Keepin' Up With the World 2.0

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Building the World House: One Person at a Time…

“Whites Only in German Village”

Jessica Winck

Austin and I went down to German Village this afternoon to meet up with a friend of his. In all his preciousness, Austin is just having a good time catching up with his friend. But meanwhile I’m noticing all the white people who have serious staring problems.

We walk by Cup o’ Joe under the stares of a white couple having coffee. They watch the three of us go by, turning their heads to follow us, not saying anything.

At the hot dog joint, a middle-aged white guy sitting behind our table at the bar is turning to stare at Austin when he talks, then looks back at his food and shakes his head. The man is actually grimacing, and when Austin laughs at something, the guy turns to stare at the back of Austin’s head. Somehow he doesn’t notice me staring back at him – it’s the black guy talking about globalization who is the real problem, not the white woman who might start bitching.

On the way back to our car, we pass Cup o’ Joe again. More white people sitting in the shade. A larger group of about seven looks disturbed as we approach. All of them stop talking. Four or five turn in their seats to look over their shoulders at the approaching party – a black guy in between two white women. They turn their heads as we pass to follow us with their eyes. I’m thinking to myself, “What the fuck are these people staring at?” Someone reading this might say, “They’re just people-watching.” That weird thing white people do when they’re in cute, art-filled neighborhoods, having coffee at 2PM on a Friday afternoon (don’t you have to work or something?) But I’m going to have to disagree – these were “what are you doing here?” stares.

Ever since I got to Columbus I’ve been hearing how lovely German Village is – it’s such a great place for hanging out, the people are so friendly, it’s just the right amount of quaint to complement the city. But we’ve got to stop and think about what all that means when we’re saying that. I’m sure it’s a great place for some people to hang out, but Austin in his Whatever State Alumni (he’s got a lot of degrees) shirt can’t walk down the street without getting the “what are you doing here” stare. What’s worse is that they were perfectly comfortable staring him down because they own the place and have learned from their experiences that they can do whatever they want – stare, whisper, and lean back in their seats to sip their espresso – without being confronted or challenged. But as soon as a black person opens his/her mouth about it, h/she is the racist one, that angry black person who wakes up in the morning cursing white people and crashing their neighborhood coffee shops just looking for racist whites. What’s funny is that Austin didn’t even notice it – he was just hanging out.

But I think we all know already that the onus isn’t on black people to make whites stop being assholes. These people staring at him didn’t say the n word, they didn’t actually say anything to us – but those people have got to get over the belief that those are the only things that would make their behavior a problem. I really wouldn’t be surprised if when we passed, someone said something about that black guy being with two white girls – I know those conversations happen because I’ve been there for them. It’s like Austin has said before – if you’ve got a problem with him, why don’t you say something? Don’t just sit there cowardly and self-important, then look at a black person like he’s the one who’s the problem.

The next step should have been to ask them what they were staring at so that Austin never has to, then let them know what it feels like to be the problem. But first, some of us white people need to stop romanticizing German Village and talking about how great it is. Take down the “whites only” signs, then I might think about going there again.

Filed under: Race

Theroot.com: A “new approach” to campaigning for better education in America’s schools.

photo courtesy of Getty Images/theroot.com

I sympathize with the intent of this article and what not. But I think the apparent “lack of focus” on education by black youth is really reflective of the general lack of focus that most young Americans have. It’s just, as De La would put it, the stakes may be higher for impoverished young black and brown men considering that one in three (Between the ages of 18 and 30 I believe) have a higher chance of being incarcerated than their white/Asian/etc. counterparts. But again, I totally sympathize. I try to do my part to get youth, black/white/whatever to get that collegiate education…


Filed under: Education, Race

Cleaning Our Rooms: Towards a Working Framework for Talking About Race

 

