(NOTE: Cross Posted @ THEBLACKCRITIC.COM)Edited Version
I had never really grappled with the idea that I harbored latent racists views before. I grew up in a world were we would ignorantly kill or die for every member of our gang of misfits--Black or White. It seemed a bit absurd to question the racial views of folks who would gladly lay down their lives for members of an opposite race. How could I harbor a racist attitude towards Whites when I was once a teenager who would hop to the front of the line to intercept a bullet whizzing for my White homeboy's head? Could I be a racist--no matter what my history? I couldn't phantom ever asking that question of myself before a couple days ago, when a few of my homeboys and I decided to do some last minute Christmas shopping on Christmas eve.
Traffic was ridiculous, so we took the train. But no sooner than we barged on board, I noticed an extremely overweight Black woman sitting in a corner clutching onto a bulky plastic black bag as though it was a Bible and could somehow rescue her from the evils of mankind. She was no more than twenty three, and there were four White dudes about the same age standing a few feet from her, laughing loudly and sneaking glances at her as they made not-so-quiet jokes about her tattered shoes and clothing and weight. In the millisecond it took for the whole situation to sink in, it dawned on me that we had just stepped into a situation that could very quickly have us spending our Christmas eve in jail.
There were three of us, and half the time we still act the part of knuckleheads, even though our style of fashion never quite matches the current stereotype of thugs. We could easily be confused as your average businessmen--we learned to adapt to our environment and the current climate of our assorted hoods. When police began profiling Timberland boots, sagging pants, and other dress codes as high priority targets, we switched the game up and changed our profiles. Police often drive by us now on the highway and wave instead of pulling us over when we are riding dirty. It's amazing what a simple blazer and a buttoned-up shirt can do.
But one look deep into our eyes and it's no mistaking the repressed anger and hatred and bitterness bubbling over inside us, just waiting for an excuse to escape.
My homeboy, Big Dent--always the most confrontational of the crew--was the first to react. He asked the sister if she knew the White dudes. She glanced up at Big Dent for a second, depressingly timid for my tastes, and shook her head "No" before bowing her head again and staring at the floor. I decided to preempt Big Dent and confront the White guys myself, in a very firm but far less aggressive manner than the one Big Dent prefers. I wanted to quickly explore a few peaceful options, just in case Big Dent's plans involved us ending up with a few assault charges as Christmas presents. Only foolish people commit crimes on credit. And I'm not inclined to waste felonies.
I briskly chastised the four dudes, insisted that they apologize to the sister, and let them know that there was nothing "funny" about picking on defenseless seeming folks. I purposely avoided saying anything racial, as I was certain that would only rile up Big Dent. They complied, hastily, and let the sister know they were sorry. I wished all four of them a merry Christmas and quickly invented a distracting conversation with my homeboys about the possibility of Mayweather coming out of retirement to dispatch of Pacquiao. I wanted the signal to be clear that the issue was now dead. And I didn't want my homeboys to have an excuse to escalate the situation.
After a moment of obvious discomfort, the four dudes muffled a "Sorry, man, we were just messing around" and shuffled away, into another part of the train. I nodded my response and continued explaining a few more reasons why Mayweather would absolutely destroy Pacquiao. Later, when it was time for us to exit, I wished the sister a wonderful Christmas and left. We could now spend our dough on bargain discount sales instead of bail, so I was cool.
Big Dent, later that evening, revealed to our friends and family members how close he had come to physically checking the four dudes. The fact that I stepped in so quickly had disarmed him enough to blunt his instinctive response. But the longer everyone laughed and talked and offered up hypothetical situations ("What would ya'll had done if they had said, 'F- you'?"), I began to entertain other, more realistic possibilities. What if the four dudes had been Black? Would our response have been any different? What if the woman was White? Did we become insulted because an innocent woman was being mistreated, or were we merely offended because they were White guys, and their victim was a meek Black woman? Were we acting out of a sense of good Samaritan principles that just happened to compliment a sense of racial pride or were we just undercover racial bigots in our own twisted way?
