Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Birth Defect

A birth defect is defined as a physical or biochemical abnormality that is present at birth and that may be inherited or be the result of environmental influence.  It is further defined as:  an abnormality of structure, function or metabolism, whether genetically determined or the result of environmental interference during embryonic or fetal life. A birth defect may cause disease from the time of conception through birth, or late in life.

I have long maintained that the stain of slavery will forever remain on the United States. Like the red wine stain on a white, linen tablecloth, the history of slavery and racism on this country is a stain that, although faded, will always remain. You can rub and rub at the wine stain on the tablecloth, but despite all your efforts, despite whatever solvent you use, there will always remain a remnant of the stain. Slavery and its racism is the remnant that remains on the United States. It is the birth defect of this nation.

Condoleeza Rice, once said this:  America doesn't have an easy time dealing with race … obviously, when this country was founded, the words that were enshrined in all of our great documents that have been such an inspiration to people around the world … they didn't have me [sic] for an overwhelming element of our founding population. And Black Americans were a founding population," Rice said. "Europeans and Africans came here and founded this country together. Europeans by choice and Africans in chains and that's a not a very pretty reality of our founding. I think that particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today.

The definition of a birth defect concludes that a birth defect may cause disease from the time of conception through birth and later life. Such is racism in this country (and others). It is a birth defect whose genesis began at the very beginning of this country. It is an allegory that handily lends itself to racism in this country.

It has been my belief, my fervent hope, that dialogue, honest conversations about race, will begin the long, difficult journey to reconciliation.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

White Privilege or Systemic Injustice?

I stumbled upon a webpage recently entitled, "Ask the White Guy." In the referenced post, he states "The concept of white privilege confuses and frustrates many white people, especially people who don’t perceive themselves as being in a position of power (a recent comment started with “I grew up in a trailer park”)" I agree with him.

I have had many conversations with white friends who struggled with the concept of white privilege. They have been quick to point out the fact that they are not rich, that they haven't been hired at a job simply because they're white, and more.  I like the way Peggy McIntosh describe white privilege as "an invisible backpack." White people walk out the door every day with this invisible backpack on their shoulders. Most are not even aware it is there. They have carried it for so long, they no longer feel its weight, they've forgotten entirely that it is there. It is an old friend with which they are comfortable. This backpack allows them to shop (or browse) in a department store without being followed out of a fear of them shoplifting. Because of the backpack, when they are not hired for a job for which they applied, there is no wondering if the reason was because of their race. The sons of white people are not automatically deemed dangerous and suspicious for they, too, wear an invisible backpack. Some white people may say, "I've been followed in a store" or, one of my favorites, "I grew up poor, I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth." People who think this way lose sight of the fact that the backpack is invisible. Invisible is defined as unseen, not perceptible by the eye. In that vein, the fact that the backpack is invisible does not, in any way, negate its presence.

Now, let's consider the experiences of those who lack this invisible backpack (mainly people of color). It occurs to me that a good place to start would be what many people of color consider when naming their children. I suspect this is most common in black families. There is for many a, in my opinion well-founded, fear that a name that is too "ethnic" sounding will cause problems and roadblocks in the child's life. For example, when a recruiter considers a resume and the applicant's name is Jamal, Shaniqua, Ahmed or even Ebony, the recruiter can reasonably guess  that the applicant is non-white. The reaction is similar when the applicant's name is Jose, Jesus, or Armando, especially if the surname is Perez, Gonzales, Hernandez or Sanchez. The recruiter often makes certain assumptions about the applicant prior to even interviewing the applicant. While the assumption may not be something as ignorant as "I bet this person can dance and likes rap music," there is a perception by many whites that black people and other people of color are inherently inferior, both in terms of intellect and education. This unconscious racism may cause the applicant's resume to undergo a higher level of scrutiny in an effort to find some reason to exclude the applicant. And, the resume often ends up in "File 13", a euphemism for the trash can.

