Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Race, Racism, My Mind

I'm not sure if I've made it clear in past posts or not, but I live about a mile from where Philando Castile was shot by police a week and a half ago. While I've worked on anti-racism causes for a long time, this close-to-home event (maybe combined with the rise of Donald Trump) has me almost frantic about racism, white privilege and white supremacy, and my own complicity in it all.

Today I saw this from writer Fran Lebowitz:

It is now common—and I use the word “common” in its every sense—to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at—or actually in—their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like—other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.
I love this because it ties in a pet peeve of mine — dynasties of actors and politicians — to take the usual metaphors of white privilege to a new level. (Although what this metaphor says about poor whites, I'm having trouble extrapolating. Is it possible for a white person to not be the right kind of white? Where is class in all of this, Fran?)

More specific to the type of policing that killed Philando, today's Star Tribune reported that across the metro area, there are wide racial disparities in arrests. Pair that with a Pioneer Press story from last week about the data for St. Anthony police specifically, where 7 percent of residents are black but 38 percent of arrests based on traffic violations are of black people. The overall arrest record is even more disproportionate to population share (close to 50 percent).

That type of policing led to Philando's 46 stops in 16 years, detailed here by NPR.

(Pioneer Press graphic)

All those extra traffic stop warnings to white people are white privilege in action.

Yet I have let myself live without discomfort in this world, even though I knew it was so. That article from today's paper cited well-reported studies from 2000 and 2002 that concluded "police appeared to have different rules of enforcement for whites and blacks — especially for minor crimes such as loud car stereos, lurking, trespassing and not carrying proof of auto insurance. Minorities were arrested more often but were less likely to be convicted of those crimes than whites."

I don't remember those studies specifically, though I'm sure I read about them in the papers back then just like I'm reading all of this now. But somehow I didn't do anything to influence my local government or police to change their ways.

If those statistics don't make the case for you, here are three pieces of personal writing by black men that might:
But I know that even calling all of this white supremacy is considered a radical act by white people. Until a few years ago, I thought that term covered only people like the KKK, who overtly claim that white people and white culture are better than others (as Iowa Rep. Steve King did the other night on MSNBC). I have to credit Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog posts (maybe this one? but it may have been a cumulative effect) for waking me up to the fact that white supremacy is a system, just like racism, not something done by an individual. It permeates U.S. culture in ways that are hard to describe because they go down to the bedrock. I don't know why I never heard that message before, even though I learned almost 30 years ago that racism is not synonymous with prejudice based on race, but instead requires the power to enforce that prejudice.

But calling it white supremacy in front of other white people gets you the side eye, and probably closed ears, too.


At this point in writing, I set this post aside. While away, I saw a Twitter post by @gildedspine that helps me think of what to do, though I admit it's more attuned to the national level (Trump) than my local level (policing).
Stop talking to the echo chamber. Have conversations where you challenge the viewpoints of your family and friends.

Listen to people of color. Listen to people of color. Listen to people of color. Take your education on Muslims from Muslims.

Before you pressure marginalized people with what you should do...take a breath. And listen. Usually, we tell you what you can do. Sometimes, we need support. Sometimes, we need a voice that will be heard when ours isn't. And we definitely need you to VOTE.

Right now, in all honesty, I'd rather hear that you plan to do something positive in your area and for every member of your country rather than be offered a hug. Or be told that you plan to move to Canada when people I know don't have [residency] papers [in the U.S.].

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