An Analogy Exploring Bias

Believe it or not, this is not a blog about politics. 

Growing up, my family was very politically active. More than active, it was opinionated. And, there is probably an even better word than opinionated, at that! 

The dinner table found my dad discussing state representatives, and what they were and weren’t doing to help him. The governor was never doing quite enough for my mom. It seemed like every decision he made was a wrong one. My parents sympathized over spaghetti. 

Not everything was negative! There were plenty of politicians who were doing things right, and there were others who were fighting for causes that my parents held dear. These men and women always belonged to my parents’ political party. In fact, the people who identified with my parents’ political party seemed to do no wrong.

If there was ever a politician from the opposition who agreed with or helped someone from my parents’ party, that person was praised for “Seeing the light.” In the same breath, they would also be ridiculed for their disloyalty to their own party. 

This mentality went beyond the dinner table. When observing the behaviors of people in public, I overheard my parents suggesting certain individuals probably voted for the political party they viewed as “The Enemy.” I witnessed my parents treat people wearing clothing that supported things they disagreed with badly. Mostly, we stayed away from people who overtly promoted ideas we didn’t like. 

When my parents thought that they were speaking in private, I heard them call other people names. The way they said these epithets, it felt like they hated those kind of people. Around me and my sister, nicer language was used, but the message was clear: “Those people are ruining our country.”

Would my parents get rid of “those people” if they could? The older I got, and the more I learned in school, It seemed like you ought to be able to vote bad ideas out of political power. My parents seemed to complain about voting as much as they complained about politicians. 


I could go on with this analogy, but I think that is enough fuel to energize my thought experiment. When people populate their thoughts with slanted views, the way they see the world and its inhabitants is biased. Every action is interpreted through this mental lense. 

Rather than politics, this analogy has to do with police brutality. Ijeoma Oluo titled chapter 6 of her book “So you want to talk about race” with the question “Is Police Brutality Really About Race?” (Oluo, 2019). The story that she wrote about in that chapter, and what I have heard from other people of color, that seems to hit a nerve is a pervasive bias among police officers toward Black people (Eberhardt, 2019). 

Oluo (2019) tells a story about her brother being pulled over by a cop. When her brother asked, “Why am I being pulled over?” the police officer retorted with, “Is there going to be a problem, here?” There are many things to discuss in this tiny interaction, but what I want to focus on is the “other-ness” factor. 

With racial tensions flooding the mainstream media for months, social media has teemed with personal anecdotes displaying similar stories to Oluo’s. I have seen people post articles and produce data that points to the idea that White people do experience brutality and even death at the hands of police officers (Thomsen, 2020). 

The fact is Black people in America are 6 times more likely to be killed during an interaction with law enforcement than White people (Jagannathan, 2020). This stat varies in geography, the rate being lower in some areas and higher in others. 

It is like someone took the bias of my fictitious family at the beginning of this blog and transferred it from political opposition to plain old color of skin, and then pumped it into the police force. 

I’m NOT suggesting that every single police officer in America hates people of color. The politically charged family of my analogy has an aunt who does not engage in the political banter at picnics. She’d rather just stay out of it. She’ll vote, but she doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other. There is an uncle who actually disagrees with the rest of the family. When the family is frothing about some civic story, he doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up. He witnessed what happened to his brother, who is no longer invited to anything. 

Make no mistake about it; Law enforcement is a family. There is bias toward people of color (Eberhardt, 2019). The degree of prejudice varies, but studies show that police officers are more likely to connect crime with color. This leads to pre-judging individuals. In other words people of color are not interpreted as “law abiding citizens.” This is not a blanket to cover every cop, of course. 

The metaphor of bad apples has been floated a lot lately. The problem is that it has been misused (Cunningham, 2020). It was a proverb of warning that just one bad fruit could contaminate and ruin a whole basket. 

What can be done?

Unless the family lives in a compound, each member is going to interact with unrelated people. Individuals gravitate toward like-minded people, so even outside of a compound, cops are not likely to hangout with unbiased folks. 

