Thursday, May 8, 2008

Speak Your Mind, Honesty Will Follow

While cruising through the internet the other day, I stumbled across a blog post for a major publication that was shocking because of its blunt honesty. Those of you who consume the mainstream media know that on certain topics, particularly race, there is a lot of hemming and hawing, but very little blunt honesty.

Anyway, the post, which you can find here, was about the hurdles Obama will have to jump to get votes in areas where folks can't fathom supporting a black man for president. It's a topic most of us are familiar with, and it's one that's been discussed rather frequently in this campaign.

Here's an excerpt from the blog where the reporter is talking to a guy in Kentucky about Obama's chances in the state. The guy is explaining he won't vote for Obama.

Race,” Patrick said matter-of-factly. “I’ve talked to people—a woman who was chair of county elections last year, she said she wouldn’t vote for a black man.” Patrick said he wouldn’t vote for Obama either.

Why not?

“Race. I really don’t want an African-American as President. Race.”

What about race?

“I thought about it. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion. After 1964, you saw what the South did.” He meant that it went Republican. “Now what caused that? Race. There’s a lot of white people that just wouldn’t vote for a colored person. Especially older people. They know what happened in the sixties. Under thirty—they don’t remember. I do. I was here.”

Not that's some blunt honesty for your dome.

Black people commonly say that we would rather an openly racist person to one that hides in the shadows, but, man, when you see that crap out in the open it is pretty jarring. I mean, it's one thing when somebody is racist and they have no power over your lives, but an openly racist person that can affect your life is a frightening prospect.

For me, the scary part is that once you've established that someone or some people are just blatantly racist, what's your next step. Can you really appeal to the better nature of a racist? If you become angry and denounce their racism, will they even care? They may try to avoid the public scorn, but will it affect their hearts in any way?

It sounds good to say that open racism is easier to combat, but really combating any injustice depends on the person committing the injustice feeling some shame, or having the power to get vengeance. I'm not sure either of those dynamics exist in a case like the one involving the guy from the New Yorker article.

How do you battle entrenched racism, particularly when folks believe that their racism is justified and reasonable? This guy, and many like him, clearly believe that black progress is a threat to the livelihood of white folks, and nothing anyone says will convince them otherwise. No statistics, no experts, no personal anecdotes can convince most racists that their racism is an incorrect emotion.

So, I wonder how we as a country, particularly we as black folks, should proceed. Clearly, we cannot afford to isolate ourselves and hope that racism will disappear on its own. Not only do we not have the resources to do that, but studies have shown that some prejudices can be erased with exposure to new experiences.

But, is it worth our time to engage and discuss racial issues with people who have clearly embraced a way of thinking that will never allow black folks to be full and equal members of society? How are we supposed to hold a conversation with someone who has clearly stated that they believe that black politicians are only out to help black folks? Even if we ask them what that says about white politicians, will they even care?

In the black community, we often liken ourselves to crabs in a barrel who pull down any other crab attempting to escape to a better life. We ruefully chuckle that this mindset is a "black think." Yet, clearly, that's one of the biggest lies every told to black people or told by black people. It's a human reaction to view the progress of others as a threat to our own progress. It's perfectly human to react with fear and lash out when we feel that chance for the "good life" is slipping away?

Obama has argued that if we improve the conditions of all Americans, we won't have to worry as much about racial strife because prosperity breeds unity. Yet, I wonder if the prosperity only hides the fault lines that have existed and may always exist. I wonder what it takes to change the core of a man or woman.

Honestly, I'm just wondering.


Unknown said...

I don't know, Big Man, but I do think that we have to keep talking - whether they want to hear it or not, keep working, keep putting the truth in front of thier faces.
"But, is it worth our time to engage and discuss racial issues with people who have clearly embraced a way of thinking that will never allow black folks to be full and equal members of society? How are we supposed to hold a conversation with someone who has clearly stated that they believe that black politicians are only out to help black folks? Even if we ask them what that says about white politicians, will they even care?"
If we don't - who will?
If we don't - what will change it? If we don't - what do we leave for our children?
Whether they 'care' or not eventually the words will penetrate and they will have to think about them. Getting someone to think honestly about themselves is possibly one of the hardest things to do, but we have to. Racism isn't something that can stand up to honest thought. It has taken decades to come this far and we still have decades left to go. We have to acknowledge the work we have ahead and then get to it.

Anonymous said...

I don't honestly imagine that you can change the thought processes of someone who is so entrenched in that way. It's a bit like arguing evolution to a creationist and we all know how that goes.

I've encountered enough people who baldly state that to other whites but not to my face so ... I don't know. Are they more polite to a minority? Do they just plain recognise that it's line that's best not to cross with me? I've been witness to plenty of just-this-side of self acknowledged racism but flat out bald, not so much.