Austin C. McCoy

There is no doubt that we need to have a conversation about race in our country. I am sure many may try to argue that, since our nation could be on the cusp of electing its first African American president, this call is tired and unnecessary. Granted, there is some truth to the point that the pleas for “national conversations on race” have become cliché since President Bill Clinton announced his program for a national conversation in 1997. Also, any astute individual would point out that a conversation about race tends to occur almost daily as we experience particular racial episodes in our own life or watch them unfold on the television or on the internet. It seems, however, when many of us observe, or participate, in these conversations we tend to run into many problems that actually hinder progress on a local level. Many individuals eager to address problems of discrimination (both systemic and individual) often run into indifference and passivity, conversations on television or in person often descend into arguments, issues of race and difference are often reduced to oversimplications and stereotypes (of all groups), and most importantly, no one seems to want to propose any models for talking about race. Maybe that is because discussing race to many people is like asking a child to clean her or his room. We only do as much as we are asked to, and sometimes we may just rearrange the toys in our room and throw objects underneath the bed instead of actually cleaning the room. I know for sure, because I used to cut corners in both situations—cleaning my room and talking about race.

However, for those who are really interested in making their rooms free from intolerance and fresh from understanding, I submit the following. And as a disclaimer, I believe these points could be applied when discussing all forms of difference and discrimination.

Here are some potential thoughts to get started.

I will begin with the “Don’ts”:

1. “I’m not a racist, but…” Now, if someone has to preface a statement with the phrase, then we all need to be careful. If we are operating within safe space, then no one should have to employ this phrase. But, if you feel as if you have to, think of rephrasing (remember, we are in the business of finding new ways of conveying our thoughts about the subject). So, why is this a point? Because, more often than not, the words that usually follows the “but” can often recreate the mess.

2. “I have black friends” (or insert any racial group). I also have good friends who are white, Mexican, and from a variety of other backgrounds. In fact, one of my best friends is Vietnamese. Thus, I would not claim to have some sort of “insider” status with Vietnamese individuals (or “Asian-Americans,” which is another problematic term). I know what my friend thinks about particular racial situations. I may be able to say, “This is my friend’s opinion,” but I better not dare conflate him with all Vietnamese. This is where this statement becomes problematic. Many of us will take our shared experiences with a limited amount of individuals from a different group and conflate these relationships to apply to a whole group as if it were a monolithic entity. Not every black American will be offended by a situation (or may handle it differently), just like not every single white American is a bigot. Another problem is there are many individuals who believe they can get away with saying just about anything because, “they have black, white, brown friends,” or they have “dated a person of Asian descent,” or “my black friends do not mind if I say the ‘n-word’ around them and they call me the ‘n-word.” In other words, some individuals believe they can obtain the “ghetto” pass if and when they become accepted. I would say four things, A.) not every single individual in a particular group thinks alike and believes in ghetto passes, B.) ask questions if you are not sure, C.) pick up a book, D.) tread carefully.

“Do’s”:

3. Create a safe space for discussion—It seems that many of us are more concerned with either being correct, or their reputations. In other words, we hardly feel comfortable talking about race because there appears to be something to lose. The problem is, issues of race and difference are, and will be, uncomfortable as long as we do not have safe spaces to talk in. We have to be willing to speak and listen to each other without resorting to name calling or disrespect. Telling personal stories may be instrumental as individuals will learn to unpack their experiences.

4. Be real and genuine—This is a difficult point because it is abstract and one hardly ever knows if the other person is genuine. There are charges of African Americans “hustling” and profiting from race. Many people often suspect that politicians and media pundits often stoke the flames of racial discontent. I have plenty of white friends who tell me about their close associates asking them questions that seem to be more antagonistic than helpful such as, “Do you think we owe black people anything,” or, “Why can’t I say the ‘n-word’ if they can.” On the other hand, some of us black Americans may go into a conversation hoping to shut someone down. Both approaches need to be checked, because if they are not, then what is the goal of the conversation?

5. We ALL have something to learn—Since many of us privilege our personal experience and understanding, we often approach these conversations as if we know as much as there needs to be known about issues of race and difference. However, even in between my own moments of arrogance, I have learned that race and racism (like other forms of discrimination and systems of domination) are moving targets. Many of us often apply 1960s lenses to 21st century realities. It is a rare moment when one does or says something overtly ‘racist.’ Also, since the term ‘racist’ is so ambiguous (it would take a book to elaborate on this point), it is even difficult for the parties involved to tell who is ‘racist’ and who is not. Many individuals believe just even mentioning race is racism (I could be a racist right now since I am the author of this piece), and there are some individuals who may jump to conclusions when there was no reason to make such leaps. We need to learn to create deeper understandings of race. This can be done only through the telling of personal stories, nuanced historical analysis of ideas and realities, developing newer languages and terms to describe particular situations, and a little patience.

