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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

If you know me personally and a reader of my blog, you know that my son plays hockey.  He is nine years old and he loves the game and I love watching him play the game.  I don’t know a lot about hockey, but I have come to love the sport.  In many ways, I think there might be a conspiracy perpetrated by the White Conglomerate Program (also known as WCP, but pronounced affectionately as “wasp”) to hide the sport.  Because hockey is lit.  I enjoy watching it more than football (insert gasp here), and I especially enjoy watching my boy play, and he is good (and there are many independent parents to support my claim).  I’m 45 years old and I watched my first Stanley Cup game last year.  I have been to several minor league hockey games and now have two NHL games under my belt.  It’s a fun game.  So, when I tell the story that I am about to tell, it makes me sad.
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Hockey is a white sport.  In other words, it is a sport dominated by white players, at every level.  My son is black.  Actually, my son is half black and half white, but that doesn’t matter, he is black (I could write a blog about this subject alone).  He plays on a team that has 15 kids and he and one other kid is black.  So far, they are the only two black kids I have seen on the ice this season.  During a game with a very good team (they loss 0-9), the other kids and the coach were using foul language according to my son.  He said they were taunting him and his teammates.  We talked about it after the game, and he seemed fine and moved on.  That evening I received a phone call from my son’s hockey coach.  Here is the short version:  According to my son’s teammates, one of the other players AND the coach called my son the N-word.  I got off the phone with the coach and talked to my son about it.  He did not hear anyone call him that.  He said he heard other bad words, but not that one.  And he said that he would know because “I’ve been called that before”, he said.
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Let’s take a moment to pause.  My nine-year-old son was confident that he didn’t hear that word because he had been called Nigger before.
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Pause.
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There are so many reactions that one can have to this story:  One could explain it away.  Maybe they didn’t hear it right.  It was the heat of the moment, it happens.  Don’t worry about it, I’m sure it won’t happen again.  Don’t be so sensitive, it’s just a word.  They were taunting the other kids too, why does it have to be about your son?  Oh man!  I could write about this all day.
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It sucks that I have had to prepare two children so far (my oldest son has an N-word story as well) about being treated this way because of the color of their skin.  Many of you reading this now do not have this on your “I must teach my kid this lesson” on your parent to do list.  Maybe you understand, maybe you don’t, but I am here to tell you, it can be difficult to be black in this country.  But let me teach you the appropriate response to this situation, and I will make it simple, with one word … empathy.  Don’t get defensive.  Don’t rationalize.  Empathize.  Even if you don’t understand.
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The story continues …
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My son’s coach called me immediately after the game.  He did not see nor hear the incident.  He was informed by his players.  Not by my son.  Not by me, but the other white nine-year-old players.  They were upset by it.  One of my son’s teammates was compelled to tell his dad, who than relayed the story to the coach.  The coach called me, and made it very clear that he was bringing up the other team and its coach to the league.  This behavior is unacceptable.  He could have dropped it.  Once he learned that my son did not hear the word, he could have said let’s not rock the boat.  Maybe it was just a misunderstanding.  Nope.  Unacceptable to the coach.  Unacceptable to the kids.  I could not have been more proud of a group of kids and parents than I was of my son’s hockey team and coach.

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Life is not perfect, it is messy.  It sucks that I have two sons that have had to deal with this issue.  It sucks that I have to prepare my sons for what it will be like to be a black man in today’s society.  It sucks that in 2016, nine-year-olds will be using the language of their adults to treat other groups of people as lesser human beings.  I hope this story sticks with you.  Maybe it will inspire you to talk to your own kids about the N word.  That nine-year-old boy could have been silent.  He chose to speak up.  That’s good upbringing.  They say kids are taught to be racist.  Well, than kids can be taught to speak out against racism too.  The hockey coach could have swept it under the rug, and I would never have known.  The kids on his team could have been silent and no one would have known.  Today was not the day to tell me that all kids matter.  Today was the day to tell me that my son’s life matters.
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Roll credits.
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I should probably just end this blog in a serious way, but I can’t, it’s not in my nature.  I will leave you with one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Canadian Bacon, starring the late great John Candy as Sherriff Bud Boomer.  Here is a brief conversation between Roy Boy, played by Kevin O’Connor and my man, Bill “Radio Raheem” Nunn playing Kabral.
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Roy Boy: How come you never see any black guys playing hockey?
Kabral: Now do you think it’s easy to just gradually take over every professional sport? Let me tell you something, man. Brothers have started figuring out this ice thing. Hope you enjoyed it!
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Sadly, Bill Nunn recently passed in September of this year.  RIP.  There’s your serious ending.

