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Spin Doctor

Spin Doctor
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August 18
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JUNE 23, 2009 12:13PM

How Not to Converse With Black People in Social Situations

Rate: 48 Flag

First of all, I would like to say that I am not an elected spokesperson, nor do I presume to speak for all Black people.  The following recommendations are based upon my personal experiences interacting in non-homogenous social settings, with varying degrees of diversity, running the gamut from black tie professional to laid back and totally casual.


I am not certain where the line should be drawn in terms of today’s politically correct world of social etiquette.  However, on numerous occasions, I’ve witnessed how seemingly innocuous comments have alienated attendees at a gathering. In some cases the situation escalated into harsh words, hurt feelings and damaged relationships.  Based upon the assumption that the perpetrator unwittingly trampled upon someone’s sensibilities, I offer ten (10) scenarios that may lead to unwanted and undesired friction in dealing with African Americans in a group setting.  Some scenarios may be universal, applying to anyone. Others, depending upon your rapport with the person, may be rather commonplace and totally harmless. In short, the individuals present and their existing relationship are tangible factors determining how a comment may be perceived.  In the absence of a close connection, adhering to these guidelines may help you avoid unnecessary emotional stress:


He/She is very well spoken – Chris Rock has a classic bit where he comments how enamored the news media was with Colin Powell’s diction and command of the English language.  The unstated assumption is that Colin Powell represents an exception to what our normal expectation would be.  Were he not a minority, there would be no need to make this distinction.


He/She doesn’t sound Black – This falls into the same category of the “Colin Powell” example.


What do you mean you don’t dance (or sing, play basketball etc.)? – More assumptions (enough said).


Why do Black people (your type, your kind, they etc.)………?  - In this case, someone is assuming that being of similar ethnic background classifies the person as a behavioral expert related to their culture.  Furthermore, there are a myriad of factors not connected to race that can influence behavior.


What is your opinion regarding……..? – This question can start a brush fire when related to a hot button issue (i.e. affirmative action) or some current events story involving Black people. Without guessing the motivation that would prompt someone to ask the opinion of the “Black” person in the room, I will say that it will do nothing to increase the minority’s comfort level in a group setting.


Did you hear the one about……..? – Political correctness aside, jokes about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. can easily be told at anyone’s expense, when they are not present.  Unless you are a paid entertainer, you run the risk of alienating people when you tell these types of jokes in a group setting.


I’m sure there’s a logical explanation. – You are at a gathering and a Black person tells an anecdotal story of perceived racial injustice.  Unless there is an obvious omission or flaw in the person’s reasoning, interrogating the individual in an attempt to expose them as being misinformed or overly sensitive is bound to cause a degree of discomfort, possibly turning the conversation into a confrontation.  You will need to weigh the value of truth seeking in this scenario.


My grandparents came to this country with nothing. – This statement is usually thrown out to emphasize that determination and effort lead to success.  While true, it totally discounts the existence of racism as being an obstacle to success in our society.  This is a good way to unintentionally light someone’s fuse.


I don’t see color. – Any variation of this statement is virtually saying that you are without prejudice.  Psychologically speaking, this is highly improbable.  We all have prejudices.  How we manage them determines who we are.  Denying the obvious will only raise concerns.


Some of my best friends are Black (or any variation there of).  – Depending upon the context, this statement can be perceived as someone professing that they are without prejudice or in possession of some special degree of empathy toward Black people.  When thrown out as a defense to previous behavior, it rings hollow.


These scenarios are in no specific order.  I welcome any and all feedback (i.e. additions, deletions, comments, etc.).  You are welcome to disagree; but if you find yourself at a social gathering one day and the mood quickly darkens based upon one of the above comments, you cannot say you haven’t been warned, or had no idea.


Hopefully, we can generate some meaningful dialogue as a precursor to this evening’s on-line panel discussion being hosted by Faith Paulsen.  

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We are in agreement Larry –

I lived with my mom for 18 years, and my wife for 25. These relationships do not make me an authority on women’s behavior; nor do they make it impossible for me to act in a sexist manner or make an insensitive comment about the female gender. The same thought process applies when dealing with any fundamental difference (.e. race, sexual orientation, etc.). Relationships do not provide some magical inoculation from putting one’s foot in one’s mouth from time to time.

Thanks for stopping by
I would only want to disagree somewhat with the "What is your opinion regarding...." I've found that a great way to open up dialogue, true give and take, on subjects we both (the parties to the conversation) are curious about. It's also been a defuser of previously misplaced perceptions.

But that's just my experience. I don't think in a group setting, as you allude to above, I'd ask a question like this, however. It's more a one-to-one conversation. And I think it's appropriate in this new era of so called transparency. Even if it doesn't work, it's the effort that counts, and in this country, if there's one thing we need, it's dialogue about race.
Well done! I particularly agree with "I don't see color," usually uttered by self congratulatory idiots.
Excellent. Now, can you come up with some of the more "exotic" recent euphemisms which seem to have sprouted up since Obama's inauguration? It seems to me that there are some out there cryptically being bandied about.
Great post! It is really important that we step out of our comfort zone and actually talk about the obstacles to understanding.

And Connie Mack -- You say a dialogue on race is needed? Your wish is our command!

I hope my OS colleagues will join me, RonP01, Joy-Ann Reid, David A. Love, Neilpaul, Noahvose, and other OSers in a LIVE Open Dialogue on Race. The LIVE discussion will be hosted on the blog of RonP01 this coming Wed, June 24, 9:00 pm Eastern Time.

Details and grdoun rules are available on all of our blogs. To catch up on past contributions the Dialogue, check each of our blogs.

Here's the link to one of mine that I think is especially relevent to Spin Doctor's points above:
From your keyboard to God's ear! Rated.
I'm with Connie. 'What's your opinion of...' can be a valid question, provided it's not on a loaded question like affirmative action. For example- I've asked blacks what they thought of Obama- and they've all responded with substantive responses (not all positive neither).
I applaud your points. I also think that everyone on the color spectrum might find it easier to get along with and understand one another if we stopped focusing on the shortcomings of our efforts to understand one another, and instead tried to take the good out of what we see/hear, and providing correction where needed with no cynicism or malice.

Most people aren't very reflective. Americans tend to put a value on friendliness - asking questions is a way to show friendliness, though that sometimes backfires when the questions are awkward or inappropriate, as you note in your post. I have never experienced racism, but I have experienced a comparative situation of sorts - when Europeans speak to me with wide-eyed, oblivious condescension about the stupidity, laziness, obesity and venality of all Americans, and then point to public figures like George Bush as if that absolutely proves their point. It's disappointing and angering, but I do my best to keep my cool and simply correct their impressions with my behavior, and sometimes a mild, well-placed comment on the insulting nature of what they just said.

I realize this isn't the same as being denied opportunities and all the other significant negative repercussions of racism. My point is more about how we react to others who are trying to interact with and better understand us. Getting outraged or just plain irritated is often a justifiable response to clumsy and insulting stereotyping, but it usually just serves only to widen the incomprehensions. We can demand other people be more sensitive and reflective, but these qualities are more likely to flower in a nonblaming environment.

Of course that sounds unfair, putting more burden on people laboring unjustly under stereotypes. I can totally relate to that - y dad is a belligerent jerk with a violent history. But if I want to get along with him - and I do - then I have to be the one to rise above my resentment of how he is. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but one thing I've learned - as soon as I let go of my resentment and started focusing on what I could control, I got what I wanted - a workable relationship with my dad, free to angry expectation that he just effin' *change* like he should.

I sure hope none of this comes across in some way I am not expecting - I'm just musing out loud and certainly not driven by some sort of idealogy. Damn, racism is so difficult to talk about.
and thanks for the post! it really got me thinking....
Chris Rock also has another observation that correlates with your "Some of my . . . " item. If someone knows how many black friends they have down to the digit then why? He implies that itself is evidence of a racist tendency and that is why the claim rings more than hollow. Has any white person ever in the history of white people in America ever gone up to another white at a party and said, "Some of my best friends are white. I have seven of them."
Insightful. I wish that much of the same could be applied in the Middle East where I live, but the Arabic emotional and cultural cloak is a good deal more impenetrable.
David Fehrity (golf analyst) once recounted this joke that Tiger woods told him:

Tiger: What do you call a black man flying a plane.

David: I don't know, what?

Tiger: A PILOT you fucking racist!!!

...which itself is making fun of the Catch-22 involved in a white person talking to a black person. If you don't know that person well, you never know what topics are safe and what's going to offend them.

Can you talk about slavery if it comes up in conversation? Affirmative action, basketball, O.J., gang-related violence, police brutality?

It's a mine field of political correctness out there.
All I can really say is that it seems that feelings and comfort should first be given to any minority (except probably white) in a given situation. I have a great idea, why don’t we all man up and stop crying foul.
Would the author find it offensive if I could be blindfolded and easily depict which individuals speaking were black? Or Asian? Or British? Hmmm, sounding black is a real thing and if the author finds it offensive it would seem he has a prejudice he has to deal with. Either that or he needs to come to terms with reality.
The dance thing is something that can be related back to several black comedians, but then again it isn’t too offensive to assume that white men can’t jump, dance, e.g.. Hell, they made a movie with that title but should they ever attempt a movie called "black man (woman, kid) cant (insert stereotype here ~ get into college ~ hold a job ~ e.g.)" I am sure the author of this article would love to cry foul.
Most CONSIDERATE individuals are open to other people’s opinions, so if you are asked for yours they are only extending a courtesy. Although the author would like you to think it’s a trap, generally it’s not and your honest opinion is wanted. Should you feel shame or apprehension over your response, keep it to yourself. Otherwise man up and be proud of who you are and what you think. Who knows, maybe we might have a better understanding of each other if we were not instructed to keep quiet about these things. Open and honest discussion of topics is one of the greatest things we could get going so let’s not prevent it.
I take offense when something such as my ancestry is so easily blown off and disregarded. My family came to this country in 1701 and has fought (and lost lives) in every war this country has engaged in. My family fought for the north in the one that counts here just in case you were wondering. My family (and it is researched quite thoroughly) have never owned slaves and never participated in the slave trade (unlike most black families where the tribes sold their people into slavery).
I have friends that run the gamut (black, white, Asian, e.g.). I don’t see color, but I can pick out prejudice like the authors quite easily. I am prejudice against the ignorant and those that go through life listening like sheep to individuals like the author. I recommend that each of those individuals go out and get an opinion on their own and drop this preconceived bs that they are being fed. I don’t care for those who cannot care for themselves as this is something that usually cannot be changed since it is a result of limited intelligence.
For all of those out there thinking that they are oppressed, you are. It may surprise you that it is YOU that is doing the oppression. For all those in need of permission to be an individual and excel in life ~ I now give it to you.
For those that want to stand with their hands out and demand apologies - follow the leader (the author in this case) and do as you are told.
You may think I am mean or a jerk but if Colin Powel had followed this guys advice he would never had made it to where he is today. I have met several individuals thinking they are owed something and they usually go though their entire lives waiting for a fictional payment to arrive.
You were never promised anything but freedom. Use it to get what you can out of life. It is a struggle for everyone, and those who are willing to accept handouts only get what little can be spared.
Connie Mack –

Agreed, a one-on-one conversation places both parties on equal footing, allowing for meaningful dialogue and an opportunity to address misconceptions and/or misunderstandings. In group settings, I have seen this approach spin out of control, good intentions not withstanding.

