There’s so much to be said about what is happening in the United States right now regarding racism. For me, the conversation started several weeks ago with the firing of Paula Deen from her show on Food Network. And it continues today with the riotous reactions to the George Zimmerman verdict. Racism exists. Not anything like 1955 Montgomery, Alabama. But regardless, we want to keep it alive and not go anywhere.
I believe that most of what we call racism today is perceived racism versus actual racism. Did George Zimmerman use racial stereotypes to make assumptions about a young man that ultimately led to his death? Yes. Was it because George Zimmerman hates black people? No. Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty because there is no evidence whatsoever for the NAACP or anyone else to believe it a hate crime. A crime occurred between two people of different skin colors. It happens daily. We feel just fine when the same racism is used to search an Arab man’s briefcase at the airport. Instead we call it “profiling” to make us feel better.
Actions, speech, and dress convey an image to others and with it comes a preconceived idea of how to interact with you. Donna Brazile in an opinion piece for CNN wrote:
“If you don’t know about the “black male code,” you should. It’s something black boys learn early, even before adolescence. It goes, in part, like this: Even though you’re not a criminal, some people assume you are, especially if you’re wearing certain clothes. Never argue with the police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. As a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.”
It seems that Trayvon Martin didn’t get that memo. And now the result is racism? Rather than break down the walls of misperception and use this as a teaching point to change a culture, we defend it by claiming racism. Yet women who want to be taken seriously wear longer skirts and men who want to become CEO’s don’t get neck tattoos without complaint of sexism or discrimination.
Ann Coulter drew the ire of many when she stated to Fox News that “This case never should have been brought. It was purely political for the media to continue their narrative of all of America as ‘Mississippi Burning.’They want to keep us divided by race, ginned up by race, and it’s a relief that someone who was innocent did not have to be the sacrificial lamb for this media narrative about America as being run by the Klan.”
What irks me about this is the assumption that all white people are racist (or in this case a new ethnicity called white-Hispanic). I doubt that perceived racism is dependent upon the person given their age demographic, like Paula Deen who used a racial slur. The inference is that any white person using that term is making an express point to say “I don’t consider you as human and wish you were my property”, rather than talking down to someone in the same sense as a calling them a M-Fer. Meanwhile, if a white teen who listens to Jay-Z repeatedly use the same word, and by definition as a millennial is more tolerant than any previous generation, started using the N-word regularly he’d get beat down. And why? All he knows is that it’s derogatory slang for his “homies” like using the B-word to refer to women. Insensitive and ignorant yes, but intentionally offensive no.
It’s the perpetuation of stereotypes by those who complain about the stereotype. Nothing irritates me more than people who complain about something, but aren’t willing to do anything to fix it themselves. Take Kanye West for example who consistently complains about not being taken seriously as an artist or even as a person, yet can’t even make sense as he rambles like a kindergartener and whose actions with Kim Kardashian reinforce a stereotype people like Bill Cosby have been fighting for 60 years. But where is Reverend Al Sharpton’s quick criticism of an album named “Yeezus” featuring a song called “I Am God” and repeatedly using a racial slur?
The defense in that case is artistic expression. No one complained about the N-word’s consistent use in Django Unchained because of its cultural context related to the vernacular of the time. I own plenty of movies and songs with strong language in them which help portray the emotional sentiment of the authors in a way even actions cannot. I’m okay with that and think we’ve gone too far in removing books like Huck Finn from school curriculums rather than using the opportunity to teach why something is insensitive, derogatory, and offensive. We don’t want to explain actual racism, we just want to point it out based on personal opinion. However, if you want to chalk up rappers advancing of a racial stereotype to artistic expressionism, that’s fine. But I bet there’s not one white person that Jay-Z would allow to use that word. And that’s the hypocrisy of the entire thing. If it’s wrong for me, it’s wrong for you.
Racism exists, I will not deny that. I know many people who ignorantly dislike and even hate people with a different skin color. But claiming racism every time something you don’t approve happens just because the other person’s skin is a different color doesn’t help overcome racism. If the African American community as a whole is so offended by the use of the N-word or “unfair racial stereotypes” they need to look in house first. It’s kind of like a friend of mine said the other day with the girls she taught in middle school, “if you don’t want boys to call you b@*%# quit calling each other that”. You don’t hear Chinese and Japanese walking around using the racial slurs of WWII when talking to each other do you? When will Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson step up and condemn and protest until something is done about the perpetuated black male stereotype in rap music? When will we quit projecting racism which only blinds us to what is really going on around us?
We don’t want racism to go away. We want it to stay with us, to enable us to continue to ignore introspection so that we do not have to take responsibility for our own actions. If we continue to keep racism in our society we can use it as a tool to remind us of the sins of the past rather than look forward to the opportunities of the future. We can focus on the nightmare instead of the dream. A person can be different from you, can disagree with you, can even do you harm without being racist or discriminating. Where you seek out racism you will find it, if only by your own perception it exists. Racism is fear and hate distorting reality into a perverted wasteland.
George Zimmerman had a misperception of who Trayvon Martin was. He was wrong and regardless of the verdict he is paying for it with his life. Now the same ignorant perception is being used against him. Rather than showing an enlightened response worthy of those who have fought true racism for years, we have responded with more ignorance and hate in a reverse racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s face has been transplanted into a picture of a hoodie, but somehow I don’t feel that’s what he would have wanted. In August of 1963, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke these words “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”
Racism must end. But the manner in which we are fighting it today, is only reinforcing it to a new generation. We must stop seeking it out where it does not exist, and address those who unwittingly promote it properly so that we can all move forward together.