Walking the (color)Line

WARNING – Racial Smog Ahead

Proceed with caution. If you have a low tolerance for white guilt (stage whisper: that’s code for, if you are NOT white) or tend to have defensive reactions during conversations about white privilege (stage whisper: that’s code for, if you ARE white), I recommend some form of psychiatric medication or perhaps even the liberal use of recreational drugs before proceeding.

Know your limits. Step out of the sweat lodge as frequently as necessary.

No, the race problem in which I was interested cut across lines of color and physique and belief and status and was a matter of cultural patterns, perverted teaching and human hate and prejudice, which reached all sorts of people and caused endless evil to all men.
W. E. B. Du Bois Social Theory of W. E. B. Du Bois “The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto”

A few weeks ago I mentioned some dissatisfaction with where I am as an ally. I can’t remember what I was doing online when I came across this article about Van Jones, where Ludovic Blain asks, Can White liberals keep their eye on the prize when racism comes a knockin’?

Here’s today’s Color Line Question: Are there organized white liberals that can be trusted to maintain their commitment to their issue when the right attacks with racist wedges? I appreciate white fellow travelers, like Tim Wise, and small white anti-racist organizations like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, on the racial justice path. But they seem to have no influence on larger white groups like the Sierra Club, NOW, Common Cause, MoveOn, and other staples of the white left. To be clear, I’m not discussing whether white groups will take on issues of people of color, as I’m setting the bar much lower–can organized white liberals keep their eye on THEIR prize when the right’s racism comes a calling?

The article, obviously, is not about individuals, but political organizations. But something I’ve been struggling with personally for some time is what I can DO, as an individual, to combat racism in my day to day interactions. It’s all well and good to KNOW about a problem, but knowing about a problem and doing nothing is almost worse than being oblivious (or obtuse) about the existence of a problem. I talk about colorblind racism in virtual reality a lot more  pre=”more “>frequently than I challenge it in in the day to day. On the blogosphere, I can take the time I need to organize my thoughts, verify my facts, etc. On those occasions where I’ve challenged someone directly and in person, I am very easily thrown off by the standard derailing arguments when I do speak up, and there are too many times that I say nothing because my brain is just spinning with all the reasons that some comment is just WRONG that I can barely form a coherent sentence.

I was in a meeting last week, and as we wrapped up, someone asked what we were all dressing up as for Halloween. Just before the meeting, I had actually hopped online to see if there were any Twilight costumes, because (for a change) all three of the kids know EXACTLY what they want to be for Halloween (we usually have a theme)… Vampires. This, thanks to someone taking Halle to see Twilight without getting the OK for me, followed by What’s His Name buying or renting the DVD at which point Daija saw it too… and of course Tyler saw it at his dad’s over the summer.  I’m not thrilled about any of that, for a variety of reasons, and when my turn came I muttered that I would probably be wearing dark clothes and purple eyeshadow. I got some questioning glances, and I explained that there aren’t any “Twilight” costumes, but I’d found “make our own Twilight costume” instructions on ehow.com. Of course everyone thought this was fantastic (needless to say, I’m in a room full of white people who see no issues with another whitewashed tween movie), and someone asked me, based on my obvious excitement (not) if I didn’t like the movie. I responded that I have some political issues… and of course she asked why (isn’t that official code for, “potentially charged topic probably not appropriate for discussion in staff meetings?).

I have issues with the mis- and under-representation of minority characters in the entertainment industry, particularly media geared towards children over the age of 5.

I was asked what I was talking about. So I elaborated.

There are no black people in the book. The one token black character in the movie is French. He doesn’t even get to be American.

One person mentioned some other vampire movie where all the vampires were Mexican and were feeding off Americans. Wasn’t THAT racist?

Hmmm…don’t know when this movie was produced, but especially in today’s political climate, that’s definitely racist. Just not for the reasons you think it’s racist. This is one of those instances where I was just too dumbfounded to respond.

Another asked, “Well, what about Friday?

Oh, snap…. I should have thought of that myself. I can dress the kids up as hoodrats & hoochie mamas!

Yeah, that’s real representative of the black community.

Then someone else told me “I think you’re making too big of a deal out of it.” 

I said recently that I have hang ups talking about race in black forums (which should be safe spaces). Well, the only thing harder than talking about race with black people I’m not close to, is talking about race with most white peopleYou’d think it would be easier, but most of the time, it’s like beating your head against a wall. A really big one. Like, say… the Great Wall of China.

So I walk out of this meeting with a throbbing headache. I’m so f-ing pissed… but not with them. I like them… I think they’re a little clueless sometimes, but they think I’m a little bitchy, so it all works out. But they’re good people… and it’s really hard to have the “that thing you said” conversation with good people.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King Jr.
US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 – 1968)

Sure I was frustrated with them, but I was just so damn angry with me. Because I had recently made a decision that I couldn’t continue to let my issues keep me from being a public (not virtual) witness for social justice. If you aren’t familiar with Unitarian Universalism, this is kinda like WWJD for UU’s. Inspired Faith, Effective Action.

