Saturday, October 07, 2006

"Why Blacks & Whites Don't Dialog"

A couple of postings from about a month and a half ago, not particularly feminist-related, that feel apropos here.

First, the titular post from Michael David Cobb Bowen, writing "from the perspective of a moderate conservative Republican representing the 'Old School' of African American culture and values."

From the black side there is a very powerful disincentive, or taboo against, confiding in whitefolks about the presence of racism.

...There is a perception that people are going to be more white than people, 'when push comes to shove'. I don't think so, but our social intercourse has not matured in the mainstream these 50 years of integration, to the level at which black/other intimacy is generally tight enough to share these revelations. Whitefolks don't ever give up the front and fantasy that they could be 'the man'... Whitefolks don't ever admit their trash backgrounds and humble themselves around blackfolks. Blackfolks don't ever let their guard down and simply trust whitefolks in a carefree and easy way. And of course blacks are constantly reminded of how many people just don't get it. The risk, I think for most blackfolks is too great. I don't excuse it. It's something that we must get over and I know a lot of people are I'm hearing Mike's voice take over in my head about the kind of civility that we have to show each other,*constantly*. I think it's a little bit more than that on a personal level, it is a refusal to retreat. It's demonstrating somehow that an individual is never going to withdraw into their racial safety zone and ignore the 'others'. Is there too much racial injustice in America for each of us to make that promise? Perhaps. Is the ethos of colorblindness wrecking havoc with this potential intimacy? Absolutely. Is 'diversity & multiculturalism' a sort of retrenchment into the personal politics of difference? I think so.

So there are many barriers to overcome that mitigate against the potential for a sustained interracial conversation which settles terms and can focus political energy. But if I may use a jewish analogy, blackfolks want a divine kingdom on earth. We want the laws and the powers to defeat our enemies. We developed ourselves on our own and we want to be left alone. We don't believe this intimacy and friendship is the way to go. It's tedious, it's slow, and every friend is not a fellow warrior. Who knows that better than blacks who are not 100% African blooded but still disconnected from a certain half of their family? This is why the jewish provocation works, we understand the point of view of a jewish warrior. It's not so much a friendship as an alliance, and we don't have to keep investing in intimacy to know that the battle will still be engaged. I percieve that's where the friendship thing goes between blacks and whites. The whole drama over a racial incident and the black & white person look at each other with their mouths open "I thought you were my friend" says the white person. "I guess all I am to you is a friend" says the black. That's why blackfolks consistently say they'd rather deal with a redneck bigot, because at least he's honest and they always know where he's coming from.

[n.b. i snipped this part,

I think the notable exception to this is when Jews start the conversation in a particular way. If a nominally white person outs himself as a Jew, unprompted to a black person and talks about racism, I think a strong bridge is built.

because, well, curious. as a Jew, I'm intrigued by this; i wonder how many other people see it this way. it seems to me that this particular poster feels a certain affinity with the Jews; i have mixed feelings about this, because on the one hand, i tend to agree that there is, or can be/has been a historical connection there; and yet at the same time, there's often a profound disconnect, ime. at any rate i've certainly been disheartened by racism coming from My People on a number of occasions. That, and, well, i'm not entirely sure how much I relate to

"want a divine kingdom on earth. We want the laws and the powers to defeat our enemies. We developed ourselves on our own and we want to be left alone."

...i tend to suspect that this is perhaps more a certain kind of conservative ethos, possible with religious undertones, than anything else. but...anyway. onward:]

Temple3 responds

(from the bio: I sit at many crossroads today…between the OldSchool and the Nu; between Africa and America; and, between life and death (always). This walk is about Choice as much as it’s about Roots. )

“a very powerful disincentive…”

And what is that “powerful disincentive”? Well, James Baldwin edict still stands…to whom can you reveal your ‘constant state of rage’? Baldwin remarked that to be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage. (I haven’t been able to track down the specific source for the quote. Work for another time and place.)

And what is that constant state of rage about? What is it’s genesis and resolution? When you have no answers and are ill-equipped, you can take the path that Ms. McClain took in Chicago. You can take the path that Tookie Williams chose in LA. You can take the path of despair and hopelessness. Still…these choices are fundamentally the same in that each reflects a SUBMISSION to a dynamic that precedes and supercedes the power of individuals to transform.

Making a different set of choices and stepping out on faith is a two-way street. When black people are willing to confess two things: our constant stage of rage and our collective contingency (ie, relative powerlessness) the dialogue cannot ensue until white folks make a parallel confession - fear of reprisals (Thomas Jefferson said it three centuries ago) and knowledge of culpability (give up the “my ancestors did this” game because it’s as fake as a $3 bill). It’s one thing to dismiss slavery as ancient history…it’s quite another to dismiss your father’s union job in an all-white union which paid for your suburban home and public school and Berkeley/Stanford education. It’s absolutely different to ignore the many intergenerational non-compete agreements authored by white labor from 1865 through 1965. How did you come to have what you have? Do you want to know? Have you ever asked? Somethings may be better left unsaid. The truth shall make you free - or something like that.

These confessions, by the way are not forthcoming on the personal level because human beings would rather skirt the conflict of revelation and relate at a superficial level. If Americans are really honest with themselves, they’ll see this society really doesn’t have that capacity for self-reflection. I don’t know (through experience) of a nation that does - but the US does not.

American institutions (schools, media, government, businesses, etc.) have never dealt with the ugly truths in a systematic way. Compare the US treatment of slavery with the Post WWII treatment of the Nazi era in Germany. There is no comparison. The US continues to harbor, finance and sustain intellectuals, artists, ideologues and others who harbor sentiments directly derived from the outdated racialist doctrines. Many of these people are in influential policy circles and they operate with little scrutiny and tactical immunity.

With respect to our missed conversations, we say that we don’t have time for anything else. And the paradox is that people are spending more and more time having cell phone conversations about absolutely nothing. Real conversation comes with a price…intimacy, vulnerability and choice…after we disclose - we get to choose what new type of relationship we will have. And that won’t be easy either.


Unsane said...

Yes-- I have also had different standards concerning "friendship" as a result of my vulnerability in a different country. To me, a friend is someone who will back me in a time of trouble. Anything else is an acquaintance, or worse.

Donna said...

We're finding out fast that we have an awful lot of aquaintances or worse lately.