6. Recognize all shades and potential participants—while many argue that the race in America is black and white, it is more like black, white, yellow, brown, and every shade in between and outside. How do we account for this reality? The first step will be to recognize all participants in the conversation, and frankly, the struggle. This cannot be another means of ‘electing racial representatives’ since there are diverse perspectives of race within particular groups.

7. Conversations must be local—“National” conversations are so cliché and they often take place within a media culture that encourages oversimplication of issues, sensational mudslinging, and viewer polarization. Even if it seems impossible to assemble a group of people to talk about race, it is still beneficial to speak to one other person. There is nothing wrong with starting small. Carry on the conversation no matter what.

8. Plant seeds and leave the door open—I’m sure there are plenty of moments when we talk about these issues and it just seems that the person either does not care or remains firm in their position. Even if it may be frustrating, it is fine. I am not the largest proponent of the passive approach that many individuals have—that everything will be fine if we just let it. But, I am a proponent of sustained organizing and dialogue. If we begin to get people to walk through the door enough, those individuals may get curious enough to peek in.

9. (Racial) Understanding is not something we find but something we must create—Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote these words in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Heed the active nature of this phrase. As stated earlier, we will not get anywhere by just waiting for something to happen. We will have to create new language and terms for discussion so we can move forward together. We will have to tell stores and listen to each other. No matter how many times we say it, or how many black, yellow, brown, etc. people we put in office, we will not just wake up in a “post-racial” nation. The people on the ground have to create it through dialogue, challenge, and direct action if necessary.

10. Dialogue is transformative—This is why the model of “conversation on race”-as-argument is incompatible with this framework. If we are sharing stories, unpacking the meanings of racial ideologies, interrogating the ways in which negative stereotypes are perpetuated consciously and unconsciously, maliciously and benignly, then all parties involved should emerge from the conversation with a relatively altered perspective. But, if we are only concerned with winning, then we will not.

11. Set goals—It should not be getting over race as if the process were a mere nuisance. Goals should point toward creating an understanding (note: not tolerance) of how different individuals operate in society, as well as their relationships to national political, social, economic ideologies.

12. It is easier said than done—this will take time for all of us.

Filed under: Race

Knowledge is Liberation, Not "White"

Knowledge is Liberation: Using the Black Experience to Confront Myths of “Acting White” and the Prospects for Panoramic Visions of Literacy

–Austin C. McCoy

There is no doubt that teaching the importance of critical thinking skills and educational achievement to African-American youth is paramount. It is no secret that one’s chances for success, after taking into account structural inequalities, are greater for those who reach and complete higher levels of education. Despite this fact, however, if an individual is literate and educated, and happens to be African-American, then one may have had to face accusations from both blacks and whites of “being” and/or “acting” “white.” I recall responding to such charges in my pursuit of higher education. Even the Democratic Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, has had to contend with such sentiments from the likes of white men like the cellar dweller of presidential politics, Ralph Nader and country music artist, Toby Keith.

Disturbing, frustrating, and confusing as these accusations seem, one cannot help but wonder why this perception has such a hold among black and white individuals and why this issue is often mishandled in the mainstream media. If one looks at American history, one cannot make the judgment that one’s ability to be articulate, literate, and educated is “white” or denotes characteristics prevalent among any other racial group. There is a longstanding tradition of intellectual excellence among black Americans that has been simultaneously beneficial to the development of the United States, and revolutionary. Actually, black Americans have reinforced a panoramic vision of literacy that may be lacking among all Americans. This panoramic view not only endorsed the basic readings of texts, but was one that sought to take particular ideas, concepts, texts, ideologies, and narratives, and reconceptualize and reconfigure them in a way that provoked many Americans, black and white, to act.