I went to my desk for a few minutes, trying to decide what I was going to do with myself. The meeting was at the end of the day, so by the time I composed myself, the people I wanted most to speak with had left for the da. So I stewed over this all evening. I was a mess on the way to work Friday morning, because I knew there was only way to make them see that just because it wasn’t a problem “for them” didn’t mean it wasn’t a problem… and that was gonna cost me emotionally. I was going to have to break out my superpower.

White woman crying. Run for cover.
White woman crying. Run for cover.

 OK, that’s a joke. I didn’t go into these conversations with the intent to use the power of my tears… (although maybe the only appropriate place to employ that particular power is on other white women. I’ll have to think on that. But since I’ve only got 2.5 more hours to finish this and I’ve found ENDLESS ways to waste time, I’ll think about that later), I just knew that I was going to have to make it personal. And there was probably going to be an ugly cry involved.

I’m going to stick to what I said… and that the conversations were productive on different levels and in different ways, and I’m really glad that they happened.

I need to tell you that I was really hurt yesterday.

Do you know why I moved to South Phoenix? Yes, part of it was so they wouldn’t be the only black or mixed kids in their class, but it was mostly because I was tired of not being able to go t he grocery store without somebody I didn’t know coming up to me and either petting my kids like poodles or asking me what (not WHO, but WHAT) they were. My daughter had learned that the brown skinned girls don’t catch prince charming and  told me she wished she was white before she turned seven. Within a year of transferring to a better school in a neighboring (white) district, she had been challenged about whether or not I was really her mother enough times that she came to me and told me that she thought she had grown in someone else’s uterus but they didn’t wanted her… and I really wanted her so I took her. I swear to god, at first I thought she was remembering a past life… how could she think she was adopted? I have pictures of me during pregnancy and at the hospital.

That whole conversation about how the illegal alien costume is “PC run amuck?” My daughter was petrified last year when she was (almost) assigned to a volleyball team where all the other girls and one male coach were Mexican. Because Mexican people kidnap kids. Well, not the moms… just the men. My son wasn’t comfortable with me running to PetSmart while he was in the barbershop we just started using last spring because all the barbers and most of the clientele were hispanic… even though he’d been going to Great Clips solo for the better have of a year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they harbor this fear when all the Hispanic people they see on TV (aside from the Disney channel) are being portrayed as “illegals.” 

I feel uncomfortable on a not so infrequent basis at the office because of the things that are said, but I don’t say anything because I get derailed so easily. It’s part of why I don’t participate in a lot of social activities outside the office, especially when they’re family oriented. I self segregate because I never know when somebody’s going to drop one of these bombs. My children expect me to protect them and I don’t want them to see me fail them the way I fail them when they’re not around.

I don’t know if you heard that an interracial couple was denied a marriage licence a couple weeks ago. The justice of the peace said he isn’t racist, but he doesn’t believe in mixing races because he’s concerned about the children.

I don’t bring this stuff up because I am usually totally ineffective at it, and that hurts. But I can’t continue to be silent  because then I’m just part of the problem. I have to put my money where my mouth is. I have to walk the line.

Now, I have a habit of “dedicating” what are traditionally considered romantic love songs to my kids. This creeps people out sometimes. But as I’ve been pondering this the last few weeks, Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line came to my mind pretty often…  I pasted part of the lyrics, the ones that kept running through my head, steady like a freight train…

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

What can I say… Immalilcountrysometimes.

via Afro-Netizen: Can White liberals keep their eye on the prize when racism comes a knockin’?.

  1. MomTFH
    October 26, 2009 at 4:30 AM

    Thanks for linking to the comments on my blog. I hope it was for the wonderful poem, which I can take no credit for. But, the main back and forth you linked to was, also, between two white women. Not sure if that was easily ascertainable. So, it was also appropriate in that way.

    Keep up the good fight!

    I typed a long reply on another post of yours last night (the one linked to at Angry Black Woman about reading Tim Wise and our first exposures to race) but some not-so-fancy fingerslips of mine ended up deleting the whole thing. I’ll try to regather my thoughts and come back to it.

    • October 26, 2009 at 7:20 AM

      No, thank you! I was looking for something a little more personal than the dictionary definition. I enjoyed your post but when I saw the comment thread and the poem I knew it’s what I wanted to use. Thanks for stopping by… and for the encouragement!

      You know, one of these days we’ll all learn to compose in word and copy paste… or at least do a “control A, control C” before hitting submit. I can’t count how many times I’ve lost an awesome blog or comment that way! I am pretty sure that everything I’ve written over the weekend contained at least one link to ABW, but I don’t think my Tim Wise posts do. I actually wrote those over three years ago. I just recently transferred my July 06 myspace blog stuff in here and when I did, I made all four of that “series” sticky… I unstuck the other ones, but left that one up because I needed to come back and respond to more recent comments. Looking forward to reading yours!

      • MomTFH
        October 26, 2009 at 1:43 PM

        It really was better than a simple definition, wasn’t it? I did quite an extensive search for “white woman’s tears” and wasn’t really satisfied with what I found when it was a dry explanation, because it isn’t a dry issue. It’s an emotional, powerful, personal issue, and that poem really captured it.

  1. November 16, 2009 at 12:03 AM
  2. December 9, 2010 at 11:02 PM

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