Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

My name is Vernon Lloyd Johnson, and I am many things. A violence prevention advocate and practitioner, a youth initiatives coordinator, and as I like to put it, an interdependent ally. When I was 11 years old, I was robbed and assaulted. It took me awhile to adjust to my surroundings, and to trust the communities I stepped into. I soon realized that being an advocate in Chicago’s violence prevention movement requires me to put it all on the line, and that includes my life, my dedication, words, and attitude. I am okay with that. I can not be afraid or scared of the very people I intend to help. I can not look down upon them and make judgements neither. This is the essence of being an interdependent ally. Other people’s struggles is always connected to your own oppressions, and in unison, you embrace and support one another. There is no neighborhood I will not venture into, and no young person that I do not want to have a profound touch of positivity on.

I recently held peace circles for elementary girls on the west side of Chicago. They are the bright stars I see in the night even if it is still daytime to them. There are so many trauma informed situations, environmental, and societal issues that restrain Chicago youth from reaching their potential. I call it ecological oppression. Oppression at a multitude of levels that creates a negative and lasting perception that these young people begin to internalize. Those young girls have already seen many forms of interpersonal violence, bullying, loss of loved ones to violence, jail, or due to health-related ailments. They suffer the brunt of emotional, psychological and physical abuse from those who have issues that they wrongly displace upon them. Communities are ravaged by poverty, health disparities, and other issues. Amidst all of this, these young girls were able to tell me their stories. I told them that I saw them as royalty for having the bravery to share their experiences. Their puffy wet eyes looked up with a spark of surprise and an awkward feeling of happiness and peace they did not foresee. There has to be a reclaim on hope and value of life for our young people. The human spirit is the only unbeatable variable on earth. That ideology has to filtrate from the individual, to the community, and to the policies that effect people so that we may see the positive social change we all yearn for in the great city of Chicago.

-Vernon

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Do you really want to know? I mean really want to know what the status of the average black family in America is? If you do, I’m not 100% sure I can give you the answer. What I can do is offer you my hypotheses. I’m not a certified expert appointed by a bunch of intellects, who have sprawling curriculum vitas and impressive framed parchments emblazoned with shiny stickers and big signatures. No, I’m just a young professional who lives in a black family, who has friends in black families, and witnesses the struggle on a daily. Hopefully that will be enough background to make my observations minutely credible. You on board? You are? Cool, let us begin!

The problem that I’m seeing with the black family is often times just a lack there of… What happened to the nuclear family that we learned about in elementary school? You know the one; with a loving couple (typically married) and their children. Am I the only one who faintly remembers this lesson? Maybe that’s the issue! Having a strong sense of family in the traditional sense (2 parents living together raising their children) is a fleeting concept, not only in black homes but in homes everywhere. There has been a steady decline in the number of people doing what Grandpa and Grandma did. Meet, courtship, engagement, marriage, co-habitation, then children. Now think about the steps most of our peers take to get to the children part… The differences are so drastically different it’s not even worth trying to loosely list them.

I really do believe that this is the disconnect. We’re so wrapped up in instant gratification that our generation really struggles with the concept of patience, including myself. Taking the time to learn who this person is that you want to be with, for the sake of looking for a formidable mate, rather than just a good time is the key. There are way too many innocent children walking around (potentially including myself and a good number of my peers) that are products of a good time. I’m going to plant this seed in your thought box real quick: When one learns that they are with child, if that pregnancy was not the goal of their relationship, the initial reaction is pretty far from joyous. When they get the news the first thing they think about is: “What are/am we/I going to do?”….

What I’m getting at is that unplanned pregnancies have to be warmed up to, and learned to be loved by the parents, versus loving this blessing before it’s a reality. There is the “Oh shit” phase, hopefully VERY quickly followed by celebrations! Let’s do our best to make better decisions when a life is potentially hanging in the balance. Children don’t ask to be here, so let’s make sure when they get here it’s because you wanted them to come. They deserve that at the very least.

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The Instagram epidemic (a mentality) is a continued and unfortunate trend that I see amongst my peers and those alike, the idea of class warfare being translated into the realm of social media is scary. Instagram is only an example of this type of starvation for gratification through the verbal demonization of other people’s stake in the social media climate. People like entitlement so much, reality is viewed in disillusion.