One of the most famous examples of literacy and education as subversive can be found in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative. In the work, he realized the importance of acquiring literacy in his struggle for freedom while overhearing a conversation where his master contended that it “ruined” the slave. Why? Literacy skills enabled the enslaved to challenge slavery in a variety of ways, from forging travel passes to reinterpreting crucial texts like the Bible and American founding documents and sowing the seeds of resistance among other slaves. He, as well as many others, also discovered the power of literacy and language to positively define oneself in the face of oppressive circumstances. These intellectual tools—that many seem to take for granted today—were used by various influential black Americans including Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, leaders of the Black Panther Party, and Angela Davis. Imagine if educators and activists can tap into this tradition when discussing the importance of education among young (black) Americans?

So, the question remains, how does one address this perceived notion that education is “not cool” or irrelevant? It is imperative to attack the stereotype. It is difficult to fathom that every single uneducated young black person buys this stereotype. Let’s talk to them. It is imperative that activists call for balanced portrayals of African-Americans in popular culture, contextual analyses of this problem, and a different approach to tackling illiteracy rather than stigmatizing the hip hop community. This is not to let the hip hop community off the hook for misogynistic and/or profane lyrics (depending upon one’s definition of profane), but it is to offer an alternative to the name calling and grandstanding. Really, how is one illiterate, or better yet, ignorant, if they can interpret the lyrics of a Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West, Outkast, Talib Kweli, Lil’ Wayne, or a Common? Granted, rap music and hip hop culture alone may not lead to tangible political action and gains, but influential figures within this community could be of great assistance to the cause of imparting critical thinking skills since they may reach more individuals than many scholars combined. A larger view of critical literacy could serve to reaffirm one’s culture while building the linguistic and intellectual bridge for members of particular linguistic subcultures to traverse back and forth.

An alternative, contemporary, yet panoramic, vision of a critical literacy is in desperate need. When many individuals ponder the meaning of literacy, many assume that it is just one’s basic ability to read (and “get”) words on a page or enunciate “properly.” In this information and technological age, one not only needs to demonstrate the ability to read, but develop the capacity to think critically in diverse settings, and not to just consider ideas through a vacuum, but to interrogate the various social and political implications of ideas and narratives. Literacy, education, and understanding is neither black nor white, it is rapidly becoming global and cosmopolitan.

The development of the internet also impact current ideas of literacy (and grammar) which may cause educators and citizens to rethink the very notion of the logical. Instead of the logical as represented in ideas or narratives progressing in a strictly linear fashion, the “ADD” of children and adults accustomed to technological and intellectual multitasking may actually be the beginning of the reconfiguration of our own cognitive processes where we begin to think and engage various ideas and the world through web-like formations and a broader outlook rather than through often narrow linear progressions.

When one looks at the experience of black Americans, one realizes that language and concepts are not neutral. There may have been moments where the “democratic” discourses and policies did not match the experiences of many African Americans. This remains the same for all groups of people as they have different relationships to certain ideas. They are often colored with particular ideologies that help sustain particular political, social, and economic realities. Thus, all educators and activists need to encourage student-citizens interrogate the meanings of the very words used and taken for granted because they often remain tainted vessels reinforcing harmful stereotypes about, say, the perceived lack of intellect among African Americans. Ironically, this could be done by rethinking what it means to be literate and reinforcing a concept of critical literacy via alternative narratives of the black experience. Only then will a black person reading a book and exercising her or his intellect be more respected, and possibly more threatening, than one who decides to empower the negative racial stereotype of the feared black person brandishing firearms.

Filed under: Literacy, Race

Some Thoughts on Race, Difference, and Discrimination

My friend Kristen Traynor asked me to respond to a few questions for a paper for class. I thought, in light of the recent developments in American race relations, that I would distribute my responses to continue the conversation.