Mary Elizabeth –

Thanks for your feedback. I dug your post about the NYC Girl Scout badges. I can definitely relate.

Rob –

Teendoc’s post inspired me to compose this list. I have mad respect for her.

Walter –

Thanks for stopping by. Agreed, Obama’s ascension into the public spotlight has spawned a new chapter of coded language.

Faith –

I took your comments on one of Ron’s previous posts as a call to arms. In the absence of meaningful discussion it will be difficult for us to move forward on this issue.

Thanks for setting everyone straight regarding the date of the on line discussion.

Icemilkcoffee –

I concur; context, circumstances and personal relationships all play a role.

Sandra –

Well said!

I’ve seen well intentioned individuals get trampled upon because they had the misfortune of running into someone with a high sensitivity to any perceived slight. In some cases a proliferation of negative life experiences will cause an individual to be very guarded, suspicious and untrusting of others’ intentions. This is especially true at a public gathering where everyone might not know each other very well. In other instances I’ve seen individuals willingly engage in conversation to a point; then, become extremely agitated over an honest comment that is perceived to be insensitive.

Similar to building a relationship with someone who has been the victim of abuse, trust isn’t easily earned. There will be moments of regression, confusion and misunderstanding that may be uncomfortable. Wading into the waters is not for the faint of heart. It takes a degree of courage (as Attorney General Holder pointed out) to have these conversations. We can minimize the collateral damage by developing an understanding as to where some of the land mines may be buried (hopefully, I pointed out a few) and limiting the more volatile conversations to our inner circle of established relationships.

I applaud your willingness to build bridges and embrace those who have walked a different path.

Dorinda –

The best comedy has an element of truth in it. Chris Rock does an excellent job in illuminating the underlying subtleties inherent in seemingly insignificant behaviors.
This is a really great post, and I'm glad that a substantive discussion about race has finally made it to the front page of OS. It is unfortunate that white folks can often not acknowledge our "stuff" without prompting. Can I add one (that I experienced several years ago)? Make a comment about how diverse the group is, and how they should congratulate themselves on their inclusion of "minorities" when you have all of one person of color and one openly identified queer person at the table (please note, am not equating homophobia with racism).

@Connie, I agree that we need to ask questions of each other. However, just based on my experiences answering questions about being queer, there is a difference between turning to someone whose background is "different" from that of the rest of the group and asking, "What is your opinion on (your people) ..." and asking privately, one-on-one, "What is your opinion on (this issue)...?" It's one thing to seek out the personal opinion of a friend or close co-worker, quite another to presume that one or two people can speak for a whole group and asking them to do so under circumstances that imply "otherness", if that makes any sense?
fins2theleft –

In my personal experience, a minefield is an apt analogy. Keep in mind that none of us created the status quo; we are simply a part of it.


Your handle is very appropriate. I will take some time to digest your comments and provide an appropriate response.

I am glad you stopped by. As a dissenting voice, your input is very important. Otherwise (to borrow your phrase), I am just a shepherd leading mindless sheep.
P.S., both rated and reddited.
These are good. It horrifies me that people still say a lot of this stuff, but I believe it.

re: #8. I have a question. My grandparents (on one side, great grands on the other) did come to this country with nothing, fleeing religious persecution and genocide. Once in the US, they faced more discrimination due to their religion and national origin. They were barred from most jobs, had to start their own businesses and on one side, literally lived in a ghetto. on the other side, they were farmers. But they were white. Does their own struggle not count because of that? (I'm asking this sincerely.)

I do get the problem with #8 as phrased - implying anyone can bootstrap themselves up and not counting discrimination. But...there have been many ethnic and religious groups which have also endured discrimination and violence in the US.
Oh, I just noticed--congratulations, Spin Doctor, on having attracted a new OS member whose first "persistent" action has been to comment on your post.
Very nicely done! Thanks....
Dorinda, that is hilarious. Spin Doctor, I agree with you. Sometimes I think that white, liberal overthinking makes us say stupid things. We're so afraid of offending that we act like idiots.

I've had very few experiences where I was a minority because of my skin color. When I was the only non-asian at my workplace, my coworkers teased me about my curly red hair and complemented me on my pale skin all the time. (Which I thought was strange.) They also thought it was strange that I liked drinking strawberry milk.

Good post!
Part of the problem is that when race is involved in a conversation, it somehow imbues the conversation with peril.

If I am talking to a tall person and express surprise that they never played basketball, they roll their eyes, but hey - no harm done and I'm not a racist.

But, if I'm talking to a black person and I express surprise that they don't like rap music, then all of a sudden I'm in danger of being labeled a racist, rather than just a bore.

In each case I abused a stupid stereotype, but the potential for blowback is much greater in the 2nd case.
A much needed primer....Good job Faith...pushing the Open Dialogue On Race here is on time and on target.........there are a number of people commenting here who would benefit from participating in the on going discourse....

This is an ice breaking post.....Spin Doctor, Please join our "live" discussion on Wed. 24 June see my blog for details............

Had to come back, because this one has been weighing on me, and respectfully, I disagree with you, Spin Doctor, when you say,

"Did you hear the one about……..? – Political correctness aside, jokes about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. can easily be told at anyone’s expense, when they are not present.

At the risk of being accused of humorlessness and perhaps putting my foot in my mouth, I honestly don't think that bigoted jokes are OK anytime one is telling them as part of a majority group (whether by virtue of gender, orientation, race or ethnicity). These types of jokes told in that context reinforce not only stereotypes but an unquestioned sense of privilege and entitlement. (Then again, my father - Irish - had a favorite ethnic joke about my mother's people - Slovak, but it involved an eye test and the overabundance of consonants in Eastern European names...)

Of course
Silkstone: here's my answer to your question: of course your ancestors' struggles "count," however, they are not the same struggles that black Americans of that same generation faced.
Remember, your grandparents had the means and ability to flee oppression in their homelands. That is what began their struggles in this country.
Okay, I'm gonna stir the shit, here. Not because I want to, but because I am apparently tone deaf when it comes to race.

Point #1: Your (generic second person) extreme sensitivity is not my (generic first person) problem. If I (generic first person) act or speak reasonably and in good faith -- even if I am ignorant or tone deaf -- your over-the-top reaction is not my responsibility. Our Great White Burden, I think, is to speak, act and interact with reason, kindness, dignity and respect toward those of other so-called races. And that's where it stops. If I accidentally hit on a buzz word for you, that's your problem, not mine.

Point #2: There is no such thing as race. I believe that to the core of my soul. It's an illusion, like God. That doesn't mean there are no drastic real world effects from the delusion of race or religion. Of course there have been, are, and unfortunately will continue to be. More people die over these superstitions than just about anything else. But the more rational of us shouldn't pretend that it exists just out of a politically correct not to the stupid.

It doesn't exist. Get over it. Everyone.

And that's where I take issue with your "color blind" comment. Some of us so-called whities just don't believe that there are any real world differences between the so-called races. Oh, there may be social and historical differences based on geography, culture, family, etc. But we ALL have the potential of being exactly the same, given sameness of circumstances. So, next time someone claims to be "color blind," maybe they really are.

Point #3: Some people are highly invested in the race concept, and that's a problem. It happens on both "sides." Some so-called whites get all white privilege and superior, and some so-called blacks get all black pride and victimized. It's time for everyone to chill the fuck out. Paying tribute to that shit just perpetuates it. Let's just get over each other and just live together, okay?

Point #4: Just because I say you are well-spoken or I ask your opinion doesn't mean I am a racist. I compliment anyone who is well-spoken, be they tall, or male, or black or a Californian. And I'm always asking for people's opinions on things I am interested in. So, get over yourself.

Point #5: I spent most of the last 15 years of my life living in a place that was 85% black and only 7% white. Most of my friends are black, fer crissakes, including some of my best ever friends! What the hell do you want me to say???

Of course, truthfully, I don't think I have ever said anything along the lines of "Oh, some of my best friends are black," because (1) I don't believe in race so I don't think that way (and, per your statement above, you immediately assume I am either lying or am a self-deluded racist for saying so), and (2) we all thought of ourselves as more the same with each other than with so-called black or white Americans.

I lived in the West Indies and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where no one would ever refer to themselves as African-American, and we were all bonded as islanders over any of the "continentals" of any skin color, to the point that people would roll their eyes and suck their teeth when black continentals tried to assume an American sort of racial bond with black West Indians, who believed the continentals to be aliens. I discovered living there that the sense of race -- i.e., what it is and its importance -- differs among cultures, and Americans' preoccupation and assumptions about it come from the same kind of cultural arrogance that leads us to think we understand and know what is best for middle-eastern Muslims.

Last point: If there is anyone I haven't offended yet, please let me know. I don't want anyone to feel left out.
Are you telling me people actually say these things? Are you kidding? Are they that insensitive and cloddish? Oh, I hope not.
I've commented before on the near complete ignorance most white and asian americans have regarding what it is like to be BLACK.

Blacks lead an entirely different existence then the rest of us, they are, to this day, treated so differently from every other "group" (as far as homo sapiens- there is no such thing as race, only melanin as relates to equatorial distance, period) in the USA and everywhere else for that matter, including Africa, that to comment at all other than trying to help means you are naive, credulous, or much, much worse.

Doc offers 10: here's 2 of my 1000's --

1. DWB, you know what it means; so does everyone else! Wonder how Palestinians feel? Do a "Black Like Me" and then go take a spin around a white neighborhood, see how long before you get pulled over, in AmeriKKKa. 1B. Asians CANNOT say they are targeted for just driving cars- that would be a false claim. And the driving skill thing is BS, come to Hawaii and try and drag my Asian friends at racetrack. That is more racism against asians though, again instantly proving institutionalized racism totally ingrained in the country DNA. A racist country the USA, annexed Hawaii because we were brown too, not capable of our own decisions- um, MORE RACIST US History, this time against Polynesians.

2. In Hawaii we are the most tolerant as we are all friends and know each others cultures, not scared of them instead we celebrate together, more holiday = kick ass culture! Sadly, truth is even in Hawaii Blacks are treated different, like I said, even in Africa.

Aristotle said those who never travel or learn about others are destined to be ignorant fools in the larger society.

Anyone disagree with the Father of Science?

