Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Momma used to say "Walk a mile in another man's shoes before you try to tell him about the fit."

Well, actually, my momma never said that, but it sounds like something she would have said given her penchant for useful mantras. What she did say was "One man's tea is another man's poison," which has some of the same key elements.

Basically, we need to really understand that people are different, and it's impossible to comprehend their difference until we start thinking a little like them.

This is a familiar topic around these parts, one I enjoy discussing from an intellectual perspective and a spiritual one. After all, when Jesus exhorted his followers to love their neighbors as they love themselves, what is implicit in that command is the idea that you have to take some time to think about what is the best way to show your neighbor love

For the most part, we're all pretty familiar with our own needs and wants. We live inside our heads, after all. But, with everybody else in the world, we're only guessing about what they need, how they feel and what they want. In order to get a clearer picture of our fellow man, we have to spend some time walking his path.

The problem is that most of us suck at thinking like someone else. Oh, we claim that we're putting other people's needs first, but in reality we're just putting our ideas into their bodies. We're not actually considering their past slights, their fears, their worries, their loves. We're basically saying "If that was me, this is how I would take it."

That is not good enough.

Whether it's talking about race, or dealing with any other relationship, the only path that ends in true enlightenment involves sacrificing a little of ourselves and our interests to see the world from another perspective. That means while black folks have some very justified anger and frustration at the actions of many of our white brethren, we need to understand that their world is so much easier than our own that it is only natural that they would reject changing it.

How many of us can honestly say that if we were able to partake in all the glorious excesses of whiteness that we ourselves would not be loathe to sacrifice our privilege for some nebulous concept of fairness? Would we look at ourselves with disdain for that choice, or just chalk it up to the way the world works?

Conversely, to the few brave white souls who still frequent this site, you all need to stop expecting that all black folks who want to see the world change will be patient and kind when discussing the realities of race and racism, or that we will make a point to acknowledge our white allies at every turn.

Quite honestly, if we were really friends you wouldn't need us to soften every blow to your ego with a pat on the back. Now, it is true that a spoonful sugar does ease the passage of medicine, but there are times when the continual toll of life as a black person in America makes it impossible to really care how ANY white people feel. There is time when the casualness with which white folks reinforce and dismiss their privilege only stirs anger. Deep, dark, violent anger and all we black folks can do is barely suppress that seething which leaves us strength left to play nice with our friends.

Walking in someone's shoes means you acknowledge these realities, and, sometimes, you give other folks a pass. You don't hold them accountable to a lofty standard because you understand just how difficult the climb is to that perch.

You disagree and correct with love because you recognize their humanity just as you understand your own.



stephen matlock said...

"...[T]heir world is so much easier than our own that it is only natural that they would reject changing it."

This is good insight.

Hard to achieve on the part of those who have it easier. I imagine the thinking is "what do you mean it's easy?" And then because it's hard for everyone (but really much, much harder for some), the argument just goes away like it never was.

Like Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire. Both were dancers; one did it backwards in heels.

dtwo said...

great post!!

Imhotep said...

BigMan, Wonderful post! I think you're missing your calling. I see you as a televangelist with a mega-church waiting to happen. The masses could benefit from what you have to say and how you say it.

Me being an agnostic, I would not be sitting in the pews but would respect your message. And I would encourage all my christian friends to check you out.

MiGrant said...

I get the sense I'm being spoken to here. I still feel like I had an important point to make in the exchange with Imhotep that still hasn't come out clearly, probably because it's still not quite clear even in my own mind. I can't step out of my skin, and I'm not sure it would really be a good thing if I could, but I've got to believe that it's worth the effort to try to keep the dialogue alive, even — especially — if it gets uncomfortable for one party or the other.

What I was trying to say was not that the emotional needs of white people are important for their own sake, but that changing white people's attitudes is the only way to reach the prize. To a great extent it is the prize. So as a matter of pure pragmatism, it doesn't work to slap people in the face because the baby steps they're taking in the right direction aren't big enough. It's the exact same thing you're saying about holding people to too lofty a standard, but applied to how "people of color" (hate that phrase) approach whatever percentage of white people it may be that are willing to question white privilege from time to time. Just saying white people, in general, are the problem is only going to shut down any progress. It's not a matter of right and wrong, it's a question of tactics in pursuit of the ultimate goal.