1. What was your reaction to the Jena Six situation?

The Jena Six affair just reinforced the polarization of the American public regarding the issues of race and difference. On one hand there are many people who believe the young men deserved to be punished just because they committed this act. On the other hand, there are many people, like myself, who believe that one cannot observe this issue in a vacuum. Yes, the act was inappropriate. But, the altercation was the culmination of prior events and the missed and botched opportunities of the Jena community to adequately respond to the heightened racial tension. Again, in this case, it would have been best for the kids not to resort to violence, but who can say how easy it would have been to do so in that type of atmosphere? The nooses were hung to warn black youth about sitting underneath a tree. A group of black kids were charged with a crime when they were confronted by an armed white male. Also, a young black and white male got into a physical altercation the weekend before the actual incident. And what was the community response? The noose incident was dismissed as a prank. The prosecutor threatened to end people’s lives with the stroke of a pen. The young black men were arrested for theft after they had disarmed the young white male who confronted them with a firearm. Just like many of the participants in the Watts Rebellion of 1965, if justice continues to be denied, or a particular group continues to receive a disproportionate amount of the blame, they lose faith in the system and begin to act on their own behalf. In this case, and unfortunately, the young black men responded violently. Then they were charged as adults when they should not have been. I think it’s very unfortunate.

Yet, despite my disappointment of how it was handled by those in the Jena community who did not think much of the mounted racial tension, it was great to see the many activists, especially radio personality Michael Baisden, as well as the concerned citizens in Jena highlight America’s historical problem of effectively addressing the race question. Many people in this country believe that race does not matter since the passage of civil rights legislation and affirmative action policies during the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, in spite of these gains, the exposure of black affluence in popular culture, and the limited contact between middle-class whites and blacks in certain communities and other public institutions, race and difference continue to shape the diverse realities of all Americans. Many people still base their potential encounters or views of different people on limiting and negative stereotypes. In places thought to be more liberal like Columbus, Ohio, I’ve been followed in plenty of stores. Some white people look at me funny if my spoken language is not filled with the latest slang or if my pants are not hanging low enough.

This situation has also highlighted the problems of our criminal injustice system. Since the repression of the black power organizations and the “War on Drugs” during the 1970s and 1980s, black, Latino, and poor whites have been negatively affected by unfair sentencing practices. The rates of incarceration among young black men and women, however, have been higher than their Latino and poor white counterparts. Hopefully, people follow up their efforts shown during the massive protest by expanding this into a national issue.

2. Do you feel that some people feel more open to express their prejudices now in light of the incident?

It’s possible. Based upon recent racially charged incidents and rumors here in Kent and the highly publicized noose hanging incident at Columbia University, it could be argued that the nooses hung on the tree in Jena were a calling card for those who may want to intimidate black and other peoples of color. Another issue is that people who want to express these views feel justified, not just by their self-righteousness, but by their disagreement with various aspects of hip hop/urban culture. Many whites and blacks feel their beliefs are warranted because they think many black and urban youth aspire to a life of crime, indiscriminately saying the “n” word, and/or disparage black (all) women.

And while some of this may occur within some black and urban communities, critics want to project their limited vision of hip hop/urban culture (and race consciousness) onto all of black Americans. This is the problem. No one wants to take neither hip hop nor the benefits that race consciousness has had for black Americans and other peoples of color in our country seriously. Violence, misogyny, homophobia, and crime were present in the United States before hip hop. Those are American problems. Many black Americans, not all, have retained a sense of race consciousness and dignity due to the constant threat of negative stereotypes, inequity, racial indifference and intimidation. Race consciousness is not meant to be synonymous with racial superiority.
In addition, no one wants to discuss how the historical backdrop in which many of these problems in the inner-city has developed. These conditions were produced during the early and mid twentieth centuries, not in a conspiratorial fashion, but through decades of federal and state action which negatively affected black communities. The suburbs, the ghettos, and the lack of opportunities within the urban neighborhoods were created by both informal discriminatory practices (white flight, unspoken housing covenants, white resistance to neighborhood integration) and formal, seemingly “race-neutral” policies (Discrimination in the acquisition of FHA mortgages, urban renewal, highway/freeway construction, unequal education funding as a result of the capital flight), not just through a group of people making bad decisions. Yes, personal responsibility is important, but it is only part of the solution.