AUWE- End racism now! Stand with Persians!
Dana's comments astound me. Wow, lau-lau. As someone who has been surfing the entire Caribbean since the 60s, who has laid up in half the hurricane holes from Eluthera to Barbados, who has watched the area, especially the Virgins (just like Hawaii, ez access to US Nationals, Dana's dreaded Continentals, an unpleasant term itself, read Dont Stop the Carnival, etc.....) change so drastically due to, well, people like Dana, here's what my experience, which is half a Century mostly on the water in the Atlantic and Pacific, a Flipper type lifestyle meets Endless Summer my whole life, and let me put it this way, most of the OG would say people like Dana ruined the whole thing. We are the lucky ones who were there in the Best of Recent Times, and since this is no-holds barred in EVERY and ALL Island Cultures, and especially in the Caribbean, the ENTIRELY DIFFERENT WAY WOMEN LIKE DANA, WHITE WOMEN, ARE TREATED is, has been, and hopefully wont forever be a running fucking joke --- if you don't get this, well thats why it is what it is. If you knew you got a free pass, than admit it.

There are some really crude words commonly used to describe all this, and fucking believe me surfers and pirates have heard em all.

Ignorance = Bliss

Privelege = White

Island Culture = Pass for White Women

Rock on East Earibbean Nation!
okay - I'll take my turn offending some people...

I don't care much if your kin 10 generations back were on the Mayflower. You weren't. Whatever they accomplished counts for zilch for you.

Supposedly, my family tree can be traced back on my mom's side to 3 Cochran brothers who came here 200 years ago. One of them supposedly brought the first Clydesdale horses to America. Should this count for shit? Should I get some special respect or regard even if I'm descended from George Freaking Washington himself? No.

And likewise, I don't frankly care if someone is descended from slaves, either. Unless YOU were a slave, then it's frankly a little lame co-opting their suffering as your own burden.

The accomplishments and sufferings of those who came before us are history. And to the extent that we have wound their accomplishments or suffering into our own psyche is our problem and not society's.

My family owns some property in East Oakland, CA. I triple-dog dare you to get within 5 blocks of Seminary and 14th, and then, well, just try to exist with all your big thoughts, just hang on the stoop a bit, think big thoughts little man, then, and I quadruple-dog dare you, share em with the fellas, they'll have noticed you by then.

This, my friend, is a white man's world. I concede only that the youth of today are more and more not that way, but WE TAKE ALL THE CREDIT FOR THAT- YOU REMAIN IN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE, "NAIVE REALTY".

Since it's too difficult to keep up with the ever shifting rules it's just easier to avoid talking to people in the first place.

Oh I know I shouldn't have posted that but I just couldn't stop myself.
Surfer: Dana's comment astounded me as well... at least until I scrolled down and saw who wrote it.

Let's remember that Dana (who "sees no race" but calls racial sensitivity "the great white burden") is the one who jumped on OS immediately after Prop 8 passed and vehemently blamed California's minorities for the loss of Golden State gay marriage rights.

She's one of OS's most notorious bigots.

Dana did get one thing right: if you really want to get technical about it, there are no 'races' scientifically, only clines... at least according to noted U of Michigan anthropologist Dr. C. Loring Brace. Of course, Brace was careful to clarify his no-race-only-cline theory with this:

"It was the American experience of facing one another on a daily basis under conditions of manifest and enforced inequality that created the concept [of race] in the first place and endowed it with the assumption that those perceived "races" had very different sets of capabilities. Those thoughts are very influential and have become enshrined in laws and regulations. This is why I can conclude that, while the word "race" has no coherent biological meaning, its continued grip on the public mind is in fact a manifestation of the power of the historical continuity of the American social structure."

Dana, one last thing... (and I second OahuSurfer's comment directed at you--he's spot on as usual) what is the income disparity between your 'so-called blacks' and 'so-called whites' in the U.S.V.I.? The data I saw said that 31-percent of the total population lives under the poverty level, but the median income was still $24,000 a year. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to guess that its the Islands' 13-percent white population that drives that median income figure up... and I would also guess that a random sampling of the 31-percent under the poverty line is about 30 times more likely to be black than white.
Fins, you're in serious need of some perspective.

It sounds like your family is part of the rich "oppressor" class in Oakland. And just like people trade on their ancestors' suffering or accomplishments, you're trading on your Oakland relative's for some type of street cred.

If you've spent your life traveling the world and surfing, I don't consider you oppressed and disadvantaged enough to claim to hang with the underpriviledged in Oakland, just because your relatives own the buildings that some of them live in.
Fins, all un-relevant to the black experience, I am Hawaiian, not black, east oakland properties are worth, typically under 100k and very hard to sell even if you want to, also hard to rent, i wonder why?

Black oppression is everywhere, particularly in your naive ignorance.
I'm so tired of having to tippy toe around this crap. All people are different and other people are curious about them. If you are black you aren't special, get over it. Stereotypes are a bitch, but they are there, and they weren't made up out of thin air.

I'm not suggesting that inequality doesn't exist. Blacks on average earn less money, have less education, are incarcerated at higher rates, and flat-out get treated differently than whites by our government institutions.

My argument is that no individual should use as an excuse, something that happened 150 years ago. Just as someone whose New England bloodlines go back 200 years should think that merits any special consideration.

The bottom line is every single one of us has to deal with problems NOW, in the present. And as a society we need to address problems NOW. I don't think whining or bragging over the past buys us anything in that regard.

As a society we have to figure out how to create a level playing field now. That means insuring kids in poor, urban environments have quality education available, should they choose to take advantage of it. That means seeking out institutional racism and eradicating it.

But that's entirely a different issue that what this post is about - what we can and can't say to people of different races without offending them.

If black oppression is everywhere (including my naive ignorance) does that mean it also exists in you? Are you an oppressor of blacks or an exception to the "everywhere"?
fins, a good place to start finding that perspective (if you're interested) is the public library. They should have a dvd or vhs copy of Henry Louis Gates' African-American Lives series. Check it out, take it home and watch it.
Thanks for all of the great feedback - This is the first of several rebuttals (I will try to keep up with the comment thread)

John Mac

I feel your pain. Comparatively speaking the US is a much more tolerant culture than the Middle East.


I will attempt to address each of your points in order.

First of all, I did not say that White people are not worthy of courtesy and consideration in a group setting. There is a certain degree of discomfort associated with being the person who is “different” in any social setting. While you may not feel compelled to go out of your way to help an individual feel welcome, I would hope you would not want to unwittingly embarrass them, single them out or put them on the spot. Perhaps you feel this is not worth your time and effort. So be it.

Do you really feel that you can determine a speaker’s ethnic background by listening to them while blindfolded? By raising this issue, you drive home point #2 with an exclamation point. If you are unable to guess correctly, will you simply assume that these must be exceptions to the rule. I believe that is called stereotyping.

“White men can’t jump” is an offensive movie title. “Towel head” is an offensive movie title as well. I am certain you are trying to make a point here. Help me better understand.

Allow me to clarify myself regarding when it may or may not be appropriate so solicit someone’s opinion in a group setting. As stated in my post, these are guidelines. The mix of the group and their comfort level with each other are variables that deserve consideration (you may disagree). I am not saying that there is never an appropriate time to solicit an opinion from the minority in the room. Are you saying that your need to know, trumps the comfort level of the other guests at the gathering? You also stated that they have the right not to answer. Well that’s kind of a no win situation for the individual. If they do not engage, they may be viewed as being anti social. If they do participate, they may feel uncomfortable in doing so. Again, does your need to know trump their desire not to be singled out, embarrassed or put on the spot?

You’ve used the phrase “man up” a few times. So, I guess if it’s a woman, she should “woman up”.

Xcytible_1, no one is “blowing off” the struggles of your ancestors. Where this becomes an issue is when the topic is brought up in a comparative manner. Comparing what you ancestors experienced to the Black struggle for racial equality in America is an “apples to oranges” comparison. No one is saying the apples are more worthy than the oranges.

You say that you do not see color. Are you proud of your family heritage and your cultural background? I can tell you that I am proud of who I am, right down to my thick lips and kinky hair. Problems arise when we begin to think that different is better. One way to address this issue is to deny that differences exist. Another way is to celebrate our differences. It appears that you have chosen the former method, and I have chosen the latter. I can accept your world view, can you accept mine?

I have not said anything about oppression in my post. I have not said anything about needing permission to excel in life or demanded an apology from anyone. Personally, I do not subscribe to the “man is holding me down” theory. I am not looking for a handout or a leg up.

To reiterate, I feel that most people do not intentionally try to make other people feel bad.
If someone provides me advice that can shield another person from discomfort and I do not find it to be overly burdensome, I incorporate it. Although this post is dedicated to those who share that perspective, all points of view are welcome.
Very nice. If I could write as well as you I would do an article on Americans of Asian descent. “ You speak English very well” was commonly said to me when in Texas. Good thing, since it is the only language I know. “You guys like rice” or what about Karate. I do understand that it is sometime an individuals way of starting a conversation. Check out the book Strangers From a Different Shore. LOL.

Yes, yes I am. I've written here that Hawaii is the most integrated place in the world, yet, even there Blacks have a different experience than all other groups.

And, even I, who've stood toe to toe with my boys in ways you'd obviously never understand ... getting tear-gassed and beaten by American Police Officers more than once just being one of them, never mind the friendships, mentoring, etc. BUT

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't felt some ugly, sick and evil feeling in my own psyche also more than once on first glance of seeing a black man with a white woman. And that, makes me feel like shit inside and proves to me without doubt that racism, and particularly racism against blacks, is institutionalized.

Stand with Persians!
Van, if you can't say it to their face, and you can't say that to American, or International Blacks -- more little man big words stuff -- then you are, in no uncertain terms, a coward.

You must be blind to think a Black man lives the way you do.

To Xcytible_1 NO I AM saying your struggle, unless you happen to be Native American, DOES NOT COUNT FOR SHIT against 400 years of chains, shackles, shovels and torture.

Yes, I'm saying it.

I've written my own post on this, thanks for yours, nice work.
How about white people being too sensitive about what they say?

I placed it on hold at my library. Reading the description I think I saw a bit of this before.

But still, my personal perception is that what shapes us psychologically is our environment rather than history. I'm guessing that Will Smith's kids, when they become adults are going to be better off financially than my kids who are of white/mexican descent. I'm guessing Will Smith's kids will be able to get into clubs that mine can't. They'll probably get a more expensive education. They'll probably drive nicer cars, rub elbows with richer, better connected people. They'll probably travel more and generally live more priviledged lives?

All despite the horrific past of their forefathers.

Why? Because in this country, the way you're treated has a LOT more to do with $$$$$ than it does with race.

Sure, from a macro viewpoint, our country has institutionalized and systemic racism that no law can fix, but again, my original comments had to do with the idea of this thread: what we can / can't say to someone of another race without them taking offense.
Spin Doctor - I just want to say that I appreciate the tone of your post as much as your responses in the comments. I understand what you're saying here, on a number of levels.