I don't know what I would say, perhaps "I will pray for you" because meeting that sort of ugly with rage would only hurt me. My only remotely practical solution is to raise our children strong and brave enough to spread the message.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any solutions; not that you would expect me to...but I suppose it's as good an intro as any.

Thing is, racism of this sort is almost impossible to overcome in the way it needs to be overcome. As a singular black man, you Big Man, could probably engage the folks quoted in that article in coversation amiably. And if you were around them long enough, many of them would likely warm to you. They might even call you a friend at some point.

Or WNG. Or Lolo. Or my wife. Or anyone else of color.


This is the "redneck" racism that my wife and I often discuss. The kind of person who, as you note in your post, is openly racist and, in most cases, that is a good thing...better than the insidious "liberal white guilt" brand of racism.

Some openly racist people will shun non-whites entirely and distruct all or them. Or even hate them.

But many of them will accept individual minorities on their own personal merits. The problem is, this kind of thinking cannot translate over to votes. Because they cannot get to know Barack Obama personally. And they will distrust him and fret that he will empower blacks whom they don't know.

Whom they don't know.

That's the crux. No racist like this can trust a non-white they don't know personally. And so they cannot embrace politicians who aren't white.

Depressing, but true.

WNG is right that the only thing to do is keep engaging until old fears start wearing away. But that kind of thing can take decades. Centuries. Even millennia.

After all, the old grudge in the Middle East between the Jews and the Arabs has been going on an awfully long time....

Unknown said...

Can we just stick with the part about me being right?
Seriously though, to use your own example of the Arabs and Jews - what it will take is every single person putting aside their weapons (physical or ideological) and engaging someone from the 'other side' and the truth is that we don't really want to do that. It's hard, dirty work and it hurts, mentally and sometimes physically. And no, we may not change the way people vote in November, but the point should be to change the way they raise their children to vote and to make sure that their grandchildren have made a quantum leap forward in accepting our grandchildren - that they are able to work together towards solving this country's problems so much better than we are.
I think we have to get out of the mindset that we could possibly reap any rewards from this type of work in our lifetimes or that we should. We reap what was sown by those before us - the question is: What will we leave for those behind us? What are we willing to do for them?

Truthiz said...

Another Friday, another "Honest" post Big Man!

WNG_your responses hit it out the park!!!

The only thing I would add is_ (and this is simply a side thought that I try to keep in mind)

“Racism” is an equal opportunity Poisonous disease that will take up residence in the hearts and minds of people of all racial and ethnic groups. Yes, White Americans are the biggest “carriers” of the disease in this country. But there are Blacks who are, strand-for-strand just as Racist against whites and other racial ethnic groups... say nothing of Blacks who have serious difficulty embracing their own Blackness and "trusting" other Blacks and learning to "work" together!

But that’s a topic for another discussion.

In keeping with this topic_

Again, I think WNG hit it out the park!

Unknown said...

Thanks truthiz, come on over to my blog and pass out compliments anytime! Actually - to be serious I'd like to know what you think about today's post, Big Man. And, or course, anyone else...

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

he cant help his skin color they ned to move on

Truthiz said...

I didn't know you have a blog WNG!

...what's your site addy?

Anonymous said...

It's funny you should post this, cause I saw that post a few weeks ago, and over the past few months have been doing some research into this very thing. So, forgive my "research" approach, but I hope it might shed some light.

Humans are one of the few animals that are born without automatic behavioral programs (i.e. knowing how to obtain food). Although we are more vunerable when we are young because we have to rely on others, we have the best capacity for learning. We pick up cues from those around us, basically building our own internal library of knowledge that we build upon. This is how you get people that are black = bad, lazy, stupid, etc.

You can always change your internal library, but the longer you've had crappy books from 1962 in your library, the harder it is to change. What helps? A constant introduction of new information and experiences that counteract your old ideals. That means correcting misinformation, and having meaningful interactions with others. It's never to late, though the process can be sped up by intense learning and emotional experiences over a short period of time. There may be a method to the madness.

Big Man said...

Sorry I've been absent all day. I was out out of the office today (It's Little Man's first birthday and we're having a party at my folks house) so I wasn't able to respond earlier.

I want to say again that the people who comment on this blog really make things worthwhile. I agree with those of you who advocate continuing the fight, and I definitely will confront these types of mindsets in my personal life. In addition, I am really striving to be more open about establishing alliances and possibly friendships with people of different races. I haven't been great about that in the past, but I'm trying to confront some of my own personal biases and improve on how I carry myself as a man.

