White Tears About Being A Micro-aggressive White Savior.

I hesitated to write this because it publicly acknowledges my flaws and probably also comes off as an attempt to make something I did to others all about my feelings instead.  The fact is, I am imperfect.  I am working extremely hard to be better, but in spite of collecting tons of knowledge, perspective, and insight, I still have a long way to go.  If you continue reading the following, please know that I decided to go ahead a write it because putting it down on virtual paper somehow makes it more durable.  Later, when the feelings of shame and regret have passed, I’ll still be able to read this and be reminded of the work I still must do.

Something happened the other day that I didn’t realize until later.  I perpetrated a racist microaggression. Allow me to setup the scenario:

We were taking a tour and a group of us were gathered in a waiting area for transportation from one building to another.  There were too many people for the shuttle bus and the person staging our group counted off the allotted number of people and then asked the man holding the door if there was any more room.  He responded that he could take 5 more if we didn’t mind standing.  I was one of those 5 and as I walked past, I said, “I don’t mind standing as long as you don’t drive like me.”  It was meant as silly small talk, but the man’s face indicated he wasn’t amused.  He was Black, I am White.  He was not the driver of the shuttle.  He was an extremely high up executive who had decided to jump on the shuttle to chat with us on the tour.  He had spoken to us earlier in the day and had I taken even a moment to process his face, I would have recognized him before opening my stupid mouth.

It is important to understand that I did not assume he was the driver because he was Black.  I assumed he was the driver because he was the man holding the door and communicating how many additional passengers the shuttle could accommodate.  I am 100% certain that I would have done exactly the same thing if the other person had been White.  The thing is, that doesn’t matter.  I should have cared enough to take the extra moment and see him for who he was.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m introverted or self-absorbed or what, but I just don’t process people that way.  I meet new people, and promptly forget them.  It’s only after interacting with someone multiple times that I start to recognize them.  I can’t tell you how many times a parent of one of my kid’s friends or classmates has come up to chat with me and I’ve been completely clueless as to who they were.  But, the man doesn’t know any of that and honestly, it’s a shitty excuse anyway.   Of course, I realized my mistake almost immediately.  However, it wasn’t until hours later, while replaying the event in my head, that I remembered the look on his face and suddenly it hit me.  I perpetrated a racist microaggression!  I doesn’t matter that I didn’t mean to, that I didn’t intentionally do it, that I didn’t even do what I did based on race.  The only thing that matters is how he interpreted my actions.  I can’t take it back, I can’t undo it.  What I can do is set my petty shyness aside and make a purposeful effort to ensure I see people for who they are.

It gets worse.  Earlier that same day:

The entire group was in at a presentation (being given by the gentleman mentioned above) and there was a small prize being awarded to certain members of the audience.  A couple of people (who were White) were running up and down the isles handing out the award to the participants with their hands up.  A Black man a couple rows in front of me was skipped over and he had even waved to get the runner’s attention.  So, being the righteous social justice warrior I am, I made it my business after the presentation to ensure that the man got his prize.  You’ll never guess who happened to be holding them when I went to ask.  Yep, the person I talked to about the man being skipped over was in fact the same gentleman from the 1st story. Also, it turns out that the participant was only joking and didn’t want the prize. 

So yeah… there you have it.  In hindsight, he was a grown man fully capable of speaking up for himself and my intervention was more for my own selfish sense of righteousness… Classic #WhiteSavior moment.   That also means that I saw the executive give a presentation, I met and interacted with him and still failed to recognize him as an individual in the doorway.  Again, for me, that’s normal and I do believe it has nothing at all to do with race.  However, to him…   I seriously hope he just looked down on me with disdain.  I mean here’s a guy that has most likely over-earned his position of status and given the history of race relations in our country, he would have every reason to assume my comment was a deliberate attempt to knock him down.  I owed him so much more than that and I plan to make damn sure it doesn’t happen again.

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Posted in Race & Racism | 2 Comments

Historical Value of Confederate Statuary?