I know there are those who, upon reading these words, will say something to the effect of, "here we go again. Not all white people are racist." Still others will call this playing the race card, a phrase I despise and will dismantle in another post. Racism is not always blatant, conscious, or perhaps even intended. Often, racism is so embedded into a psyche that a person seemingly forgets that it is there. For some reason (racism?) the black race is usually considered to be monolithic. Though this presumption may not be spoken, there is a belief that all black people think, act, and oh yes, eat the same (they all eat watermelon and fried chicken).

Continuing our journey into the experiences of black people who, unfortunately, do not have access to the invisible backpack, let's contrast some experiences with those of white people who wear the backpack. Very few, if any, white people fear that something happened, or didn't happen, to them because of their race. The only exception I can think of would be the rare times a white person applies for a job at a black-owned firm. Most black parents give what is called "the talk" to their black sons. This talk instructs the son how to behave when (not if) they are confronted by a white person, especially law enforcement. Notice I said "when," not "if." Trayvon Martin's father no doubt had this talk with Trayvon and his older brother. Perhaps Trayvon forgot or felt safe because he was within his own neighborhood. This forgetting or false sense of comfort cost Trayvon his life. Both of my sons are fine, upstanding, college-educated young men. Both have been pulled over numerous times by the police, for superfluous reasons. My younger son was out one night with a group of friends. My son was the only black man in the group. When they left the club at 2:30 in the morning, my son (and his friends) crossed in the middle of the block going to their cars. Out of nowhere, blue and red lights began flashing and a police car pulled up on my son. Dressed in non-baggy khakis and a polo shirt, my son (remembering "the talk") immediately stopped walking. The policeman told him he had "jay-walked." Despite the fact that he was walking, he was asked for his driver's license. After running his credentials through the system, my son was given a ticket for jaywalking. None of his white and Hispanic friends (who crossed with him) were ticketed. This citation (a $200 citation) was considered a moving violation and my son fought it for months, not wanting this walking violation to affect his driving record.

For the most part, white people can wear their hair in any style they choose, excepting probably, some strange colors. Yet, black people have to consider whether wearing their hair in a natural style will affect their chances at employment. Even in 2015, afros and other natural hairstyles make some people "uncomfortable." Lacking the backpack, housing in some neighborhoods is still not available to blacks. There is a fear, often unspoken but often spoken, that property values will go down if blacks, or other people of color, move into a neighborhood. The better schools are in the better neighborhoods, which are often unavailable to blacks. Though the Fair Housing Act of 1968 ostensibly made "redlining" illegal, redlining still exists. While blacks and other minorities may not be denied outright mortgage loans, they are often steered to higher-priced loans.

The lack of the backpack has long accounted for the disparity in wages of whites versus people of color. The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009. Whites rarely, if ever, suspect that their black counterpart is earning more. Most blacks have accepted as fact their white counterpart is paid more.

As an anecdotal tale, I will relate the story of a young man I will call Granville. Granville has a masters degree in engineering. He works for the largest employer in his city with about ten people reporting to him. With the exception of one man, who I will call Robert, he wrote performance reviews and recommended salary increases for the people working under him. Each year, his boss told him, "oh, I'll do Robert's review." Robert, was a white man with only a high school education.  When a friend of Granville's left the company, she told Granville that Robert made $10,000 more a year than Granville.  Oh, incidentally, Robert complained privately to his friends that Granville "was an affirmative action hire."  Did I mention that Granville graduated high school and undergraduate school summa cum laude?  Did I fail to mention that Granville attended one of the best high schools in his city and both his undergraduate and graduate degrees were from an Ivy League School?

What many white people fail to understand, fail to get, is that this legacy of racism and white privilege is the backpack that blacks have carried on their backs, in their psyche for generations.  It is not a matter of walking around with a racial so-called chip on their shoulders.  It's a matter of accepting what has always been and will most likely continue for generations to come.  There is a weightiness to this.  It is a heavy burden that is ever-present and tiring.  Imagine that each day, every day of every year, someone placed a heavy sack on your shoulders with which you had to walk out the door and carry with you throughout your day.  It didn't matter whether you were going to work, the grocery store, the airport or a restaurant, the sack was there, weighing you down.

Undoubtedly, there will be those who will say, "it's not that bad," "you're too sensitive about being black," "things are better than they used to be," and a perennial favorite, "I'm not like that, I have black friends."   It is, in my opinion, impossible for a white person to truly understand what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a black person.  Even the ones who tried, such as the man who colored himself black for an experiment, were able to "go back to being white" at the end of the day.

Factor into this, the indisputable fact that this country made its wealth by the free, unpaid labor of its black slaves.  When slavery finally ended, the newly freed slaves were told essentially "go be free."  People who had been enslaved for centuries were turned out, literally, on the road to fend for themselves, penniless, landless and many with families scattered across the state and often in other states.  These were people whose native tongues, customs and religions were beaten out of them.  These were people whose family units were largely destroyed and scattered.  Yet, even then, they were looked down upon, beaten, lynched and thought to be less than 100% human.

There are generational, hidden, invisible scars that cover the black race.  That is not to say that black are sitting on some kind of "pity pot," crying woe is me.  Rather they have learned how to cope and live with the system that exists.  Is it any wonder that some have checked out of the "legit" life and chosen other ways to survive?  Is it any wonder that many black men have left their families because of an inability to "be a man" because of the system that oppresses them?  A system that destroyed their family unit centuries before?  What has centuries of racism and its accompanying white privilege done to the psyche of the black man?  Why are we, in 2015, still celebrating the first "black person to ......?"

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Will America Ever Truly Be My Home?

The title of this post is a rephrasing of an article I read today written by a Trinidad-born woman who, following graduation from college, had decided to return to Trinidad. Her thoughtful piece
details how, despite living in different areas of the country in different environments, among different cultures, she never felt a sense of belonging.

As a genealogist of 30-plus years, I have discovered that I am a fifth-generation American. My children are sixth-generation Americans and my grandson, a seventh-generation American. My family has been in this country longer than many, if not most, European-Americans. This doesn't include those ancestors who were Native Americans. Yet, like the writer of the referenced article, I ofen feel that I don't really belong. Yet, there are many here in this country who still don't see black people as "truly American." Yet, for the most part, we remain "the other." Yet, my educated, standard-English-speaking, non-baggy-pants-wearing sons are deemed suspicious, dangerous, worthy of being followed, attacked and even killed, solely because of the color of their skin.

Kidnapped, stolen, enslaved, beaten, lynched, stripped of native culture and tongues, Africans were bought to this continent literally kicking and screaming. The retelling of the conditions and treatment in which the kidnapped Africans were encased is unnecessary. We know, or should know, the history. We even have many who would tell us that, "We need to get over it." "That was a long time ago." "My grandparents never owned slaves." Yet, America won't "get over it."

We can educate ourselves at some of the finest institutions. We can gain employment at excellent organizations that enables us to purchase homes in gated communities, send our children to excellent schools, enroll them in extracurricular activities to build their character and help their communities. Yet, we remain the other. We still don't belong.

I've heard the question asked, "why do we keep trying to belong to a country that doesn't want us?" I can understand the sentiment. It's like the child who continually seeks his parents' approval, yet never gains it. It's like the abused wife who, despite her best efforts, can never satisfy the unreasonable demands and expectations of her husband. Dare I say it's like the cotton-picking slave, whose bleeding hands and feet traverse the cotton fields from sunup to sundown furiously picking the bolls in an effort to avoid the lash of the overseer, yet never seeming to be enough, do enough, be something other than the other, seeking favor, seeking acceptance.

I have friends who, tired of the fight to be more than the other, have just chosen to live within the system, eking out a living knowing the constraints. I know others who have fled the country to become ex-pats in countries they feel are more embracing. I admit to having strongly considered the latter in the past. Yet, I strongly feel that this country is as much, if not more, mine than most European-Americans. Yet, the melanin content of the skin of my sons conveys danger to many.

There are times when I doubt that we will ever belong. There are times when I suspect that is the agenda. Yet, this is my country. This is the country of my ancestors. Unlike the author of the referenced article, there is no African "home" to which I can return. The name, tongue and location of that African home was beaten out of my ancestors more than 300 years ago. I don't belong, but I'm not going anywhere.

It's 2013 and Trayvon Martin didn't belong either.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Have we become complacent?

Last week, social media was abuzz with chatter about the B.E.T. Awards, Being Mary Jane and whether Beyonce was again pregnant. Yet, there was little chatter about a landmark piece of legislation that was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down (many say gutted) a large portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark legislation was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The Act was implemented to overcome legal barriers that prevent African-Americans from voting under the 15th Amendment of the Constitution.

As a little refresher on the pertinent point, The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868 and granted citizenship rights to emancipated slaves. It said that if states don't give voting rights to black men, they cannot then count them as part of the population for purposes of gaining seats in the House of Representatives. (Women did not gain the right to vote in the U.S. until the 19th Amendment in 1920.) Southern states vigorously and violently opposed the right of black men to vote, yet they wanted representation in Congress.

In 1870, the 15th amendment was ratified. It stated that voting rights in states cannot be withheld on the basis of race, color and previous position of servitude. Despite the ratification of the 15th Amendment, southern states still fought giving the ability to vote to black men. They instituted poll taxes and literacy tests for black men. White people were "grandfathered" in and did not have to take such tests or pay poll taxes. This was the impetus to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act was a landmark act. It prohibited "states from imposing any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." This is the Act that was gutted (by a vote of 5-4) by the Supreme Court.

During the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election, many states attempted to enact "Voter ID" laws. This is the 21st Century version of the old poll taxes. Realizing that the minority will soon by the majority and that this new majority more and more votes Democrat, Republicans had to find a new way to deter and dis-enfranchise voters. The various voter id laws are one way to do this. Another is the re-districting that is going on in many southern states. Without the protection of The Voting Rights Act, in its entirety, many blacks and people of color will be unable to vote. Failing to attract minorities and many young people to their party, the extreme Right is seeking other means to disenfranchise voters of color.

Of course, Congress and the Legislature can pass new legislation to enact new law, but with the Republicans fighting tooth and nail, it will be an uphill battle.

Young people need to learn the history and become involved in the process. Rather than worrying about whether Beyonce is again pregnant or discussing 50 Cent's latest troubles with the law or who won what award at the B.E.T. Awards, get involved in what affects your future. Learn your history and HIStory.

Finally, I write about Trayvon

I've held off writing something about the Trayvon Martin case. It was not because I had become jaded to the senseless attacks and murders of young, black men. It was not because I wasn't surprised at yet another case like Trayvon's. It was because Trayvon was my son, my nephew, my grandson or even my brother.

During the year since Trayvon's murder, I have found one thing quite interesting, to use a word. When Trayvon was first attacked and killed, Zimmerman was identified as a white man and in his early images, he appeared to be just that, white. His mother is Peruvian and his father is white. By the time he was finally charged and arrested, he had (it appears) gained a tan and was now identifying as Hispanic, no doubt on the advice of his lawyers. I found that interesting because the majority of Peruvians do not identify themselves as Hispanic. Rather they identify as Mestizo, which historically has reflected European and Spanish ancestry or European and American Indian ancestry. Somewhere in a back room, it was decided that if Zimmerman appeared and self-identified as Hispanic, perhaps it would be less likely that he racially profiled Trayvon. After all, minorities do not racially profile other minorities, right? Racial profiling is something only done by whites.

Today I read a post wherein the author attempts to make the point that blacks kill other blacks, and whites, routinely and it doesn't make the news. She/he asks the question why is it news when a non-black kills a black person? Many, if not most of the commenters on the post agreed with the author of the post. My response is that a question like that would make sense in Utopia. In Utopia (at least as I visualize it), there would not be the stain of racism. Young black men would not automatically be deemed suspicious and possibly dangerous. White people would not invent some random black man as the perpetuator of a crime and BE BELIEVED. My black sons would not be routinely stopped while driving. My younger son would not be selected out of a crowd to be ticketed for jaywalking (he was the only non-white among his friends and it was 2:30 in the morning.