One last thought. WNG's second comment was outstanding. Here's the part that really got to me.
I think we have to get out of the mindset that we could possibly reap any rewards from this type of work in our lifetimes or that we should. We reap what was sown by those before us - the question is: What will we leave for those behind us? What are we willing to do for them.

Anonymous said...

BTW, "Happy Big First Birthday to your Little Man"

Anonymous said...

great post and question big man... let me also jump on the wng bandwagon!...

let me offer a white-on-white perspective: like truthiz, I subscribe to the racism as disease model... And that every white person is infected at different levels from full-blown AIDS, to pneumonia, to common cold, to a cough, to a slight hiccup that everyone has had at some point or another -- no matter how well-intentioned (not excluding myself). It is just too hard to grow up in America and not get infected on any level with the media images, the history books, and other misinformation -- even if your parents raise you right.

The medicine is "honest thought" and interracial interaction as others have already said... You aim to heal the people with common colds, and hope that they can make their very sick relatives a little less sick until they die...

if that doesn't work, then harm-reduction is the next best option... I've got a blatantly racist crazy uncle who I now refuse to engage with anymore so that I will not ruin yet another family gathering... he just ain't changing. However, the rest of the family knows he is crazy and is content that his racism is not having any significant influence past his occasional dinner table rants... if he were a judge or policeman instead of a loner accountant, then that would be a different story... "if you can't cure them, you quarantine them"

The example you mention is probably unchangeable, but not necessarily their children... as is evidenced by Obama's ability to garner large support of the young white voter under 30 years old and white kid on college campuses, but struggling with the over-50 white crowd. This is also why Obama is so important in that he can potentially change the political voting landscape for generations after him... there is no doubt that he can be a transformational candidate beyond the specifics of his term

kid said...

What's cool about the election is that white people are seeing racism and how racist America is.Remember all those calls to ABC, that wasn't just black folks calling.People are also finding out that there is no mainstream media.White people are telling me they can't believe what Hillary did today .To calm myself down I go to the Daily Kos and see how white people are pissed at America.

Truthiz said...

Well said Modi!

_and Kid, your point is absolutely dead on!

"What's cool about the election is that white people are seeing racism and how racist America is. Remember all those calls to ABC, that wasn't just black folks calling.People are also finding out that there is no mainstream media. White people are telling me they can't believe what Hillary did today."

[Just a side-note]: It appears that Hillary's latest "WHITE people will vote for ME but NOT for a Black man" comments_ have angered even her fans at SNL. They did a scathing, and quite Accurate, skit on her last night! Huffingtonpost has the video.

Gye Greene said...

(One thing I like about this blog is that the Comments section is as thought-provoking as the post itself.)

Re: the issue of the day -- IMO, and as others (above) have said, there's (sadly) not much you can do to change people's opinions -- at least, not [most] folks that are 35 or 40 (or something) who are already fixed in their thoughts.

Proposed remedy: Have an "Inter-Racial Dating" course (for credit) at all universities. Then wait two generations... :)


A.F. said...

In the first fiction class that I taught in the Deep South, I introduced Toni Morrison's *The Bluest Eye.* I'd actually taught it for several years leading up to this particular class, which happened to be all white. It was in this class that I heard, after explaining "The Master Narrative" and its effects, as Morrison illustrates, the most lunatic, horrendous racist comments that I had ever heard from students in a college classroom. They seemed to feel comfortable saying these things because no racial minorities were present. All that I said and did to point out the utter foolishness and hatefulness of these points of view fell upon deaf ears. There seemed no argument that could penetrate beliefs that were so hardwired. I started wondering more than ever the same thing "how do you change the core of a person?"

Sadly, I still have no idea. But I do know that the very people who expressed these ideas because of their lack of understanding, inability to think beyond stereotypes, and general arrogance are sitting ducks. They aid the powerful in exploiting them because they believe that they are immune to exploitation by virtue of their race.

Unknown said...

1. Happy Birthday to Little Man!!!
2. Thanks for the compliments...
3. "Proposed remedy: Have an "Inter-Racial Dating" course (for credit) at all universities. Then wait two generations... :)"
That *ish was FUNNY.
4. Tuthiz:sorkinsaturdays.blogspot
5. Big Man - Your posts, no matter the subject, are alway thought provoking and well written. If you think you get good comments, that's why.

Big Man said...


The father of a friend of mine had the same experience teaching some of his standard material to an all-white class for the first time. It really shocked him.

Unknown said...

Completely off subject - I read The Bluest Eye at 10 years old...probably not the best idea ever.

Christina Springer said...

