Monday, September 22, 2008
The Obvious Police: Money Wasted on Studies to Confirm What We've Always Known: Whites and Blacks Disagree on Prejudice and Racism
I've always wondered how useful these types of studies/polls can be. So yahoo, AP, Stanford University, and a for-profit Polling company, Knowledge Works, published the findings of a study conducted during the political conventions of each party. 2200 people were interviewed, a combination of blacks and whites, and the news media is acting as if something prolific or cathartic has happened. The conclusion of this novel study on race in America? That Barack Obama won't be president because white folks will not elect a black man... period.
I could just imagine being some white person reading this story and gasping to myself, " Me, a racist? Never! Why, I have black friends and that makes me okay!" That probably is true. I do not believe that all white people are racists. I simply believe that all white people benefit from racism, whether they acknowledge it or not. Conversely, I believe that all black people are not victims of racism. However blacks have to deal with the effects of racism as a collective, whether directly affected or not.
The study also highlights something that both blacks and whites, as well as other people of color have known since this country's inception; Whites see progress and Blacks see much of the same discrimination despite attempts made to level the playing field. It's also interesting to note that in the study, Whites seemed to hold more negative views about blacks than the opposite. In neither group was there a majority that held negative views about the other, but the numbers are right about where I believe they should be.
I guess my annoyance with this stuff is that while it documents the sentiments held by both groups, it does not move us any place toward reconciliation or a better understanding of WHY things are the way they are. White people have their heads in the sand and truly believe that there is no cause for concern. Blacks are still lamenting about the struggle and often wonder how is it that no one else, outside of black people, and some other groups of color, can see this? I have to admit, when I discuss race with my white friends (Yes, I have them too), I am amazed by their ignorance and almost nonchalance as if nothing outside of their own world exists. It's like anything that has very little or nothing to do with them is filtered out of their world view.
For example, in 2006 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. celebrated their Centennial Anniversary in Washington, DC. One of my white girlfriends who lived near the hotel where the convention was held had to scavenge the internet looking for information on what this group was and why they were celebrating. To her credit, she was thoroughly impressed with the organization and asked me if I knew who they were and proceeded to explain the history of fraternity to me. I laughed to myself and allowed her to continue about the organization as if she had discovered some facet of blackness unbeknownst to me. I thought to myself, APA is a significant organization founded on the campus of an Ivy League Institution; How could she not know that? With regard to race as a differential problem for blacks and whites, it was clear to me that she wasn't being racist, but the fact that a historic black institution was something she considered esoteric was offensive.
The same problem rears its complex head when I attempt to hail a cab with a white friend of mine and I'm IGNORED completely, by black African and white drivers alike, until my white friend begins to hail a cab. It used to bother me when I was younger, but sadly, I've gotten used to it and I adapted to the differential treatment. No it doesn't happen every time, but it happens enough that it's worth mentioning. I digressed though.
I think the real question that needs to be asked is, How do we take all of this information about racism and prejudice and make it a tool to have a meaningful discussion that births an understanding between opposing views? I am aware that while people exist on this planet that there will always be differences of opinion. That's what makes life wonderfully complex and interesting. When studies simply state (and in this case re-state) OBVIOUS INFORMATION, how does it help us at all? The only purpose it serves is to reinforce Whites' negative views of blacks, accompanied by a complete denial and dismissal of the impact that racial discrimination has played in the lives of Black people. Equally important is the fact blacks remain despondent and practically hopeless that the issues surrounding race will ever be resolved. Part of that problem is from conditioning rooted in reality, part is from the pimping of past racial hurt by a few famous Reverends, and part of it is caused by that white denial I previously mentioned.
I am not asking for an apology from current whites about the harm their forefathers and contemporaries inflicted upon my people. I am more interested in the acknowledgment by white folks that race is as much their problem as it is everyone else's. Simply trying to deodorize the past by a cavalier sauntering away from it, coupled with vehement denial, and a casual ignorance doesn't make the problem go away. It feeds it. Whites should stop acting so surprised that blacks perceive that racism still exists because that perception, for many blacks is stark and jarring reality.