We don't live in Utopia. We live in a country stained by slavery and historical racism. We live in a country where all of the things mentioned above regularly occur. For those ignorant of our history, there was a time when blacks were routinely beaten, lynched and otherwise murdered and nothing was said or done. Most black families have ancestors who simply "disappeared." No one in the family knew what happened to them, many figured the klan got them. Can't exactly do that now days. So, we have the Zimmermans of our time.

Rather than America, black, white or other, embracing Trayvon's as a son who was tragically murdered, funds sprung up to provide monies for the defense of Zimmerman, the murderer. There has been ongoing debate as to whether Zimmerman was standing his ground by following a young man, a teenager, who was doing nothing wrong - and murdering him. Indeed, it was weeks before Zimmerman was even charged with a crime. Had it not been for the outcry from the black community, I doubt he would have been charged.

As the trial winds down to a close, I fear the outcome. I fear that Zimmerman will be acquitted and yet the death of yet another young, black man goes unpunished and will be, in some quarters, celebrated.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reaping What Was Sown

I read a blog post earlier today that inspired me to finally write something about the recent re-election of Barack Obama.

The post has, in my view, a general theme of the United States reaping what it has sown. It got me thinking of what I now called the New Majority. Rather than the oxymoronical term minority/majority, the demographics of the majority in the U.S. has changed. The majority is no longer white.

The name of my blog is America's Birth Defect - Racism. Oddly to some, the name came from something Condolezza Rice said in an interview. Racism founded this country, made this country rich and for the most part did it with the free labor of slaves, indigenous peoples and poor whites. The white and wealthy elite have reaped the benefits of this stolen labor for centuries. Indeed, the major reason for the break from England that resulted in the Revolutionary War and the subsequent birth of the new nation was England's burgeoning abolitionist movement. Slavery was profitable and necessary for the new country. The Founding Fathers (most of them slaveholders) were willing to fight rather than give up the free labor necessary to build their new country.

African slaves and their descendants did not take the envisioned eternal stripping of their freedom lying down. From the onset, resistance, uprisings and other challenges were constant. Blood was shed, lives were lost, but the resistance continued. Freedom, and the longing for it, is something innate in a man, regardless his color.

As the centuries passed and the country grew, others of color joined the slaves and indigenous peoples in the building of the country. In later years, immigrants both legal and illegal, came to the U.S. in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. Most were treated as second-class citizens, but still they came and their numbers grew. Initially, many if not most of these immigrants were so happy to be in the country they psychically shrugged off their second-class status and treatment. But, these people watched, learned and waited - patiently - as did the descendants of the formerly enslaved.

Meanwhile, the majority was busy reaping the earnings of the system they had created. Perhaps the thought, the wish, was that the second-class citizens though finally deemed 100% man rather than three-fifths were too ignorant to watch and learn. Please let me digress here by discussing, briefly, what came to be known as the Three Fifths Compromise.

As the new country grew and developed structures for the distribution of taxes and the apportionment of members of the new House of Representatives, the slave population also grew, especially in the south. This meant the slave population in a state determined not only the wealth of the state, but also its tax obligations. The northern states objected to this because it would mean the southern states were wealthier, while the southern states, of course, objected because of the larger tax burden to be placed on them. Thus, began what was actually a series of compromises, one in 1783 and another in 1787 that determined that slaves were only three-fifths of a white man.

And the disenfranchised, second-class citizens continued to labor, watch and most importantly, learn. Added to this rapidly growing group was the LBGT community, also a rapidly growing and politically significant part of the population. Yet, despite its wealth, education and other legacies, the majority group didn't pay attention, occasionally throwing tidbits of political crumbs at the minority group. Busily counting and continuing to amass their wealth, they failed to notice the growing size of the disenfranchised group and probably didn't even consider that the latter group might be also learning.

