Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Race Against Racism

Growing up bi-racial, yet adopted by a black family in the South gave me a different sense of race than most. My culture was authentically African-American. My parents (mostly my father) taught me the things I was supposed to do as a black man-- carry yourself with dignity and self-respect, seek as much knowledge as possible, and work hard even when others around you choose not to. (What? You thought being black was just about soul food, hip-hop music, and basketball?)

But my father also told me not to trust the white man. He said even my closest white friends would turn their backs on me if pressured by other whites. Now, my father, who had several white friends, was trying to look out for his boy, but he was right. As we got older and peer pressure grew stronger, some of my white friends did forsake me. Maybe that was more of a reality in the South than other parts of the country. I'm not sure. But what I am sure of is that I grew up torn on the ideas of race and racism.

I could not come to grips with the idea of how white people could literally hate another person based solely on the color of their skin. I could also not come to grips with the harsh feelings that so many black people held against all white people based solely on the actions of a few. Plus, I, myself was brought into this world by a white woman. Was I supposed to not trust half of myself? Was I to believe that part of me would one day let me down?

As great as my childhood was, it was not always easy. My father went out of his way to make sure I was afforded every opportunity I needed to succeed, whether in academics or athletics. Those accomplishments, however, oftentimes came with dissent and threats from my fellow white classmates. "Who does he think he is? Doesn't he know he's a nigger? We should kick his ass to remind him of his place!"

I was not the only black person to ever go through that type of racism. In fact, I was braced for such hatred starting at an early age. So I wasn't really shocked, although I was often hurt by it. But in addition to never being white enough for some people. I was never black enough for others.

You see, achieving a certain amount of success can be looked down upon by other members of the black community--as if being on the honor roll made you less of a black man. "How dare he become President of the Beta Club. What is he trying to do? Be white?"

It's one thing to be dissed by others, but it is something else entirely to be shunned by your own people, especially when, so often, you are representing your entire race in a particular setting. The only black at the spelling bee. The only black at the Scholastic Bowl. The only black at the state golf tournament.

What I eventually learned was that you cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time. Nor should you go out of your way to satisfy a certain group of people, even if they are your own. Instead, you should always treat others as you would want to be treated. And once you find people who practice that philosophy, make those people your friends!

I was reminded of that lesson several weeks ago, when Senator Barack Obama made his now famous speech on race. At one point, Obama said, "What is called for is nothing more and nothing less than what all the world's great religions demand — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well."

Think about it? How simple is that really? If we treat one another with dignity and self-respect, wouldn't it be even easier for others to return the favor? Isn't it more beneficial and less destructive to seek that common stake in one another, instead of going out of our way to look for something just so we can tear someone down?

However, in order to do that, we have to take a serious, honest look at ourselves-- collectively and individually.

Jason Whitlock wrote a column recently in the Kansas City Star in the aftermath of an ill-fated publicity stunt by a local minor league baseball team. You can read the entire column here:

One passage in particular stood out to me, and it is partly the reason I am writing this post. Whitlock said, "My point is we all have our blind spots. None of us can be all-knowing. None of us can be free of bias — whether we’re white, black, brown or yellow. The best thing we can do is recognize our imperfections and choose to fight them.

"Too many of us delude ourselves into believing we’re free of bias. We think a shallow, work friendship across racial lines is proof of our overall fair-mindedness. Or we think our blackness means we’re incapable of racist thoughts and actions."

I believe Jason is dead-on with his remarks. We ALL have imperfections. NONE of us are perfect. And instead of us pointing out and making fun of our differences, we should be uniting around our similarities.

Then and only then, can we move past trying to "just get along" and finally, truly LIVE TOGETHER!


ilaine said...

Great article...I haven't seen you in ages...are you getting..."FAT?" Just kidding. You know I can't not say something smart! :o) Love, the closest you came to having a sister!!


Anonymous said...

Powerful message.

ononuk said...

Thanks for the insight. Growing up in the segregated south, I am slowly learning of the black experiences. I know about the publicized atrocities, but the treatment that you speak of was never mentioned by anyone that I knew, I suppose that's because I didn't really "know " any black people. I thought and hoped that my generation or at least the one following would be less biased, you are telling me otherwise and for that I am sorry to hear. I believe that our survival and success depends on accepting each other as members of the human race.

monaclay said...


tanya said...

Powerful MEaves! thanks for sharing.
We don't need the acceptance of others. We express our own divinity by being alive and by loving ourselves and others no matter what age, race, religion...we are all in this world together trying to make it. It's true, can't we treat others the way we would like to be treated? If we do our best in search of personal freedom, in the search for self-love, we will all discover that it is just a matter of time before we find what we are looking for. Let's love each other - embrace people who are different from us - learn and grow from others. If we could just love others the way we love ourselves...Can we?

Anonymous said...

Mike - Awesome article. We are proud of you down here in the "M-town" > Memphis. We miss you too dude.

Good to see you are still very much grounded and keeping it "real" despite being in the plastic world of LA.


KD said...

Eaves, you are right. As a black woman who has been mistaken for being bi-racial her entire life, growing up in Kentucky, I was always "too white" to hang with the black kids and "too dark" to hang with the white kids. I remember my parents always pushing me to be the best at everything I did academics, music, track, etc. and I remember my black peers in high school labeling me as a “sell out” because I excelled in academics, my parents were college educated and lived in a well-to-do neighborhood. I can go on and on about my some times "horrific" experiences in high school and college but my personal and professional success I have achieved since high school and college is what’s far more important.

The most mind-boggling element I’m faced with now is blacks, particularly, are amazed when I tell them I’m black. For whatever reason, many blacks don’t believe I am black and question my heritage – she must be Cuban or Brazilian or have German in her. For the history of my family is nothing unusual: Native American Indian and slave ancestors that were raped by their white master. So technically, I come from a long line of mulattos, but in the 1800s if you had more than 1/16 of black blood in your body you were considered black, um negro, to be more specific. There was no such thing as mulatto in the US in the 1800s.

My point is I didn’t ask to look the way I look. I didn’t ask for my skin color or the color of my eyes. And oftentimes I feel punished by my own because I don’t look like what the media has portrayed to be a black woman - shame on blacks and every other race for buying into stereotypes.

And I will end this by giving thanks to GOD for giving me amazing and beautiful parents and ancestors. For my experiences however "horrific" they may seem today, pale in comparison to the unbelievable torture and denials they went through not too long ago. My ancestors may be gone but their sacrifices will never be forgotten.

greenie said... long have we known each other? And I just learned something I never knew. And now so many things make sense.
Your post is powerful. But I wouldn't expect anything less coming from you. :)