Beyond Diversity: Making Race Real - Part 5

Uploaded by facdevEIU on 09.12.2010

They didn't ask me for an additional deposit in case
I decided to turn their property into an incindiary device
and kill 168 people.
They just assumed I was different than that other
Timothy, in a way that we apparently feel no need
to discern between Mohammad Atta, the lead hijacker on 9-11
and anyone else with the misfortune of having his
first name or simply following a prophet of that name.
Either way will get you in trouble and make you a suspect
right about now, and folks will call it rational, it is not,
it is discrimination, and it's flipside is indeed
a form of privilege.
And again, I tell you this about privilege, not to make you feel
bad or feel guilty, but to understand how important
it is for us to take this as our issue.
That it isn't just an issue for the target of discrimination
that, to the extent, we who are the dominant group have one less
thing to sweat, we must also take it seriously.
The fifth lesson or maybe it's the fourth, I don't know.
The next one, it's been a long day.
The next lesson is, and this is really really important,
is to recognize that those who are the targets
of discrimination, really are the ones in the best position
to know when it's happening to them.
And that may seem so obvious as to be trite and not in need
of recitation, but it obviously is necessary to tell it,
because a lot of times, we don't believe that
that's the case, apparently.
We don't extend a presumption of credibility to a person of color
who says these things.
That, by the way, is why I'm here, in case you're at all
unclear about it.
My mother would love for you to believe that the reason
you're listening to me right now, and the reason I get
85 events a year around the country to do this work,
is just because I'm the brightest bulb in the box,
but that's how moms are.
Moms like to believe that about their children because
that allows it to reflect well on them as parents,
but I'm here because I'm white.
I understand that I fit the aesthetic, because everything
I'm saying, black and brown folks have said,
like in the last week.
Certainly in the lifetimes of their existance in this land,
and yet, when people of color say this stuff,
we don't laugh as much.
We don't find it nearly as amusing or as innovative
or as creative or as interesting, white folks say it,
we get all kinds of pats on the back.
I want to let you know that I know that, and that the real
proof that we've made progress would be when black and brown
folks can get up here and say the same stuff that I'm saying
and be taken just as seriously, because, see, they're not.
When people of color talk about racism and discrimination,
we just don't believe that it's a real problem.
So a few years ago, a survey was done where white folks
were asked, do you believe racial discrimination is still
a significant national problem for people of color?
And a whopping 6%, 6 out of 100, said yes.
Just to give you an idea of how pathetic that is, a couple years
before that time, there was another survey in which 12%
of white Americans said we thought there was a fairly
good chance that Elvis Presley might still be alive.
So for those of you who aren't real good with probability
and statistical ratios and things of that nature,
what this means is white Americans are twice as likely
to believe that Elvis is still alive as we are to believe
what people of color tell us that they experience
on a fairly regular basis.
That is a level of delusion so profound as to boggle the mind
that there it is.
And we didn't say it because we're unfeeling, horrible,
uncaring people, we said it because we really believe it.
What does that suggest?
It suggests that we are horribly removed from
black and brown reality.
Because black and brown folk have, of course, have a very
different opinion on it, and always have.
And yet, we deny it, and denying it really is a form of racism,
if you think about it.
Because, if people of color are saying this is happening,
and we're saying, no it's not, are you sure?
I think you're exaggerating.
What that really translates, the subtext of that denial,
is you're not intelligent enough, you're not rational
enough, you're not objective enough, you are not sane
enough, to interpret your own reality.
So let me interpret it for you.
I know your life better than you know your life.
Isn't that great?
It's not only patronizing, it's patently offensive,
and yet we do it.
We do it.
We accuse people of color of playing the race card,
I always want to, let's just want to break this down
for a second.
What the hell kind of card is that anyway?
Like if that really is, do we really think folks of color
pull that one out of their ass because they think it's really
going to get them somewhere?
Like just picture this for a minute, symbolically,
like black folks are just sitting around going, okay,
you thought you had me, but, there.
It's the race card.
And then what happens, like white folks, what do we do?
We're like, damn.
I had you, until you played that vicious race card.
Now I have nothing left to say, I will give you
anything you want.
That doesn't happen, that's like the two of diamonds, that's not,
that card doesn't trump anything, like in any game.
That's just an irrelevant card.
I mean, we'd have to think folks of color were awfully
masochistic to be playing that one as if that was going to get
them anywhere.
In fact all the research data suggests that folks of color
under report their experiences with racism and discrimination.