We need a comprehensive plan. We need programs that ask everyone to seriously question how these conditions arose as well as one that asks inner-city populations to take the initiative and spearhead the effort. Underrepresented groups need a seat at the table and it’s important that they realize that it is their responsibility to sit in the chair. But if we give them a chair with two legs, while ours have four, then how do we expect them to want to sit at the table? If you give them a regular chair and other people are sitting on a throne, then what do you expect to happen? They are going to do whatever it takes to buy a chair with four legs, or try to buy a larger throne to keep up—even if it means dealing drugs within their own in their communities.

3. Have you been to one of the Kent State Anti-Racism Coalition meetings or do you plan on attending?

Yes, I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting. It was nice to have a frank discussion about race for once. I would not say that we all had the same views about race and racism, but if we can identify particular goals to achieve, then we do not have to totally agree. We just have to make sure we are open to each other’s differences in opinion and respect the unique experiences of all groups of people. But I’m thankful that some concerned students and faculty decided to form this group. I really admire all of them for wanting to take on such a big and complicated issue.

4. Do you think that groups like this are important to have on campus?

Yes, these groups are important to have everywhere. It’s like I was telling someone earlier, we all need to learn to think of issues of race, gender, class, sex, disability, and difference in more nuanced ways. I think too many of us begin to think we know all there is to know about these categories and the experiences of different groups of people. Sometimes we become complacent and too self-righteous. My thoughts about race now are not the same as they were when I was in high school, my first years in college, and while I was at OSU. So, if I’m aware of these changes, then why do we continue to view these categories as fixed? The meanings and implications of these categories change every time there is a public development. People seem to forget—once the civil rights legislation and affirmative action policies were passed, the critics were already planning to combat it. Their plans to slow down or reverse these policies were being put into motion as the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board, when Dr. King was giving his “I Have a Dream” speech, and when President Johnson signed that legislation. If there is going to be a new antiracist movement, then the participants have to be ready to constantly act and react.

And only once we begin to think of these categories as dynamic and shifting, then we can really begin to think of pursuing a real human rights agenda. But if we do not, and we only seek to only erase difference/s in favor of the “we are all human” approach, then it is possible that many people of color, social classes, religious faiths, genders, sexual orientations, and other marginalized groups may only think of this as a self-righteous action, a program that resembles 18th, 19th, and 20th century missionary program out to extend “civilization” into regions of the African and Asian continents. We need approaches that reflect the complexities of real life, not a “human rights” imperialism that only muzzles the historical and present experiences of different groups of people.

5. Do you think it’s important to start a dialogue about racism on campus (Kent State)? If so why?

I think so, because it seems that individuals within the administration—even the president—believe that taking down a sign, a mass email, and some sort of investigation of an incident constitutes justice and closure (Someone had spray painted a racial epithet on a sign near the Student Recreation Center on the weekend of September 25. For more information see story: “BUS Addresses Racial Tensions.”) While it was obviously wrong do not forget to think about where this was spray painted. I wonder if the people responsible would have spray painted something like that on a library sign.) This is just sweeping the dirt back beneath the rug. Yes, the perpetrators should be punished. But the powers that be have to ensure an environment where these acts are never repeated. They have to also act like a university is supposed to act and preserve the right of groups like the Black United Students (BUS) to have agency and address the situation in a manner they see fit, because the group in question has to have a chance to help remove the dirt from the house. If they are not allowed this chance, then they really don’t have a seat at the table. And if the group does not get a chance to use the broom or sit at the table, then they may flip over the table, hit you with the broomstick, and burn down the house.

See my answer above for more regarding this question. I do not want to repeat myself.

6. As someone with a master’s degree in African and African American Studies and a concentration on civil rights, how do you feel the issue should be addressed on campus?

First, I would like to say that many groups—the university NAACP, Black United Students, Save the World, the Antiracist coalition, as well as black and white students, faculty, and staff, have been trying to address this issue for a long time. But, generically speaking, the first step is dialogue. And the conversation cannot just include everyone who may roughly agree. It is important to create a safe discussion where people who disagree are invited to explain their views. Consequently, we need to create a situation where someone is not just going to be branded a “racist” for their views. Granted, one may think some of the critics may have “racist” views, but putting them on the defensive will not help, it’s just going to create a tough situation where affecting positive change will be difficult. Now, of course, if a critic is just trying to be hurtful, disrespectful, inconsiderate, and narrow-minded then they should be addressed. That is just result of someone trying to assume some sort of power or superiority. But if the person is just truly inexperienced when it comes to these issues, then we should try to raise their awareness. But, again, the age-old question remains, “How do we do so?” I’m not exactly sure, I just know it is hard work.