To update you, Instagram was the 2011 iOS (Apple) app of the year.  The app essentially allows for a person to take pictures with prefixed color and photo enhancement settings. It also allows for a community of iPhone users to follow a person, very similar to Twitter. You may have noticed a key detail from this information; Instagram was originally for iPhone users in the beginning. Recently, they have released a version that is for Android users. Twitter world was met with much happiness and an overwhelming amount of anger. The anger stemmed from mostly iPhone users who now felt their beloved app was convoluted by “poor” and “plentiful” Android users. The iPhone tends to be a more expensive phone because of the hardware and demand. The Android phone is more diverse since it is software based and not constrained to one hardware maker. Nonetheless, both phones are excellent communication devices for any type of buyer. Android phones actually can cost as much or more than an iPhone depending on the model. Android devices also provide options to multiple service providers that may not be the industry best such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. Thus, the “poor” Android faithful sentiment. The amount of stereotypes and generalizations around this is problematic as you can see.

In observing the anger on Twitter, I could not see nothing but a fight for class that many people do not even fight for in their realities of life. Instead, just like the ease of daily vulgarity via the Internet, people take to the net for their lack of self-progression in dealing with situations within themselves. People are dealing with the glim realities of life everyday that deserve a voice or effort put into them (Chicago violence, financial burdens, shit that just stresses you out, loss of family member or friend, your children’s schools, policies, etc.). The problem arises from this “sticking of the nose” in the air of your peers when exclusivity is warranted. To take this further as it relates to class and race, most of my peers and followers are people of color. It attributes to this growing problem of energy being put into deductive behaviors in communities instead of reductive ideas. My identifying group and any for that matter, cannot afford to keep up such a demeanor. The developers of such an app are riding on more wealth and white privilege than ever, while I see the majority of my followers squabble amongst each other. This has happened historically repeatedly through policies that have created social norms that can be harmful in communities of color. When you point this out, people will say that the community did it to themselves, and thus, exit their blame. Dividing yourself within your own identifying group can be harmful, especially when it comes to materialistic things such as Instagram. There is no need for an ethnocentric mantra to be implemented here or anywhere. The people who get it did not get upset; instead they concentrated their efforts in something of relevance and had another day. This should translate to all things by retaining in a state of humility.

“Autoethnography and autobiography signal the strained ability and the necessary reflection that marginalized groups must engage to find and redefine our identities” (Alexander, 2006, p. xx).

“The fact that we are Black men marks our racialized and gendered presence in the classroom. Our Blackness signals ancestral ties that for me, demand recognition as a struggle against invisibility” (Alexander, 2010, p. 366).

In her Southern yet Midwestern drawl, lets just say her oddly amalgamated Midwest-Southern accent, the professor asked: LaCharles, what does it mean to be a successful Black student? My body jerked as if I had just been awakened from a nightmare—I gulped, glanced out the corner of my eyes seeing all those damn White eyes on my body. They were waiting for me to respond, just like a bunch of tourists intently waiting for my “exotic” body to respond, as if they were doing a cultural study on my Black body. Or, where they? I swallowed (this time, longer) again as if I am fixing my mouth to speak—I’m not, I am quite amused by their nonverbal gestures as they patiently wait (hope) that I speak—I can see their privileged bodies scoot to the edge of their seats, as if they were watching a spectator sport, and my Black body was the spectacle. In that moment, I felt like George Yancy in Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (2008), that my body “has always already committed a criminal deed [his emphasis]” (p. 5). I didn’t respond, I remained silent, to be honest, afraid to speak. Not only afraid to speak for myself but more importantly, other Black men. However, I still wonder, was that a moment where I should have spoken up? What were the repercussions for not speaking up? By not speaking up, did I allow the stereotype of Black males “not excelling” in college discipline my body? Then, I asked, what is success to me? As an outsider-within or betweener (Diversi & Moreira, 2009) I asked in dialogue with myself, if I told them what success meant (to me) would they (and by default, me) assume that this is how all Black men define success? More emotionally, if I defined it, I wanted to know—would they leave my Black body alone.  

In this story, I attempt to use authoethnography, namely a personal narrative approach, meshing the academic and personal (Ellis & Bochner, 2000) to voice my experiences as a Black male student at a predominantly White institution. I enter this space at multiple intersections, as a Black, male, student, teacher, son, uncle, and brother. To be reflexive, all of these identity locations will (without a doubt) inform, in some way (good or bad), my story—our story. This story reflects on my experiences as a Black male student in the classroom; it is my attempt to speak up and talk back (hooks, 1989) to systems of domination. More importantly, I seek to reflexively mark how my body constantly resists educational spaces that labor to both disparage and deny my lived experiences. As Natasha Tarpley notes in Testimony: Young African-Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity (1995), “in the classroom, Black students often find themselves fighting battles similar to those waged against Black people on the streets” (p. 3). She further states, “the same forces that work to silence and render invisible Black people outside the classroom are also represented in our educational system” (Tarpley, 1995, p. 3). Just like my Black body is Otherized outside of academy, this is also the case within the academy. What happens to Black bodies in the classroom? It follows something like this:

Its now the third week of class, I am excited yet nervous because the topic for today’s discussion are about stereotypes of African Americans—the instructor usually uttered this with seemingly over-jubilation. I never understood—at least not until later. She would say, class be sure to read the readings for next week, as we will talk about stereotypes within the African American community. She glances over at me and the two other Black students in the class, I force myself to smile—a smile that says: Oh shit my dude, prepare to be the spectacle and spokesperson. The other two Black students who happen to be men, we synchronically looked over at each other, our eyes locked. We knew what was coming—the question was, how to prepare? I set in my chair, which had monstrous amounts of bubble gum underneath, shitty. I set as she began to lecture, still thinking about why she was so excited to lecture about this topic. Was this her version of incorporating diversity in the classroom? If so, I am not sure how—none of the readings were by scholars of color—all were by White scholars talking about Blacks. I was worried. I didn’t know why yet, I hadn’t gotten that far. Yo, LaCharles, Marcus, one of the Black students exclaimed, what the hell is she talking about? I responded in my seemingly academic yet sarcastic façade, she is attempting to add diversity to the classroom! Do you think its working? I don’t. He responded, hell naw man, she is only painting Black men out to be criminals, gangstas, and low-lifes. What about you, Daniel, and me? We aren’t any of those. I, of course, responded, I know brother, we aren’t but to them we are. I am reminded of “Br(other) in the Classroom: Testimony, Reflection, and Cultural Negotiation” (2010) by Bryant Keith Alexander, where he discuss the “brother” as cultural references that unite Blacks to collectivize their efforts around common experiences and oppressions.

The other Black student, Daniel, a transfer from Washington University in St. Louis raises his hand, the teacher visually acknowledges him yet chose not to call on him. The exchange between us:

Marcus: G, did she just ignore him?

Me: Yes, it appears she did, maybe she has more to get to in the lecture and she just don’t have time. At least this is what I am hoping.

Marcus: Man it don’t matta—that was bogus as hell.

Daniel: Just chill a bit, maybe she will come back to me. Don’t sweat it.

She didn’t call on Daniel. However, she called on two of the White students in class. One stood up, tall, blonde hair, green eyes…he said but aren’t stereotypes based off reality, and in essence, true? You could hear a pen drop, dead silence. In this moment my pours began to sweat, I could physically feel my body tense up. I thought to myself, please don’t let this woman confirm his racist statement. She failed me and every other Black person both within and outside of that classroom. She said, this is true but only to a certain extent. I SCREAMED internally, “to a certain extent!!” I cried but didn’t shed tears. I hurt but didn’t show the wounds. In that moment, our heads dropped…yet again, we were rendered voiceless. Marginalized. Subordinated. Silenced would be an understatement. Why did I feel hopeless in this moment? Should I have stood up? What if I was afraid of being disciplined? Actually, scratch that, I was afraid of being disciplined.

Hopeless.

I needed comfort—I couldn’t show or express this hurt to Marcus or Daniel, I had to perform a “cool pose” identity. I didn’t want them to see me vulnerable, didn’t need my manhood questioned in this already painful moment. That’s the last thing I needed.

Hopeless. Alone. Why didn’t they feel the same way? Or, did they? Maybe they, like me, were also struggling to maintain a hypermasculine “cool” identity.

This questioning marked a moment where I began to question hegemonic gender constructions; those that said men were not allowed to express emotions. In that moment, I didn’t want to be called a sissy, fag, or a punk for allowing myself to be vulnerable. It was here where the study of Black masculinity interested me as an undergraduate—I entered hoping to learn about myself in relation to others, but myself in relation to….myself. Like, Bryant Keith Alexander (2006), and so many other Black men, I performed the “expected Bad Black Man” both within and especially outside of the classroom. As he notes it is a performance “that perpetuates the expectations while it services their (and my) desire” (p. 81). My desire to maintain my (our and their) cultural membership. Similarly, Ronald Jackson (2006) notes, “a negotiation of masculinity ensues when perceptions of an individual’s masculinity prompt that individual to reconsider the meanings attached to his masculinity or else maintain and defend his perception” (p. 86). I couldn’t. I found myself vacillating between what others (society’s standards) wanted me to be and what my body, mind, and intellect wanted me to be. I was between and betwixt. As Hip-Hop artist, Lauryn Hill, states, “I was tired of frontin’.” I reconsidered and redefined what masculinity meant to/for me and by extension, success, especially from a (intra)cultural standpoint.