However, there is bound to be a pool of brackish water; A place between ocean and river, where ideas mix, ideologies are less potent. Saltwater salmon swim upstream to lay their eggs.

Just suggesting that police officers have a bias might be a seed for thought that could spur self-assessment. 

The reason I chose to use a family that is fired up about politics is many-fold. One is that this is where we are as a country. Most people have witnessed this behavior on both sides of the isle. Another reason is that political leaning is so ingrained and difficult to see past. It seems impossible to be open-minded to the potential that the “other side” could have any good ideas or do anything right. Lastly, and most dangerously, as each news story blows up phones, ideologues seem to double-down on their philosophies. It is trench warfare. I hope that this metaphor melts soon. 

I write this text to help people understand that bias runs deep, blood-deep. We cannot expect prejudice to evaporate quickly or easily. Each person, regardless of skin color, must be seen as a human. Projecting criminality onto color is wrong. “Is there going to be a problem here?”

Sources:

Cunningham, M. (2020, June 14). ‘A few bad apples’: Phrase describing rotten police officers used to have different meaning. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/bad-apples-phrase-describing-rotten-police-officers-meaning/story?id=71201096

Eberhardt, J. L. (2019). Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. New York, New York: Viking.

Jagannathan, M. (2020, June 28). Black people are up to 6 times more likely to be killed by police, Harvard study says. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/black-people-are-up-to-6-times-more-likely-to-be-killed-by-police-harvard-study-says-2020-06-26

Oluo, I. (2019). So you want to talk about race. New York, New York: Seal.

Thomsen, I. (2020, July 16). THE RESEARCH IS CLEAR: WHITE PEOPLE ARE NOT MORE LIKELY THAN BLACK PEOPLE TO BE KILLED BY POLICE. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/07/16/the-research-is-clear-white-people-are-not-more-likely-than-black-people-to-be-killed-by-police/

Intersectionality

An idea popped into my head about a year ago that symbolized my realization of privilege. In the spring I wrote a blog that I published in The Captain of Class, titled “Green Lights.” It is about a white guy–I don’t say he’s white in the allegory–who drives straight through the heart of a city, rather than taking the highway that would typically allow him to bypass all of the downtown traffic. In my make believe story, I propose the reason being he has to buy something at a specific store; One only located in the middle of the city.

The point of the tiny tail is to illustrate the unconscious privilege people experience. Through it, I was exploring the unveiling awareness of my own privilege. In the story this white guy curiously does not have to stop at even one red light, his whole way through the city. Strangely, he doesn’t even have to wait in line when he goes to make his purchase at the in-town store! By the end of his fascinating journey through town, the ease of his travels strikes him as an interesting peculiarity, but little more. He simply thinks of it as a lucky drive.

In my story I mention a few goings-on along the periphery of this driver’s travels. There is an accident that barely tempts his attention. Another vehicle is broken down. A jaywalker gets arrested. These occurrences hardly cause the hero to lessen acceleration. 

At the very end, though, I revisit the intersections where, unbeknownst to the white guy driving straight down the middle of an empty avenue with nothing but green lights, there had been unimaginable tragedy. People had been waiting so long they had starved to death. Untreated medical conditions caused others to perish from lack of treatment. There were individuals who thought that the traffic light would change at any moment for one too many moments, and their vehicles ran out of gas, causing even more problems for everyone behind them, when the light did finally change! 

Intersectionality” is a metaphor from Kimberle Crenshaw.

The people at these side streets are the people for whom the term “intersectionality” applies. Why are they there? Each individual stuck on the side street has his or her own purpose for needing to cross the “Green-Lit” avenue. Many of these reasons intersect. Perhaps there is a hospital on the other side of the street. An elderly woman might be going to visit her husband who is recovering from heart surgery, while a couple is rushing a woman in labor to deliver their first baby into the world. Maybe someone else is on their way to the hospital to be tested for COVID-19.

