Don’t stand so close to me

You may recognize the title of the post from the Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Love that song. Actually, I love the group. However, I’m using the title to talk about an aspect of racial prejudice and stereotyping while the song was about something else entirely. 

Given my reflections on racism and prejudice of late, I really have to wonder what people are thinking when they see me. What do you think? Really? That I have 6 kids with 6 different men? That I’m on welfare? That I’m a typical “angry black woman?” That I’m militant because of my hair? A lesbian? A vegan? Bourgois? None of those stereotypes fit me but in order to easily process information about me, anyone could easily come up with any one of those labels that they think describe me. Which at times is hurtful. Because then, I’m not regarded as a unique human being in my own right but I get lumped in with others which is unfair to me. But given the way of the world, it is what it is.

There’s been outrage over the last few days over a National Review article where writer John Derbyshire urges white and Asian parents to tell their children to avoid contact with black Americans they don’t  know. He suggests that they don’t attend events where black Americans may be present in large numbers, avoid black neighbourhoods and do not be a “good Samaritan” to black people who appear in distress. I refuse to link to the original article as I don’t want to give the asshat or that site hits, but here’s a review of it by another site:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-news-blog/2012/apr/06/john-derbyshire-firestorm-race-column

Some black posters on couple of the boards I frequent have made the argument that whites already avoid blacks to some degree and cite examples where their white schoolmates or co-workers ignore them outside of school or work. There’s no way that I can disagree with their observations since I’ve had similar experiences. I grew up in a predominantly orthodox Jewish neighborhood that was fairly insular. The Jews would rarely say boo to me or my family while we were out and about. When my sister and I played in the playground near our house, there were instances where the Jewish mothers would yank their kids away from us. However, white kids who weren’t Orthodox Jews sometimes played with us. At the time, I didn’t see it for what it was but when I got to be an adult and reflected on it, it dawned on me that those Orthodox Jews either feared and/or hated my sister and I becaues of the color of our skin. They feared and hated us as innocent babies. The mere thought of it angers me to this day and will probably continue to for the rest of my natural life. What could my sister and I have possibly done to invoke such contempt? Nothing. Except being black. Another instance of whites avoiding me was when I was in high school and college and brought boyfriends home (who were black), there were times where whites would deliberately cross the street to avoid having to be in close contact with us. Unlike in childhood, I knew immediately what the deal was at the time it was happening. Usually when I relate these experiences with other whites, at least one person says, “Well, what about me? I’m (we’re) not (all) like that,” or “Maybe it had nothing to do with you. Maybe they just needed to get to the other side of the street, or those mothers wanted their kids to be somewhere else.” This is where the conversation usually breaks down, because these statements and others like it serve to invalidate my experience and similar experiences of other people of color and our history of interacting and dealing with the dominant society. It’s easy for whites  to think, “Oh, there they go again. They’re so sensitive to everything we say. Why do we even bother? Life was so much easier before all this PC crap” and so on. It’s not hard from them to come off as dismissive, because they have no clue what it’s like to be denied housing, jobs or whatever simply because of their skin color or to be regarded as less than human. The main reasons why a dominant group would be so defensive about instances as described above is because they don’t like being confronted about their privilege and they aren’t used to being spoken of collectively. They’re used to hearing “Black people do xyz…” or “Arabs do xyz…” They aren’t used to hearing, “White people do xyz,” because whites are viewed as unique individuals. Blacks aren’t. So it’s infuriating when at times, my experiences about being rendered invisible by whites or regarded as dangerous is dismissed as my being crazy or thought of as me being “too sensitive.” Just because a person may never have experienced prejudice doesn’t invalidate what I know and experienced.

Then there were these black idiots who robbed and stripped a white man a few weeks ago and somebody was stupid enough to videotape it and put it on You Tube:

http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_c2#/video/crime/2012/04/09/tsr-sylvester-man-beaten-baltimore.cnn

In no way do I condone this act whatsoever. One black poster on a board I frequent stated, “Blacks are just reacting to Trayvon,” and many people shut that person down (Note: The majortity of this post was written yesterday before the announcement that Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second degree murder).  Two wrongs don’t make a right, I don’t care what skin color you are. Those clowns deserve everything they get. However, a number of black posters are wringing their hands going, “Dang, some of our people have to act the fool again. This doesn’t help our cause at all.” I understand that a number of black people do get tired of some of us acting a damn fool,  giving “others” affirmation as to why they believe all black people are uncivilized animals. And I know a number of  black people are tired of being made to feel that behavior reflects on them, myself included. Do white people sit around and wring their hands over some white serial killer, going, “Dang, my people?” No. They don’t need to. Because of their privilege, anything negative that whites do is regarded as an anomaly. They don’t have to carry the burden of the “one bad means all bad” label. It’s one of the benefits of white privilege. They can kill their kids, kill their classmates, steal from investors…and they’re just deemed anomalies. But when they go to apply for jobs, mortgages, business loans, move into certain neighborhoods, they don’t have to think much about their “whiteness” being an issue because of negative stereotypes that racist decision makers will use against them. Ultimately, how I see it is that it doesn’t matter if that video helps our cause or not. Certain people will still believe we’re uncivilized subhumans no matter what we say or do. Is it fair? No. But it is what it is. Some folks are just a lost cause and we have to accept that, no matter how much we may wish otherwise.

I’m sure that there are people that will be uncomfortable with this post, but part of this blog’s name is “confessions.” I’m writing what I feel and think. If you’re uncomfortable by it, it means it did its job by challenging you to think about race and stereotyping in ways you may not have thought about before. Think about the perceptions, stereotypes and prejudices you may have about certain groups of people and those that other people may have about you. Many people aren’t really overtly racist or prejudiced. The messages about certain groups of people are often sent subtly and non-verbally so we may not even realize that we have received and learned them. I’m considered very open-minded among my friends but even I hold a couple of perceptions about certain groups of people that aren’t favorable. I usually check myself and attempt to see people as unique individuals, not as stereotypes. Wishing that everyone else did the same is probably too much to ask for, is it?

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