Interesting. I think my prejudices are more lifestyle-based than race related. If I see a black guy with a white girl I could care less - good for both of them! Invite me to the wedding!

And if I see a black guy wearing dockers and driving a honda accord looking at the house next door, I'm going to pray that he buys the place and then help him move in.

But if I see the white guy in a wife-beater who looks like he's going to throw beer cans in his back yard, not cut his lawn, and whose '73 Camaro is going to sit broken down in front of his house leaking oil on the street, then...not so much love there.

So, while I'm sure I have racial prejudices to some degree as we all do, I'm guessing my larger prejudices have to do with the way people choose to conduct their lives.
Well said. One of my best friends is black. D'oh! I mean I have a friend who just so happens to be black and I have heard almost all of these scenarios throughout out 28 years of friendship and in different settings. Derek is as cool as the other side of the pillow in these situations, but I am not. "Oh man, you are so articulate. You don't sound black on the phone. I don't see color Derek, you're safe with me! (Good thing, Derek was fearing a lynching), How do you feel about minorities getting preferential treatment?" And so on, and so on. Usually by the time the first one comes out, "what the fuck" has already came out of my mouth. Derek just smiles his wonderful smile and gives them that look like "forgive this idiot moronic asshole for he knows not what he says, or she says." But there are these and other stereotypes and assumptions as well but this is a great ten to start. Rated
Shivaun –

I get it………..Thanks!

Silkstone –

Thanks for your perspective. I am not trying to discount the struggles of anyone’s ancestors. I just don’t feel that the two should be compared because they are so different.
All who have struggled should feel a sense of personal pride (not shame) that their family has overcome, to achieve a modicum of success.

KTM / Zuma

Thanks for the feedback

Gwen –

Thanks for your input

fins –

Your assessment is 100% accurate, and with good reason. If tall people experienced as much adversity as Black people you might encounter the same degree of sensitivity.
I don’t characterize it was right, wrong, or justified. It just is.

Ron Po1

I’m doing my part to get people involved. I will do my best to be part of tomorrow evening’s on-line discussion.

Shivaun (2nd time) –

I am in total agreement with you regarding the bigoted jokes. Even in a homogeneous group these jokes are offensive.

Edgar –

Thanks for your input

Dana –

Dissenting points of view are always welcome.

Before we get too far down the road we need to come to agreement regarding the term “extreme sensitivity”. Secondly, I would like to be clear about how you handle situations where you accidently offend someone. Do you typically treat it as there problem and move on? You are lucky to have stumbled upon my list. It will help you avoid some of those nasty little accidents.

You are correct, race is a made construct. If heritage or culture works better for you, I understand.

Allow me to expound upon the terms color and colored blind as they relate to my post.
When you say that you don’t see color, I assume you are not simply saying that you do not notice the variance in pigmentation of my flesh. I think we are on the same page here. I am actually referring to all of the difference you mentioned (social and historical differences based on geography, culture, family, etc.). Although they can be the same, real differences lead to friction between groups of people (would you not agree)? When the dominant group exerts control, an “ism” develops (they are power oriented). Can you see how this could be problematic, if you are not part of the dominant group?

I would not brand someone as a racist, based upon an insensitive comment. Racism is interpersonal.

Lastly, I have not spent enough time in the islands to have an appreciation for how differences are dealt with (or not) in other countries. If it’s better there, maybe we Yankees could learn some lessons.

Oahu surfer –

Thanks for stopping by. These are real life paradigms. What some perceive as insensitivity is viewed by others as oversensitivity.

Neilpaul –

“adopting an attitude of gracious humility”

I could not have said it better

Thank you

Ocular –

Many have opted for your solution. Personally, I believe we can work this thing out.

The Van –

I appreciate your input. I don’t necessarily agree, but I am glad you decided to join the party.

Edgar –

I’ve seen African American lives. It’s a very well done series.

Aaron –

Thanks for the challenge. I will work toward putting a “bridge building” post together.
An excellent list. My best friend, who is a black woman (well, she is, so I can say that!), has been told more times than she can count that she is "so articulate!" As if this is just the most surprising thing in the world. But of course they mean it is as a compliment! So why are you leaving?? Boy, black people sure are sensitive!

"I don't see color" is not as bad, at least to me, as "I don't see her as black" or "I forget that he's a black person!" If I am feeling extremely charitable, I could say that the speaker is trying to express the central humanness of us all, but I rarely believe that. Rather, they are trying to make themselves look "good" by pretending ... what? That the person is actually white? It always sounds to me like they are saying "I forgive you for being black and I am generous enough to overlook that fact." It is also a huge barrier to being able to really understand each other since denying that someone is black precludes being able to discuss their experiences as a black person.
Spin Doctor, can I second Owl, "I just want to say that I appreciate the tone of your post as much as your responses in the comments." With respect and thanks.
oahusurfer, I'm in the military, all the blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics....we all live the same! Band of Brothers. But people are freaking different, and people use this racism crap to their advantage. How often do you hear about white people complaining about this kind of stuff. Find something else to complain about already. And I lived in Maui growing up, as a white kid, so I KNOW for sure what it's like to be the one that doesn’t fit in. Grew up a howlie over there buddy, but you don’t see me crying about how the Hawaiians and Samoans treated me badly.
Just for the record, i.e., the "permanent" record...

...Dr. Spin, you are accumulating a significant number of Karma points, in whatever form they are likely to appear to you.

Frankly, if it were me, I would have deleted those trollish comments, but I have less patience than you do... or maybe less motivation.

Fwiw, I grew up in a military family, some time after the miliary was integrated. So, race has never been an issue for me. However, gender and class have been known to rear their ugly heads. Repeatedly. And, if I had dared to write a similar post to yours on gender and/or class, and than had to read some of the comments I see here... again, I would have deleted them.

We each have to go our own way to be who we are... I respect the way you are going yours.
Goodness, my brother, what did you start here without letting me know about it first! :-) If I had realized we'd be talking about race and having to deal with explaining white privilege to some of your commentors who just don't get it, I wouldn't have had the Hard Lemonade before heading to the computer.

But since I am an alcohol lightweight, and there are people who have compiled better explanations than I can in my current state, let me link to The Angry Black Woman's Required Reading list for those who might need a more in depth look at these topics.

And this is one of my favorite posts ever on racial dialogue: 16 Maneuvers to Avoid Really Dealing With Racism.
Like dear Fins who doesn't realize that if Jaden Smith was riding around (OK, let's make him 20 in our example) in his expensive car in Palos Verdes Estates and was pulled over by the cops, unless someone knew that he was Will and Jada's kid, he would not be treated the same way as a similar aged white Disney heir. Money is only protective if the people judging you recognize that you have it and the power and assumptions that come with it. Even still...

My mother (may she rest) was walking out of a West LA shopping mall using her cane (she was in her early 60s at the time). She happened to be behind an older white woman. The woman looked behind at my mother, clutched her purse closer to her, and moved more quickly to her car. My mother said nothing.

Turns out they were parked near each other. The woman lurched toward her Honda Civic as if it would save her from my mother's imagined assault. My mother walked past her and unlocked her 500 series Benz, saying nothing to the woman. This mental midget had the nerve to compound the entire situation by yelling to my mother, "I guess you wouldn't need to steal my car if you're driving that one."

Oh yeah, we are so freaking post-racial indeed.

And dear Dana needs a meaningful relationship with a clue. She's freaking brilliant. /sarcasm /screed

I'll go have another Hard Lemonade, damn the headache I'll have tomorrow. Hope I'm not too loose to get the links in properly.
My family has a long military history. I have two children, both of whom did two tours in Iraq. I worked at Pearl Harbor for years on projects I can't tell you about- if your clearance was higher than mine I would be very surprised.

What I can tell you is the Military is and has been brutally racist, misogynist, and most certainly homophobic. Where to start on their abuse of blacks, and asians? Buffalo Soldiers, 442nd, Tuscogee, man I don't know what to say to you folks as your ignorance knows no bounds. Lets agree Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the most influential American Blacks of all time. Read his book, "Yes I Can" (gee, I wonder why that name?, couldn't be about someone tryin to keep him down, could it?) and see what he felt about his military service treatment (being forced to drink urine by white guys on YOUR list?) or ask any black serviceman or woman on Oahu how easy it is for them to rent a place outside Waipahu or Wahiawa? You people live under giant Rocks. Unbelieveable. Van, as my Haole family's been on Maui since the 19th Century, My Hawaiian side in Hana for 1000 Years, well, I have to laugh in your face about any comments on you being howlie- it is quite easy for me to be mean and guess your were a typical word of life Kihei white trash type who could spend his whole life in the Islands and never once get a clue ... why mad, ummm, a little problem with missionaries spouting myths and utter credulous nonsense along with pure racism and manifest destiny racist apologies. thats why, brah.
ktm, watch it talking racism with people of color whose Lands were stolen by white people. if you need more explanation ... well, I wouldnt be at all surprised. Clueless.
Great post, and you have my respect, Spin Doctor, for replying in the even-handed way that you have. I'm not so sure I could do that in your place.

I could easily write one of these for conversing with Natives, but knowing my own temper as well as I do, I won't.

Much love for this post, thanks.
I appreciate this post. Perhaps I am a coward or insensitive, but I got plenty of 'discussions' on race in Teach for America. We had a couple of arrogant group leaders (of different backgrounds--one white woman and one black man were particularly bad), and they seemed to delight in calling everyone out while maintaining their superiority. The discussions often dealt in race and ignored class, which is also a huge issue in this country when you are talking about education rights. Since I went to a university with a public history of civil rights abuses, we had discussions there and hailing from MS, racial issues were never something I could ignore growing up. However, I was quite surprised to find that some graduates of well-respected East Coast universities claimed to have never really thought about white privilege until they were in college.
Anyway, I kept quiet as much as possible in Teach for America and that is generally my strategy. I try to listen and read and broaden my mind on racial issues, but talking about them is a minefield I wish to avoid.
(I probably already said too much. ;) )
I think this much of this goes into learning how to question which stereotypes we hold as self-evident truths. The automatic assumption that a certain race must be a certain way is part of the problem. We must address, in ourselves, these perceptions and face them head-on. This usually means addressing our own bigotries, which is no easy task. I applaud you for having a dialog about this.

Regarding the dear lady who believes she is color blind..... I would love to know what world she lives in. It would be impossible for me to drive through certain towns with a non-white in the car and be color blind. When a manager asks current employees how they would feel if a black person was hired makes it impossible to be color blind. It would be painfully naive of someone to assume racism does not exist simply because they haven't paid attention to it when it happens directly in front of them.