I saw some polling results this morning that suggested a little over 60% of people living in the U.S. were in favor of leaving confederate statues/monuments in place.  I have been discussing this topic for a while now, and the overwhelming rationale is because removing them is like trying to erase our history.  I don’t necessarily think everyone taking that position has malice in their hearts.  In fact, I know that some do not.  Taking that position while ignorant doesn’t make someone racist or bigoted.  It is simply a byproduct of their privilege.   It’s what happens next that will define them.  If I could speak directly to them, I’d offer the following:

First, to understand my position on the statuary, there are a couple of premises you’ll need to accept.  Mincing words about the Civil War and trying to disentangle it from slavery is counterproductive.  Certainly, it can be complex.  You can blame economics, state’s rights, geography, geopolitical climate and other issues that played a part.  However, an in depth examination of all of those motives can be distilled down into justifications for the necessity of slavery.  The confederacy needed slaves to continue their way of life.  Every piece of the economy would be negatively impacted, if not entirely destroyed, by abolition.  Certainly there were taxation issues and other feelings of disenfranchisement, but remember, at the time, a Confederacy without slavery would not have stood on its own.  So, again, an endorsement of the Confederacy meant acceptance of slavery if not an outright endorsement of it.  If you do not see that, cannot accept that, and are unwilling to look beyond the rhetoric and understand that to be true, then I have nothing more to offer you. 

None of these statues was erected as a reminder of the horrible tragedy of the civil war.  They are not accompanied by placards describing the atrocities of slavery and the misplaced righteousness of those that fought and died so that it may continue.  The debate isn’t about statues in cemeteries that were erected to honor the dead.   These statues were erected at civic places including court houses to remind Black people that even though slavery was abolished, they were not welcome and there would be no justice for them there.   To put it simply; honoring the heroes of the Confederacy is to accept that they were heroes.  Fighting, and even dying, for and unjust cause is not heroic.  

Right now, you have an opportunity.   You can choose to take what I offer to heart or to dismiss it and carry on in blissful ignorance.  Just remember, there is a difference between learning history and paying tribute to it.  The purpose of these statues has not wavered and I’m certain you’re capable of understanding it.  The only real question is whether you choose to care.  I only ask that you consider those that don’t have the luxury of that choice.

For the record, I’m not opposed to re-purposing them.  I truly believe that they could be as powerful an exhibit as slave cabins, “colored” drinking fountains and the Rosa Parks bus inside of a museum.   Some should be placed within exhibits and positioned as a reminder that race relations were not suddenly healed at the end of the war.  We need to shed the romanticized notions many harbor about “The South” and instead face reality, head on.  We need to accept OUR, modern day, responsibility in perpetuating the status quo through inaction and acquiescence.  We need to stop deferring these issues to future generations by trying to minimize them simply because they make us uncomfortable.  We should not seek to erase the racist history of our country but, its high time we stop honoring it.

Posted in Race & Racism | 6 Comments

As a White person…

What kind of way is that to start a sentence?!?  I’ve been guilty of it myself on occasion, but as I write this, I’m sitting here thinking about how ridiculous it is.

I’ve met and read many people that weren’t White who actually resented the fact that so many White people would expect them to speak on behalf of their entire race.  As if somehow all people of a particular race think alike and therefore you can just ask anyone a how they feel about the confederate flag or Trump or whatever and you expect that person to be answering based on a shared opinion that they all agreed to at some annual convention.

So, I’m left wondering what it is about White people that compels us to start a sentence out with, “As a White person…”?  Are we so self-absorbed that we actually believe we CAN speak for all White people?  I mean, most of the time I see it written fairly passively, perhaps to offer additional perspective on a topic, but still… It’s not as if we’re really speaking as a collective.