The more I entertained these questions, the more I realized that we had a problem on our hands. How could I be a part of a website that hopes to fight against racism and injustice if I, in my own way, am a part of the problem? You can't rail against the injustice caused by racist White folks if you are racist as hell yourself. Saying one thing and doing another has never been my style. I'm no better than the hypocritical preachers that I warn against if I hop on that crowded expressway.
After our spade game had finished and our annual Christmas eve poker tournament had concluded, I decided to let the social gurus in my neighborhood chew on the question. The response I got was varied, passionate, and interesting.
Some suggested Black folks can't be racist at all because we lack any real social power in America as a race. This, on the surface, just sounded flimsy to me. I've been offered assorted variations of these arguments before; I just haven't bought any stock in them yet. It sounds too much like an excuse--even if it isn't one. I know some very racists Black folks in my neighborhood, and pretending like they don't exist just because they lack some imaginary gold standard of power, seems like a case of denial at best.
Based on the logic they wanted to hustle me with, the tobacco chewing White hillbilly who practically lives on his tractor isn't really a racist when he calls Black folks porch monkeys and view us as inferior creatures who belong back in a jungle in Africa somewhere because, well, he has no real power. He can refuse to allow his daughter to marry a Black man because he doesn't want little "Nigger Babies," but I guess he can't really be considered racist for these statements if "power" is the measuring stick. Because, truth is, he has about as much "power" in our society as blind and homeless winos--regardless of the "dominant" race he may be a part of.
My uncle countered my argument by explaining to me the whole theory behind "White Privilege." Problem is, I've read a series of very powerful books and essays breaking down the reality of White Privilege. I just don't see how that has as much to do with race as it does with human nature--we are very cold and evil creatures at the core sometimes. If bald headed people were the majority in this country, with all the "gold standard" of power, I believe people with hair would be out here complaining about the "Bald Head Privilege."
Those who have the power--or even the perception of power--will always claim certain privileges over others. I think I need evidence of a time in history where powerless people maintained equal privilege--otherwise you are asking me to fight against something that has always existed and will never change. It's like asking me to fight against tall people being able to see over people's heads at your local movie theater or state fair--it's a fight rooted more in masking your personal insecurities than it is of hoping to accomplishing any real results.
If White Privilege comes from maintaining a dominant source of power, then it seems like a more plausible strategy for us to be designing methods to tap into that power source as a race instead of whining about its existence--especially since there is no evidence that any society ever existed without it. If women were the wielders of absolute power in America, I'm guessing that men would be out marching and fighting for equal rights and anti-discrimination laws.
My take on it is simple: It's the reason philosophers all throughout history have warned us about the ability of power to corrupt. It seems naive and even a bit dishonest to offer up a theory that pretends one race or one type of people or one gender will handle power and privilege better than another one. There is simply no evidence to base this on--girls bully other girls outside their "class" just as harshly as boys bully other boys outside their "class". The same is true with Black people and every other race. I'm not sure how you can convince me to fight a war against human nature.
None of these arguments seemed to inch me any closer to understanding the depth of my own imperfections. In my lifetime, there have been several times outside some random club or inside some late night breakfast spot, where I have witnessed a White dude either beating on a Black woman or raising his fist and threatening to do so. And each time, without the slightest hesitation, I intervened--with, to be honest, a feeling of racial obligation to do so. Yet, far more often, I have witnessed Black men whopping upside the head of Black women. And to be frank, it actually depends on the situation whether or not I intervene. My reasoning during those times I decide not to intervene? I'm not going to jail over two fools I know are going to be right back together two days after scrapping in front of some ghetto Wal-Mart.
How is that not racist? I react one way when the guy is White, and another way when the guy is Black. It certainly has nothing at all to do with fear or cowardice--my homeboys and I come from that insane, foolish part of the ghetto; we will blaze up a Mike Tyson look-alike just as quickly as we will some Urkel character. Fear isn't even a small part of the equation when I decide which situation to interrupt when a female is being brutalized.