Knock. Knock. The sound of the door as I checked to see if my professor was in her office. I spent the entire night recounting the first and third day of class. I wanted to talk about both days. Come in, she exclaimed. How may I help you LaCharles? My palms begin to sweat, my body tensed up—hands shaking, I responded, I would like to talk about the first and third day of class. Oh ok, do you need me clarify some material? Uh no, I responded. Actually I would like to first talk about how I felt as a student on the first day in your class and second about how you made Daniel, Marcus, and I feel in class during the discussion on stereotypes. She breathed deeply as if she knew this was coming. Did she? Maybe. She said, can this wait, I teach in 15 minutes. Hesitantly…I said yes… wondering if she was trying to push off the conversation. I also breathed a sigh of relief? Why?  Great, lets schedule for this evening at 4:30. Um, ok, I will see you soon, I muttered.

In the meantime, I went to pick up some lunch, hoping to calm down. That was a failed attempt. An hour or so passed, its 4:15, lets try this again.

It is always so quiet in this building. I exclaim, as I walk through the Life Science building in route to the professor’s office. Looking at signs that read: “BANY’s Lab,” “Cognitive and Neuro Lab,” and “School of Medicine’s Physiology Lab.” Knock…knock…me gently tapping the door. It’s me, LaCharles, I murmured, as if she doesn’t know its me already. Oh, come on in, LaCharles.

The Professor: So, remind me again, what are we going to talk about? I forgot.

Me: I responded, nervous as hell, well, I would like to talk about how you made me feel in class doing the first week of class. The day we talked about success and academic motivation.

The Professor: Ok, what about it? How did you feel? Is it something I said?

Me: Well, yes, but its also the way you said it and the context of which it was said in. I felt that when you asked me: LaCharles, what does it mean to be a successful Black student? That some how I was not suppose to be successful and that for some reason my definition of success is different than the rest of the students. Which it is but that’s beside the point. Also, I felt that you chose me to be the spokesperson for all Black students, which made me feel a little uncomfortable. Tokenism.  I can’t be, while we might share a similar racial identity, we are also diverse and have different experiences and I felt you assumed that we didn’t. Lastly, by choosing me to define what success meant for Blacks, you were basically implying that somehow it couldn’t be the same as Whites. Why? Do you see where I am coming from?

The Professor: Sorta. First off, I understand where you are coming from but I didn’t mean to make you feel this way. I simply thought that you had a different perspective. Second, I wasn’t trying to paint you out to be a spokesperson….

Me: But you did, professor. And by doing so, all of the other White students were on the edge of their seats waiting for me to give the “Black perspective.”

The Professor: I am not sure what you want me to do….or say…

Me: Nevermind. Excuse me, I have to go.

Angered by her passive-aggressiveness and refusal to own up to her behavior and, frankly, privilege, I had to leave the office. I’d prefer her jettison these damn microaggressions. Also I wish she would stop trying to deny or excuse her actions, intent and outcome are different.  I felt myself becoming increasingly more intolerant of her avoidance, nicely-covered “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, and lack of respect about my feelings. Nowhere in our dialogue, more like, monologue, was there an “I’m sorry” or something to show that she cared. I wondered, did I shut down dialogue by leaving? Maybe, but would you have set through such dismal behavior? Should I not have been angry? Perhaps, but I was. In that moment, none of that mattered. I was already regretting having to see her in class next week.

As I recounted this story, one in which I will never forget, I remember how hopeless I felt as a student, especially as a Black male where there are more Black men in prison than there are in college (Justice Policy Institute, 2011). How does this moment define and/or (re)define me in relation to dominant discourse of and about Black students? I ask, as a critical scholar, how are my experiences similar to and/or different than other Black male students? How do I resist and redefine my identity as a student to an educational approach that is not culturally democratic (Ramirez & Castaneda, 1974)? For me, this resistance is through speaking up and through performances of resistance (Young, 2010), or, what Critical Race Theorist call counter-storytelling (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002) and what Communication scholars, Stacy Holman Jones (2005), Bryant Keith Alexander (2006) and Robin Boylorn (2011) refer to as autoethnographic storytelling. However, no matter how much I resist dominant discourse and canonical ways of knowledge production—I am very much implicated in this system as a student—yet, now I strategically oscillate to and fro, between and betwixt, my identity as a Black-student-teacher. As a student, I often felt that my ways of learning, knowing, and engagement in the classroom were restricted and unwelcomed. Rather, because of my particular approach to knowledge production and because my lived experiences resisted and challenged canons of education my body and experiences are labeled as “at-risk.” As an undergraduate student I struggled with this term and now as a graduate student and teacher, I continue to struggle.

Note: This piece is a re-worked/edited version of a seminar paper entitled “Leave My Black Body Alone: Negotiating, (Re)sisting, and Becoming in the Academy” for my Communication, Culture, and Pedagogy class.