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If you are an owner or proponent of guns, please read this blog.  I have a question for you, but it’s not till the end.  We now return you to your regular scheduled program.

This is not a blog about race, but race is going to come up, and come up quickly.  I was talking with a friend about Black Lives Matter, the recent acts of violence of police against black people, and various people that have gone on air to share their opinions about the matter.  For example, our own, David A Clarke Jr.’s “controversial” comments on CNN.  I place the word controversial in quotes, because I didn’t think what he said was all that controversial.  I disagreed with the tone of his words, but I couldn’t disagree with the facts of his statements.  However, yeah, what he said was true, but irrelevant (roll credits).  I introduce to you one of my biggest pet peeves regarding arguments/discussions about serious topics:  Person A makes a point with Comment Z, and Person B counters their point by tying Topic X and makes a claim that it is connected and refutes Person A’s comment Z, even though they are no connected at all.  Confused?  Let me help.

A police officer kills a black man.  In the court of public opinion (which is where we are right now and it should not be forgotten that the court of public opinion is not in fact the court of law) the killing of the man was unjustified.  The cry of outrage is “Why is the system against black people?”  In other words, black lives matter too.  The white person’s response might be, “How dare you!  How dare you say that the police are racists!  If you are so mad, why aren’t you mad at the fact that more black people are killed by black people?  Huh?  What about that?”  Mic drop, and they walk away victorious.  Really?  Really?  Yeah, it’s true, more black people are killed by black people than by white people, but it’s irrelevant to this discussion.  Now before you get all mad, let me explain.

I’m against domestic violence.  There, I said it.  Husbands should never beat their wives.  But don’t you realize that there is more violence between single people than married people?  Oh, and by the way, sometimes the wife beats the husband.  What about that?

I’m against child abuse.  Wow, I’m really going out on a limb in this blog.  But the fact is, kids are more likely to be hit by other kids than their parents.  Why aren’t we outraged by that?  Why are we spending so much time on stopping child abuse?

They’re not the same.  I hope you see that.  But let’s pretend for the sake of argument that you are unable to distinguish the differences in the various topics.  Then why can’t you be mad at all of it?  Be outraged by white on black violence AND black on black violence.  But you know the real reason Person B is trying to counter your argument?  It simple.  They want to win.  They want to win the argument, and more importantly, not change a damn thing about how they live their life.  “Guess what angry black man, I win, and I don’t have to change a damn thing about who I am, how I think, or how I act.  How do you like them apples?”

Recently I read a posted article on Facebook where a man with a gun foiled an armed robbery of a restaurant.  It came with a snide comment by the poster (which I don’t remember what it was exactly), but I interpreted it as, “See, this is why everyone should be allowed to own guns.” (mic drop)  Really?  This one example is why Americans should keep their guns?  This is similar to my original pet peeve, or at least in the same family.  This is, “Let me give you one true event to prove my point” guy.  I don’t care who you are, you have used this one at some point in your life.  Whether you are uplifting the one black person in your life that agrees with your points (people do this with Charles Barkley ALL the time).  Guess what Mr. “Famous black person said something I agree with that proves my point” guy?  Mr. Barkley does not speak for me.  Or, you see a one time event, and say, “See, I told you it was true.”

Someone in my life never wears a seatbelt.  His argument is, people don’t know what they are talking about.  As kids, no one cared about seatbelts.  You see, they don’t know what they are talking about.  Opinions keep changing.  You see, it’s all the same.  We don’t use facts to inform our decisions, we use facts to confirm our decisions.  (I may be tooting my own horn, but I like that previous sentence.  I like it so much, I’m going to write it again.  Toot toot!)

We don’t use facts to inform our decisions, we use facts to confirm our decisions.  So, as I continue to blog from my very high horse and attempt to make the world just a little bit better.  I challenge my readers.  Don’t attempt to be discussion stoppers.  The examples above, in my opinion stop discussion.  If you care about making yourself better, and you are the only one you truly have control over, try to stay in the conversation and think, in what ways could I make this situation better?  Which leads me to the quasi end of my blog.  I want to ask a question.  And it is a question to all gun owners and proponents of guns.

Imagine a scenario by which a new strict gun control law was created, and you lost your right to own a gun as a result.  Because of this new law, America gun violence is reduced by 50% or more for the rest of time.  Would you support this law?

If you don’t understand what this question has to do with this blog, than I’m sad.  You missed the point of the blog.  I’ll do better next time.


I usually go in a different direction for this section, but this time I’m going to stay on topic.  Many of us want our police to be “above the law”.  They have jobs that most of us could not do.  They deserve our respect for what they do.  They are getting their hands dirty on a regular basis, where we are keeping our hands clean within the safe walls of our home that they protect.  I am both scared and super happy of the existence of the police force.  You may not get that, but it is true.  But the reality is, our police can’t be above the law.  They are human and will make mistakes.  When mistakes are made, things should be corrected.  I don’t want to be in a society that has a special group dressed in black that handles all of our dirty work for us and is given carte blanche as long as they get the job done.  It is a reflection of who we are, who we want to be as a society.  So, I will leave you with one of the greatest movie scenes of all time and amazingly relevant to this discussion.

From the Movie:  A Few Good Men (1992)

Judge Randolph: *Consider yourself in Contempt!*

Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*

Judge Randolph: You *don’t* have to answer that question!

Col. Jessep: I’ll answer the question!

[to Kaffee]

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.

Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*

Kaffee: *I want the truth!*

Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!*

[pauses]

Col. Jessep: Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

 

Colonel Jessup went to jail.

Thanks for reading.

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Welcome to the third installment of the racist trilogy.  It’s Return of the Racist and I promise no Ewoks, which were racist as hell.  I don’t have time to get into that right now, but trust me, raaaaaciiiist (said sing songy).  Despite the titles of episode one and two, OK, you actually are racist (roll credits).  You are not only racist, but your racism can be scored.  Do you know your Race Credit Score (RCS)?  This blog and the URL home of this blog were inspired by a friend of mine.  She was concerned that asking me questions about race and race relations would be offensive and cast her in a negative light.  I informed her that she had a very high RCS with me and like Experian, she would have to do a lot of negative things to significantly lower her race credit rating.  Then it got me thinking, what if you could find out your RCS, kind of like on a website called racecreditkarma.com (roll credits).  Thanks to her and others, a blog is born.  Or in my case, reborn.

So, how would it work?  I would love audience participation on this one.  If you have ideas, please feel free to comment.  But, I’ll go first.  Similar to a credit in real life, most adults have some sort of credit rating.  So, everyone has an RCS, meaning everyone has a level of racism.  For those of you that don’t see color, you don’t have a score at all, and just like in real life, having no credit is worse than bad credit.  My first thought is how long have you gone without making a racist joke or snide comment?  This would be similar to on-time payments and would have a major impact on your RCS.  How many accounts do you have?  Or how many friends do you have on the color spectrum?  Are they accounts that you never use, or do you have a history with any of your more colorful cards?  Any bankruptcies in your past, such as usage of the N-word.  And of course, the myriad of minor impacts on your RCS, such as calling someone by the wrong name because you thought they were the “other black guy”, going up to a minority and saying, “Do you work here?”, showing the not-so-veiled look of surprise when you find out that the black woman you are talking to is a doctor, and the ever popular, “Do you know the other minority that I met a year ago because you all belong to the same network?” question.

The reality is that many of us care to know just how racist we really are.  And perhaps an even greater reality, many of us don’t care to know how racist we are.  It is kind of like the millions of Americans that don’t care to know their credit score.  They just want to live life as if everything is OK and then become surprised when they can’t get a loan to buy that house.  What?  Me?  That can’t be true?  But I have 10 credit cards and I’ve only been late on them a few times.  Well, guess what?  You’re racist.  Whaaaaaaat!?!  As I mentioned in the previous blog, we all have biases in some form or another, but what we don’t realize is these biases make us racists.

We are a society of lines.  We encourage each other to get as close to the line as possible.  We tell stories of near death experiences, and times when we almost asked that fat girl if she was pregnant and we love these stories.  These stories keep us at the edge of our seats.  But when we cross the line, we get crushed.  No one gets mad at a great tackle, but we balk when someone gets hurt.  What did you think was going to happen?  You can’t be negative, biased, tell the “harmless” race joke, or discount someone’s worth because of the color of their skin and expect to escape the racist designation.  Time and time again people behave in such a way that makes certain groups feel lesser and become offended when called a racist.  Really?  So what do we do?  I’m sorry, I like the analogy.  You need to know your Race Credit Score.  Are goal should NOT be how close we can get to the racist line, but our goal should be to be as far away from being racist as possible.  This might mean that you can’t tell that joke that you think is sooooooo funny, because we are going to start caring about how others feel.  I know it’s scary baby birds, but Daddy is going to chew it up and spit in your mouth to make it go down easier (How do you like that image?  I love it!)

Here are some factors to help you determine your RCS (I don’t have time to rank them, I wish I did, but I neither have the time nor the energy to give them their respective point values, but once again, I welcome your input on this list):

  1. Eye contact – When you address a mixed group (various races and genders) do you give everyone equal eye contact?  You have no idea how many times I have been in a group setting, the only black person in the group, and the only person not receiving eye contact from the speaker.  Or conversely, receiving ALL the eye contact.
  2. Assumption of Power – When given the opportunity to choose a person of power, in other words, who among this group is either most likely to know the answer to my question or the leader of this organization.  You assume the minority is not in a position of power.
  3. Mistaken Identity – Do you believe, or by your action prove, that we all look alike.
  4. Relationships – Are you likely to shy away from interracial friendships.  I also include talking to a black person because you are overly trying to be their friend.  Trust me, this is not good for anyone.
  5. Negative/Dismissive Language of Any Kind – <You don’t care about other people’s lives.  They are blowing it out of proportion.  They don’t know me, I’m not racist.  It’s just a joke.  Why can’t they just let it go.  Maybe it’s their fault, did you ever consider that.  It’s not everyone, and it’s certainly not me.  I wish they would just shut up about all of this. Why are they so angry?> Have any of the above phrases crossed your mind or come out of your lips?
  6. A Lack of Desire to Be a Part of the Solution – Do you want to help, or do you just want to be proven right?

I could go on and on, but this blog is getting long.  If you struggle with any or all the above, your score has taken a hit.  So, how can you raise your RCS?  I could go on and on about this as well, but I have chosen to sum it up in one, hopefully, great sentence.  I’m even going to capitalize it for emphasis:

ANY BEHAVIOR BY WORD OR DEED THAT YOU ENGAGE IN THAT AT IT’S HEART IS TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE OTHER GROUP’S PERSPECTIVE WILL RAISE YOUR RACE CREDIT SCORE.

I am not asking you to be black , Mexican or Asian.  You don’t need to start wearing a dashiki to work.  I just want you try to understand my and others’ perspectives.  If you interact with me in a way that shows your true desire to know where I’m coming from, than there’s not a mistake you could make that would make me lose respect for you.  We would grow together, and both of us would come out better people.  Don’t ignore your racism.  Look at it.  Examine it.  Get to know it.  Then, and only then, can you know how to be truly far away from it.


Insert bad transition here …

I lost a Pikachu the other day, and I can’t let it go.  I mean, I can’t let go the fact I lost a Pikachu.  I had a lure and incense going.  I was at the local library.  It showed up and I was soooo excited.  I tried two Pokeballs and it kept getting out.  I used a raspberry and on my third try it was in the Pokeball forever and ever, and ever… and as I anticipated the “Gotcha”, it became clear to me that the program froze.  Denied.  I still haven’t let it go.  I have a problem.

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Welcome to Part 2 of my “I have no idea how may part” series on racism.  I know you are concerned about being a racist, and I am here to say that you are not racist.  No, seriously, you’re not racist.  However, you are biased.  As a matter of fact, we are all biased.  Whew, now don’t you feel better?  Well, you shouldn’t, because being biased can be just as damaging and in many ways, worse than being racist.

The problem with being biased is that it is pervasive and infects literally everything that we say and do.  The worse part is, we generally are not aware of our biases.  Actually, the worse, worse part is that we often don’t care about our biases and therefore make zero actions to improve our biases.  If you are reading this and thinking, I have no idea what you are talking about, then let me explain.  I mean, that’s why I am here.

It’s midnight, and you just left a friend’s house after a marathon game of Parcheesi (Google it).  You are walking down the street towards your car and you see three white kids sitting on the hood of your car.  They are looking at their phones and clearly playing Pokémon Go.  What do you do?  I am sure there are a variety of answers to this question, but I am sure most of you would respond in some form of “get them off my car and go home”.  If it were me, I would approach the car, and say, “Hey guys, this is my car.  You mind?”  And then I foresee that they would get off my car, I would get in, and drive home.  Simple.

Alternative:  It’s midnight, and you just left a friend’s house after a marathon game of Parcheesi (did you Google it yet?).  You are walking down the street towards your car and you see three black kids sitting on the hood of your car.  They are talking, loudly, and look like they just got done playing basketball.  You see that one of the kids has a basketball in his hands.  What do you do?

Before I continue, do me a favor.  Take a moment to think about the image of the two scenarios above.  How are they different?  How are they the same?  What is your reaction to the two scenarios above?

Here is my first honest truth of the blog; it never entered my head to write the two scenarios of BOTH sets of kids playing Pokémon Go.  I just can’t see three black kids playing Pokémon Go at midnight.  That’s my bias.  What’s yours?  In your mental image of the two scenarios, were both sets of kids the same age?  I bet they weren’t.  I bet the white kids were younger, maybe even in junior high.  I know, you think I biased you by making them playing Pokémon Go, but I also said it was midnight.  If young kids can play Pokémon Go at midnight, why can’t young kids play basketball at midnight?  What were the kids wearing?  Any wife beater t-shirts (Google it) in either scenario?  Or Nike gear?  Plaid shirts?  Welcome to the Brett Bias Show.  And finally, what about your reaction to the two scenarios?  Are you responding to both situations the same?  Here is my reaction, and it’s not the same:  “Hey fellas.  How’s it going?  Who won the game?  Cool.  I gotta run, you can come, but the ride might be bumpy from the hood of my car.  Thanks guys.”  I have no need to talk to the white kids, but I very much want to talk to the black kids.  It’s my bias.  It’s like I want to defuse a situation.  Or maybe I want to make sure the black kids know that I have nothing against them.  Or maybe I have a stronger desire to make a connection with the black kids.  I think any of the above reasons may be true, but it proves one thing, I have a bias in my reaction to the two scenarios.  What is your bias?

I know you might think this is silly, but I would guess that in many of your scenarios, your reaction to the black kids was more negative, more aggressive, or had more fear in its response.  At minimum, your image of the two scenarios was different based on your inherent bias.  What does this mean?  Well, it means that if you are a black kid, you have been reacted to in a certain way for most of your life.  And depending on how negative those reactions were will determine your attitude about life and how others perceive you.  I’m 45 years old and have a PhD, and my life experiences have shaped an image of myself that is not worthy of a PhD.  I attempt to shake it often, but it reveals itself more often than you would realize.

For example, several weeks ago, my wife, son and I went house hunting with our realtor.  While in a house, I heard a noise upstairs.  I was convinced that someone was in the house.  I assumed it was one of the owners that had not left the house before our arrival.  I asked our white female realtor to go upstairs to investigate.  I was not scared.  I was not trying to push her towards an intruder.  I was concerned that if whoever was upstairs ran into me, a big black man, the reaction would not be good.  It turned out to be the daughter of the owners who got her times wrong on the visit.  I stand by my decision of sending the realtor.  Let’s pretend our group had males and females, blacks and whites.  Here is the order I would have selected to go up those stairs, from least likely to most likely to scare the bejeesus of whoever was up there.  1.  Little white girl  2. Little black boy (because black boys are cute). 3 Little white boy 4. Little black girl  5. Adult white female. 6. Adult black female 7. Adult white male 8. Adult black male.  Do you agree with my order?  It’s based on bias and bias is real.  Bias determines whether you are more likely to call me Dr. Woods (which is my appropriate designation), whether or not I’m more likely to be pulled over by a policeman, or if you will be surprised when you find out what I do for a living.  Do you have any idea of what it feels like to be considered “lesser” by so many people on a regular basis for over 40 years?  Bias is a hell of a drug.

I was going to end it here, but than I had lunch with a friend.  She told me this story of how she has been grabbed by men so many times in her life that she has lost count.  It became so regular in her life, that if it happened during the day, when she got home, she saw no need to tell her husband.  This was not the first time I heard a story like this from a female.  Can you imagine, living your life in such a way that people grabbing you was so common place that you internalize it as normal?  You see, biases are so common place, that they make people believe things that they should never believe.  If you are reading this and you still don’t get it, then here is my advice:  Examine your actions and try to identify your own behaviors that might be adjusted because of who you are interacting with, males, females, black or white.  If that doesn’t help, ask your wife, or friend what biases you have, because they WILL know.


Insert bad transition here …

I dropped my kids off at daycare this morning.  The two high school? college? kids that were in “charge” could not have had a more disinterested look on their faces if they tried.  If they were in a corner smoking cigarettes, I would not have been surprised.  If there was an electric fence around the perimeter, I would not have been surprised.  They didn’t even try to look engaged upon my arrival.  Sheesh!  Oh well, my kids are safe and out of my hair.  Yeah, I’m disgusted with my self too.  Maybe I’ll catch Pikachu today.  That’ll make me feel better.  Ugh!

 

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So, it is a sad day.  It is a sad day that I knew would come one day.  It came yesterday.  My son has received his first experiences of what it means to be black in this country.  My son is in sixth grade and I recently discovered that a kid in his school has been using racial slurs against him.  The situation makes me sad, angry, and unfortunately, unsurprised.  I knew this day would come, and quite frankly I am more surprised that it hasn’t happened earlier.

We had a conversation with my son last night.  Talked to him about some of my own experiences, and gave him some advice on how to handle this situation in the future.  We also told him that he is a great kid and let him know how much we love him.  Other than that, I wasn’t exactly sure what to say.  My first reaction was to advise him to kick the kid’s ass.  I told him this, but informed him that I was not completely sure that was the best advice.  We did advise him to make it clear to the kid that he was not someone to be messed with, but to do so within the confines of his comfort level.  At the end of the day, we settled on informing the teacher if an incident happened again.

Whether or not we handled the situation perfectly as parents remains to be seen, but the situation saddens me.  It leaves me with this simple lesson to all parents that might read my blog:  Teach your kids to NOT be racists.  How else do kids learn these types of repulsive behaviors?  If you are a parent and you are reading this blog, and you are thinking, “My kid would never use racial slurs against another person.”  My question to you is, “How do you know?”  Have you talked about racism to your kids?  Have you discussed the reality of differences and the fact that these differences are to NOT be ignored, but respected.  Never say to me, “I don’t see color.”  We all see color and just because you don’t have a white hood in your closet does not mean that you have not treated or reacted differently to someone simply because of the color of their skin.  And trust me, although you did not recognize it, the other person did.

I am not looking for white guilt, and I am certainly not looking to encourage you to find your local minority and give them a hug.  I would hate that.  Give me and others like me, the same respect, attention, acknowledgement, and subtle reactions as you would give anyone else.  Do your best.  You will make mistakes, but when you do, apologize for it and keep trying.  Don’t sweep this under the rug.  Don’t ignore it.  We are ALL racially biased, and until we acknowledge this fact within ourselves, we will never change.  But most of all, teach your kids these lessons.  They will not learn them if you don’t.  Teach your kids to defend these principles.  Silence is the same as endorsement.  This is true of all ages.  Do not accept racist behavior in your presence.

I am sad.  I am angry.  My son is awesome and nothing nor anyone will take that away, but he has been scarred.  And as someone who knows exactly what it feels like to be attacked because of the color of my skin, it is a scar that never heals.

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If you’re a parent, talk to your kids about racism.  You might think that they would never get a racial bias from you, but if they get it from somewhere else, are you going to know?  And more importantly, will you do anything about it?  I’m just sayin …

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So, if you want to piss me off, tell me what I can’t do.   I may not even want to do it, but if you tell me that I can’t, I will have no choice but to not only do it, but do it well.  This characteristic is both a blessing and a curse. 

I not only think I can, but I know I can.

On one hand, it has inspired me to excel in a number of things, especially academics.  For example, although I did not grow up in the civil rights era, I still had to contend with teachers that automatically assumed that I could not possibly be as smart as my white or Asian counterparts.