Thank you for this post. Rated, Dugg, etc.
@Dana -- "Last point: If there is anyone I haven't offended yet, please let me know. I don't want anyone to feel left out."

I don't know... I'm feeling a little over-appreciated here. Maybe you could spend some more time on me...? :)

Actually I agree with Dana, and a large part of what a number of the other posters have said. Its long past time for America to get past its "black and white" thing and just be "us"-- or "U.S."-- either way, your choice. Black and white, pink and purple. We all have much more in common than we have apart. And there are those who would prey on our fears and prejudices for their own suspect purposes. Not everyone who claims to represent you, does. Not everyone who seems to be against you, is. And as Dana and others said, there are people who have much invested in "race relations" staying exactly where they are.
So when I say Obama is well-spoken (and a notable change from those noted manglers of the English language, Bush 1 and 2) I'm being racist? I'm not commenting on his exceptional skills as an orator?

I often ask people who I suspect might have a different opinion from me for their opinion on a subject. I like to know why people think as they do. I think we'd achieve more understanding if we opened more dialogues than if we shy away from hot topics to be politically correct.

Telling anyone that what they experienced didn't happen is obnoxious and a recipe for confrontation. Why do you assume white people will lose their common sense when faced with someone of a different color?

I have said, 'my grandparents came to this country with nothing,' but only when people were making assumptions based on a stereotype of people like me.

The problem with all of these sorts of things is that you're assuming I'm at best an insensitive jerk and at worst a racist. It's irritating.
SpinDoc: Thank you for this thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post, which has produced quite a bit of interesting comment, which has covered so many facets of the issue. And, joining someone (I can't remember who, and I don't wish to review all the comments!), I want to commend you on your tone and approach in the original posting and your responses to comments. Very thoughtful and considerate, which is remarkable considering. (I hope that doesn't sound like your faux pas #s 1 and 2.)

The only thing I would add is this thought re: your #5 ("What is your opinion..."): Perhaps the rule of thumb might be, if you wouldn't ask a white/Asian/Latino/Islander/Native American what his/her opinion is on something, perhaps you shouldn't ask an African American either. And if you would, well, then, maybe it's OK. Just a thought.
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Rated. Great post Spin Doctor.

I am impressed by your respectful and thoughtful responses to comments, even those comments that strike me as woefully uninformed and rude.

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. I'd just finished high school when the historic annoucement came of the unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements and the beginning of the dismantling of the Apartheid system.

Fifteen years on, we're still embroiled in racial tensions, discussions, misunderstandings, arguments, you name it. Fifty years on we'll probably still be at it. For longer than that too. And not because everyone is stubbornly sticking to their guns (sometimes literally, lol) but because it takes time to change. You can change laws but you can't change people. Each person has to make that decision for him and herself. Thoughtful, informative discussions such as the one you initiated contribute to making those positive changes.

In my opinion (and experience) calls to stop discussing race and racism are short-sighted, counter-productive and ultimately, futile. Institutionalised racism has repercussions that reverberate for generations, in innumerable ways. It's a cop-out to say that if you weren't a slave or a slave owner you walk away unaffected and uninvolved.

We have to keep talking, and listening, to each other. Discounting and/or dismissing someone else's experiences simply because you didn't personally experience it is short-sighted and shockingly lacking in empathy.

Articles like the one written by Spin Doctor, and the reasoned (and reasonable) responses that stemmed from it are all small pieces in the overall solution. We're not all going to get along by magic. We have to work at it. We have to examine ourselves and those around us.
"Faith – I took your comments on one of Ron’s previous posts as a call to arms. In the absence of meaningful discussion it will be difficult for us to move forward on this issue"

Spin Doctor -- Just checking. When you say "call to arms," I'm really hoping you don't mean I offended you. Not to be too literal about the "arms" part - but if I offended, please let me know. This post of yours is a positive step forward in not missing connections -- I hope I didn't miss one myself.

This has been an eye-opening discussion.
Interesting discussion here, and I also appreciate your ability to remain calm, fair and level-headed in your responses to the comments.

And I really like that in your first comment you extended the discussion of unconscious prejudice to gender as well. In addition to your observation that relationships with women do not make it impossible for you to act in a sexist manner or make an insensitive comment about the female gender, I would also like to add that actually being a woman does not make these things impossible either. We all internalize the hatreds and stereotypes of our culture, and it would be more helpful to honestly admit this and confront it rather than deny it and say we should all just "get over it". It's not about holding a grudge for past wrongs, it's about acknowledging the genuine and complicated truths of our lives right now and dealing with that like adults.

It is really deeply disturbing when people act as if there is no racism and no sexism, and that if you think you have ever experienced personal harm because of these things then it's just because you're "oversensitive", and not because it is actually real and actually occurred.
Kimryunson –

That’s the spirit! Recognizing that these slights, for the most part, are not intentional is a healthy approach to dealing with differences.


You make an excellent point. Sometimes, being overly sensitive can unintentionally cause embarrassment. IMHO, sincerity, with a healthy helping of tact is the way to go.

Based upon Aaron R’s challenge, I plan to create a follow up post with some positive suggestions for building relationships.


I appreciate the feedback. I have read some of your contributions and the input you’ve given to others. I have much respect for your outlook on things. Your Avatar suits you.

Kind of Blue –

You musician types tend to be cut from a different cloth (yes, I’m stereotyping ;-). Throughout the 1960’s (and even before then) musicians built relationships that transcended the turbulence of the times, where the only membership card required was talent. I appreciate your insight and your continued friendship.

Susan M.

Your observations are right on point. While the intention, quite often, is to be complementary, the effect can be deflating.

Shivaun –

I appreciate the vote of confidence


I appreciate your supportive words. We all achieve our goals in different ways. My personal preference is to use soft words and hard arguments. As a writer, I’m sure you can relate to the theory that the pen is mightier than the sword.

My only motivation here is that we find a way to heal the wounds that divide us. Whether it is gender, class, religion, race or sexual orientation, this ongoing polarization of society gets us nowhere. If we’ve reached a better understanding with one person through this comment thread, it’s been a worthwhile endeavor, because each one will teach one.

Teen Doc –

I’m so glad you came to the party. Thank you for providing the links. I have checked out some of the material. In time, I will review it all.

I will make no attempt to take your emotion from you. A lifetime of personal experience and achievement has earned you the right to remove the filters from your discourse. For some, this dialogue is all about, getting real with how we feel. The most important thing is that we’ve all come to the table.

Phaedo –

Your analogy drives the point home. Questions/comments that are perceived as rude or hurtful are often well intentioned attempts at social discourse. Countless times, I’ve witnessed one party walk away in a huff with smoke coming out their ears while others are standing around, totally perplexed (“WTF?”). Problems arise when we try to assign blame for these communication breakdowns. The real trick, as you’ve identified, is not to let the same dog bite us twice.

Our children are a much more tolerant generation. We still have a good bit of road to travel (as evidenced by this comment thread) but we are in a much better place.

Charity –

You’re most welcome

Delia –

I appreciate your comments

I have been through “baptism by fire” type exercises in the past. I totally understand how such an experience can leave an unpleasant aftertaste.

Unlike Eric Holder, I do not wish to castigate or shame anyone for their reluctance to actively engage in this type of dialogue. Many who read this post and the accompanying thread left no comment at all. My only hope is that everyone who came took something away.

Renaissance Lady –

You are correct, we must first look inward (can you hear the music….”Man in the Mirror”)

As for those who are color blind…Many of us insulate ourselves from ugly truths that exist in our world. Some people refuse to hear about war or human rights abuses and their devastating impact upon millions of human beings around the globe. Others turn a blind eye toward environmental destruction. I would not begin to compare the plight of minorities in our country to these much larger and egregious issues. However, the principle is the same. If thinking about these things creates discomfort, one solution is to not entertain the thought.

Mr. E

Thanks for stopping by

You said, “We all have much more in common than we have apart.”

Amen to that my brother.

The trouble is, minorities sometimes get ambushed, or at least perceive they are being ambushed, when all they are trying to do is fit in. Take a look back at the ten points listed in my post. My experience has been that these scenarios tend to lead to the type of disharmony you are trying to avoid. Given the myriad of interesting and inclusive topics one could potentially discuss at a social gathering, why not steer clear of these; especially if someone has informed you that they have a tendency to ruffle feathers?

Malusinka –

If you are taking this personally, I have done a poor job of laying out my thoughts. Commenting that Barack Obama is a gifted orator does not make one a racist. Taken out of context, one might assume (erroneously so) that you have a prejudice. Adding that Obama he is well spoken in comparison to “W” and his daddy offers a lot more perspective into your point of view.

In the absence of information, human beings will often make up their own version of the truth. This is the essence of an assumption. If you take an individual who has experienced a lifetime of slights, insults and dehumanizing comments and place them in an environment of people different from themselves, with whom they have a non-existent or superficial relationship, can you see how a general comment can easily be taken out of context and perceived to be something insensitive or ugly?

Please do not misunderstand. This is not about finding fault or placing blame. What I am trying to illustrate here is transactional analysis, or cause and effect.

You say you ask questions to open a dialogue and gather information. Your personal relationship with the individual and the environment (present company) in which the question is asked are huge factors in determining how your question will be perceived and responded to. If you bring up one of the scenarios outlined in my post to someone you do not have a personal relationship with, or in front of a group of people they do not know very well, it increases the likelihood you will get a guarded response, if you get any response at all. Can you see how this might happen, yet be no one’s fault at all?

I have called no one any names and do not mean to be an irritant. The goal of our discourse is to gain understanding. I think I understand where you are coming from. Hopefully, I have made myself a bit clearer.

At Home Pilgrim –

Thanks for your kind words.

I follow your line of reasoning, but not certain it would hold up in all cases. I’ll need to give it some more thought.

IsharCT –

Thanks for your sage advice and for sharing your unique “real life” perspective.

Faith –

In regard to my “call to arms” comment, I was not insinuating that I was offended. Rather, I felt that as someone with a bit of background and training in this area, and a member of the OS family, it was incumbent upon me to be more participative in your efforts to bring people to the table. You got the ball rolling. For this, I am indebted.

Lorelei –

You’ve managed to succinctly capture the essence of what this post is all about. We have much work to do in order to improve relationships on all levels between many diverse groups. I am encouraged by the openness and personal sharing exhibited on this comment thread.
I think this is probably the best thing I've read about race in a long time BUT I have to agree with Maluisinka here. Although I am not a particular fan of Obama (meet the new boss, same as the old boss), I remarked to my husband more than a year ago that he was heads and shoulder more intelligent, more educated and a better speaker than GB aka Shrub. The issue of Obama's skin colour never once entered my head. But by your narrow definition, my comment makes me a racist, even though a large percentage of the human race is probably more intelligent, more educated and a better speaker than Shrub.

It is these kinds of judgments that are harmful in my opinion -- assuming that people are thinking something that they may not in thinking. I had my own run in with race here at OS in which I was accused of all sorts of things that hadn't even occurred to me when I used a song title.