References

Alexander, B. K. (2006). Performing Black masculinity: Race, culture, and queer identity. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Alexander, B. K. (2010). Br(other) in the classroom: Testimony, reflection, and cultural negotiation. In T. K. Nakayama and R. T. Halualani (Eds.), The handbook of critical    intercultural communication (pp. 364-381). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers.

Diversi, M., & Moreira, C. (2009). Betweener talk: Decolonizing knowledge production, pedagogy, and praxis. Walnut, Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher   as subject. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed.) (pp. 733-768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Holman  Jones, S. (2005). Autoethnography: Making the personal political. In N. K. Denzin &    Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed.) (pp. 763-792).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jackson, R. L. (2006). Scripting the Black masculine body: Identity, discourse, and racial politics in popular media. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Ramiréz, M., & Castañeda, A. (1974). Cultural democracy, bicognitive development and   education. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Solorzano, D., & Yosso, T. (2002). A critical race counter-story of race, racism, and affirmation   action. Equity and Excellence in Education, 35(2), 155-168.

Tarpley, N. (Ed.) (1995). Testimony: Young African American on self-discovery and Black identity. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Yancy, G. (2008). Black bodies, White gazes: The continuing significance of race. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Young, H. (2010). Embodying Black experience: Stillness, critical memory, and the Black body.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

“For those of you who are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how much more tired we are of constantly experiencing it, second by literal second, how much more exhausted we are to see it constantly in your eyes (Smith, 1990, p. 25).”

The aforementioned quote has been a constant recurrence in my mind as I reflect on the pedagogical ways in which I engaged and discussed racism and privilege during a class I teach entitled, “Introduction to Oral Communication: Speech, Self, and Society.” In this section there are 20 students, four of them identify as White, one identify as Mexican, and the rest of the students identify as Black. So, one could argue that it is a predominantly Black class, which I love. The class is an all freshmen class—so they’re fresh, some, if not all of them are first generation college students. In this particular piece, I will attempt to engage comments made by two of the White students (one female and one male) in the class about the discourse on and around racism and privilege. My aim is to briefly highlight how their understanding and comments of and about race and racism is in part why we will never be in a post-racial society. First, I will define some key terms, and then I will present and briefly deconstruct a couple of the comments made by the students, and end with concluding comments.

Racism is often the systematic subordination of a certain racial group by (or historically by) the dominant (Whites) group in power—it can be defined as an individual act or institutional (systematic) practice that perpetuates inequality based on race, both tacitly and overtly (Orbe & Harris, 2008). Additionally, racism refers to a multiplicity of blameworthy attitudes, beliefs, and or actions (Arthur, 2007; Zack, 2003). As one may have already surmised, privilege is the granting of one person or a group a certain privilege over another person or group—often a benefit enjoyed by a certain group, that has in turn, rendered that benefit unavailable to another group. For example, as someone that is able to get up in the morning everyday to run or walk to my shower is a constant reminder of my able-bodied privilege that I have over another person or group—individuals for whatever reason is unable to benefit from this same privilege. However, as Black person there is a certain privilege that I do not benefit from, which is what scholars like Peggy McIntosh (2005) and Frances Kendall (2006) have labeled “White privilege.” According to McIntosh (2005), white privilege is “unearned power [privileges] conferred systematically (p. 112)” to White individuals and that to Whites they are usually thought of as “conditions of [their] daily experiences which [they] take for granted (p. 112).” Racism is slightly different; however, if as Kendall (2006) notes, “If we bear in mind that racism is systemic (p. 22),” we can “remain clearer about its connections to privilege (p. 22).” Keeping these terms in mind will assist us in navigating through and understanding how and why the comments two of my student’s made are problematic.

Before I move forward, it is important to note that as the instructor of this class and as Black male, my presence has already shattered and disrupted the notion of who is or should not be at the front of the classroom. Employing Butler’s (1990) notion of performativity, my Black body unsettles and challenges the privileges of the White students in my class. Similarly, as Bryant Keith Alexander (2007) reminds us, “our [Black] bodies are always already racially historicized, sexualized, physicalized, and demonized” thus, “in the classroom our presence is already a disruption to the norms of our social construction (p. 250).” As a note, I recognize that Alexander (2007) is speaking/writing about Black gay bodies; I contend that this notion can be applied to Black folk in general who enter the classroom as instructors, professors, or teaching assistants. Holding all of this somewhere in your mind will be quite useful as we move through two comments made by two students in the class, each different but similar in their own ways.