If there were a vehicle several cars back from the intersection whose sole passenger was a man who had experienced a serious cut on his leg, this man would have many obstacles between himself and the hospital. First of all, his leg is too hurt for him to get out of the car and walk the relatively short distance to the hospital. If he were to travel by foot, people might mistake him for a dangerous individual, seeing his severe limp and assuming it was due to something malevolent. Let’s say he was left alone or at least unhindered, once he got to the intersection, he would be facing both physical and legal harm. There would be fast moving vehicles to dodge. Since they were taking advantage of the endless stream of green lights, they’d be moving at a nice clip. If there were a break in the traffic, our injured individual would have to chance crossing when a “Do Not Walk” sign was beaming down on him. He could be arrested for jaywalking, even though he were on a crosswalk!

In preparation for this post I watched a few videos. One was produced by a company that actively works at discrediting movements aimed at correcting inequity. This video attempted to shine a light on the assumed hidden and mischievous purpose of intersectionality. It made American White males out to be the victims of intersectionality. The admittedly high-quality video whined that the acceptance of intersectionality would empower marginalized peoples, taking power away from White males. It almost says these exact words! The message couldn’t be more clear. 

“…a united us versus them paradigm.”

This video, albeit made to discredit intersectionality, was the most enlightening to me on why it is so very necessary. As I watched, the graphics explained that intersectionality is the coming together of minority groups in order to confront the majority, in essence, White supremacy. This message was meant to sow fear in the minds of White people. The minorities are joining forces and supporting one another. They will be powerful enough to stand up to our oppression, if we don’t do something about it! the video fear-mongered.

We can’t let lesbians care about Palestinians!” messages the narrator of antagonistic video.
Back to “Green Lights,” but with a twist.

I pictured this idea of intersectionality playing out in my story about Green Lights. The guy driving comfortably through the middle of the city, never needing to slow down, suddenly has to slam on his brakes. There were people in the street!

Pedestrians, passengers, and drivers stuck at a seemingly endless red light had noticed a man hobbling toward the intersection. What was he doing? they wondered. He would get himself killed if he tried crossing that busy thoroughfare. Best to wait for the light to turn. Get in line with the rest of us.

Someone rolled down their window to ask the guy, “Hey, where are you going?”

“I cut my leg,” the limping man exclaimed. “I must get to the hospital.”

“You are going to get yourself killed, crossing that intersection!”

“I am afraid I might die waiting.” And, at this several onlookers and over-hearers noticed blood trailing the gentleman. Several people leapt from their cars to help the man. Other people conversed about the fact that the light had been red for far too long. Looking behind them and seeing the long line of piled up vehicles, they imagine that there might be a problem with the traffic signals.

The small crowd attending to the man with the hurt leg petition other persons to help. Come to find out, they were all on their way to the hospital! Some crafty individuals construct a stretcher for the man who seems ready to faint. Others put together posters, signaling to traffic that the lights are broken. Everyone exits their stopped vehicles and pours into the intersection, a tsunami of human need; A need for aid; A need to get help at the hospital; A need to cross the street.

Some had a destination in mind; Others needed to simply change their position. They had been sitting far too long.

Now, the car driver, who had known nothing but empty road found his avenue filling up. And, what’s this? People on foot!

They are holding signs.

They are holding hands.

They are holding up a stretcher.

They are holding up a man.

People sitting at the red lights of other intersections witness the wave of pedestrians filling the avenue. Some venture to find out what is happening.

They meet in the middle of the street; In the intersection; where trails crisscross.

They say hello to one another.

They share stories.

They hear that people on the opposite side of the road had been stuck at red lights for a very long time, just like themselves.

They empathize.

This takes time.

“Beep.”

“Beep… Beep.”

The people in the middle of the intersection hear a car horn. They stop sharing. Everyone turns and looks at the driver who is assaulting ears with a prolonged harangue of horn blasting.

He stops.

He sees hundreds of eyes staring at him.

There are thousands more behind these. The street is full of them.

He is alone.

They are together.

The driver unlocks his door.

He opens it.

He gets out of his vehicle.

He walks over to the crowd forming in the middle of the street to find out what’s happening.

