe to have, they tend to be short in length and memory, and rarely, if ever, hit at the core of issues. And, because we only have the conversations when it's safe to have them, we tend to miss the forest for all those damn trees in the way. 

It's OK to call a racist a racist. That seems obvious. But it is actually only true in some instances. For example, it's fine to call out a racist if they've done something so egregious that everyone will have no problem standing up and saying that's wrong. Nobody has a problem calling Donald Sterling out as a racist when he says he'd doesn't want his side piece bringing black people to games (note: V. Stiviano is part black). In 2014, it's unbelievable that someone could hold those views: says someone who doesn't live the life of a black person. The things that Donald Sterling said on that tape and everyone was so offended to hear, those claims he made are being personified in your everyday lives: the lives you lead, as well as most major indicators you might want to look at. It's safe to call him a racist. 

Just last week, in Boston, the beloved Boston Bruins lost Game One of their 2nd round playoff series to the Montreal Canadian (preface: not a huge hockey fan, but for different reasons than your racism is steering you to- NHL crushed my loyalties). In the 2nd overtime period, defenseman PK Subban breaks through and scores the winning goal, to beat the Bruins 4-3. This was Subban's second goal of the game. Now I'm a fan of a variety of teams, and when my team loses, especially a close, hard fought game, I can be quite frustrated. I could see myself yelling, and maybe even making a comment or two, but not this. Boston fans tweeted the word #nigger so much it was trending in Boston. The Boston Bruins came out and said that the people that did that have no affiliation to the Boston Bruins team or the organization. Really?!?!? So a bunch of people NOT tied to the game, not watching the game, just HEARD that a black man scored the game winning goal and decided to, absent the game itself, put out a campaign of hatred? Come on, Cam Neely. You have some racist ass fans. Own up to it. But everyone wants to treat this instance as an Isolated Incident- one that isn't reflective of how people in Boston feel about blacks. Having been a guy that spent almost a month in Boston for a few summers can tell you that the racism is strong in that town. I remember listening to someone bad mouth blacks in front of me, and when called out about it he reminded me that "i'm different" (read: an acceptable black man- to him) and when i asked about David Ortiz or Kevin Garnett, i felt like i was in the movie Do The Right Thing when he told me that they're "different" too- different meaning he can't use his general excuse of race hate, so he just carves out exceptions, not recognizing that if you carve out enough "exceptions" you need to re-evaluate the "rule". Nobody wants to say "Boston Fans are racist" especially Cam Neely, so instead of admitting what is obvious (you had some racist fans say some racist shit) he says "it's not indicative of the Bruins organization, which is just not true.

The fact that the PK Subban issue, the Donald Sterling issue and the Affirmative Action in the Supreme Court issue all came up the same week, and they somehow lead to three entirely different narratives in this country. Subban's narrative averts light from the fans and an attempt for team to distance themselves from those claims (even as those claims are interwoven into the team narrative), Sterling's narrative shines light on the actions of a particular racist (as opposed to shining away from a group) and the attempt of the team (and the league) to distance themselves from discussion, and the SCOTUS discussion of affirmative action falls the way that almost all important conversations about race will fall: onto deaf ears.

The NBA is all up in arms about Sterling, but for a league that's 80% african american, they have only 30% of the coaches are african american, and only 20% of the general managers. If you're at home thinking this sounds messed up, go to work tomorrow and count up the african americans where you work, then divide that number from the overall number. the number at my employer: 4/160 so i can't really front- but i've been beating the drum about it loudly since i was hired, and there are twice as many blacks here as when i started. I've worked for a Fortune 500 company as a scientist, and my most vivid memory was knowing that were no other blacks who worked IN THE BUILDING I worked in, and thinking how i always wondered where everyone else was (dr. neil degrasse tyson deals with this here) and I literally felt like i was carrying the burden for my people in every thing that i did (i found out day 3 i was the first black they'd ever hired to work in the lab). I've been the only black in most of the jobs I've done, and in all of the jobs there have been so few blacks it was hard not to assume mal-intent.