As we discussed the ways in which groups of people are privileged over another group, and how at times these privileges are invisible because as McIntosh (2005) reminds us they are often unchallenged. Immediately, following my comment on privilege, one of my Black students said, “like the fact that Whites have more privileges than us [Blacks],” I replied, “yes, scholars call that White privilege.” After that, my Black students were, I would argue, in some way excited that we were beginning to discuss racism—rightfully so, especially assuming how in both grammar and high school there is a void of honest (factual) discussions around racism and privilege. More importantly, they knew that in the coming moments that they were about to receive a deep understanding rather than a surface level understanding of racism. So as an instructor, graduate student, and Black student who studies and writes about race—I found myself negotiating whether or not I should engage in what would turn out to be a heated (but hopefully productive) conversation on and around racism and privilege or gloss over it (as it has been done in grammar school and high school). If so, will I risk letting down my Black students by not talking about it or possibly upsetting one or all of my White students by telling the truth? I went with the former. I was reminded of what Barbara Smith (1990) said at the Women’s Studies convention in response to notion that she would be sending Whites on a guilt trip, she said, “ I want to say right here that this not a ‘guilt trip.’ It’s a fact trip (p. 25).” We have been silent around the issue and continue to be silent around the dynamics of racism and by extension privilege.

In the middle of the discussion, the White female student said, “you are making White people look like they were terrible people” and then she later said, “the past is the past.” Before I could respond, some of the other student’s hand jotted up in an attempt to give a rebuttal to the statement that was just made. Instead, I asked the student, “can I ask you a hard question?” she said, “yes.” I asked, do you believe that what I am saying is “making” Whites look like terrible people or do you think I am telling the facts?” It was silence, which is what I wanted. I wanted her to critically reflect on her comment but also her privilege. My job in that moment wasn’t to bash her comments or to say that she was wrong (even though I knew she was); rather, I used that as a teachable (reflexive) moment to uncover what it honestly and painfully means to have privilege that prevents us from seeing its everyday and historical underpinnings. If we recognize that White privilege is constitutive of race we can see how her comments are imbedded in systemic privilege, constructed by people who look like her and maintained by people who look like her (Kendall, 2006); thus, growing up, the discussion of racism for her may have been existent or nonexistent. Which means, she has probably never been challenged on her views, thoughts, perceptions, and/or understanding of White colonization and probably became complicit in the system. As Raka Shome (2000) so eloquently notes:

Whites are taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage but not taught to see its flip side—white privilege, which is socially maintained and constructed, and which, through various interlocking systems of communication, produce whites as ‘raced’ subjects (p. 366).

Thus, if we think about the communicative ways in which language can be a site of oppression, one might be able to see the harm in her comments, especially in a class with Black students. Because of systemic privilege, “whites continue to be complicit in the oppressions of others whether we mean it or not (Kendall, 2006, p. 23).” In attempt to truly explicate the deep underpinnings of White privilege and racism and to move it from an only White/Black discussion, I discussed how Whites have also rendered the bodies of Native Americans invisible vis-à-vis Trail of Tears and their treatment of Japanese and Mexicans. This comment is an example of why the discussion on and around racism is so important even if its (un)settling, dis/comforting, or painful.

Lastly, as the discussion wrapped up, I realized that we were almost at the 50-minute mark for the class. However, another student, who identified as a White male made a comment in which I had to step back and reflect on how I can pull from all of my readings, writings, and understanding of racism to respond at an accessible level. He said, “I think Blacks can be racist towards Whites.” From a critical perspective, Blacks cannot be racist towards Whites for several reasons; but there is one main reason. If we remember that constitutive of racism is power and dominance. And more importantly that racism is systematic, meaning that it is deep within the history and structure of our society. His comment is problematic because it inherently assumes that Blacks, as a marginalized group, have power (systemic/institutional) over Whites and that Blacks are somehow superior to Whites. As Kendall (2006) reminds us:

It is important to note that in the United States, while any racial group might view itself as superior, only the white group has the power to institutionalize that belief into laws, policies, practices, and culture and to subordinate others groups based on institutionally held power (pp. 21-22).

Thus since racism is institutional (systemic), structural, and is related to power and dominance, from a critical perspective then, Blacks or any marginalized group can’t truly be racists to Whites. Yet, marginalized groups can be prejudiced and discriminate against other groups of individuals, but this is mostly at an individual level not at a systemic level. Prejudice is “an unfavorable feeling or opinion formed beforehand without knowledge, thought, and/or reason (Kendall, 2006, p. 21)” and discrimination is the actual behavior and not feeling—it’s the differential treatment of a person because of their identity. The implications for racism are often far-reaching. Keeping in mind, always that racism functions at the micro, meso, and macro level—it is structural and has been since the founding of this country. From my experience, his comments are reflective of the assumption that many Whites hold about the ways in which racism functions and does not function.