My philosophy on these matters has always been: I live my life from an ethical "do unto others" place and if other people choose to ascribe ulterior/racist motives to me, that is their issue, not mine.
should read "be thinking"
Emma –

I appreciate your stopping by. I saw your post that went viral, and commented on it as well. I understood your point, but also recognized how it would be perceived. I am glad you decided to wade back into the water on this topic.

I addressed Maluisinka’s point in my previous comment. People make assumptions based upon previous experiences. Sometimes, adding a bit more information helps to paint a statement in an entirely different light. Yes, this might require a bit of additional forethought, but think of the rewards you will reap as you build bridges and cultivate relationships.

In Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, he devotes an entire chapter to controlling one’s “circle of influence”. He states that the only thing you can truly control is yourself. In essence, how you approach people greatly influences how they will react to you. This is especially true when you are dealing with a stranger, or someone you do not know very well. If your desire is to be a change agent, the best place to start is with your self.
Spin Doctor,

Although I didn't like the 7 Habits book that much, I did like a lot the concept of one's "circle of influence". So many people waste so much time bitching about things that are WAY outside their circle of influence.

And in a sense, this idea informs my earlier comments in this thread. The past is the past and it can't be changed. There is NOTHING more outside our circle of influence, than the past. In fact, the past is completely outside of the entire human race's circle of influence.

And so while from an academic standpoint, it's interesting to reiterate and study our history and how we came to the point that we are at today with regard to race relations, the solutions don't lie in rehashing the past but with addressing problems as they exist now, so that we can make a better future.
fins -

Agreed, we can't change the past, we can only learn from it.

Let me tell you something about white people. And I don't mean this unkindly. You opened up the dialog, I would like to participate.

I accept everything you said is true, on the surface, from your own point of view. Further I accept the things the other commenters have said are true, on the surface, from their own points of view.

If there is a big club to fuck you over, I don't belong to it and nobody has sent me a membership application. I get really tired of hearing "you're not black so you can't understand." Its true I'm not black, but I'm also not stupid. I *can* understand. And what I *do* understand may not be the same thing you want me to get.

I believe that black people, perhaps even yourself, have been discriminated against. Both historically and perhaps its even ongoing today. *I'm* not the one doing it to you. If you have a problem with some people doing it, fine- find those people, charge them with whatever you can charge them with, and make 'em change their ways.

When it comes to perceived racism-- truthfully, I feel like I hear it hugely more coming from black people than I do white people. But maybe that's a media thing. Or a black pride thing. Or one of those "black things, I just don't understand" things. But I can also accept that is probably not representative of all black people. And further I can accept that its probably an exaggerated view exploited by the media and certain people / organizations in whose interest it is to stir that shit up.

I know lots of black people-- want me to come up with a number? Fuck that. What damn difference does it make if I know one or one hundred? It could just be that white people can count the number of black friends they have because they don't encounter black people all that often.

It really bothers me that it always comes back to victimhood-- and in this I don't just mean black people, but I think black people-- some black people-- suffer from it, profit from it perhaps, identify with it, are invested in it somehow for some reason and won't just let it go.

Do *I* need to apologize to any people for slavery. Absolutely not. I have never enslaved anybody in my entire life. I am not responsible for anybody else in that regard, living or dead.

If you present yourself to me, in a presentable manner-- I could care less if you're lime green with pink polkadots. And I assume you probably have the opinion and expectation of me.

Do we share cultures? Probably not. That is a problem. Why is it a problem? Because shared culture is what generally permits people to get past their fears and stereotypes and gives them the hooks they need to start bonding one-on-one. It gives them a shared identity and background, sort of like a badge, that says "I'm one of you, and you're one of me".

That's a problem for all the cultures in this country. Some I think are naturally more compatible. Some I think are naturally more "alignable" (if that's a word) meaning they see themselves as having a common "enemy" (for lack of a better word) and can come together along those lines.

The rest I think are simply different from each other. That is one of the VERY BAD things about separation, segregation-- whatever it is-- that's kept the cultures apart. I see black people as someone with a culture I don't understand or fit into. And I think black people see white people the same way. Perhaps its more in one direction than the other, but that's splitting hairs.

I don't understand a culture that's nigger nigger this, nigger nigger that-- my nigger, your nigger-- somebody's nigger-- but let ME use that word and its "Oh no, don't you dare go there!"

Who's racism is that?

Not mine.

Admittedly its bad form to call someone a racial or ethnic slur and expect them to like it, or just pass it off. But when that self-same someone uses it in casual conversation but it can't be used by CERTAIN other people based on the color of THEIR skin-- that's not MY racism at work.

Someone, maybe you, maybe someone else-- someone please enumerate the black neighborhoods that I'd be advised not to go. I know of some near me but I'm sure there are others. Every major city and a lot of small towns-- I know because I grew up in one-- has neighborhoods where its best not to be white, especially not white and jewish, and especially not after dark.

Who's racism is that?

Your whole list is as racist as anything you claim anybody else to be.

Here's a partial list of the things you shouldn't say as a black person to a white person because you'll be perceived as a racist and a victim. I suspect I'm likely to be pissing someone off in just a second.

1. I'm african-american.

Yup, I'm afraid that's entry number one. It's fine to celebrate your heritage and its good to have a historical and cultural identity. Its fine to march down fifth avenue waving flags and banners and celebrating your cultural heritage. Or not, your choice.

But the REST of us-- all of us-- are AMERICANS. We identify as Americans. Our heritages are wonderful, but we don't wear them on our sleeve or get bent out of shape if someone doesn't recognize them. (Or at least I hope we don't). And I understand there are fringe groups out there that have alternate agendas. I don't ascribe to them.

2. I'm a victim (insert your discrimination story here)

This one I have to be very careful in explaining. Its not that you can't be, aren't, or shouldn't be a victim-- but that shouldn't be (or I hope it isn't) part of your cultural heritage. If you are discriminated against, for real-- that's a bad thing, it should be addressed directly and not (a) adopted as your "black heritage" or (b) used to tar every member of another culture with (presumably white people).

You might not realize this but things happen to me too. I just don't choose to see them as racially motivated. Perhaps they are and I'm just an idiot. But I don't think so. Sometimes things just happen for other reasons. Or-- and I'm using this as an over-the-top example-- you come in as a bad-ass gangta rap mutha-fucka with your bling and your ho's-- that's how people will-- mistakenly I'm certain-- perceive you.

Personally I see that happen a lot. I'm really serious about that, I do. I'm in a position where I see a lot of black applicants (for good well-paying jobs) come in and act like gangsta rap mutha fuckas. And they get summarily dismissed. And not by WHITE people let me tell you-- by BLACK people. I just happen to be in a position to witness it--frequently.

But I also agree that the gangsta rap thing is most likely a media thing that both black and white (and other) cultures fall into, fall victim of-- while some organizations and people get rich as a result.

There are some mighty powerful interests that work to keep things stirred-up.

3. Stop calling me honky, cracker, or whatever other epithet you have for white people. That's just as bad and just as racist. Sure you can say those words to me individually, I don't care. But if you do I'll assume you're either telling me a joke, a story about someone else, or you're purposely intending to insult me.

How is that different than calling someone a nigger?

I can't think of any white people I've ever met that go around slapping each other on the back and calling them honky, cracker or jive-ass mutha fucka.

We don't wear those words as identities.

4. Start talking English.

It isn't that hard to learn. But I have that same complaint directed in 360 degrees, wherever its applicable.

The reason white people comment on black people's ability to articulate is because they're usually surprised by it. They're used to hearing some jive mutha fucka nigga nigga phat thing and are astonished to discover that some black people actually know how to speak in an erudite manner.

Yes, that's probably bad to say out loud. And I'm certain that's a media thing. Because I have met many black people who are perfectly articulate and speak well for themselves. And I admit that at first I was surprised by it. Because I myself had not encountered many black people who were well-spoken.

Does that make me a racist? Or just someone who doesn't get out much? Or maybe there's something to the stereotype?

Since I have come to understand that there is a big continuum of black people, some who speak poorly, some who speak very eloquently, and most are in the middle someplace. Also the lack of shared heritage comes into play a little.

So I can understand both sides on that one-- why some black people might feel offended that white people might consider them to be inarticulate unless proven otherwise. But also that white people are exposed to what they are exposed to. You don't consider something common until that's what your experience is.

5. Don't tell white people they're racists.

We're no more racists than you are. And how come you don't call asian people racist? Or spanish people racist? Or american indians? Or anybody else? Are white people the only people that you call racists? Are white people the only people that can BE racist? (in your opinion?)

It always comes down to white and black doesn't it.

That seems telling.

Even in my rebuttal to your post, I'm doing it a lot myself. I'm completely leaving out the other races and concentrating almost completely on black and white. So I'm guilty of it-- white people can be guilty of it.

But I constantly hear black people charging racism over and over at the merest slight. Even when none was intended. Or someone says something unwittingly without thought to what racial overtone it might have-- and is instantly pounced upon and his/her words parsed as "racist" and no explanation offered is acceptable.

Who's the racist?

It never seems to be the black person, does it?

That's all I'm going to do-- I recognize your list and if I sat and thought about it I'm sure I could come up with a whole list of stuff to toss back.

You are ABSOLUTELY 100% CORRECT that race relations need to be addressed, talked about, discussed, and DEFUSED.

I should be able to call you a NIGGA just as easily as you can call me a HONKY-- or whatever the word for it is nowdays.

When those words CEASE TO HAVE POWER we will be at a new and better place.

Discrimination will probably always exist because there are small and narrow-minded people everywhere. Of all colors. All genders. All creeds. And all nationalities. Bigotry is equal-opportunity as far as I can tell.

As for myself, I am really tired of racism. Or being accused of being a racist simply because I'm white. Or being tarred with the oppressor / discriminator / whatever-ator brush simply because I'm white.

That's just as racist as anything else.

If you want to talk to me-- talk to ME. I'll listen. But not because I'm white or black, just because I'm a human being. And when I reply, it will be to YOU-- not because you're white or black, just because you're a human being.

If people tell you they're color-blind. Maybe they are-- or want to be-- or are trying to be. Attitudes and opinions don't change overnight and probably everybody has some dirty laundry.

So instead of your list or mine-- how about we all do this-- try to hear and listen and understand each other, as people, and try to find a way to reach out and find those commonalities-- the things that draw us together-- and let the new millenium mark a new society and a new approach and leave the old ugliness behind?

How about that?
light fuse. stand back.

Brother, You, and every atom of your existence, are the problem.

Your list is juvenile, fantasy and ill-informed. It is classic big words from a little man hiding behind his keyboard.