Most of the time, I see this written as another form of the the “Not all White people” argument.  In other words, the reader understood the point of what they read, understood how the issue was primarily caused or enhanced by White people/privilege/racism and felt the need to point out that some of us think and act differently.  Ok, but you have to ask yourself, does telling people how you think, “as a White person”, change the current situation?  If not, it only serves an an attempt to dilute the power of the original point being made by trying to point out that, “It’s not quite as bad as the writer made it out to be because not everyone thinks like that.”  In any event, I’m quite certain the person making the point knows that there’s exceptions to their point and that their point may be more nuanced than presented.   They probably don’t need someone trying to dial back their point by offering an alternative White person perspective.

As a White person, I’m going to try and be better about this.  I only wish I was writing on behalf of all of us.

Posted in Race & Racism | 2 Comments

Uncle Tom was a Badass!

Read the book…

The REAL book, by Harriett Beecher Stowe from 1852.  The modern day derogatory meaning behind “Uncle Tom” was deliberately created as a tool of oppression in the early 1900s.  The real Uncle Tom character was a hero, a highly principled man that stood firm in his beliefs and stood up for his fellow slaves even in the face of unspeakable evil at the hands of his owners.

If you knew all that, read the book anyway.  It was an important and influential abolitionist work that needs to be remembered and appreciated.

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I love you… and you are wrong.

What follows is something generic I wrote in response to pretty much every “fake news” article, every hateful meme, every one-sided and uninformed thing that any of my friends ever expressed or posted online.  …and when I write ‘friends’, you have to know that I kept a pretty tightly curated list of folks I socialized with online before taking my leave of mainstream social media networks all together.  So, these are people I was close with, not just “some dude I knew in middle school” or whatever.  Anyway…

Let me start by stating that I know you to be a kind, loving and compassionate person.  Unfortunately, you’re also ignorant.  WAIT WHAT THE HECK?!?  It’s critical to understand that “ignorant” doesn’t mean “unintelligent”.  It only means uninformed or, in this specific case, incompletely informed.  I truly don’t mean it as an insult.  We’re all guilty of formulating and  expressing opinions based on incomplete information.   I do it all the time.

Everyone is entitled to form their own opinions and, for the most part, they’re entitled to openly and freely express those opinions.  It doesn’t matter whether that’s verbal expression or the somewhat more passive tactic of endorsing a controversial meme on social media.  You and I are free to formulate and express our opinions however we see fit.  I’m going to do that now, and I sincerely hope you will give my opinion at least as much thought as I gave yours before posting this.

I appreciate that your opinion is the product of the information you have consumed so far.  The thing is, that information is incomplete.  You cannot possibly form a realistic opinion by consuming such 1-sided information.  The “news” sources you view may not lie, but I guarantee you, they omit relevant facts in order to present information that only supports their own theories.  Next you have begun seeking out other sources that re-affirm that opinion and even re-sharing/re-posting articles and memes to create an echo-chamber that builds what is called confirmation bias (google it, I won’t’ bore you with it here).  

You and I may disagree on things.  Disagreement can be a good thing.  When two smart and informed people disagree, often it allows BOTH to broaden their understanding.  When we allow ourselves to re-post, endorse and spout off the opinions of others, we become their puppets.  When an otherwise intelligent person begins clinging to an uninformed opinion and actively dismissing facts in order to remain in a bubble, respect erodes, friendships end, bitterness festers and hatred takes root.  Throughout all of human history, no good has ever come from an uninformed society… but certainly anger and war have right?

Please, I beg of you, take a step back and you’ll see.  Deliberately seek out opposition to the viewpoints you’re consuming and you’ll start to see that ALL of our current sources are attempting to influence you instead of simply relaying facts.  Then, once you are free of their bubble, seek out the facts, consume a broad array of viewpoints as much as you can before formulating your own opinion.  I’m not talking about wild, unfounded conspiracy theories… I’m talking about hard, verifiable facts.  Try to resist the influence of media predictions, theories and opinions.  Once you start looking, you’ll see that for every “study” there’s another one that reaches an opposing conclusion…  For every “statistic”, there’s multiple interpretations.  You’ll see, I now you will, because I know you… I care about you and I like to think you care about me enough to broaden your perspective.

Once you do, I’m certain you will see that here, in this specific instance, you were wrong.