To conclude, what is clear between both these comments is the rhetoric that denies the “complicity of average white people in the structure of racism (Shome, 2000, p. 369).” The students both attempt to offer up this notion that “I’m the good white person” and not “the bad white person,” but from a critical perspective, what are the consequences of such rhetorical strategy? What implications does such move have on the discussion on and around race? If we continue to allow the “burden” or history of racism to be sidestepped by the “I am a good white person,” it means, that the history and the voices of minority groups are further muted. Instead, we should ask that just because “you are a good white person” should you be let off the hook and out of the discussion on racism? As Raka Shome (2000) notes, such rhetorical strategy is “problematic in that it seems to locate the problem of whiteness at an individual level (p. 369)” and not at the structural and institutional level. Furthermore, when statement comes up “why make this a race issue,” as critical scholars, we must be able to say, this is not about someone or something; rather, it is never about itself (individual), but about a systemic one.

References

Arthur, J. (2007). Race, equality, and the burdens of history. New York, NY: Cambridge University press.

Alexander, B. K., (2007). Embracing the teachable moment: The black gay body in the

classroom as embodied text. In E. P. Johnson & M. Henderson (Eds.), Black quee studies: A critical anthology (pp. 249-265). Durham, NC: Duke.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kendall, F. (2006). Understanding white privilege: Creating pathways to authentic relationships across race. New York, NY:          Routledge.

McIntosh, P. (2005). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In P. S. Rothenburg  (Ed.), White privilege: Essential readings on the other side of racism (2nd ed.) (pp. 109- 113). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Orbe, M. P., & Harris, T. M. (2008). Interracial communication: Theory into practice, (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Shome, R. (2000). Outing whiteness. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 17 (3), 366-371.

Smith, B. (1990). Racism and Women’s Studies. In G. Anzaldua (Ed.), Making face, making soul: Haciendo caras (pp. 25-28). San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Foundation.

Zack, N. (2003). Race and racial discrimination. In H. LaFollette (Ed.), The oxford handbook of practical ethics (pp. 246-271). New York, NY: Oxford Press.

Single Black Women…

 

Hello…

As a black educated man in his profession, I must first recognize my privilege as a male and natural bias as I talk on this issue in a heteronormative narrative. I want you to recognize that as a reader, because I am an ally of people who have different classes, sexual orientations, religions, ethnicities, ages, genders, disabilities, and any other definitive characteristics. I strive to be progressive and interdependent of other allies who identify in different struggles.

 

“It’s Your Fault…!”

It is amazing how when I bring up this topic to people they become bias and one-sided in their mindset. People will either blame black women, blame black men, blame women of other ethnicities, but hate seems to be embedded in a lot of the comments I hear on this issue. We have to take on this issue because I feel that relationship dynamics are the first steps in revitalizing the black community and the state of black families.

 

The Facts

Statistics from Yale show that 42% of black women are single. 70% of professional (college degree(s)) black women are unmarried. According to the 2000 Census, there are 1.8 million more black women than black men. For every 100 black women, there are 87 brothers. When we take into account the black men who are incarcerated, subtract 20 black men. Now you are left with 67. The numbers get even smaller when level of education is equated.

These statistics are not meant to be damaging in any black women’s mind. In fact, I wish to help black men and women when it comes to this issue by sparking conversation and changing of certain habits. Black men and women must work together on this.

 

Seeds of Hate

Anytime I look at some of my black peers whether through social networks (Twitter, FB, MySpace, etc.) or in real life, there is a subtle hatred of black men and black women. Often times, men refer to black women as bitches, hoes, sluts, bussas, etc. Black women call black men dogs, Niggas, and the very popular, “Niggas ain’t shit!” What people unconsciously don’t realize is that their diction is actually seeds of engrained hate towards one another through the channels of public policy(welfare, child support, etc.), jealousy, pride, media (depictions of black relationships), and interpersonal or observational modes of communication. Think about how many black men and women you know degrade one another through their explicit lexicon. This is not to generalize black people, but it is a recognizable issue nonetheless. Addressing each other appropriately is only part of the problem. Even things like, “cuffing season” are ridiculous. To put black women and men into seasons of relationships and break-ups is problematic. It has the theme of “not lasting” or temporary .

 Expectations

Some black women have great expectations of the type of black male they want. They might be to be intellectual (does not need a degree), great personality, not too prideful or jealous, has goals and aspirations. They might be to be 6’7, light skin, have a car, and plenty of money. What do I suggest or think of women who aspire after the two examples I just said, nothing. I feel that you should choose someone who is equally yoked to you; otherwise, no one should be upset if things did not work out the way you wanted. You cannot change people, they can only change themselves. I think it is best to see people and their actions first. Are they passionate about their career aspirations? How do they treat people? Could I be happy for a long time with this person? Seeking people for shallow characteristics often yields poor relationships. Never lower your standards, instead, find someone who exceeds them in the areas that matter most. More than often, physical characteristics are the least of them. You have to make an utilitarian (Best overall choice) decision.