You're so far gone there's no point- but, know full well you are weak-minded, wouldn't last a day in the shoes of an underprivilidged AFRICAN AMERICAN, and, again, your cowardly words are hollow as you couldn't say any of them, especially your cowardly typing of the n-word over and over in a lame attempt to say something you don't even comprehend, to the face of black folks. It is painfully obvious your not capable of rational thought, just hate. 400 years of chains, KKK lynching, US State Governments killing blacks in our lifetimes, segregated communities- the result of segregated lives, Dude you are clueless.

Thank you for your classic feedback. That was quite informative. I'll bear that in mind.
I came back to see how things were going with your dialogue here, but in reading Mr E's execrable comment below, I'm just going to head on back to my day job before my head explodes any more than it already has.

It is interesting to see how little understanding there is in our "post-racial" America. The advice of conform, get over yourselves and shut the fuck up is indeed so clearly respectful of people's experiences, struggles and societal issues. And you see why I find these Boundary Crossers to be unable to see past the tips of their noses?

I'm going to buy the kidlet a doll...a black doll. :-)

Take care!

Again, you are coward. You could not say a word of that in mixed company. And I got news for you, good Polynesians and Caucasions wouldn't put up with it either.

A last attempt: Reagan, in his incredible ignorance, started a drug war due to Latin American paranoia, which resulted in African Americans being thrown into a cycle of imprisonment, parole, back to jail. Have you ever been in jail E? I have. Again, most likely a place a guy like you wouldn't last ... although your types would most likely be the first to get some Aryan protection.

You obviously have no idea what Black schools are like, no idea what police persecution is like, no idea how hard it is to start over once you have a record, NO IDEAS, that's You, E.

Interestingly, a couple years ago a young white male, who was not a bigoted, close-minded oaf, wrote a book about his travels to the ghettos of AmeriKKKa. He was, without exception, warmly greeted. Plenty of good people waiting to educate you E, but you'd have to get out of your comfort zone, and I don't see you having the stones for that.

For those who are joining the game's a summary...

It seems to me that at the crux of the difference in viewpoints here is that there are three issues here being mixed together, that might best be discussed seperately.

The first is the historical treatment of blacks in this country: slavery, etc.

The second is the lingering, systemic racism that persists in our society and its institutions, despite blacks "legally" having the same rights as whites.

The third is each individual's attitudes toward people of other races.

Additionally, there is the issue of personal v. collective responsibility. If everyone "personally" isn't a racist, then should they bear some of the collective blame for the racism that exists today in our society.

And of course there are the different perspectives on these issues of blacks and whites.

And lastly, we're left with the eternal question, "How then, shall we live". That is, what responsibility does each of us have and what can each of us "do" as a person to make things better in society.

And might I add the personal note that tolerance requires respectfully considering the perspectives and viewpoints of others, even when they are different than our own.

With that in mind it would be an interesting experiment to see if we here at Open Salon can discuss this matter without resorting to insults, because it seems that if we can't do that here then what hope is there for these issues to be dealt with productively by society at large?

On the contrary, I have and I do. You would be very surprised to discover exactly where it is I do work.

Are you suggesting that only white people can be racist?

Does your reading comprehension suffer so badly that you were not able to understand my post?
@fins2theleft -- "And might I add the personal note that tolerance requires respectfully considering the perspectives and viewpoints of others, even when they are different than our own."

I agree.

@Teendoc -- "but in reading Mr E's execrable comment below"

What exactly is it you don't like about my comment? I would like to know.

SpinDoctor put up this post to have a dialogue about race. I responded and rather than actually dealing with what I wrote-- my opinion. You're running off and the other guy is doing his best to prove my point.

The only person so far that has actually engaged has been Fins2theleft.
Is there even such a thing as a garden-variety "black person".

The rules at the top of this thread suggest that we avoid stereotypes when addressing a black person - they don't all play basketball, they don't all speak like gang-bangers from a cop show, etc.

And yet, Surfer, several times has invoked the stereotype of the thug by insinuating that if E or myself ventured into Oakland, where his family owns property, that we wouldn't last a minute there - presumably implying that the bad ass black folks there would do us bodily harm. Isn't that perpetuating a stereotype?

Personally, I've never met a black person who seemed violent or like a gang member, criminal or drug dealer. The ones I went to high school with (and was on the track and basketball teams with) just seemed like high schoolers and jocks. The one's I went to college with just seemed like students. The one's I've worked with just seemed like ordinary folks bringing a paycheck home to feed their families.

I imagine that if I were to go into a poor, urban, black neighborhood I might encounter some that fit the stereotype more. But that only shows that it's not the color of a person's skin, but the environment that they're in that shapes them.

So it sounds like Surfer has spent time in rough neighborhoods and in jail, and has thus been exposed to the types of blacks who live in rough neighborhoods and/or are in jail - which puts his comments into better perspective. But perhaps he hasn't rubbed shoulders as much with the blacks who are in college or business environments, which would explain why his veiled threats had to do with blacks committing violence against others rather than blacks who would prove to be smarter, more intellectual or more successful in business.

So that's another facet to this discussion: exactly what kind of black people has one been exposed to while forming their opinions on race relations.

I was regularly harassed and beaten up by a gang of black kids when I was in elementary school. Why? Because I was a white kid and I lived in a house on a hill and they lived in the projects. A lot of what they said to me I didn't even understand. I know full well there are places I can't go while white. I am well aware of the ability of black people to be bigoted and cruel.

And you can take it as you will-- I'm sure at least one person here will have a field day with that information. Those events however have led me to think a great deal over the years about racism, fairness and equality.

And moreover to realize that it was not "black people" that beat me up, but a specific group of boys who happened to be black. Whatever their issues were, those were their issues and not mine. My only "crime" was walking down the same street they did on my way home from school. And I wasn't strong enough to stand up for myself then.

Despite what OahuSurfer seems to be intimating, anybody who actually *read* my comments for what they really were would probably understand that I am tired of being called a racist simply because I'm white. I'm tired of being told I'm responsible for stuff that happened before I was even born. I didn't do it. My family didn't do it. Their family didn't do it. I'm tired that bad stuff happens-- to anybody. Its wrong and it needs to be addressed. But taking it out on me is just as bad as me taking it out on you-- whoever you are. If I'm not the one who did whatever it is to you then you have no beef with me. To say you do-- is racism.

I wasn't here 400 years ago. And I'd be willing to wager quite a bit of money that none of you were either. I don't owe you shit except simple respect for being a human being. And I expect nothing from you except the same.

If I have a house to rent and you meet the qualifications, you can rent it. If I have a car to sell and you can qualify to buy it, you can buy it. If you want to buy the house beside mine and can qualify to purchase it, be my guest. If you're a nice person and I like you, we can even be friends. I expect exactly the same treatment from you.
@Fins2theleft -- "Is there even such a thing as a garden-variety "black person"."

Your point is well taken. And on that issue I apologize if I offended anybody with that characterization. Please help me discover a better way to phrase / categorize / address those I'm trying to specify. I understand all black people are not alike-- I think I made myself clear in my earlier comments, but if not, I freely acknowledge that now. Just as all white people are not alike-- and not responsible for any alleged discrimination that "all black people" may have faced.

How do we address those others that represent our mind's eye view-- the stereotype versus the real set of people who are comprised with a continuum of personality, beliefs, opinions, abilities, skills, educational levels, mannerisms, speaking-ability, etc.

That seems to me to be one of the primary items to resolve. How do we speak about racism (and other 'ism's) without speaking in the language of the stereotype?

You and E are Ivory Tower Entitlement filled credulous human beings. I've hung out with Richard Parsons, once lived in Fox Hills- what type of Blacks do you expect I met there?

See, the difference between you, me and E is that you two like the sound of your own voices regurgitating an insulated life, you'll never know a damn thing till you get out there.

E, I don't believe you. No one who had any true, unbiased interaction with African Americans would throw the N-word around the way you do. I don't believe you say it in front of them, whether you're at work or not. And, its true, you wouldn't last a day in the hood as they don't suffer fools gladly.

So, fins, here's my "black experience": lived in the South Side of Chicago, Woodlawn which was Ranger turf, while my Dad got his MBA. Interesting, here I was with my Father's intellectual black classmates, all of whom went on to great achievements in academia and business, and the street urchins who beat me daily and, not able to see my Polynesian side, sang, "White Paddy White Paddy you don't shine, call me the N-word and I'll kick your behind." I wonder, Fins, why this was so important to them?

My parents divorced and along with Hawaii I lived in Ocean Park/Venice (Shorline Crips turf), in Potrero Hill in SF- OJ's home turf, Morningside Heights in Harlem, South Boston where all of a sudden I wasn't white anymore but a mixed-up freak according to people who remind me of you, and Miami where they all mix up, just only at night.

I spend years in the Caribbean surfing and diving, often the only non-black on small islands in those days.

One of my grandfathers (the white one) started a major training program for blacks on wall street, again, way back in the day when it wasn't pc to do this, but, gramps knew the legacy of hate and did his part to break the cycle.

Oh, and my family lived in Africa for a short while. And, not in a white insular neighborhood, but with everyone else.

Oh, and, Hawaiians have a slight bone to pick with white, little matter of stolen land, banished language and religion, massive murder- all justified by "White Man's Burden", whose burden?

Your words come straight from Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and the KKK ... you're just to ignorant, and credulous, to know it.

Finally, and I can pass for white when I want, I have, on balance, had a lot more fun in mixed company over the last 50 years than I have in lilly white circles who I fit right into on the surface. Variety is the spice of life Fins and E!
@OahuSurfer -- "E, I don't believe you. No one who had any true, unbiased interaction with African Americans would throw the N-word around the way you do. I don't believe you say it in front of them, whether you're at work or not. And, its true, you wouldn't last a day in the hood as they don't suffer fools gladly."

That's your issue. Also you may be assuming that I would purposely insult someone with a racial epithet. That may be the source of your misunderstanding. I do have very interesting conversations with all kinds of people. And I don't hold back there just as I haven't here. And I don't expect them to hold back either. What is the point of a conversation about race if we can't talk about race and its issues?

And further, as I also indicated in my comments-- what is the power of a word? How can it hurt you, unless you let it. And yet, I know full well that when its aimed at you in sincerity-- it can. That's another indicator of the state of race relations in this country. As long as those words continue to have power-- in YOUR mind-- you will be in their power and subject to the implications you perceive them to carry.

It is certainly true that the usage of epithets goes both ways. Someone has to call you a thing and mean something by it. That has to happen first. Then you have to come to understand what they mean by it. That has to happen second. Then you have to understand that they mean you offense and insult. That has to happen fourth. And finally you have to agree-- implicitly-- that you will allow those words to represent you and identify you. You must tacitly agree to be complicit in their usage.

It doesn't matter who I'm talking to or what the epithets are. They could be racial, gender-based, religious, cultural, based on national origin, or ability / disability. Epithets are a form of cruelty it is true, but they must exist and be understood and accepted in the mind of the receiver before they have power.