1. Happy Birthday Little Man! I wish you 100 more! I know your Daddy will do his best to make that happen.

2. Spot on everyone.

Unknown said...

i agree with most of what has been said so far. but i also think that one thing we need to do more of is work in collaboration with people of different races. maybe those racist voters in KY would listen to another white person, or a slew of white people trying to combat their racism. lots of old people listen to their kids and grandkids. of course we as Black people will always speak, sing, shout, educate, dance, fight our way to freedom. but sometimes you gotta ask white folks to do some of that work too.

Unknown said...

I see no reason to talk to igorant white people or have dialouge with racists. I think Obama is wrong on all these counts and like Adolph Reed he is a one trik pony interested in his own ambition, I would rather have 20-30 percent of us mirgrate to a state or states and control the politcal, social and economic constructs than have any dialouge with whitey.

I think 100 years of honest conversation on trying to change white opinions is enough.

Big Man said...


I don't think the separation method can ever work because it depends on the larger society refusing to interfere in the separate black state and treating that state fairly.

Unknown said...

Big Man then it's time to bring in the U.N. and others and develop a roadmap for those 30% of A.A. who would rather develop an idependent commonwealth like Malcolm X and others talked about. If whites (and black conservatives )believe we are inferior like they write about or say and we will end up like many African Union states then it's no loser to give up land in this hemipshere because the U.S. will get it back and Shelby Steele, whites and others and others will be proven right.

But I know the reason they won't is because we can/ will do the same that the European Jews did and make the desert bloom and white americans in general fear real black self- determination without phony rhetoric or Cosby-like speeches because it will be a real effort by African- Americans who want freedom from white priviledge and terrible black leadership.

We did it before with Tulsa, Rosewood and other black towns so I know we are capable if given a true chance without white or blacks interferring.

Anonymous said...

I frequent an AA board that was discussing this very subject.

Honestly, I am tired of having race relations discussions. I think they are unproductive because they "preach to the choir" and rarely result in tangible solutions. Besides, the "hard-wired" racists are not present in these discussions and when they are present, their minds are not receptive to the truth. Let's not expend our energy, time, and resources trying to have a conversation with bricks.

What we need to do is keep on fighting the good fight. We need to rebuild the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood in our black communities. We need to support each other, and mentor AA kids and young adults. We must continue to peacefully protest when injustices are done to our brothers and sisters. We need to fight for our children and demand better conditions in our schools from elected officials. Don't stop making noise!

I don't wish death on anyone, but I truly believe that we'll just have to let these racists die out. Of course, we'll always have to live with their children and grandchildren who have also been indoctrinated to hate, but I really believe that a lot of the changes we have been seeing in this election campaign are generational. Just look at the grassroots effort Senator Obama inspires from young people of every shade and ethinicity. He also receives a lot of support from middle-aged Americans, and he receives some support from the elderly. That's why, despite all of the hate that still exists in 2008, I believe Barack will win this thing.

This comment has been removed by the author.

Hello everyone! {waves}

I think this may be my first visit to the blog!

Nod to the blog host!

This is an interesting topic. At my blog a week ago, I introduced a group discussion on "THE SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS OF BLACK BIGOTRY" and the comments section quickly expanded to 50 pages with people attempting to justify WHY it was beneficial to continue with bigotry if other groups were going to.

I firmly disagreed with that position. Because I was refuting the viewpoints that justify bigotry, white guys who were lurking on my blog started trying to make comments. (Their comments were deleted.)

It seemed that these same white male readers were floored when they saw the post, "LOST ABSOLUTION: WHITE MEN AND THEIR HORRID HISTORY WITH BLACK WOMEN", and read the resulting comments from black women.

Race is still a hot issue in this country and it always has everyone becoming emotional.

Elaine Brown, former Black Panther Party leader, said that many white people have the attitude of:
"so you were slaves?! can we move on?"

Obama - while he is biracial - is still being treated with suspicion by a majority of white people. The reason for the suspicion is because he doesn't fit into their categories of what a black man IS. Oh yes, many white people DO mentally place black people in categories....and black people do it with other black people and with white people.

Obama is not seen as a "brotha" to more of the black community but being married to "I have a loud mouth" Michelle (that was HER own admission!) has probably given him a bit of "black currency".

As for your comment that "we'll just have to let these racists die out", they WON'T die out. KKK has camps for children to continue the ideologies. The hate is passed on.

Obama WILL win the nomination and probably the presidency but it is ONLY because Hillary failed to win white male voters, and people of color.

Thanks for letting me blow my trumpet!

You are invited to visit me anytime at:

Gye Greene said...

Eric's notion of a separate state is an interesting idea.

As Big Man says, probably not feasible.

But I think there's a fair number of Native Americans that might be interested in some sort of coalition. :)

(Certainly, there's historical precedent of NatAm-AfrAm cooperation...)


E.J. said...

This post brought to mind this quote:

"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." -Jonathan Swift

Raving Black Lunatic