Unfortunately, I’m long-winded… so nobody was ever gonna read that… in fact, I bet nobody is reading this right now… I wrote it and posted it for me… like throwing a letter to the wind.

Thanks, I feel better now.

 

 

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The ‘N-Word’

I have to admit, I just don’t understand the allure of using the “N” word for otherwise well-meaning White people.  Sure, I get why white supremacists and racist types would use it.  What I struggle with is people that would otherwise seem to be on the right side of racial issues.  You know, people that would argue against racism or at the very least consider themselves to be colorblind (which is an entirely different topic that I won’t dig into here).

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing, reading, and listening to various points on both sides of this and I still don’t get it.  I do understand the “free speech” side of the argument, but just because you’re free to say something doesn’t mean that you should.  Isn’t that why we limit children from swearing?  To teach them that there’s a difference between appropriate and inappropriate speech?  Why would a grown adult use language that they know to be hateful, disrespectful and condescending to a huge group of people they’ve never met?  Whether it’s targeted at an individual or used generically is irrelevant.  Perhaps they just don’t have a sense of the impact.  There’s no equivalent word that can be used to imply all Whites are “less than” in the way that the “N” word implies a belief that all Black people are somehow below you.

A classic example was how Bill Maher used it recently.  There’s a guy that, whatever you may think of his intellect or his politics, is generally thought of as someone that wouldn’t intentionally attempt to degrade an entire race.  However, that’s exactly what he expressed when he used the phrase, “Work in the fields?  Senator, I’m a house N…”  He was trying to be funny, but what he did instead was imply that somehow, some slaves “had it good” and that he would somehow have had a choice in the matter of what kind of slave he would be.   Hmmm… you think the slave masters also felt field work was beneath them?  Now, Bill apologized and maybe learned something along the way, but I just can’t wrap my head around how someone that makes a living from being informed on the current social and political climate could be so ignorant in the first place.

So, for those of you that stumbled on this silly little posting and happen to be White, here are some rules I’ve been able to put together based on my extensive research:

  1. DON’T SAY IT.
  2. Seriously, it’s not funny, it’s not artistically expressive, it’s not cool or hip, it’s not somehow ok because you think you’ve earned anti-racism credits by marching or having Black friends, spouses, kids or whatever.  It’s hateful.  It’s hateful at the deepest level.  Using it, no matter the context, conveys that you feel you have the privilege to define its meaning instead of the people it hurts. So, don’t.  Just… no.
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What’s in a name?

The nickname I chose when I created my WordPress account was “Open Minded Observer”.  It still is at the time of this writing.  I liked it.  I thought it captured qualities about me that were relevant to my presence within the WordPress ecosystem.

However, recently a few people have commented that I may not be as “open-minded” as my nickname implies.  While I am a big fan of irony, I did not intend for my name to be ironic when I chose it.  I think I actually believed that I was completely open-minded and intended to simply observe the world around me in order to grow.  Well, it turns out the name is probably more of a goal than a representation of where I’m currently at.  The irony here is that I’m open-minded enough to accept the observations of others regarding my own lack of open-mindedness.

Yep, it seems like I have opinions.  I guess I always knew that.  In fact, the “Open Minded” part of my nickname was meant to show that I’m open to changing those opinions.  So, then it must be the “Observer” part that is the real issue.  A true “Open Minded Observer” would not express any opinions.  I would simply hold those opinions and observe the opinions of others while remaining open to changing my own.  That’s a real challenge.  Growth can come through discourse and the exchange of ideas.

I’d say that maybe an observer could also highlight facts to assist others with their discourse, but it seems that facts aren’t quite what they used to be anymore.  There’s basically no perceived difference between a fact and a “fact” (with air quotes).  That’s something Stephen Colbert pointed out years ago when he coined the word “truthiness”.  I do like being helpful though… even if sometimes that turns out to be “helpful” (also in air quotes).

Anyway, I’ll remain committed to my name as something to strive for even though I acknowledge its inaccuracy and possible irony.  Thanks to those that pointed it out.

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