Big Man said...

Mi grant

The question is whose job is it to change white folks? Should my goal really be to change their minds? I mean why do I have to bear that cross? Hell can I even carry that burden?

That is what blacks think about after a while. We would like change and we want to assist in change but we are tired of having to do the convincing. When are all the white folks who claim to care and understand going to get involved and challenge heir friends and family? It is a heavy burden to only discuss these issues in a manner white folks find palatable. Y'all really don't want to hear our truth.

stephen matlock said...

"We would like change and we want to assist in change but we are tired of having to do the convincing. When are all the white folks who claim to care and understand going to get involved and challenge their friends and family?"

Good point, and that's where I'm aiming to get to. Changing me is the first step.

Speaking out and changing minds - I don't know what to say. It's hard if you've never spoken up, and it can make you feel quite silly if you've been silent before. But yeah, it's my problem.

MiGrant said...

@Big Man — I get what you're saying, and I get your frustration. In a just world, you wouldn't have to bear that burden. But in a just world we wouldn't be talking about any of this in the first place. It's just one more damn thing.

FWIW, I'm not asking for brownie points, but I do challenge friends and family when I perceive a racist action or remark, and I know others who do too. I could mention a couple of more active things I'm involved in, but then it really would look like I'm asking for a pat on the back. Am I going to dedicate my life to it? No. I'll do what I can when I can. I can't sign away my white privilege, but I'll do my best to be aware of it and point it out to others when I can. Is that enough? Maybe not, that's not for me to say. Honest question, do you have any concrete suggestions for things I could be doing that I'm not already?

I'm going to go ahead and answer your direct question and say yes, actually, it should be your goal to change racist minds — not because you're a black man and that makes it your job, but because you're a human being who believes in justice. Your goal — our goal — not any one person's or group's sole responsibility. Hell no, it shouldn't be your job alone, but fuck it, let's get the job done so some future generation won't have to worry about whether it really ought to be their job or not.

If I didn't want to hear your truth, I wouldn't be reading your blog. It is your blog, and if you want to say my comments aren't welcome, I'll shut up. I don't think that's what you're saying, but I'll respect it if it is.

Big Man said...

All comments are welcome here.
But, I do disagree with you on the goal.
I can't change people's minds. No human can. I can present ideas and challenge their thinking but ultimately they change their own minds. So I don't embrace that burden or that goal. Change is personal and until you decide you need to change, there is nothing I can do to assist you. Same rules that apply to junkies.
You don't need me to tell you what to do. Most white folks have a very good understanding of injustice when they want to understand it. I don't need to provide concrete solutions, but I'm going to explain why in an actual post. IF I choose to offer that, that's what I choose to offer. If I don't, I don't.

stephen matlock said...

"Most white folks have a very good understanding of injustice when they want to understand it."

Another very good insight. It's a matter of choosing to admit you see it rather than asking for proof, as if it doesn't exist.

MiGrant said...

@Big Man — But you did start this blog because you wanted to change something, didn't you? You are doing more here than just venting? Nothing wrong with venting, but I'm pretty sure you also want to make a difference.

Justa Notha said...

Haha if you dish it out I can take it--I might bitch about it, though. It's hard to try to be an ally to someone who will always, on some level, see you as an enemy.

I wish that my experience of being white was this glorious, cushy thing, but it's hard to remember that you're privileged when you're a single mom raising two kids just above the poverty line.

I hate it when people look at me and assume that just because of the color of my skin I must be rich and have it easy, but I've been through a lot: I've been through domestic violence, fended for myself amidst thieves, dealers and prostitutes. I've slept under bridges and eaten food out of the garbage. If it wasn't for my family I'd probably be doing that now with my two kids.

Despite going to college and getting my toe in to a male-dominated progression, society and fortune has smacked me down to low-paying administrative work. (If I have to work for peanuts, I'd rather work with my hands, but apparently female=secretary)

I'd like to change the world for you, but how can I when I can't change it for myself?

I think most racist and sexist people don't experience their lives as particularly easy. Quite the opposite. That's why they cling to what privilege they have--to keep out the competition.

Oh, and I'm a size 9. That's 7 in men's.

Raving Black Lunatic