Someone explains the predicament.

Others validate the story.

The driver who had only known green lights; who had been making good time getting home; who had never had a medical emergency in his life; who barely knew what it was to wait for anything more than a short traffic signal to change; who could make many important decisions and changes at the touch of his phone…

This man turned around…

He saw others like him screeching to a halt up the avenue.

He raises his hands.

He cries out.

“There’s been a problem with the lights!” he shouts. “The traffic signals haven’t been changing.”

How is his message received? Who exits their vehicle to help him spread the news? How many people get on their phones to fix the problem?

How many phone their friends to complain? Friends, like themselves, who have only known green lights… All of their lives.

How can we help? What can we do? How will you react?

Overcoming Prejudice

Why do people place bumper stickers on their vehicles? Is it a badge; an arm band. Are they advertising, identifying, sharing opinions or decorating with these car tattoos?

The other day I was driving down the highway, and a green cargo van was preparing to join traffic from an entrance ramp. As I passed the van, I saw that the bumper had a single white sticker with black text on it. The lettering was simple and large enough for me to read it. All it said was the name of a conspiracy theory-based podcast that was popular a few years ago. This program deliberately spread misinformation that led to extreme violence; so much so, that it was banned from social media. That’s all I’ll say about that.

What happened next puzzled me, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I involuntarily began to slow down. Why? To get a look at the driver of the van. Why did I want to see who was driving this vehicle? I wanted to judge the driver. 

Was I going to put this person into jail? Give them a fine? Of course not. I could give him or her a nasty look… Would that be helpful? 


At the moment, I sensed that something not quite right was going on in my psyche. I had places to go; things to get; stuff to do. Why did I find it important to judge another driver? 

I reasoned that it might be valuable to know what kind of person would support a show that works to distribute hate. It could be helpful to recognize the type of person who not only listens to that trash, but believes in it enough to tell others to join them. Was I rationalizing prejudice? What feelings would I be subjecting myself to when I saw the driver’s face?

There was another thought bouncing around my head. I realized that I already pictured the driver of the van! This image was itching my mind. Viewing the driver would satisfy that desire. If my imagination were accurate, the itch would be scratched. If the person looked different, I would have food for thought. The itching would be converted to curiosity. 

The van was getting onto the highway. There was a significant distance between our vehicles. My speed continued to slow. Cars were beginning to pass me. 

What if the driver of the van was not the owner? I thought to myself. What if this person wasn’t responsible for placing that bumper sticker on the van, at all? It was older looking. Could I inadvertently judge the wrong person? What benefit did I get from seeing who was driving that van? Was this going to help or hurt my psyche? 

As I analyzed my motives, I realized that I was hating the person who put the bumper sticker on that van. That sounds too strong. I didn’t even know who stuck that onto the back of the van! Whomever it was, though, they were promoting a program that worked at making people hate other people… Wait. What? Isn’t that exactly what I was preparing to do? 

Do stickers label people?

Yeah, but I hated people who hate other people, I rationalized. Even better, I hate people who get lots of people to hate. Hold on here. This CANNOT  be healthy. 

Whether the driver of the van met the mental description I was envisioning or not, I did not like the idea of feeding a hateful feeling inside of me. Speeding up, I decided to avoid seeing the driver. I took the temptation away by accelerating. A dirty look from me would not help anyone. In fact, it would only fuel animosity. 

What was happening here is called self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is something that you make up to bolster prejudices. It ignores and discredits information that doesn’t support it. A person who thinks that cats are not friendly because they appear to be more independent than other animals will see a seemingly aloof feline napping and think, Just like a cat to ignore me; all the while petting the one sitting in his lap! 

Not only do we humans believe funny things, but we work at building mental supports that encourage our beliefs. After giving a talk that goes really well, you remember skipping breakfast. The morning of the next talk finds your breakfast untouched. It goes great! From then on, you don’t eat breakfast before giving important talks. Some go well. Those are definitely due to skipping breakfast. Several talks find you starving and weak, forgetting your points and floundering. These performances couldn’t have been influenced by low blood sugar. They were caused by something else.

Prejudice is powered by self-fulfilling prophecy. To pre-judge someone is the equivalent of prophesying; telling the future. 

Through viewing the driver in my bumper sticker story, I was looking to fulfill a prophecy. When I decided to ignore the driver’s physical appearance, I attempted to break the cycle of prophesying. 

There is an expression: “Give others the benefit of the doubt.” This happens when you work at doubting your own predictions, prejudices, prophesies. 

Warning: This isn’t to say ignore observances. Don’t befriend a bully on the pretense of giving them the benefit of the doubt! Actions are data. I’m not going to listen to the hate-filled show the bumper sticker advertised! 

Have you ever found it difficult to overcome a prejudice? How did you do it?

Sources:

Ackerman, C. E. (2020, April 17). Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Psychology: 10 Examples and Definition (+PDF). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/

Sheldon, A. (2020, May 6). The Unique History of Bumper Stickers. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://magazine.northeast.aaa.com/daily/life/cars-trucks/bumper-stickers/#:~:text=The%20bumper%20sticker%20as%20we,backed%20paper%20and%20fluorescent%20paint.

The Corona Cough & Talking About Race

One of the scariest things about the Coronavirus is that anyone could have it. Not only are there people who are asymptomatic, but the actual symptoms are relatively ambiguous. It’s not like you immediately begin getting spots on your arms and face, like plague victims of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers (future blog post).

The last day I attended school was Friday the 13th, March, 2020. After that, teaching went virtual. The only way I saw my students was through videos, either a live video format like Zoom or Google Hangouts, or my favorite assessment platform, Flipgrid. 

As I was watching the Flipgrid videos that my students were uploading, I caught myself cringing whenever a kid coughed. Coughing is one of the more obvious signs that a person has contracted Coronavirus. During meetings with students and coworkers I tried not to cough or clear my throat, so that I didn’t sow the thought of my having Coronavirus. The absolute worst was when I went to the grocery store. How many times did I leave the store crying, instead of succumbing to the tickle in my throat? I didn’t want other patrons to think I was a walking virus time bomb. 

I tried to work at reminding myself that everyone coughs, but a base feeling occurred whenever I heard one. It stemmed from self-preservation. Even on the other side of miles of Wifi, I wanted to suggest the cougher put her mask on! The other thought was, Should I ask about the cough? Perhaps, this person DOES have the virus. If she did, what would my inquiry do to help? What if this person HAS the virus, would like to talk about it, but doesn’t know how to bring it up? 

During the single Democratic Presidential Primary debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the very first sentence from Joe Biden’s lips contained a cough. I couldn’t believe it! In my mind, I know that the hot lights, the pressure, there are a million stimulants that would cause someone to cough, but not right out of the gate! As it turned out, Joe Biden did an amazing job holding his own during the rest of the show. 

The cough, though… I couldn’t get over it. This reinforced the thought of all three presidential candidates’ elderly situations presenting serious fragility in the face of Coronavirus. 

Now, I know that just because you cough, doesn’t mean that you have Coronavirus. Humans have been clearing their throats for millions of years. It is natural.The Coronavirus has hijacked coughing. 

You know what is even more natural than coughing? Communicating. Talking with friends is what it is to be human. It sets us apart from animals. There are topics, however, that conjure uncomfortable feelings. When someone suggests that something you said or did was wrong or hurt their feelings: That is hard to hear. 

There is a virus that has infected America for a long time, and it is called racism. Much like the Coronavirus, racism is sometimes hard to see. In fact, it can even lie dormant for years, only to rear its ugly head when instigated. For some people racism is a malignant tumor that spreads and eats away at the person’s soul. Other people can have a benign tumor of racism that appears harmless, but could become cancerous. To be called racist is to be diagnosed diseased and dangerous (Chapter 16 of “So you want to talk about race?” by Ijeoma Oluo). 

There is no doubt that racism is responsible for unimaginable harm in America. This virus has infected nearly every inch of our soil. To assume the title of racist makes one responsible for this harm. This is very uncomfortable. I felt very uncomfortable reading portions of Ijeoma Oluo’s book. It will be uncomfortable for many to Talk About Race. When I bring up race in conversation, it seems like I just started a coughing fit. 

Talking might be the most common and comfortable way to communicate, but the topic of race feels toxic at times. As a white male, I don’t think that I am the most appropriate spokesperson for beginning a race conversation, but I don’t want to just stand there while the whole country is coughing up a lung. 

Therefore, I am inviting educators, Americans, and people everywhere to swallow down that uncomfortable feeling and open up about race. I have posted a few tweets using the hashtag #TalkAboutRaceEdu in order to start the conversation. I am using the book, “So you want to talk about race?” by Ijeoma Oluo as a guide. I listened to the audiobook and loved Oluo’s honesty and humor. She is blunt at times and tells it as it is. Now, I am rereading the text and presenting some questions. I hope that you will join the conversation.

Who knows? Perhaps through Talking About Race we will develop a vaccine that will eventually curb racism. One can only hope. 

Final note: When you witness someone coughing up racist remarks, use caution. They may have been unwittingly infected, and need treatment. You aren’t a doctor. Wear a mask. Stay 6 feet apart. Wash hands. It is also possible that the cougher thinks that racism is a hoax. Know that it isn’t. Good luck, and stay safe.

Juneteenth and Some Symbolism from “The New Jim Crow”

This Juneteenth I happen to be midway through listening to a book that is unintentionally, but highly symbolic of this holiday. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander (2020) has completely altered the way I view America. While June 19th celebrates the final messaging that American slaves were finally free, when Major General Gordon Granger shared the news to the citizens of Galveston, Texas on this day in 1865, Black Americans have yet to experience equality.


There are more Black men convicted of crimes today than were enslaved in 1850 (Chicago, T., 2013). 

The most incredible thing about Juneteenth, 1865 is that it came 2 and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation! The website History of Juneteenth presents a few potential reasons this may have happened. Slave holders in Texas may have tried to get one, and then more, harvests out of their unpaid workers. There is a story of the messenger who was assigned to bring the news to Texas being murdered along the way, preventing the Texan slaves from learning about their freedom. It is plain that the Southern state did not have enough Union soldiers to enforce the law until after General Lee surrendered in April of 1865. 

The reason I feel “The New Jim Crow” is symbolic of Juneteenth is that it communicates a Black America that has continued to be enslaved, during a time that civil rights were supposed to have been celebrated as finally achieved. How many White people feel like there is no difference between the potential of their offspring and the children of Black families? How many pride themselves in assumed colorblindness? This book opened my eyes to the stark reality of life as a Black person living in America versus my own view of the world around me. 

Before I continue writing about the paradigm shift that I’ve experienced, I think it important to point out that America is a big place. There are large parts that are far from any urban areas. Conversely, there are urban centers that would require an hour of driving before a farm is viewed. Books like “The New Jim Crow” present data and speak about ALL Black people, urban, rural, and suburban; educated, highly educated, and less educated; traveled, home-bound, restricted, and travel-averse; etc. I found that as I listened to the audiobook, I had to remind myself that there are many more Black people living in America than the few I am friends with. I can’t allow my personal relationships to skew my learning. 

The term White privilege is prevalent today. What does the antithesis look like? Black Lives Matter has arisen from mistreatment of unarmed Black men. It is important to draw attention to these atrocities, but what is going to stop the abuse? How can we fix what is broken? A huge step in the right direction is to attempt to understand the fuel of bad attitudes, racism, and prejudice that feeds the misbehavior. 

“The New Jim Crow” uncovers a pervasive, underlying attitude toward Black people in America. It points out messaging, practices, and laws that seem smart, but actually work at putting Black Americans in a place of second-class citizenry. The book begins by pointing out that there have been a few attempts to do this since emancipation. None have been as effective, though, as the most recent focus on branding Black culture as crime-infected

There are several ways that this messaging has been communicated. There seems to be data that supports it. Michelle Alexander dissects the disease of assumed-moral-depravity that racist and fearful White people have used to brand Black people. It is an inappropriate and cyclical label that needs to be broken. 

When I say, “There seems to be data…” supporting the idea that Black people are more prone to crime, it is because there are all kinds of charts, figures, and numbers that make it look like Black people are more engaged in criminal activity than White people. My last blog, “Sometimes it’s Classiest to Just Shut Up” was written as a reproof of people posting memes and texts on social media that attempt to steal the thunder or diminish the message of Black Lives Matter. I have seen tons of tables, charts, and graphs that make it seem like Black people are deserving of mistreatment. One Oklahoma police officer went as far as using data to back up the most outrageous statement I’ve ever read. Major Travis Yates of Tulsa, OK stated, “We’re shooting African Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be” (Flores & Shannon, 2020). What does this message communicate to people already steeped in bad ideas?

It would be pretty easy to manufacture larger numbers of any subgroup involved in any activity if you tallied those people more than anyone else! For example, if Black people, who on average own fewer cars and drive less than White people, are pulled over twice as much as White people, one could look at that data and deduce that Black people must be worse drivers than White people. 

The great thing about “The New Jim Crow” is that it is full of data that points to the misuse of information. It does not possess a whiny tone of complaining about mischaracterization. Rather, it straightens out misunderstandings through explaining logical and historical facts. For instance, crack cocaine is effectively the same drug as powder cocaine, but it has been deemed more deviant by the media. Lawmakers have assigned punishments that are ten times as harsh for distribution of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. 

Michelle Alexander pulls the curtain back on things like crack cocaine having been messaged as the illegal drug of choice for Black people, when the data shows otherwise. The media has fed sensationalized stories for years that have skewed the facts.

In conclusion, I warn you to avoid the trappings of your personal experiences. Just because you don’t know any racists does not mean they don’t exist. There is an orchestrated effort to make Black Americans appear less classy based on the color of their skin. This work is being done under the guise of colorblindness; “Wrong is wrong,” its proponents propose. Don’t be fooled! Read the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander (2020). 

Alexander, M. (2020). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness(10th Anniversary ed.). New York, NY: The New Press.

Chicago, T. (Director). (2013, March 15). “The New Jim Crow” – Author Michelle Alexander, George E. Kent Lecture 2013[Video file]. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gln1JwDUI64

Flores, J., & Shannon, J. (2020, June 12). Oklahoma cop faces backlash but won’t apologize after saying African Americans ‘probably ought to be’ shot more by police. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/11/oklahoma-cop-black-americans-ought-be-shot-more/5346864002/

History of Juneteenth. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2020, from https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

Sometimes it’s Classiest to Just Shut Up: Sequel to Silence is Not Classy

Social media has seen a war of words (and memes) since George Floyd’s death a few weeks ago. The treatment and subsequent death of an unarmed, non threatening Black man inspired the resurgent message that “Black Lives Matter.” As this three-word phrase flooded social media and people began to assemble with signs and solidarity, communicating discontent with the disrespect that Black people are shown across America, there has been push back, both literal and figurative. 

The mistreatment and disregard for Black people’s lives prompted the need to share the clear message that their lives are important. Some people who are not Black have read the three-word phrase “Black Lives Matter” and misinterpreted it. No one is saying, “Black Lives Matter MORE.” Rather, the unseen, but implied adverb is “too” or “also.” If they would defend against misinterpretation, why isn’t one of these adverbs included? Why don’t we say, “Black Lives Matter, too*”? (I haven’t seen any writing about this, yet. If you are reading this and have, please share with me.) It is my opinion that too or also would weaken the message. It would imply that Black Lives Matter, because… Or, “Since other lives matter, Black Lives might as well Matter.” In short, it would weaken the message. 

If you aren’t sure what to say, how about listening?

There is a lot of writing about the phrase “All Lives Matter,” so I won’t go into that, here. Suffice to say, it attempts to kick the feet out from under the people holding the “Black Lives Matter” signs, figuratively, of course. There are more and more phrases and memes getting attention, though. Just this morning (June 18, 2020), I saw #WhiteStrike trending on Twitter. It feels like the opposition to #BlackLivesMatter is trying to instigate a race war of sorts. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen many less offensive, but still passive/aggressive messaging. People who post things about cops being shot or mistreated might feel like they are sticking up for a targeted subgroup. 

All of this seeks to discredit Black Lives Matter. Whether it be targeted or subversive, any phrase addressing the country’s racial tensions that does not affirm the clear and distinct message that the lives of people with darker skin are valuable, important, and no less meaningful than other persons’ seeks to take the wind out of the Black Lives Matter movement’s sails. 

I am not saying that the only thing that people should be saying, writing, or sharing is “Black Lives Matter.” That would be ironic after my last blog suggested that the ultimate evil was “silencing” people. My aim in this blog is to help people recognize the gross insensitivity and perceived racist messaging of purposefully stealing thunder from Black Lives Matter. In other words, while it isn’t wrong to point out that police officers get shot, too, sharing this information in the face of unarmed black men getting gunned down is like telling a recently diagnosed cancer victim that you have a hangnail. 

This blog is written for white people who are trying to make sense of an inner conflict. If you are feeling as though stating “Black Lives Matter” means “My life does not,” listen up. That is not the message. Your life is fine. It matters. They all do. However, many people in this country have been acting as though Black lives do not matter. For this reason, it is important to message that specifically Black Lives Matter. If this makes you feel a little uncomfortable, do some reading, do some inner reflection, etc. Get yourself ready and secure. Then make some noise. See “Silence is Not Classy.”

There are many ways to “Make noise.”

One of the best things you can do to prepare yourself is listen to others. The first and most important step in becoming a good listener, which ought to be the number one role of white people right now, is shutting up

The very first lesson that I share with my third grade students at the beginning of the school year has to do with being an active listener. The first three things, and I repeat these like a mantra all year long, that an active listener must do is stop moving, make eye contact, and smile. 

Personally, I even refrain from commenting on the negative things that have happened during these past few weeks of protesting. The only thing that I will verbalize about beginning fires or vandalism is that “I don’t know.” 

I don’t know…

…who is responsible.

…what their background is… And, I refuse to project personal opinions onto people and scenarios that I know nothing about.

… who or what was targeted… I don’t know the goal(s), and I will not assume to interpret from a platform of ignorance.

I want to conclude this blog with an eye-opening text that I read this year from the 20th anniversary of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2017).

undefinedImagine the young eighth-grade girl who experienced the teacher’s use of “you people” and the dancing stereotype as a racial affront. Upset and struggling with adolescent embarrassment, she bumps into a White friend who can see that something is wrong. She explains. Her White friend responds, in an effort to make her feel better perhaps, and says, “Oh, Mr. Smith is such a nice guy, I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that. Don’t be so sensitive.” Perhaps the White friend is right and Mr. Smith didn’t mean it, but imagine your own response when you are upset, perhaps with a spouse or partner. Your partner asks what’s wrong and you explain why you are offended. In response, your partner brushes off your complaint, attributing it to your being oversensitive. What happens to your emotional thermostat? It escalates. When feelings, rational or irrational, are invalidated, most people disengage. They not only choose to discontinue the conversation but are more likely to turn to someone who will understand their perspective. 

In much the same way, the eighth grade girl’s White friend doesn’t get it. She doesn’t see the significance of this racial message, but the girls at the “Black table” do. When she tells her story there, one of them is likely to say, “You know what, Mr. Smith said the same thing to me yesterday!” (p. 142)

When I read this text, everything seemed to fall into place in my mind. I want to be the supportive White friend to my Black brothers and sisters, but I am often afraid of saying the wrong thing. Rather than remaining silent, however, I am choosing to actively listen. What are you going to do?

*A book with the title “Black Lives Matter (too)” by Mary Canty Merrill Ph.D. tells the story of the Black Lives Matter movement, but doesn’t explore the lack of the adverb.