Not over report, under report, and why?
Precisely because they know they will not be taken seriously,
and so they will stuff it, and they will stuff it,
and they will stuff it, and only after it
has happened dozens of times will they say anything.
And then folks will say, why are you overexaggerating?
Why are you so sensitive?
Because they didn't say anything the first ten times for fear it
wouldn't be taken seriously.
So we've got to understand that when people of color actually
are speaking out about discrimination, it's probably
only after years of experience with the thing.
So what this means is that we have to begin to believe that
the targets of something really know about it.
And see the problem is this denial is intergenerational,
in spite of all I have said so far, which again, I'm sure many
of you agree with it, and many of you don't, and that's cool.
But here's one thing that I feel pretty confident everyone
is going to agree with, so we might as well find some level
of common ground this evening.
Everyone in here is going to agree with this, when I say,
in 1962 and 1963, black people, that's just one example,
were treated horribly unequally in the United States.
I don't think anyone in here is going to really take issue
with that.
No one is going to raise their hand and say, oh, well,
I don't know.
I think 1962 was a pretty good time to be black in America.
Because you know better, it was before the Civil Rights Act,
before the Voting Rights Act, before the Fair Housing Act.
But now here's the interesting thing about white denial.
It's one thing to say you don't think it's a problem now,
maybe that's not shocking because we've had these
civil rights laws passed and all that.
Sometimes we assume that that's done more than it really has
in terms of what the data really tells us.
Some of which I've reflected on already,
the housing discrimination, the racial profiling, et cetera.
More of which we could speak about, and I will in a second,
but what's interesting is, if you go back to 1962, and 1963,
a period in time when now, looking backward, we would say,
things were profoundly unequal.
You'll find that white Americans then said when they were asked,
in 1963, for example, do you believe that blacks are treated
equally in your community?
Over 70% of white Americans said sure.
And in 1962, when white folks were asked, do you believe that
black folks receive equal treatment in the schools
in your community?
White folks said, 85% of us said, yes, of course.
Now, in retrospect, we can see that as an amazing amount
of delusion, but the people who said it at the time
really believed it.
They were good people, they were decent people, they were
rational people, they really believed there was no problem,
because in every generation, the dominant group has had
the luxury of not knowing the truth that people
of color experience in always being wrong.
And we've been wrong every single time, but why?
We don't have to know black and brown reality, because we're not
tested on it, we don't have to know what people of color
experience to get any job in this country.
To do anything in this, but black and brown folks certainly
need to know our reality.
Oh, people of color must know white reality, because they will
be tested on that, they must learn white history,
white literature, white art, white theatre, white poetry,
and I know we don't call it that.
Because we don't have to.
Because that which is from the dominant group doesn't have
to be racially labeled.
We don't have to have a white history month because we've got
all kinds of tricky names for that, we call it May and June
and July and August.
So the dominant group doesn't have to be labeled as white
whatever, but that's what it is, and people of color have
to learn that reality, because it will be tested.
They have to, if you will, come through whiteness and white
folks, because of the power structure in this country,
for people of color, it's like that kid in the "Sixth Sense"
that sees dead people.
You're black or brown in this country, you see white people,
because we're like Visa, we're every damn place you want to be.
So at some point, you have to come through that and deal with
that, but for white folks, we don't have to deal with people
of color, and that means not knowing their reality.
The least we could do is assume and start with the assumption
that if people of color say that this is our reality, maybe we
should start with the assumption that they're not insane.
Alright, I know it seems radical, but it ought not be,
it's just that our society unfortunately is not implicated
that kind of belief.
So let's start with the recognition that those who are
the targets, who have to know about it, who have to
understand it, who have to know when it's happening in order
to survive or probably in the best position.
So when somebody alleges that that's happening,
instead of challenging the allegation first, let's ask how
we can be allies in the struggle to undo that behavior.
And to change that behavior, what does it mean to be an ally,
to stand up and defend folks of color?
Who are up against it in overwhelmingly white spaces
and who experience that.
If we hear the data coming in which suggests, for example,
that folks with white sounding names are 50% more likely
to get a call back for a job interview than folks
with a black sounding names.
Even when all credentials are identical, and that is what
the research suggests.
Then that shouldn't be just an issue for black folks to deal
with as the target of discrimination, that should be
an issue for us to deal with as well.
But then of course, this brings us to a very difficult point
in the speech, and its the point that I end with,
because it is so important for us to talk about.