Archive for August, 2010

We’ve mentioned Kenneth & Mamie Clark’s famous “doll tests” a few times here on the blog, e.g. in Cayce’s “Reversing Racism” post and my post about the movie “Good Hair” and internalized prejudice.

Anderson Cooper recently revisited the Clarks’ doll tests on his CNN news show. For those of you who missed it, here it is. (I know the numbering looks out-of-order, but this ordering made more sense to me.)

Note to white parents: Your kids are not growing up “colorblind” and if you want to help them overcome racial prejudice you’ll need to have explicit conversations with them about racial attitudes and interracial relationships.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

I posted most of this as a response to Nikki’s recent post on transracial adoption; it was suggested that it would make a good followup post, so, here it is.

I think it can be tempting for potential adoptive parents to personalize critiques of transracial adoption, and this can make it difficult to hear what people who have concerns about transracial adoption are actually saying. This isn’t about questioning specific potential parents’ committment to equally love an adopted child of whatever race, or about weighing their parental skills. It’s about calling people to be the best parents they can possibly be to their children – something that doesn’t come easily to biological parents, or parents who adopt children within their race or ethnicity, either. People don’t always realize that parents of color aren’t automatically great at teaching their children an age-appropriate awareness of racism or teaching them to be proud of their identity.

As an example – I was raised by my biological parents, who emigrated from Nigeria to the U.S. when my siblings and I ranged in age from 3 to 8 years old. My parents had very little notion of the history of racism and race relations in the U.S.; now I realize that their understanding of race in America was only slightly more sophisticated than mine, if at all (i.e., that there used to be issues with racism, but that was all a long time ago, and now everything was more or less fine, with the exception of your occasional KKK member).

I don’t remember my parents ever initiating conversations about race with us, and whenever I did ask questions about race the answers I got were that 1) if we worked hard and kept out of trouble, no one would have a problem with us, and 2) people who complained about racism were either bitter and unforgiving, or they were using it as an excuse for their laziness. I don’t know that these things were said in so many words, but that was the definite impression I got from my parents. On top of all that, my parents had attitudes towards African Americans (as opposed to Africans) that were frankly pretty racist, and I grew up in predominantly white conservative churches that had serious issues with white privilege, classism, and racism. I internalized a lot of those attitudes.

All that to say, I have black parents, and I was completely unprepared for what it means to be black and a woman in this country.  I internalized harmful stereotypes and beliefs about what it meant to have black skin in America, and I struggled with self-hatred and prejudice against African Americans because of this.

Part of that is because my parents are immigrants, and they were getting an education on race in America along with their children.  They couldn’t teach me what it meant to be black in America because they themselves didn’t know.  If you talk to them today, their views on race and racism are very different than what they communicated to us even just a few years ago.

In any event, I’ve had to grapple with race and racism largely on my own, and carve out my own identity as a black American woman and as a member of the African diaspora, and all that is still a work in progress.  And I have to figure out how to help my biracial, black, American daughter make sense of these questions for herself, and sort through her own experiences of race and racism, which will be similar but also quite different from mine – all while I’m still working on understanding them myself. That’s not easy. But it would be a mistake to just not try because it would be difficult.

Read Full Post »

I was planning on posting about my frustration over the response to Dr. Laura’s recent racist rant, but then I saw that Jamelle Boiue at The American Prospect had already said much of what I was thinking on the topic.

That said, of everything in that exchange, Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word was the least offensive — and least racist — element; quoting racial slurs isn’t cool — they’re still racial slurs, with all the historical baggage that includes — but you can imagine scenarios where quoting a racial slur is appropriate to the conversation.

In actuality, it’s the rest of her rant that drips with racial animus. To recap: Dr. Laura immediately dismisses her caller’s problems, uses a racist joke to prove her non-racism, insists that black people voted for Obama over nothing but racial solidarity (as if pre-Obama, African Americans never voted for Democrats), strongly resents the fact that “black guys” can use the N-word but she can’t, and declares that “if you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry outside of your race.” Dr. Laura isn’t known for her sensitivity, but this is an impressive display of raw racial resentment.