In middle school, we had a special day with our teachers to discuss future classes in high school.   I had a teacher tell me that I shouldn’t take AP (advanced placement) classes because it would be too difficult for me.  I took AP history and calculus in high school, and did well in both.  As a matter of fact, I was given a C in AP history, despite the fact that according to my records I should have had an A.  I talked to the teacher about it, showed him my records, showed him his grade policy and made it clear to him that my grade should not be a C, but an A.  The teacher changed the grade.  After he changed the grade, it pissed me off.  How could a teacher make an error in judgment that allows him to change a grade from a C to an A?  I have been a teacher now for approximately 15 years, and I have NEVER made an error that big.  As you can tell, this event that happened to me almost 25 years ago still bothers me.  It was clear that I was treated differently than my other classmates.  Another example occurred in high school, when for one semester, I was demoted to remedial English.  Granted, English was not my strongest subject, but remedial?  Even the teacher of the remedial English class did not understand why I was enrolled in her class.

I could easily turn this blog into a social commentary on how racism is alive and well and has held many students back simply based on the color of their skin.  I graduated from high school with a 3.9, I am in my high school’s hall of fame for track & field, and I graduated from UC Berkeley, and I still have multiple stories of people telling me that I was not smart enough to do things.  What about the black students that were B students, or C students, or even D students?  If as an A student I still faced obstacles, I can’t imagine what other students faced.  But this is not a blog about race, or not just about race, but about the obsession people have with what can’t be done.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do.  I can do anything, and just because you have chosen to limit yourself, don’t dare put that small thinking on me.  But, why are so many people concerned with other people’s opinions on what they can and can’t do?  And why am I not?  The easiest answer would be my parents, as I believe strongly that they instilled in me my “don’t give up” and the “don’t you dare tell me what to do” attitude.  But I want to go a little bit deeper.  In many ways it reminds me of ‘cultural legacy’ as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’.  I actually blogged about this book in My First Book Review.  In other words, do I have this attitude because of my culture?

In his book, ‘Outliers’ Gladwell describes a famous psychological experiment by Nisbett and Cohen.  They monitored reactions of people to being insulted.  Students were asked to answer a number of questions and then walk down a long, narrow hallway where unbeknownst to them, another person who was also part of the experiment would whisper the word “asshole” as they walked passed.  The researchers found that it did not matter if you were black, or white, rich or poor, a nerd or a jock, you responded to the insult the same, except for one surprising variable.  If you were from the South, regardless of your background, you reacted strongly to the comment, but students from the North actively calmed themselves when they heard the comment.  The author suggested that the “Culture of Honor” was passed down through generations of Southerners irrespective of almost any other environmental or genetic factor.

I think about the history of African-Americans in this country and wonder if I am the recipient of a “Culture of Rebellion”.  I think about the long list adversities that black people have suffered in this country, but yet have been inspired to create music, poetry, innovation, and various forms of success in spite of the obstacles placed in the way.  Although I would never compare my obstacles to slavery, lynch mobs, nor laws of discrimination, but the fact remains, I have a strong visceral response to people trying to prevent me from doing things.  Can culture be inherited?  If you have a cultural history in which the ‘sky was the limit’ or your ancestors had many options, maybe limitations would not be such a bad thing.  But if your ancestors were oppressed and limited by the dominant culture, self-imposed limitations would be counter-intuitive and very maladaptive to an oppressive environment.  As a matter of fact, under oppressive conditions, a spirit of rebellion would be necessary for upward mobility.  Quite frankly, if you examine history, some of the greatest innovations and social movements have come out of great adversity.   Maybe it is from my parents, maybe it is genetic, or maybe I have inherited a “Culture of Rebellion”, but I am glad I have it and I hope my kids will have it too, because no one should limit their potential by telling them what they can and cannot do.

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A couple of months ago Taco Bell was sued.  The lawsuit claimed that Taco Bell was wrong for calling their beef burritos, well, beef burritos because the burritos only contained 35% beef.  Taco Bell responded to the lawsuit by stating that their beef burritos contained 88% beef.  Soon after the news of the lawsuit became public and Taco Bell’s response, Taco Bell put their burritos on sale for 88 cents.  Don’t think this new price was lost on me, what about you?  Nonetheless, I have accepted the fact that their burritos are 88% beef.  It also makes me better appreciate McDonald’s for stating that their burgers are 100% beef.  Especially since I used to think that this was as stupid advertisement.  I often thought why would they tell me that their burgers were 100% beef? 

Remember this commercial?

What else would it be?  Turns out there are other options.  But here is my problem:  I actually don’t mind that Taco Bell beef burritos are not 100% beef.  But why won’t Taco Bell tell us what is in the remaining 12%? I haven’t eaten there since.  I’m just sayin …

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