First, the quick story. On another blog, the writer quoted someone who said they’d gone to Africa, and after hearing that another country was apologizing for slavery, he wondered why no one had apologized to him while he was in Africa.
Initially I assumed the writer was white, then when I learned the writer was black, I indicated that he was misinformed, based on history I studied while in college, and history that can easily be found online. I was immediately attacked, or so it felt, by a woman who seemed to think I was cutting Africans a break just because they were black, and that they shared equal culpability in the slave trade. One of those things that happens with all of us, at times, is that we will tend to give back what we get, and since I didn’t like her writing tone, I gave back the same. Not the most adult thing in the world, but there you go. She has eventually acquiesced, though not quietly, with the kind of argument I was expecting to get. I almost thought about not even going back to read the response, but, well, I’m like that sometimes.
I have to say, though, that after having that following up on my post on the N-word, and some other things that had been occurring, it made me start thinking about how, when the pressure is on and emotions start getting into it, that there’s a major problem with the concept of minorities being able to actually talk straight with each other on the topic of race. It’s somewhat disturbing, as someone who does diversity training, to realize just how hard something like that can be, to let go of thoughts and feelings that are strong and inflamed.
Here’s a newsflash for some of you. Black people, behind closed doors, often say the same things that white people say about black people. There’s a lot of stuff we hear on the news that black people do that just irk the heck out of us.
We have some of those same thoughts and feelings oftentimes. About ten years ago, even Jesse Jackson said that he’s scared to walk outside at night, as well known as he is, because he’s not sure if a young black man dressed as what he might perceive as a thug is going to hurt or rob him. How freaky is that, from the preeminent civil rights activist of my time? Even with that, though, we as black people really don’t like the dirty laundry aired in public. Why?
Here’s the difference, if I may. When white people say things like this about black people, it seems like it’s words used in anger. When black people say these things, most of the time we’re embarrassed. People from my generation still ask, as the first question whenever we hear some bad news of a crime on TV, if it was a black person that did it, and we hope that it’s not.
These days it’s much easier because of the names that many young black people have been given, and we’re not sure how we feel about that either. I’m trying to think of the last time I heard that a young mother named her child Mark or Mary or Robert or Sue, unless they were named after someone else in the family.
However, there’s another quick acknowledgment one has to make. When white people talk about themselves when they hear about crimes, they say the same hateful things about them as they say about black people. And once again, it sounds like they’re saying these things more out of anger than embarrassment. I could be wrong, but that’s how it seems. And it’s part of the premise of this post.
I’m not sure how we can really talk to each other as a group and not misunderstand what the other is saying, or meaning. I participated in something known as the Community Wide Dialogue maybe 4 or 5 years ago here in the Syracuse area, where it’s purpose was to try to open a dialogue between the races, as well as people of different social and financial backgrounds. The first week there was 14 of us; by the final week there was only 7 remaining. Even in a safe environment, it’s a hard conversation to have.
So, where do we go from here? I’m not really sure. Obviously I have all sorts of friends, and I can say that with my friends I never see race, and hopefully they don’t either. But when friendship is removed, and now we’re looking at the world in general,… well, it’s there, smacking us in the face with each new encounter, whether it’s in person or not.
How do we open the dialogue that needs to take place so that, one of these days, we’re all on the same playing field, with the same opportunities, and not looking over our shoulders to protect our safety because of race?
Now, having to deal with these problems without race is another matter, but maybe we can work on that one at the same time.