Racism in this country is not an easy thing to grasp. It has so many variations and manifests in so many complex ways that even attempting to make sense of it can result in a migraine. This is the stage I am at: migraine. Trying to make sense of the last week has proven to be a monumental task, but I wanted to share where I am at so far. This is less an analysis and more a sharing of my thoughts so that I can get yours.
The obvious manifestation of racism this week has been Paula Deen. It seems everybody is in agreement that what she said was racist. The debate centers around, or at least to me seems to center around, what her intentions were and if she actually holds racist beliefs. The media has no problem engaging in this discussion as it has been pretty visible in the news cycle and on the 24 hour news stations. Let me be clear, Paula Deen is racist. It doesn’t matter if she intends to be racist or not, impact matters more than intent, and if your worldview allows for you to conceive of a plantation style “authentic” wedding or feel nostalgia for the antebellum south you are a racist. Point blank period. What’s worse is she said she is not changing! Talk about commitment to growth and racial justice huh. But this racism is so obvious that it is easily challenged. What’s tougher is confronting and dealing with the less obvious, the more entrenched racism that permeates our society, the type of racism that shapes our institutions and worldviews. This racism is the legacy of our founding fathers. It is the stain of slavery. It is the result of only wealthy white males being involved in shaping the nation. It is white supremacy. It is much more difficult to confront because so many folks are so embedded in it that it appears normal. So Abigail Fischer honestly believes affirmative action discriminates against whites. She, and others like her, do not see the systemic advantages they have had for centuries, nor do they see the systemic obstacles people of color have had to overcome. To them everything is individual, and if they individually hold no open hostility for people of color,well, then, there is no problem. There is a collective refusal to acknowledge the consequences of failing to address systemic racism. But, every so often, something happens that draws this racism out and puts it right in the face of America. We are seeing this currently in the murder trial of George Zimmerman. Here is a list of ways systemic racism is playing out in the George Zimmerman trial:
- 5 of 6 jurors are white.
- The response to and cross examination of the prosecution’s star witness, Rachel Jeantel. This young woman is soft spoken and does not speak in the vernacular expected from mainstream society. That is to say Bill Cosby would have no shame using her as an example of someone who can’t speak English, meaning she speaks like 95% of inner-city teens. Or, to put it another way she speaks better English than Paula Deen, who on an interview with Matt Lauer said “I is what I is.” People were not up in arms about Paula’s language. Nobody questioned how she could make millions and not know how to speak properly. Nobody held her up as an example of white people’s collective cultural deficiency. Rachel, though, is another story. Social media was abuzz with critiques of not only her language but her attitude and “rudeness. Classic stereotypical labels for black women.
- Don West asking Rachel if she could read and write cursive. This is in no way relevant to the case and only served the purpose of playing, once again, to stereotypes of blackness. Who is responsible for her inability to read cursive or to be “well-spoken?” This line of questioning places the blame on her for not being educated enough. Well guess who funds schools, the government! You don’t like that she can’t read cursive? You don’t like that she is not adept at public speaking? Than fund her education! But she, and millions of inner-city kids, aren’t worthy of that so we just demonize them and prepare them for prison- where slave labor is legal.
- George Zimmerman believed Trayvon was a “fucking punk” and was there to commit a crime. That is a direct result of the images and ideas of blackness that flow through our society via media.
- Zimmerman believed Trayvon was out of place, why? Because blacks were not supposed to be living there, a direct result of housing segregation.
- Media believing that Trayvon saying Zimmerman was a “creepy ass cracker” is somehow racist. Racism requites power and privilege. There has never been a “no crackers allowed” sign. No lynching ever took place simply due to someone’s whiteness.
- Here is the main one: Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin and yet still gets to claim self-defense. Real talk, if Zimmerman was following me I would confront him and I would claim self –defense after beating his ass. I am white. I am not perceived as a threat so I can do that. Trayvon Martin, on the other hand, is black and perceived as a threat. So, even though George Zimmerman was more than 10 years older, considerably outweighed Martin, and had a gun we are actually entertaining the fact that Martin posed a threat to his life. Fuck outta here!
Hey don’t worry though the Supreme Court will acknowledge systemic racism— psych!