Last week, I posted this video on my Facebook page. It is a clip from the show "What Would You Do". This show offers various "candid camera" moments- some amusing and some serious. Though there are many videos on race to choose from, I found this one especially intriguing because host John Quiñones chooses to have a lengthy conversation with the two women involved. Its usually easy for us to point out obvious, interpersonal instances of racism, like this one. So I don't usually talk about overt instances like this. In addition to that, they often minimize (or erase) conversations about systemic and structural racism. Not good.
But I confess I was intrigued by this clip, because I think it offers a learning opportunity for us- not to identify overt, interpersonal racism- but to dissect the thinking that props it up. If you hear racist remarks and become so angered, caught off guard, or irate that you cannot engage- the racism is sure to live on.
So together we dissected some portions of this video on Facebook. I want to make sure I wrap up that conversation well. Here is part one. So much was said, I have to divide this in half! (If you haven't already, please watch the video to the end; otherwise you're going to think my following list is unnecessarily, off-the-charts offensive)
To refer to a person as "that" (Why did she choose "that"? Why would she want "that"?) is a clear form of dehumanization, the process of removing any sense of humanity and therefore dignity from a person. Usually this is done by reduction- minimizing someone's entire identity into one trait or situation. However, this woman has provided us with a complete erasure of the young man's humanity. Why? Because this is the beginning of denying the respect, civility, and rights that humanity demands. Be watchful for this language, for it is often used to imply and give permission to treat people unjustly-- sometimes through interpersonal relationship like this, but in its worst form, its used to deny human rights and perpetuate oppression.
2. Keep it in your family...
Hopefully you now see the element of dehumanization here (Keep "it" in your family). Also important to notice the implication of using the word "it" which suggests that blackness is vile, diseased, dirty, unwanted and undesired. Here she doesn't seem to be referencing people, as in 'keep it [black men] in your own family'. Instead she is suggesting that some hereditary disease must be kept between black people. She makes it sound like her family would have to be quarantined if "it" got out and infected her own family. To believe that there is something innately wrong, inferior, undesirable about black persons equals racism.
3. I have a lot of black friends...
No. You dont. I'm not sure why white people believe that racism can be covered up with a smile. Black people might be civil. We might work with you on a project and ask how your day has been. But if you think for one second that racism doesn't ooze out of your pores and puddle around your feet, you are mistaking. Racism left unchecked cannot be hidden. To better understand this dynamic (and just how good people of color are at doing this, you can read We Wear The Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar; we've been doing this dance a long time. You can also see it in the hug. He disagreed. He felt uncomfortable. But I doubt she had any awareness of his discomfort. The mask at work.)
4. Marry the same as you are, not spreading...
I'm sorry, not spreading what exactly? Again, racism 101. The suggestion that we are not "the same" coupled with the idea that one is inherently inferior, spreading... something. If possible, calmly make people finish their sentences. For instance, "I think I missed what you were about to say, please finish. spreading what?" You need not think through the racism of others, if you can get them to do so.
5. What about the children...
This was the one most of you felt really strong about, particularly my multiracial friends and interracial couples, and understandably so. I appreciate you all sharing your experiences and the experiences of your children. All I want to underscore is the disassociation behavior of the woman in the video. She does not see herself as someone who is perpetuating the hatred and reproducing the abuse that she fears for children. The logical conclusion that the children are the result of "that" and carry within them an "it" and are "spreading" something is not understood as violence for her. In the words of my friend, Ashley Ray, "she can't see herself reflected in those supposed abusers. Where does she think they learn it?"
6. Mexicans are white people...
Danger, Will Robinson, danger. Do you see it? The continuation of racist thinking- Mexicans are okay, not because they are Mexican, innately worthy of dignity and acceptance, but because they are... white. Beware of anyone who is willing to accept a people group based on perceived closeness to whiteness. Also beware of anyone who is willing to erase culture. This happens in microagressions all the time, "you're not really [insert race here]." Whether micro or macro, eraser is violence.
I hope this dissection is helpful to you as you have conversations about race with others. Here is PART TWO.