What is Racist?

I really need to stop listening to NPR! This time they were talking about diversity in the work place, a good subject for discussion. However, when a gentleman called in to state they had hired a diversity guru in his business to help the employees work through the knotty subject of welcoming diversity, it began to go off the rails. His story was that this new director seemed to imply he was racist, and it made him…after searching for a word…uncomfortable. The reply to his comment was, if someone calling you a racist causes discomfort, then you are. They went on to state if he had more…that was the word she used…white employees then black or brown employees there was something wrong with the company culture. That begs the question of whether there were minority applicants that were qualified, lived within commute distance, and wanted exactly the job being offered. What if the gentleman (to parse the word more a bit) had 5 employees. Is it incumbent on him to make certain 3 of them are of color?

Black lives matter, of course, just as every other human on the planet matters. The country needs to acknowledge the wrong done to Black Americans just as they had to acknowledge the wrong done to Japanese Americans, and still need to for our indigenous citizens. We are not a perfect country, there is no such thing, as there are no perfect human beings. However, the way to keep people like that caller and myself on your side, attempting to help, is NOT to accuse us of being racist simply because we don’t particularly like being called something we are not.

I have never felt the need to spout my bona fides on this subject, but will do so here for context. In my life I have played with children of color (without any realization of “wrongness”), (again as a child) purchased a beloved puppy from a very nice black man. I hosted a young friend of my

My daughter and her friend Gayle, almost half a century ago, inspecting a bug

daughter for an overnight. I taught spoken English to Okinawan citizens and enjoyed an atmosphere of mutual respect and friendship (more on that in a future post). We have a lovely veteran neighbor, retired, up the road who has lent a hand whenever two ladies needed assistance. One of my favorite memories is of a black, musical comedy actor/professor friend and his white, operatic partner singing Happy Birthday to my daughter and myself on their houseboat (wow!). These were natural life flows, and we never thought twice about the meaning or ramifications of such interactions.

I have heard guests on shows discussing how people are fearful of, or find distasteful, young black men wearing pants almost falling off with undershorts visible, and marking that as a racist response. I, also, find it distasteful, and have said so when I noted young white men (or yellow or magenta) doing the same. I really do not know where or why such a custom started, and don’t care who thinks it is cool, there is no racism in disliking watching young men tug at their pants in order not to trip, or have them fall totally off! Not too mention how hard it is for them to walk normally.

In other words, one can dislike a habit, someone’s taste, or even the person without that dislike being attributed to racism. One can feel like the good cops should be respected while abhorring what the bully cops are doing to people: murdering, beating, torturing (having your eye torn out by a rubber bullet must be torture). Bear in mind, while the black population is suffering disproportionately, there are also a number of white victims who’s lives have been lost or altered by such actions. Old women, old men, young men, both male and female journalists.

But I am just a silly, naive old lady who has never been hung up on who my antecedents were, or how they affected my life. I long ago accepted the fact that my immediate family was dysfunctional due to my fathers peccadilloes, that my descent into poverty was because of the man I chose to marry, and that my climb back into middle class was accomplished through knowledge of what help was available, hard work, and sheer perseverance. Further awareness of a semblance of privilege was brought home to me when I sought aid (as chronicled in a previous post), and found immediate assistance simply by being white, with a small child at my side. Those experiences cemented my lean to the left as I became aware of citizens much worse off than myself, not just the community of color. I saw European immigrants ignored because of language issues, college students who had beatnik vibes disrespected, very poor people struggling within the system.

Assuredly communities of color had the harder road, and in the 50s and 60s were more than disrespected, they were murdered…right alongside their white friends who accompanied them in 1964, during Freedom Summer.

Freedom Summer activists sing before leaving training sessions at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, for Mississippi in June 1964.

And therein lies the question. Do you think, if Anthony Goodman had managed to survive that summer, would he not feel discomfort, at the very least, if called a racist?

There is a problem in our country, that must be acknowledged. We need to regulate the way our police respond to the citizenry. We especially need to protect our communities of color, while at the same time remembering the

seniors, journalists and so on who have also been abused and disrespected by those who are supposed to protect our citizens…ALL of our citizens.

The way to healing is not to attack someone for trying. In the case of the employer who called NPR they only made things worse. He was trying to have teaching moments, to give assistance to himself and his employees on how to approach and discuss a very important, very complex issue. Attacking him as part of the problem, no matter how gently, seems self defeating. Where are the congratulations for seeking out a mentor for your people to reach for common ground and deeper understanding?

On the other hand, I have heard some representatives of the black community discuss the fight for equality, and how they have walked alongside their white brothers and sisters. One lady actually pointed out that white individuals were also suffering from police brutality. Listening to those speakers has been refreshing, and a kind of affirmation of common goals that resonate with someone like myself. Those are the people uniting us and marching forward in brotherhood…or sisterhood?!

I end on a quote from Ayn Rand ( full disclosure, not generally a fan):

We are all brothers under the skin – and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.

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