Second, a comprehensive plan of action needs to be outlined. This is where the different groups and individuals can decide which aspect of the problem to tackle and how. It shouldn’t be assumed that BUS will use the same tactics to tackle the same problem as the antiracist coalition. Issues of race and difference are too complicated and some aspects are better suited for particular groups to address. Many white students know they will have to disrupt the behind the scenes racial talk and bring it out into the open. Many black students know they will have to assert their will and address instances of racism and proclaim their opposition to it. They will also have the daunting task of communicating their experiences to others while maintaining their position as individual and not a representative of their race. But, no matter what type of action and the identity of the participant, there just has to be flexible action. This action needs to be both interracial and intra-racial. Simultaneously, due to the unique realities of all groups, people need to be aware and respectful of the possibilities where particular groups should assert their own agency. And in the process, we’ll have to tackle a variety of general issues, violence, sexism, homophobia, etc., in order to disarm those who only want to blame the people for their plight.

But again, this is not assuming that a lot of this work has not been done, because many people at Kent State have been doing the hard work of organizing.

7. Could you tell me a little about the incident with the News Journal article about your speech? Did the reaction change your views about the wider society or make you more aware of the difficulties that still have to be faced today?

When I was at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, I always participated in the Black History Month Celebration by planning and presenting speeches. Last year I discussed oppression in its many forms: racism, sexism, violence and child abuse, etc. I highlighted some instances of racism in America, American prostitution (the “pimp culture” many like to glorify) the underground slave trade in the U.S. and abroad, convict labor in the U.S., U.S. immigration policy, the Iraq War, and child soldiers in Uganda. I used some of the later thoughts of Dr. King to illustrate how civil rights extended beyond American borders.

Consequently, when the article about it ran in the newspaper (News Journal) I was heavily criticized for choosing the topic of oppression for a black history month speech. Apparently, many of the message board members assumed that I was just discussing white on black oppression in the United States. Because (and this is sarcastic), aren’t we (black people) only concerned with blaming the “white man” for our problems? Shouldn’t we start thinking for ourselves, like Bill O’Reilly alluded to, and not follow the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons who are only leading us down the path to an essential race-based society? But, in fact, I was discussing many aspects of global oppression and I tried to from the stance of the victim. At the same time, I also discussed how it related to black history month. It was a shame because it seemed that many people just projected what they thought about race and racism onto that story. One person was posting white supremacist articles about how black Americans should be thankful for what western Europeans (whites) have done for us through slavery and what not. I also received some backhanded compliments like, “I’m glad you’re pursuing your master’s degree, I just hope you do not turn into a Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.” I was thinking, “What does that mean?” People were also comparing me to Bill Cosby. I had no idea where that was coming from. What else is ironic is that, although I respect their past contributions, I do not totally agree with all Jackson and Sharpton’s views or courses of action. We need group-based leadership, not the one-person, male, figurehead.

But I think their negative responses were indicative of the amount of Americans who truly believe they know all there needs to know about issues of race and difference. Instead of asking questions, they made and acted upon their assumptions. Sometimes it was insensitive and other times it was just plain racist. But one could tell they passively consumed and drew conclusions from a 650-1000 word newspaper article and some quotes instead of really trying to find out the contents of my talk. I was available for questions. But, there’s a catch. I have a certain policy of only answering sincere people. I do not engage those who just want to criticize anyone because they may have different opinions or for the sake of it. There is too much going on in the world to worry about that, and that type of response only reinforces and encourages disrespect in our country. But, I’m not afraid of what someone is going to do or say because of that situation. As long as I have friends and family to support me in what I want to accomplish then I’m fine. None of us can afford to stoop to the level of name calling and disrespect. It will not do much to improve race relations and it will only serve to become hurtful sound bites in the future.

Filed under: Race, SpN!

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