Sunday, July 3, 2016

It was supposed to be better by now - words

"Why do we have to keep talking about this?"
"I'm so tired of hearing about this."
"So, anyway..."

It has gotten better, there are laws, so why do we have to keep talking about it?

Five years ago, your spouse beat you every day, now he only beats you once a month, so what is your problem?  It's better and the law is on your side.

Is that too harsh? Sorry.  But here is the truth, if you are, like me, a white person, you don't get to say when we are done talking about racism.  You can decide if *you* want to stop talking about it.  You can also isolate yourself from the real world and only have white friends.  Totally your call, that is part of being white.

If you aren't white you don't have that luxury, because the real world won't let you forget.

The young professional black man I know that was turned down on an Air Bnb reservation, and he is pretty sure it is because of the color of his skin, though he can't prove it; he get's to say when we have talked about this enough.

The mom who has to teach her son how to behave if stopped by a cop while doing nothing, just so he won't be beaten or shot, and then prays every time he walks out of the door; she get's to decide when the conversation is over.

The intelligent, educated, dark skinned young man who goes to apply for a job and is always offered manual warehouse positions; he has a stake in this conversation.

Do I have to go on?  You see the stories everyday.  Girls who get singled out for dress code violations when the only difference between what they are wearing and a student not in trouble is the shade of their skin.  The person who is followed by security every time they walk into a store, the person who is told they can't be a ______ because they don't have the right look.  If you are tired of hearing about it, just stop and think a minute about how tired they are of having to live it.

The conversation needs to continue; because while it has gotten better in many ways, it still is not good.

Because it is a conversation, I want to spend a few minutes on some language I will be using as I continue this series.  I want us to be clear, be on the same page, and I also always want you to be able to join the conversation, so I would like to hear if you have opinions on these terms beyond what I am now saying.

My parents both grew up in the south, so they grew up with the "n" word.  I will not use that, and I really don't want to hear any justification you may have for it. I have heard them all and in my opinion none of them are sufficient for the inherent disrespect in that word.

The more polite word, as they were growing, was colored.  There was a period of time when this was used in polite company by people who would still use the "n" word in private.  When I was a very young child I was taught that negro was proper, and colored was acceptable.  These are both still part of the name of some respected organizations.  They are no longer considered appropriate and I do not use them.

When my family moved from a small, hippy friendly community in California to a small white town in Central Florida the first year they were forcefully integrated, I learned about violence, anger, fear, the existence of the Jr. KKK, but also about who gets to decide.  My school held a vote about what term is acceptable, and the white students didn't get a vote.  The decision was "black", and I have tended to use that term since.  In formal writing, and if the term fits, African-American is prefered, and I will sometimes use this, but it is clunky.  I have checked in with a couple of my black friends, and they said that black is still fine. I try to make it a rule to call people what they want to be called, and I prefer to call my friends by their name.  But when you are talking about this subject, you need a general term.  Any of my friends who are not white are welcome to tell me if they have another preference. They get to decide.

Another word that I think confuses some people in my age group that I may use is privileged.  I understand your confusion.  When I was growing up this meant kids born into money.  This was kids in big houses who went to private schools and had ponies.  Now it means people who have some advantage over other people, usually just because of some accident of birth, but sometimes earned.

Now, you may be saying that you aren't privileged.  You have had to work hard for what you have.  You didn't grow up rich.  But think for a minute about the things children and young adults need to succeed in school and job training.  Did you have healthy food, clothing, a safe place to live?  What was your school like? Were the books up to date?  Think about transportation, the availability of extracurricular and enrichment programs.  Think about the number of successful adults in your life, did you get help and guidance in continuing to higher education or job training?  Add into this, the biases that cause one job candidate to be chosen over another.  This is the way I will be using the term, if it comes up.  I know everything is not always easy, that is not what we are talking about. We don't all face the same degree of hard.

And maybe we need to find better ways to talk about all of this.  Maybe none of these terms are the best.  But guess what, to find a better way to talk about it, we have to keep talking about it.  I know it is uncomfortable sometimes, but it isn't all about you, and we need to be better.


  1. Thanks, Paula - this is great - I'm looking forward to the next one!

  2. Thanks, Paula - this is great - I'm looking forward to the next one!