22 March 2008

Typical White Person

I'm racially prejudiced and I'm not (that) afraid to admit it.

After this week's brouhaha over Obama's pastor and Obama's speech on race and Obama's comment that his grandmother was a "typical white person," I feel like beginning to talk about race, prejudice and our society.

Normally I don't have that much trouble writing posts. Usually it is keeping blog topics short and to the point that is my struggle. But writing about race is so painful and touchy that it has taken me days to get around to starting this.

Prejudiced, yeah, that's what I said. I don't mean I think my race is superior or that I deserve to be treated better than others. I just know that when I see someone, their race is one of the first things that I notice about them and that I make certain unspoken assumptions about people based on their ethnic heritage.

I was surprised to find out that some people took offense to Obama saying that a typical white person would be a little afraid when a black man passed her on the street. It seemed so normal to me. Yeah, more afraid of black men than men of other ethnicities, of course, isn't everyone?

Examining the evidence, I have no real reason to feel that way. I have lived in overwhelmingly white communities my whole life. A 5 percent black population would be high for places I have lived. No black man has ever menaced me in any way.

But because I live and breathe in this society at this time, I "know" black men are dangerous and I can't ever remember a time when that wasn't so. I would venture to say that it is almost impossible to grow up outside of black culture and see black men as whole, rounded human beings instead of caricatures.

It is to my detriment that I have not worked harder to root out my prejudices. Part of the problem is that race is such a charged issue that it is easier to keep smiling and pretending that everything is okay than it is to wade into the muck wrestle down those misconceptions. I'm also afraid that, no matter how hard I work or how much I learn, that there will still be those deeply buried subconscious bits.

I am awkward about -isms. I am eager not to offend and sometimes tie my tongue in knots trying not to say or do the wrong thing.

My hope is that, no matter what my deep-seated, hair-trigger emotions are, I can treat everyone I meet with the dignity and respect they deserve.

10 comments:

one smarmy mama said...

This is something I think about a lot. I think it's interesting......I was born where you live and what I know of it is Mexican. Anyways......yeah, so I've been thinking about this and my experiences and I think for me, I'm more class-ist. The first thing I tend to see is if they are dressed ghetto or if they are dressed like they can afford to shop where I shop. I think I make more assumptions about a person based on their social class than their color.

Not a Typical Asian American said...

We often fear the unknown. We're influenced by media, and our own experiences.

It's one thing to be prejudiced. It's another to say them out loud, to know our own biases and to question and fight them.

We ALL have them. Maybe not ethnic bias, but as your pp said, class, culture, religions etc.

I don't fault Obama for his statements. I just don't think he needed to defend his grandmother. She was shaped by her own experiences as well.

I just appreciated the irony of the situation.

Maybe there is a typical white person. But here's to us fighting that definition of "typical."

Suburban Oblivion said...

I'll have to give this one more thought before I come up with a reply that will do it any justice, but I wanted to tell you I enjoyed the post, and bravo for having the guts to write it. Only by facing and knowing our faults can we work to change them.

MsLittlePea said...

Excellent post Suebob. The best way to put this whole race thing we all have is to put it right on the table and examine it honestly. Not hide from it. I hope his speech started a conversation we all need to have.

Chantel said...

I thought this about myself a few years ago after a date I had with a black man. He was so hands on and sexual and I was very offended for a first date. My friends told me it wasn't prejudice but bad date. I recently had a falling out with my best friend who is korean. Only because she called every racist as a joke. I grew tired of it and she quit calling. I wonder who the racist really was in that scenario?

Jhianna said...

I've been circling around this one in my head since I listened to the speech.

I'm not sure I fit in this "typical white person" mold, but it's close. And everything he said resonated with me - if it wasn't exactly me, it was a large majority of who I grew up with (family and friends). Midwestern lower to middle class, yep yep yep.

I was talking with my husband about it briefly this weekend and complaining about the conservative radio response to the speech. He said something interesting. He thinks the conservatives are afraid of Obama.

I think they should be afraid of him. I think there's a chance we could take some huge steps forward in a lot of ways if we're brave enough to elect him.

Day Dreamer said...

I thought about this post since yesterday when I read this. I've not come up with a better response than the one below. This is a sticky issue for me....

I hated having to deal with my outwardly racist family members so I pretty much just ditched them.

Yet. I still have my own issues that I have to battle every.single.day. It's how we were raised. And how they were raised. I had to make a decision to end it with me.

My kids will never see it because I'm very aware of it. And I'm wrong.

When I go to the polls to vote for Obama(hopefully), I will bring my kids. I'll carefully explain to them why I think he is the best person for the job.

Staci Schoff said...

So now that you've given me a context, I'll have to write this story about myself that I've planned to tell one day -- I'll link to you rather than filling this comment space because it won't even be a "concise" blog post, let alone could I turn it into a concise comment!

Mignon said...

I agree with one smarmy mama. I bet if you walked down the street and passed a black man wearing a white shirt and tie and carrying a briefcase, you'd feel nothing close to fear. And yet, like NaTAA said, we fear the unknown, with a dash of media embellishment. If you see a black man with a red/blue bandana, tattoos and big baggy jeans, then you feel fear.

But then, put a couple white men in those outfits, and I bet you would feel the same thing. So maybe it's still prejudice, just not racial prejudice.

jessica said...

I've been meaning to comment for days, but haven't had enough time to sit and formulate a thoughtful comment - and I still don't!

As a bi-racial person, though, this is certainly an issue that I have been on both sides of, and both actively and passively, and I don't have any sort of answer for any of it. But I do think if every person came right out and said, "I have a prejudice about (blank), and this is how that makes me feel..." we'd all be better off. So, you go, girl.

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