I don’t know how common a view this is, but I tend to think the pearl-clutching over people using the n-word is largely a distraction from meaningful and productive conversations about race.  Don’t get me wrong – I would be pissed as hell if a white person called me a nigger to my face (something I’m grateful to say I’ve never experienced).  I don’t think there’s any reason in the world for a non-black person to use the word unless they are quoting – and even then it can be highly questionable.

But there’s something about our response to a public figure saying the word that disturbs me.  It seems as though whether or not someone uses or has used “nigger” has become a lazy shorthand for whether or not someone is a racist, or has racist views, or would act on racist views.  I’m particularly concerned by the subtext of conversations on this topic that suggest that a person doesn’t have racist views so long as they never use “the n-word” or other racial slurs.

There’s no question that Dr. Laura’s use of the word was racist.  But I find everything ELSE she said in her rant much more problematic and offensive than her use of the word nigger – and much more disturbing because millions of Americans share these views about black people.  And I suspect that the national and media conversation will focus far more on the fact that Dr. Laura said nigger 11 times than on having an honest discussion of the implications of her comments.  We live in a world where the same people who act utterly aghast at hearing the word ‘nigger’ are completely comfortable discussing the idea, and even assuming, that the vast majority of black Americans who voted for President Obama did so only because he’s black.  We live in a world where non-black Americans who would never dream of using the word nigger are nevertheless comfortable telling their black coworkers, neighbors, and friends that their offense at racist jokes or questions is merely oversensitivity or lack of humor.

These attitudes are racist and privileged, period.  But instead of having a candid discussion in which the views of African Americans on these much more subtle expressions of racism are taken seriously, we instead engage in this cyclic obsession with the latest blatant and outrageous manifestation of racism.  The  current offender is turned into a national scapegoat, someone who makes us feel good how we’re not racist like them, and whom we can loudly villify as a demonstration to ourselves and others that we abhor racism.  Frankly, it’s pathetic.

The obsession with “the n-word” disturbs me because it implies that the hard work of anti-racism – the painful process of examining one’s own privilege and prejudice, the difficult work of learning about and fighting institutional racism and rejecting privilege, can be reduced to whether we use a certain word or not.

I suppose it’s obvious from the above that I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to say “nigger.”  To be quite honest, using “the n-word” strikes me as arbitrary and a bit immature.  We all know what’s being said, but seem to think there’s some higher virtue in not saying that particular word (I’ve never understood why, say, slurs against Hispanics are fair game on television, but the word nigger is bleeped out or bowlderized).  There’s nothing particularly anti-racist about never using the word nigger.  And whether or not it’s wrong to use it, in my opinion, really depends on the context, the speaker, the purpose, and the consideration taken for how the use of the word will affect African Americans hearing it (Dr. Laura fails on at least the last two counts, if not all of them).

And personally, I think it would be a huge mistake to eradicate ‘nigger’ entirely from public use.  We need to remember how it was used to demean and dehumanize black people, how it was used in concert with staggering violence to terrorize black communities.  Calling it “the n-word,” to my mind, erases this history and allows people to pretend the word doesn’t have the force and the meaning it does.

So what do you guys think?  Is “the n-word” discussion a distraction?  Is it better to use “the n-word” or are there contexts where the use of “nigger” is appropriate or even necessary?

Read Full Post »

Anne Lamott often quotes her priest friend Tom saying, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

The song and video below by the Michael Gungor band made me think of that quote.  We can also create God in our own image when we imagine that God looks like and thinks like us. (“God is not a man. God is not a white man . . . God is not a flag, not even American.”)  The assumption that God shares our assumptions and our perspectives on the world is a huge obstacle to true reconciliation and acceptance, whether within a faith or between people of different (or no) religious beliefs.  It’s very difficult for people to examine their beliefs about a given group, or people who are different from them – whether it’s African Americans, LGBT people, women, or the poor – when they are convinced that God shares their perspectives on those people. Projecting our beliefs on to God is a powerful reinforcement of privilege and prejudice of all kinds.

Which is why I love this song; In essence it’s a call to people of faith to examine the ways in which they’ve made God into an agent and supporter of privilege and hegemony (which, speaking to Christians, let’s be honest, is so far from what Jesus was all about!).

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: