Tuesday, December 05, 2006

robin, can i touch your hair?

ABC News: Confronting Tough Issues of Race

this one made me and my roomie laugh; we saw it advertised on GMA yesterday (roomie watches it religiously) and we recorded it this morning. the clip yesterday of robin getting all sorts of uncomfortable when diane sawyer touched her wrist and said 'what do you say to that?' after a segment about michael richards losing his shit was priceless. we just laughed and laughed and laughed.

but if this segment is supposed to explore race (a woman from my organization is one of the panelists) it seems really sort of Race 101, you know? like, Race for Middle Class Dummies. (see, i was going to write 'Race for Retards' but, though it rings better, that would have been insensitive and boneheaded.)

i mean, really:

Sawyer brought up the first topic: do a lot of white Americans feel they're
being tested by black Americans by having to watch every word lest they be
accused of racism ? She asked, "What if I said something really insensitive and

i like my answer much better than dubois' - then you're insensitive and boneheaded, diane. shouldn't the more interesting question be why shouldn't a lot of white americans feel they're being tested by non-white americans by having to watch every word they say?

otherwise, we'll end up finding a nice way to justify/normalize being insensitive and boneheaded. let's put an end to the benign 'pass' we give for comments that make us inwardly cringe but we never call people out for it because we make the excuse 'well, they just don't know better.' i'm putting my feet down; y'all people should know better by now. it's fracking 2006.

again, shouldn't the bigger goal be for all of us to watch what we say? at the very least? i mean, that just seems basic - the dumbass end of the DiversityBehavior spectrum - Don't call someone a derogatory name.

jesus. do people actually have to be told this?

but if you want an extra gold star, how about making friends with someone who doesn't look like you? at the very least, your Diversity Learning Curve will increase rapidly. i remember when me and roomie first met, the first 6 months of our friendship was spent in bars while she asked me things like, "So what the hell is up with Martin Lawrence?" and explaining why the cocktail hour seems to only happen in white households (though i had white friends growing up, i didn't encounter cocktail hour until i moved to the midwest.) by having at least one friend with different levels of melanin, it puts you one step further away from Diversity Dumbass and several closer to Diversity Expert.

(in all honesty, one brown friend isn't going to get you to that Expert level; you'll need to have more than several, be invited over to share a meal with their family and have to attend at least one funeral without freaking out. roomie's already passed this test.)


greg said...

If I followed your advice, sooner or later I would accidentally blurt out "Of course, some of my best friends are black." Really, it's just not worth the risk.

Forget saying insensitive, boneheaded things. If you're even thinking them you're kind of an asshole and you need to work on that. And if you're not thinking them, then of course you don't have to worry about saying them. Obvious, I suppose, but many people appear to miss this.

Orange said...

Good post.

Hey, I was talking with a biracial (black/white) friend of mine about my biracial (Asian/white) kid and his apparent lack of awareness of "racial" differences. My friend said she didn't really notice different races until she was about 9, possibly attributable to having an assortment of skin tones in the household from day one. Any idea if that's the general experience for a lot of multiracial American kids?

bitchphd said...

Isn't the issue of "do a lot of white Americans feel they're being tested" really more about "why are you so fucking worried you won't pass"? God knows that when I knew my shit before an exam, I usually wasn't all tentative and freaked out about my answers. And if I didn't know my shit, I knew it was my fault, not the examiner's.

ding said...

hm. i don't know. i was hyper-conscious of color when i was a kid. i was fascinated that my sister was the color of an eggy tapioca and i was the color of a really roasted cashew; i noticed that my dad's medium brown darkened to a reddish brown in the summer and that my mom was more of a bloomy pink than a yellow or a beige.

and, growing up, i would play a mental game with myself: picking out who was biracial in my classes and then giving myself a mental gold star when i guessed right.

i was also very particular about the ethnic backgrounds of all my friends: 'no, dad, he's not a mexican. he's from CUBA.' i knew the difference between chinese, japanese, vietnamese, korean; between mexican, central american, cuban, spanish.

it's funny because while i've lived here in the midwest i've had friends ask how it is that i distinguish between ethnic groups. and i just look at them. what can you say to that? you distinguish between them because there are distinctions! they're right there - can't you see it?!

so, for me, i guess i was a little obssessed with racial difference as a kid. i was always aware of it but that's because it was all around me.

ding said...

bitch -
but i've found that most folk don't pass. they should be worried.

or is that too harsh?