You and Your Racist Friend

I am fascinated (and quite a bit heartened), by what I see going on on-line in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

It’s an honest conversation about conversations about race.

We’re not a color blind society, and I don’t think we should be. People are different — different colors, different sexes, different classes, different religions, different sexual orientations.

The point in having these conversations about people’s differences is not to cover up the differences.

For example, a goal, as a parent, is to get my children to treat all people the same. I am not striving to do that by pretending everyone is the same — that would be silly. Each person is to be accorded, by the simple fact of their humanity, respect and love.

If my kids want to talk to me about the color of someone’s skin or a friend’s sexual orientation, I can do that in simple, age appropriate terms. And I can do it in such a way that doesn’t erase color or orientation. I think it’s important to acknowledge that people are not all alike, while at the same time reinforcing the fact that no one is better than anyone else.

It’s basically what my parents taught me.

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Here are some of the things I have read this week that struck chords with me:

Two from Slate: William Saletan talks about talking about race. And at The Root, Jenee Desmond-Harris advises a guy who’s racist but doesn’t want to be.

The second piece reminded me of this post by my friend Carpetbagger. Powerful stuff going on here. If you tune back into some Pittsburgh blogs on Thursday, there are going to be a number of posts about thoughts regarding the Zimmerman case. (I’ll just link back to yesterday’s post, maybe with a little more.)

Mocha Momma (aka Kelly Wickham) has been pushing people — especially white women bloggers — to listen first and then to speak up. I’m new to her blog, but she’s been making me think, and think hard, about how to have these conversations, how not to, in her (admittedly paraphrased because I can’t find the quote) words, be the white friend that others can talk to about their racism.

And this post, by a writer I’d not encountered before, which gave me chills and held me spellbound until the end. This quote pretty much sums up what I was trying to get at the other day:

Listen, my open-minded, concerned, and sensitive white friends: I know I’m not telling you anything you haven’t considered before, but misogyny runs deep. Racism and white privilege run deep. We are socialized from birth on the ways of the world: we live years, decades, before we come to and start the lifelong work of change. We’ve got work to do, and it’s going to take all our lives, because it is part of our lives. It’s in us, this coded language, these world views, this privilege. We are it. Our work will never be done.

I don’t know about Kate (the writer at this blog), but I know for me, part of this work is teaching the children, especially my children, well.

I may not remember every word my parents said to me. But the way they raised me to believe in equality, mercy, justice, and love wasn’t in their words. It was in the way they acted. It was in the words they never said — N-word (I tried to type it, I did type it, but I couldn’t let it stand, I just couldn’t), faggot, bitch, asshole.

Short of having a penis, I am in the almost the most privileged class of people in the United States (we are not the super-rich). I am white, straight, college educated, pretty solidly middle-class, married, with children. With luck and hard work, we’ll be able to stay middle class. We’ll be able to raise our children to be open-minded responsible citizens, hard workers, and loving adults. With luck, and hard work, and honesty, I’ll be able to teach my white kids about equality, maybe with words, but most definitely with action.

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2 thoughts on “You and Your Racist Friend

  1. There is so much that could be said, but I’ll attempt to pick just one piece. Turn off the television for your kids. They’ll get to it later, on their own, but as young children, wwhat they see there without your guidance, sticks in deep ways. And unfortunately so much of what’s on is steeped in the kind of culture and stereotype you’re swimming upstream against. It’s an extraordinarily difficult task to unwind all of the subtle messages about wealth, race, gender, age – you get the idea, that are presented in both programming and advertising. It’s even harder when so much of what is presented subtly reinforces the idea that appearance rather than behavior or quality is an indicator of character or worth.

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