Big shock to those of you who know me well, I know.
I just read a post on The Feed, Eric Deggans’ blog. In it he says:
“Why write something so provocative in print and on blogs and then get upset when the community decides to engage you about it?”
First let me say: I thought Saturday’s meeting- the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists, which I attended at Deggans’ invitation- was productive- but please bear in mind that I can only speak for myself. I would never presume to know what’s going on in anyone else’s mind.
Next let me try to answer Deggans’ question: The “why” is simple. Or not. I am not upset, not at all. But I am weary of hearing that I am not a racist. Is there anyone out there- anyone at all- who could possibly understand how hard it was for me as a person to admit to the world in general that I fear I may be devolving (Alex Pickett used that word in this week’s CL article, and I like it; it expresses things tidily) into a racist?
OK, so now take that and couple it with people – black and white and whatever falls in between- who spend time with me and tell me that they do not believe I am a racist. Does anyone out there have any idea how it feels to have to insist to these people that yes, although I hate how I feel, it is, indeed, how I feel? Feeling bad about something doesn’t make the feeling immaterial. Do not excuse me; doing so negates the problem. And if you negate the problem, then you cover it back up again, and nothing gets resolved, which was kind of the whole point.
And it’s pretty clear to me after listening to the WMNF interview and reading the piece in Creative Loafing that I haven’t accurately given the proper voice to my concerns. If I had, then the stories wouldn’t miss the mark. WMNF actually got close, but everyone wants to say I’m confusing race with social and economic issues. My point is that yes, perhaps… BUT (and this is a pretty big but) I look out my window and see a group of people that are not like me. My mind- anyone’s mind- looks for the commonalities these people share that I do not share with them. And we share a street, share a neighborhood, and logic would follow that since we all live in the same neighborhood, we must all make about the same amount of money. So then the issues are social.
Is it possible that collective shared experiences make up the social factors in my neighborhood? Is it possible that growing up black is part of those collective shared experiences? Look, I do not argue that it’s impossible to make different choices than those many of my neighbors have; if you’ve been following this, you’ll see that I have actually made the opposite argument. But consider schema, as discussed at the Wikipedia web site:
“In psychology and cognitive science, a schema is a mental structure that represents some aspect of the world. People use schemas to organize current knowledge and provide a framework for future understanding. Examples of schemas include stereotypes, social roles, scripts, worldviews, and archetypes. In Piaget’s theory of development, children adopt a series of schemas to understand the world.” (See the entry).
In trying to make sense of why people in my neighborhood have made the choices they have and behave as they do, this factors heavily. In an attempt to understand why my neighbors behave differently than I have, I have started to see their skin color as one way to group them. This is the heart of the problem.
And, believe me, guys, I KNOW this isn’t how it should be. But please, please, don’t dismiss how I feel. My struggle is real, not something you can reason away. I look around my neighborhood and see a group of people I do not identify with, and as my mind struggles to figure out why many of my neighbors behave so differently, the conclusions I draw shock me. And I struggle not to let those conclusions translate to ALL black people.
The idea that I am not a racist simply because I struggle doesn’t change that my mind has drawn those conclusions.
At Saturday’s meeting Deggans’ quoted Walter Lippman and his sentiments that the role of a journalist was to keep a community in dialogue with itself. I agree. I thought that was the road we were all about to go down.
But when I continuously hear dismissals of how I feel or suggestions that I seek out a better class of black people (made to me at Saturday’s meeting), I think we’ve begun the wrong dialogue, one that doesn’t address the issue. There are a lot of black people in my neighborhood, and a lot of people impacted by their behavior. Suggesting that I or anyone else who faces similar struggles simply look beyond the boundaries of Bartlett Park and ignore what does go on there does nothing to help the situations within my neighborhood. I live HERE. This is what I see, not what happens in other neighborhoods. This is what is real to me.
I want us all to ask why.
Why are things the way they are?
I want us all to admit that these biases exist and that they are not OK, but they are felt. I want to stop pretending people don’t make judgments based on color. I want to stop pretending that the south side doesn’t have problems because of the large number of poor black people living there. I want to stop pretending that color doesn’t factor into social issues. I want to tear down the façade that the south side’s problems aren’t tied to race and bias. I want to hear people admit that color matters even if they believe it shouldn’t.
I want people to be honest. I want us all to stop being so damn afraid of getting sued or fired or judged that we can’t even admit how we feel. I want to hear people talk about the issues in the south side in honest, real terms. I want to hear “important” city officials talk about my neighborhood in real terms, not bureaucratic, bullshit jargon that dances around the issues without ever actually naming, much less addressing them. “Midtown revitalization”? Are you fucking kidding me? You know what that means? That means making a poor black neighborhood appealing to investors or up and coming white and black people who probably don’t identify with the black people living there at all.
But if you say I do not feel how I feel, or that it’s OK because I struggle with it, that’s just tacit permission to never discuss these things, keep them buried, and fool ourselves into thinking everything will improve.
It’s easy to tell me that I’m wrong. I know I shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations. But I feel what I feel.
I’m looking at a whole community here, and behaviors on my street reinforce those feelings. These people are just as black as any other black person, and how they behave- like it or not- makes life harder for black people who don’t behave in a similar manner. It isn’t fair, I know. But if you want to gauge white people by responses I’ve gotten, you can’t say it doesn’t happen. Not all whites, but enough.
I think I can fairly say these feelings 1) are fostered by behaviors like those exhibited in my neighborhood and 2) aren’t going to change if even the black people who don’t behave in that manner but, ultimately, are negatively affected by those behaviors say, essentially, it’s OK.
So if you don’t like the word racist, find another one. But please find one that doesn’t minimize the problem.
And if you want to have a dialogue about the problem, I will gladly respond and discuss it further. But let’s have the right dialogue.