And even as these issues are at the forefront of discussions, lets not kid ourselves and believe these won't continue. It seems like not that long ago i was watching a receiver talk about how he would "fight every nigger" at a Kenny Chesney concert (aside: how many "niggers" did he anticipate would be there? did he see Cowboy Troy? Darius Rucker? I'm sure all 5 "niggers" there were worried) and the league was all up in arms, talking about how there was no place in the league for that kind of thinking. I wonder what happened to him? Oh, yeah, the Eagles re-signed him and he'll be a starting wide receiver next year. Meanwhile, Deshan Jackson gets cut from the Eagles on the accusation he might have gang ties. At the same time, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts was caught in his car, under the influence of alcohol and drugs and had $29,000 in cash in the car, and as of today, has received no penalty from the league. So we have 3 "crimes"- one is using the word "nigger" on tape, one was being impaired while driving and having drugs and money in the car, and the final was "alleged" gang ties. And the only one to really pay any penalty was the black with the "alleged" gang ties. Because it's easy to make that call. It's safe. The other two are too much like things that could "just happen" to someone, so we try to whitewash (no pun intended- no fuck that- pun totally intended) those issues away. 

At one time in my life, I taught at a private high school. it was an excellent academic institution, but one thing it seemed to lack in my eyes was diversity. when i got hired, i decided to ask the number of African American students there were at the high school. The number i heard back from them was surprising, but nonetheless, for me, a really easy number to remember: the number of my favorite basketball player and possibly the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Michael Jordan: the number 23. I was a bit distraught when I saw that number, but I was confident I would be able to help those numbers increase. I was at that school for over a half dozen years, and when I left that school, I was curious to see the number of African American students at the school. I was dismayed, but not surprised to see the number at the end was a Jordan number. But not the 45 he rocked when he went HAM in Madison Square Garden and dropped that Double Nickel, but the same 23 when i got hired. A full class of kids had entered and left, and somehow, the numbers did not increase. The school made many claims about increasing African American numbers had, in over a full graduating class set, not increased the numbers even one student. You can make whatever kind of claims you want to about wanting to increase numbers, but if you don't actually increase numbers, your words fall on my deaf ears. The reason why schools don't increase the numbers of African Americans in the schools is, somewhere down deep, in those places nobody likes to even admit exist, whites think blacks going to school with their children will hurt their kids academically, like academic failure is endemic to black kids- so much so that it makes white parents want to avoid the possibility of truth. They don't know if it's endemic (and i guess that makes it communicable?) but they'd rather not have their kids be "guinea pigs" in this "sociological experiment" (words in quotes are words USED TO ME to describe the blight black kids might put on white schools- note- he only listened to me talk and thus had no frame of reference i was black). We can make all the structural changes we want to make, but until we can makes some mindset changes, we'll condemn the Donald Sterlings for their actions, while pretending that our choices to send our kids to "good" (read: white) schools as opposed to "bad" (read: minority) schools, while pretending that the world is post-racial until your white daughter brings home a black man for the first time (and regardless of how "enlightened" a parent wants to pretend to be, when they first meet me, i, almost without exception, get "the look"- that perplexed "i can't believe you're black" look or "i can't believe my daughter brought YOU home" look- which hurts my heart every time i see it even though it's not a surprise)- when you have to go to "that" part of town to do something and you're "afraid to leave your car there"- when you see a black man when you're walking and clutch your purse "just to be safe". These are things people do all the time, and don't think of them as racial issues, they "justify" these actions under a variety of concepts, but the biggest one: safety. 

These kinds of mindsets personify themselves in many instances. I remember once was at meeting of african american teachers talking about race and one offered me an experiment to try: give each of the kids in your class a notecard and have them write six words about race, to describe how they would feel if their loved one (mother, daughter, sister) brought home an african american-what would your six words be? Some of the answers I got in these classes (as the students offered their comments anonymously and printed them on notecards so i couldn't identify handwriting) were simultaneously disheartening and enlightening. I will list three below: 

Bad way to make mom mad. 
Dad's turning over in his grave.
Can't you bring home white people?

These are three statements, from 14-18 year old kids, who, when asked honestly how they felt about their loved ones being involved with a black person, we see comments that are very consistent with Sterling's views. But why does any of this matter? Why does it matter if Donald Sterling thinks like he does and if you students think like they think?

Because when Sterling does it, it's easy to condemn. When it's your child, your brother, yourself: it's harder to do. It won't make a difference until we can call out Sterling for his actions, but also the Bruins for their fans, and more importantly, call out small snapshots of racism, as well as the big ones.


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