Monday, July 22, 2013

Just Some Random Thoughts on Race

I've been reading a lot of material about race and racism in America here lately. A friend suggests that addressing white racism needs a more humane approach to guide white people into confronting their racism and dealing with it. I'm not feeling so generous.

I'm tired of waiting for white people to understand the obvious. I'm tired of reading nasty racists comments on a story about fashion. Almost any topic on the Internet can be used by those who want to spread racist hate to do so. I'm tired of having to coddle white racists and I'm at the point where I don't really give a damn if they go screaming into an insane asylum. I agree with an old friend, a white southerner, who says that white people need to talk to other white people about racism.

How long does it take for white people to recognize that they have participated in and benefited from a monstrous system? When I was a child growing up in a society of "no colored allowed" signs, I thought that we were going to move beyond that. I thought that Dr. King's dream was going to become a reality. But while legalized racism has been dismantled, societal norms and social conventions haven't caught up. Since Obama's elections, racism has become more public. A 17 year old unarmed black male is deemed suspicious by a neighborhood vigilante who follows him, shoots him and then successfully argues that it was self-defense. I can accept that the jury viewed the evidence as insufficient to convict. What pisses me off is all of the white people who assert that Zimmerman's stalking of Martin had nothing to do with race. Are they really so ignorant that they don't know that "looks suspicious" is code for walking while black in Zimmerman's world? There was no reasonable cause for Zimmerman to follow Martin, exactly what is suspicious about a kid walking through a neighborhood?

I just read a comment by a white male in NC who talked about how well his integrated neighborhood gets along. He extolled the image of all the neighbors being friends. I'd love to talk to the black people in his neighborhood and find out how many of them agree with him.

My experience has been that it is always up to the black people to conform to white society in order to be accepted by the more enlightened liberal whites. There is nothing that we can do to be accepted by the sheet wearing crew. Wearing the mask, that is cloaking our connections to black cultural norms, is psychologically harmful and emotionally draining. We've been doing it since the first Africans were carted to these shores in the belly of a ship. There was and is immense pressure from the white culture for black people to assimilate culturally if we wish to be reasonable successful in the larger society. I don't want a colorblind society. I want to be appreciated as a black southern woman. Race is a social construct but my black cultural identity is an essential part of who I am.

President Obama's recent words about the Zimmerman verdict were beautiful and heart felt but they've also been said over and over again and haven't really made much difference. White people are not only still clinging to racist generalizations but when all else fails, they accuse black people of "reverse racism" and with sincere indignation declare that it is black people, led by that irascible duo of Sharpton and Jackson who keep racism alive. 

I have no more patience with the persistence of racism and I certainly don't have the emotional energy to help white people learn how not to be racist. 

White people are not the victims but the perpetrators of a system of racial exclusion that has persisted long past the end of chattel slavery and imposed social and economic consequences on black people that have impeded our ability to successfully and fully compete in the economic infrastructure in this country leaving us disproportionately represented in the underclass and in the nation's prison system. I find this to be unacceptable and I think that it's long overdue for white people who know better to talk to those who don't, about racism in America.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Obama, Holder, and the Matter of Race

I don't have any problems with Rich Benjamin's article at, the one where Benjamin poses the question, does Attorney General Holder represent the President's "inner nigger"? I wonder if the folks expressing outrage and offense over the article read past that question. 

Benjamin's piece addresses the same topic as an old, eloquent poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask. Benjamin isn't calling the President nor Holder a nigger; he is addressing the duality of consciousness written about by diverse voices from Carl Jung to W.E.B. DuBois.

Being black and participating in a white culture creates a sort of duality of nature for many black people. We must be careful not to be too black in our attitudes and behaviors because that frightens and disturbs white people. In Benjamin's words, "As such, what black person doesn’t understand duality and double consciousness, especially when s/he speaks to multiple publics and circulates in multiple contexts?" (

Many otherwise rational people have taken issue with Benjamin's critique of Obama's speech. Bob Cesca offers a rambling and accusatory commentary on Benjamin's piece that essentially consista of repetition of variations of, "what the fuck?" (Bob Cesca, WTF is this?) Some liberals seem particularly bent out of shape because they perceive the article as accusing the President of being a coward, afraid or unwilling to speak out on race. This obtuse misconstruction of Benjamin's thesis reflects the general lack of familiarity with the body of work dealing with race theory and race consciousness. Most relevant is the concept of "double consciousness" as defined by W.E.B. DuBois.

In DuBois' Souls of Black Folk (a summary), he describes double consciousness as follows:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
It is this double consciousness that is the underlying theme of Benjamin's thoughtful post. Discussions of race are rare in this country; meaningful discussions of race are virtually nonexistent. When we do talk about race, there is a focus on agreeing that the narrative stay in safe territory so as not to offend anyone, especially white people who are sympathetic to issues of race and racism. President Obama said all of the right things. His words can only be construed as offensive by windbags like Beck and Limbaugh, and those who continue to enjoy dressing up in bed sheets and attending tea parties.

However, Rich Benjamin does not fail to recognize that Obama made the speech that he needed to make. The point of his post is not to bash Obama but to highlight the complexities of America's race problem. Benjamin fully recognizes that an angry back man is not a readily acceptable image for the President of all of America. In Benjamin's words:
Where Trayvon Martin is concerned, the president is also wise to sweep a racial discussion under the rug, because that discussion tarnishes his political capital. Politically, he seeks to run-up his party’s Latino support, by burnishing his reputation for historic inclusion and racial reconciliation. In discouraging too much diversity talk or racial gripe, the president’s image management promotes him as a racial icon with no racial agenda. His image management shrewdly polishes his racial identity even as it downplays it.
The disturbing reality is that even President Obama's measured and thoughtful words have left many white Americans up in arms and crying reverse racism. I've debated with friends since Obama's election in 2008 about the careful steps that Obama has had to make in navigating the minefield of race in America.

Benjamin's question shocks in his choice of language. I think that it is intentional and appropriate. Racism is the insidious scourge of the United States that has long survived the chains of chattel slavery; its continued presence should shock and disturb us. Benjamin suggests that Holder and the President are the flip side of the same coin, or as he puts it, Holder is the President's doppelganger, the voice that expresses the unpalatable truths that the President cannot. It was Holder who put a less than rosy spin on the state of race matters in a 2009 speech in which he accused Americans of “...retreating to our race protected cocoons, where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made.”

The divisiveness reflected in public reactions to the Zimmerman verdict belie that we have entered into the golden age of a post-racial society. Rich Benjamin never suggests that President Obama is weak or ineffective only that perhaps the President has to repress all that he would and could say and that Holder voices the deeper frustrations that the President may feel. It's an interesting theory and adds another layer to the matter of race and identity in this country.