The race of the victim and the perpetrator is usually the only constant in my decision making process. And maybe for the first time in my life, I now see how sad that is, how depressingly backwards.
I don't want to be or remain--if I am--a racist Black man. I want to improve myself and my mindset as much as possible. This is why I am prepared to call out my own flaws as diligently as I challenge the bigotry of others. If I am harboring racists views, they need to be confronted and dealt with.
I talked with several people I respect, read a few more essays this morning from writers whose intellect and world view I admire, yet I'm still not much closer to a more definitive answer than anytime before.
Here is my reasoned take on the issue, from a ghetto point of view. My homeboys and I were bred to view fellow African-Americans as part of an extended family. Our social oppression sometimes made us see each other as having a common thread, a collection of historical links which still chain us together ever since slavery.
This sense of extended family causes us to be far more tolerant of people within our race, yet hypersensitive to people we view as "outsiders." Big brother can watch his little brother and little sister fight in the kitchen without interruption, but his natural protective instincts are bond to kick in if it's a stranger fighting his little sister, or even a neighbor. I think this may be the way my homeboys and I view confrontations between the races, rightly or wrongly. A White guy swinging on a Black woman is like a stranger attacking our little sister--we actually feel a gut obligation to intervene. A Black guy swinging on a Black woman is handled with a little more nuance, and disgustingly, even with acceptance.
I am outraged when I see police brutality against a White person. It bothers me when I learn of a hate crime against a White or Mexican or Asian gay person. But I am especially enraged--to the point of understanding and promoting retaliation--whenever these atrocities are perpetrated against members of my own race. It's as though I can identify with their pain more acutely somehow. Yet, underneath it all, there is but one variable that's ever different in most these cases, and that variable is race. How is that, I began wondering, not a racist point of view?
I'm not sure how to best deal with this problem. I'm not interested in becoming some social vigilante, rescuing assorted damsels in distress. But I do desire to slowly evolve into a better person, a man who doesn't allow race to factor into his decision making process. I don't think this can be accomplished without challenging myself to view things outside the box, to see things from other people's point of view. Is it racist or prejudiced of me to actively buy Black owned products as opposed to White owned products when the option is available? Arguing that White people do it doesn't seem like a sound argument. I'm confused now. I'm starting to question the very foundation of my life-philosophy.
When I held the round table with friends and family members after our Christmas eve activities, my aunt told us about a time, when she was a teenager outside a bowling alley, and a White dude became enraged that she had unwittingly took his parking spot. He jumped out of his truck and approached her, cursing and threatening her. There were several Black dudes standing idly by, so she didn't feel too worried at first. But it was a false sense of security. When the White guy started physically shoving her, no one stepped up to defend her. She suddenly became very frightened--and equally ashamed of the fear and powerlessness that welled up inside of her. She attempted to fight back at one point, but he responded by slinging her across the hood of her car. Still, none of the Black dudes came to her rescue. When the White guy finally left, she was bent over the front of her car, in a fetal position, crying like an infant.
My aunt said that she had never felt so "low" and alone in her entire life. She was forever angry and disgusted at the cowardly Black men who only asked if she was okay and offered to help her once the White dude had left.
Hearing this story made me so angry I wanted to start a cold case file and find the dude myself, though it had happened well before I was born. I thought back to the young sister on the train and wondered if she had felt the same way about herself before we boarded and came to her defense. There had been Black men on the train not far from her, but they hadn't said anything or offered to help her in any way.
I'm glad the young sister doesn't have to carry the humiliation around with her for decades the way my aunt had. Her situation had simply happened on a day when a few brothers with borderline criminal attitudes chanced by. At least now she knows that, no matter how dark things may ever get, there are a few brothers out here who have the heart to come to her aid and declare war on the mistreatment of innocent people.
I'm just disgusted with myself for allowing race to be the only real motivating factor in my decision to help.