My last post on race has caused me to write another post about race.
My friend, Erin, emailed me and asked me about a situation that happens a ton, but one we never think about, or don’t think about often enough. She wrote, asking:
If a black person tells a story about his day to a group of other black people, and an interaction crucial to the story involves a white person, does he say, “This white guy said…”? Or does he just say, “This guy said…”? In all-white groups or in mixed groups, I often hear people attach race to a person who is non-white, but in all-black groups, is it the same just reversed?
I think we all do it, white and black. And it’s a problem.
It’s only a problem because language creates understanding. When I say “Box”, then you get what a box is. You understand what I’m trying to say. But, when I say, “Steal box,” then you understand that I’m talking about something heavier, thicker, denser, that can do things that a regular box can’t do. When I say, “White guy” then there is information coded in that. When I say “Black dude”, there is information coded in that. This just doesn’t fall to race. When people say this “gay guy” or this “really gay guy”, we are doing the same thing. We are using stereotypes to do the descriptions for us. Instead of saying “This poor man from a bad neighborhood that is wearing ratty clothes and is tattooed,” we say, “Thug.” It is easier and we are lazy.
Think of it like this. If we had to describe a person’s economic foundation, if we had to talk about how a person is and why they are, the reasons why there are poor people in certain sections of our society, the reasons why there are so many in such bad positions, if we had to fully understand that “White guy” or “Rich Guy” or this “Business guy” are interchangeable, and why they are interchangeable, then we would constantly see the world as it is, or as it could be, instead of these unchangeable terms that we toss around because they’ve always been tossed around. When people say that a bunch of “Mexicans” were walking down the street, it instantly generates a picture, one that is false and one that doesn’t convey the entire picture, the true people. If you say, “A bunch of working men were walking down the street,” then they look different in your mind. Working men are men who work all day, who do tough jobs, and come home to families that love them. Mexicans tend to be people from another country who have a lot of babies, steal our jobs, and take advantage of our social systems. In truth, they are men who work all day, who do tough jobs, and come home to families that love them. The fact that every race does it, generalizes and stereotypes, and that every race is allowed to do it, is a problem. And the idea that minorities are allowed to get away with it because they are minorities is an even bigger problem. We don’t have to be oppressed by others. By not using language fully, by not taking advantage of our ability to articulate our world, we are oppressing ourselves.
My friend, Hipster Z, had a great point I want to share with all of you.
We all struggle with an underfunded educational system, general cultural malaise and a strange sort of institutionalized political apathy. There’s this pervasive impression that there are these cultural roles we fall into determined by the color of our skin, but at the end of the day these are social constructs more dependent upon class. The working class is a veritable hodge-podge of multi-cultural America.
So, here is my challenge, and I’m doing it too. Let’s try this. Instead of using race in a conversation, to describe a person, try talking about their class. See if you can do it. See if it is easy or hard. Instead of talking about racism vs classism, instead of understanding it and writing a post about it, let’s see if we can, slowly, one person at a time, try to fix it. Let’s just see, shall one. I’m willing if you’re willing.