However, the minority group never stopped watching and learning, until 2008, when the black face of an African-American man named Barack Obama emerged as a serious threat to their complacency. By then, it was too late, and we all know the result. By 2012, the minority, disenfranchised group was no longer the minority. They asserted their political and re-elected Barack Obama. In their egocentric, arrogant complacency, the former majority group was so confident that their candidate would win they were celebrating before the final returns were counted. In fact, their candidate, Mitt Romney, wrote only an acceptance speech. (A fact that to this day truly stuns me!)

I have no sympathy for the former majority group. They are reaping EXACTLY what they sowed.



Saturday, January 14, 2012

White Privilege - Part 1

Most of my blog posts are spurred by personal observations or experience. What spurred me to write this post today was watching HGTV for several hours. As I watched several shows featuring multi-million homes [one worth $185M], I again noticed that every homeowner was white. This caused me, once again, to think about white privilege.

Some may ask for a definition of white privilege. Still others question its very existence. There are many who have written about white privilege and who have defined it. The concept of white privilege almost demands a discussion [and definition] of "race." I will save that discussion for another blog post. I like to define white privilege as the inherited ability to have access to resources that are: (1) taken for granted [often not even thought about]; (2) an inherited sense that one is not "the other;" and (3) inherited power.

I must add that while white privilege is most evident in wealthy white people, white privilege also extends to non-wealthy white people. In North America, white privilege is the norm. Peggy McIntosh [a white woman], who travels and lectures extensively on white privilege describes it much more eloquently than I in her article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."

A white person born in the U.S. is born with access to many resources that remain unavailable, at least in large part, to non-whites. This includes better schools, homes in better neighborhoods, ability to gain job interviews and land jobs, lack of denial for resources solely because of skin color and automatic acceptance into a club that excludes non-whites. There are social norms and expectations, based on historical events and current practices, which elevate whiteness to be the norm.

The advantages of being white are numerous. Probably the most important advantage is the sure knowledge that decisions made about you are not based on your race. You're confident in the knowledge that the reason you were denied housing, a job or college entry, was not because of your race. White people can choose to be around people who look like them most of the time. White people see themselves widely represented [positively] in all forms of media. A negative action, behavior or crime committed by a white person is not an indictment of the entire race, e.g., the white people on "The Jerry Springer Show" do not represent all white people.

Some people argue that the problems are socio-economic based and not race-based. "Poor is poor," many say. While socio-economics do, indeed, play a role in access to resources, a child born with white skin is automatically a member of an exclusive club, a club whose members already have the advantage. Consider, also, two men in their fifties, one black, one white. The white man [born into white privilege] has already climbed the ladder of success. At a young age, he had access to better educational facilities, access to better, higher-paying jobs [with benefits], access to partners successful in their own right or with inherited family resources, the ability to purchase one, two or even three homes and the ability to pass on these privileges to yet another generation. By his mid-50's, he is no longer chasing the dream. He has lived and experienced the dream and is now looking forward to years of leisure - if he so chooses. The non-white man, on the other hand, is still chasing his dreams. He began his life as "the other," already behind, not a part of, the norm. He spends his entire life being pre-judged and then judged by the color of his skin. His skin color may deny him access to better schools as a child, prevent his entry into higher education, relegate him to entry-level jobs and deny him access to financial resources. In short, he has spent his entire life attempting to prove that despite him being "the other," he is capable, he is intelligent, he is not this, he is not that. Even in his mid-50's, he lacks the financial security of his white counterpart. Instead of looking forward to a leisurely retirement in a few years, he is still struggling just to make ends meet.

Most white people do not recognize their white privilege. It is as much a part of them as their white skin, their grandfather's nose, their great-grandmother's blue eyes. You get up every day and its existence doesn't cross the mind.

My intent in this post, and indeed on all the posts in this blog, is not to anger, but rather to make the reader think, examine and discuss.