Thursday, December 1, 2016

Black

Colored, Negro, African-American, Black. These monikers, and a few more that I won't print here, show an evolving attitude about race in our country during the boomer era. I'd like to believe we've come a long way since the 1950s. I'd like to believe there is little or no discrimination based on race. I'd like to believe our children accept the equality of all races. I'd like to believe I have escaped the racial prejudices of my Louisiana upbringing.

I'm not sure any of that has happened. We've come a long way but are we there yet?  Do we still make judgements based on color?  Is this a white issue? A black issue? Everybody's issue?

Do we ... and by that, I mean us white folk ... see a few black faces in suits in our work place and say to ourselves 'we've come a long way'?  Do we (white again) go out of our way to hire or befriend black people out of some form of white guilt?  Is that kind of prejudicial attitude just as biased as rejecting black people for jobs or friendship?

Do we use the term African-American rather than black out of respect? Concern that we're saying the right thing? Guilt?  I have a black friend whose heritage is Caribbean. She told me once that she sort of laughs when people (white people) use the term African-American to describe all people of color.

Are white people upset by the phrase 'black lives matter'?  The white reaction is often 'all lives matter', implying that saying black lives matter means other lives don't. Some black people say 'black lives matter' is not intended to say that other races don't, but rather to indicate that  black lives do.

In an effort to prove we aren't prejudiced, we sometimes say we are color-blind when it comes to race. A black acquaintance pointed out once that she doesn't want people to ignore that she is black, but rather to just not judge her based on race.

I work for a country music radio station and I regularly see confederate flags waved in the parking lot at local outdoor concert venues. One of our young producers is black. He has the perfect skill set and personality to help me record listener comments about music and DJs but I asked him if he would be afraid to walk out there in that parking lot with a recorder. He said he'd be happy to. I'm still reluctant to ask him to do that. Am I concerned for his safety?  Yes, to some degree. Am I concerned that there is some image issue sending a young black man into a nearly all-white concert crowd in Virginia wearing my radio station logo?  God, I hope not, although I did just ask that question, didn't I? Would I even bring this up if he was white?

Speaking of confederate flags, I got into a testy conversation about that topic a few months back with a white acquaintance. She said that flag was about 'southern pride' and not racial hatred. I said I grew up in the Deep South and I know that the confederate 'battle flag', the specific flag in question, became the symbol for racial hatred in the 1960s, a hundred years after the Civil War. Corn bread and fried chicken are symbols of southern pride, not that flag.

So why is race still an issue in the USA?  On one hand, I am a little embarrassed by my southern heritage and my over thinking and overcompensating of the race issue. On the other hand, I enjoy learning about other cultures and debunking some of the myths of my youth.

My bar hangout friends include a black former HR exec/current author who grew up in Watts during the Los Angeles riots of the 1960s. Another friend is a man of Indian heritage who lived part of his life India but most of his life in NJ, NYC and MD and just officially became a U.S. citizen this summer ... on Independence Day! Another bar friend was born in Ireland, another in the Philippines and another in Somalia. White, black, brown, 'other' ... those characteristics certainly inform their personalities, values and beliefs but provide no reason for judgement, no reason for concern, no reason for prejudice, no reason for special treatment.

In a perfect world we would celebrate our cultural differences as well as those things that unite us. The heritage of our roots as well as our common American heritage are cause for celebration. Diversity is the thing that makes the USA the great nation that it is.

But old ideas, old beliefs and old attitudes die hard. A few paragraphs ago I asked 'are we there yet?'  Something tells me I've answered that question too.

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