 

Communication

Very few black couples even know how to communicate to each other. I have heard of men not communicating with their partner for weeks on end. When conversation sparks, it should be an honest and open conversation. You should make yourself emotionally vulnerable and accepting to criticism on your part. Essentially, just because you may not be doing something right, it does not constitute violence or senseless yelling. Being able to talk through situations is an attribute in a relationship, and not a weakness. Pride and ego has consumed people to the point of being bluntly irrational. When you can admit you are wrong, you not only grew as a person, but you have grown in your relationship as well. Many people over look this, and simply want to be “right.”

 

Where do WE go from here?

Black men and women must come together. We have to look at our language towards one another, exceed our expectations in the areas that really matter in our character both in a partner and within ourselves, and effectively communicate our feelings. A simple message for a complex issue. Also, we have to stop this, “hating” or “envious” epidemic. When we see authentic examples of black love in our daily lives, be happy for them. Black love has become shunned upon (crazy right?…yet almost rare it seems). It is ironic to me how people thirst for relationships so bad, but can not get strong ones because of poor decisions. People who ridicule others are almost always either jealous or insecure of their own situations. You can almost never declare your love in fear of being ridiculed. To counter this fear, exclaim your love as often as possible if you want. Love is an awesome thing. Never let a sense of jealousy or hatred flow through you, you will only delay your good fortunes. Another thing is to not give into the stereotypes that face black men and women, instead, shatter them. Some people feel giving into stereotypes is easier because it is what society has labeled them as. When you are an individual and aspire for more, you can shatter those generalizations for yourself and help others to do the same.

 

-Vernon L. Johnson, MPH

 

*Thank you, please leave comments and feel free to share this post.   

 

Everything is gay, queer, lesbian, suspect, or questionable it seems. Everyday I incur someone who is questioning someone’s sexuality based on pale actions. The comments and bias are even worse within the black community. I will first get into some examples, and then I will talk about why this type of bias is so prevalent within the black community. I will also offer a solution or spark of future conversations on this issue. It shocks me to believe how many people question other people’s sexuality based on characteristics, actions, or even the way they dress. I had wore thong sandals once, and was told that was gay, and I should not wear them if I were a “real” man. I’ve seen people question people’s sexuality based on how they talk or text, which is really absurd.

 

The black community is homophobic for a variety of reasons I believe. For one, during slavery times, men were the protectors of the family and women nurtured the children. These were traditional gender roles within the black community which have lived up today despite the high rates of single-parent homes. People (whether gay or straight) have become afraid to be themselves in fear of being socially ridiculed if they do not prescribe to these traditional roles. Men confront other men when they exhibit any type of “weak” trait, and women ostracize other women when they show any “strong” characteristics. But let’s be clear, men do this to women, and women do it to men. For instance, a man would call a woman who is in an authoritative position a dyke or bitch. Another example would be if a woman does not give it up, or cuts her hair short, the same type of vulgar language and mentality is given. Likewise, women are quick to question a man’s masculinity by what he wears, if he’s emotionally concerned or quick to get hurt, or even, get ready…his vast intellectualism. Intellectualism and love are the two things within the black community folks want so much, but are seldom willing to have or keep it. For instance, a woman who wants to be in love with a guy who is sensitive and driven but dumps him for a bad boy who is constantly flexing his masculinity. Another example would be a guy who wants a caring and independent woman, but is quick to cheat and dump her for not being the one fully in control of their relationship. A woman may feel trumped by a man’s intellect; therefore she will belittle his masculinity in hopes of having equal footing. This is one of the reasons why a lot of my peers are single, and will be for a long time if they don’t change. This is where people shoot themselves in the foot, or heart rather. They have a good thing, and are afraid to make the inner changes within themselves to make it last. I always felt in a relationship you could not change that person, but that person has the choice to cognitively recognize their problem or bad habits and fix it. Otherwise, do not be mad if the progressive person in your relationship leaves you. Not being diverse and inclusive of others is similar to this dynamic personally, professionally, and globally.

 

My resolution to this is simple and unique. Diversity and acceptance is nothing to be afraid of, rather it should be used as an attribute. In my job, if I were not a progressive mind, I would not be there. I would still be unemployed due to my own ignorance, and denial of working with diverse communities of people. Worrying about people’s sexual identities should be the least of people’s concerns, especially when most people have their inner conflicts to deal with. Who are you to judge if you are not a perfect being? A friend of mine said it best, “If you just mind your own damn business, you’d have a better life.” I like to live by that, there is no need to always call people out on things, leave them be. Stop taking meaningless characteristics, and applying them to people’s sexual identity. It will hurt you in the short and long run.