Let me give you an example. Awhile back some politician called somebody a "Macaca". I'd never heard the word before ever in my life. If somebody had said that around me, or about me, I wouldn't have known what it meant and therefore could not possibly have been offended by it. It wasn't until I understood its definition that it had power. It was until I, the hearer-- the receiver-- of the word understood its meaning and tacitly agreed to its meaning, that it did in fact have meaning.
@OahuSurfer -- "Oh, and, Hawaiians have a slight bone to pick with white, little matter of stolen land, banished language and religion, massive murder- all justified by "White Man's Burden", whose burden?"

And how is that any less racist than anything else you perceived in the other direction? Aren't you doing the same in tarring all "white people" with the racist / oppressor brush.

I didn't take your land-- was it even YOUR land that was taken? I'll take your assertion at face value that it was, or that you think it was. Maybe it even was. How do I know. But do YOU know? Or are you just joining in the anti-white-people chorus because it somehow makes you feel better about yourself to have someone else-- some other group-- to hate?
Mr. E

I have no intentions of abandoning this post. I've just been a bit busy making sure the bills get paid. You've said a mouthful Mr. E. I will craft a reply later this afternoon.

I will reply to everyone else who has weighed in as well.

Be back soon!

Thanks for truly and honestly describing yourself. In contrast, on hearing the Macaca epithet I immediately recognized the word, was immediately disgusted, and immediately considered the source.

Arisotle said those who stay in isolated societies will alwasy be inferior. I will go with the Father of Science on this one.
Mr E: You asked me to come back and respond to what I found execrable about your comment. Essentially it was your reliance on stereotype in describing blacks. I found it to be disgusting and demeaning to my people in the African American diaspora.

When people ascribe stereotypes to groups, it can be extremely difficult to overcome them. This can be the good stereotype of the "smart" Asian or the bad stereotype of the welfare queen black woman. Stereotypes are like the coats that never seem to come off, that is, until people "get to know you as a person" and then you are told, "I don't think of you as a black person. I just see you as a person." This roughly translates to, I've looked beyond the stereotypes and see you for who you really are.

Yet the problem is that being a black person is not equal and equivalent to being a stereotype of a black person. So it is really not accurate to say, "I don't see you as a black person," because you still see that the person is black. What you may have gotten past are stereotypical assumptions about what black is based on the media or whatever your narrow exposure has been.

Yet I wear this coat and have to deal with this coat all the time. Let's take the implication that to "be black" is to speak nonstandard English. Well I must have missed the memo about this because I certainly can conjugate my verbs in English, French and Spanish, and I am a beautiful black woman. So clearly there is no requirement that one must speak nonstandard English in order to be black. Obviously we must be in the realm of stereotype...again.

How does it feel to be judged all the time against negative stereotypes? Tiring. Really fucking tiring. If one more person looks at me in surprise and says, "You're really articulate!" I swear I will tear his/her head off. Many of us are articulate. Rappers don't want to be articulate, whether they are black, white, Asian, Puerto Rican, or Ukrainian. To rap is to be loose with words, diction, and grammar in most cases. Let's stop holding rappers up as if they represent Black America.

And please, please, please stop the whinging about being called racist. I've not called you "racist" nor has Spin Doctor. And someone making any of these gaffes listed above would not automatically qualify for membership in a white supremacist organization. Racism equals prejudice plus power, and as such we live in a racist society and all of us benefit in some ways from this structure. No one is immune. It does us absolutely no good to walk around pointing fingers or measuring who is more racist than the next person, because we all can and are racist, classist and sexist to some degree. The key is in recognizing it and working against it. That is the anti-racist future I am working toward for my kid.

I don't want a colorblind society. I love being part of the African diaspora in America even though the marginalization has been painful often. I want you to SEE my color because my color isn't the problem...the problem is the stereotype that you ascribe to me BECAUSE of my color and the assumptions that follow.

I hope I've articulated my position clearly.

Now back to the job that puts a roof over our heads.

I can see that you've had exposure to blacks in a lot of rough neighborhoods, and having been taunted by them as a kid and beaten by them on a daily basis, I can see that you would have a different opinion of blacks than I do.

However, none of that quite explains why you seem so angry with other posters here. If you look back through my posts you won't find one example of me calling you a name and purposely insulting you.

So why is it that you feel the need to insult and hurl names at those who have a different background and different opinion than yourself?

Why is your opinion so much more valid than mine or E's?

Why does having an opinion that differs from yours make me a "coward"?

What makes me "Ivory Tower"? I'm just a middle-class guy, working a job, trying to provide for his family. I don't have a lot of money, a lot of possessions, a fancy car or an Ivy League education.

It sounds like you have a big chip on your shoulder against - well, ...not quite sure who it's against. but you sure come across as angry and incapable of civil discourse.

Rather than just citing why it is that you have black street cred, why not give us your thoughts - without insults and anger - on how blacks and whites can talk to each other without offending the other person?

I've got to go off line here for a few hours, but I'll be interested to hear your civil response - if you can muster one.

You are passive aggressive. You use the N-word repititiously to get attention, then don't like reality hitting you over the head. You hide behind software, so you are a coward.

What you don't like about blacks is their response to institutional racism, which you ascribe to them, not the institution.

I called you out because you're a punk. You use a word, which has also been directed at Hawaiians with hate over time, guilt by equatorial skin color, that you can't use in real life. PUNK.

You want to be taken seriously, don't start your thread with epithets, particularly the worst one.

Fins, if you really want to learn there are some very well-behaved threads on race on OS, I comment on them, sans insults, as no one there opens their screed with the N-Word.

And, if you read these threads you may someday figure out the following:

African Americans were forced here as slaves and given the worst treatment in history. When I was young there were still former slaves alive, we heard from them. Maybe thats what your missing? An actual voice you can believe? Slavery ended not yet 150 years ago. It was followed by Jim Crow and abuse nearly as bad.

Now, lets get recent, it may help you as history seems hard to digest in terms of how it effects today- though it does on every level.

The Black Panthers were/are much maligned. What is their Genesis? The all-white police force of Oakland, CA had made it their habit to beat, harass, arrest and imprison blacks in Oakland at their whim. The Panthers finally stood up? do you get this?

Serious social scientists write equations that predict all this with brutal accuracy. The anxiety of a poor and violent existence, which "reached out" to your childhood, is a mathematical predictor. Through in hunger and, from the outset, our beautiful black children have 2 strikes before they even get to school.

Oh, sure, poverty isn't color blind. But, only one race was enslaved and Jim Crow'd, and continues to be held down.

Fins, ever been on parole? Ever been FALSLEY ACCUSED AND ARRESTED? Ever had some motherfucker holding power over you to go back to gladiator school when you were innocent of the crime in the first place? No? Well, join a lot of blacks and hawaiians who say, "yeah, we sure do know about that shit."

Driving While Black--- there's no driving while white, or driving while asian, just Black, or, occasionally, brown ...

dude, what does all this tell you?

Thank you very much for your reply (and your pm).

"And please, please, please stop the whinging about being called racist. I've not called you "racist" nor has Spin Doctor. "

I did not say or suggest you did.

But the title of the post is "How not to converse with black people in social situations".

Do you think the post is aimed at other black people-- whoever they are?

(I'm being mindful of yours and others point that it is difficult to describe / ascribe an action to a whole subset of people. I would like a method to address that BTW, I am open to a new understanding about that-- can someone please help me understand how to better phrase this?)

I will stick my neck out here and say that I *assume* it is meant for non-black people. The post isn't about how SpinDoctor feels personally, or about how you TeenDoc feel personally, its about how "Black People" feel, generically. Even though SpinDoctor puts the caveat in there about not speaking for all "Black People", he then proceeds to say-- what I gather he believes-- "all Black People" would feel given the opportunity.

Now I am not (A) intending to put words in his or anybody's mouth, nor (B) be offensive.

I have already said right up front I do not know how to properly address or formulate my thoughts in any other way than I have been doing. But that does not negate my desire to understand, engage, hear, be attentive or consider anything that's been presented here. And I hope that what I've said, however I've said it, is considered in the same vein.

@Teendoc, I do not doubt your verbal ability. I know plenty of people who are better educated than I am. I do not consider it a sign of anything more than their desire and ability to become so, regardless of their race or gender. But neither does that negate my experiences or understandings. And furthermore, it does nobody any good-- you or me-- to expect only "well educated" people to be able to "get" and "understand" racially-oriented ideas and concepts. In order to be successful, such conversation and discussion needs to be able to be presented and take place on all levels, with all members of society regardless of educational level or background.

Would you not perhaps agree that many of the attitudes and opinions you've encountered were from people who did not have the best backgrounds or the broadest range of experiences? Which does not excuse their behavior of course.

And where did they get their attitudes and opinions? Out of thin air? Or from their friends, family members, people they met and interacted with day-to-day? Or maybe saw and identified with on TV or in the movies?

It doesn't matter which side of the discussion you're on. Nearly everybody sits at the table with some notion of race, what it means, who it applies to, and in what manner.

Here is a quote from OahuSurfer: "My family owns some property in East Oakland, CA. I triple-dog dare you to get within 5 blocks of Seminary and 14th, and then, well, just try to exist with all your big thoughts, just hang on the stoop a bit, think big thoughts little man, then, and I quadruple-dog dare you, share em with the fellas, they'll have noticed you by then."

Which essentially threatens another commenter, who I will presume is not black-- I've never been to Oakland so don't know the neighborhood he is referring to-- but I am again presuming it to be a black neighborhood.

He himself is making part of my point about racism. He is intimating that if Fins2theleft were to show his [white] face in the area he would be harmed. That's a far cry from having a pleasant chat over milk and cookies.

Then there's SpinDoctor's question from the original post: "What is your opinion regarding……..? – This question can start a brush fire when related to a hot button issue (i.e. affirmative action) or some current events story involving Black people."

Then what the heck are we going to discuss here? The weather in Cleveland? If its a hot-button topic for you to be asked, as a "black person", why do you think it would be any better when you ask it yourself of (presumably) non-black persons? Which is of course exactly what you're doing in the post-- telling people what you think "black people" don't like, don't want, and find offensive-- and then opening the airwaves to the public-- right?

And then this one from SpinDoctor: "My grandparents came to this country with nothing. – This statement is usually thrown out to emphasize that determination and effort lead to success. While true, it totally discounts the existence of racism as being an obstacle to success in our society. This is a good way to unintentionally light someone’s fuse."

If I understand this sentence correctly, I am being told-- "So what if you didn't have anything to do with what makes me upset, I'm blaming you anyway and dare you to get upset about it." And if I *do* get upset about it or express any concern over its implication-- I'm warned its a "good way to light someone's fuse". I'm going to be candid here and say that I don't think he's talking about my roman candles on the fourth of july.

SpinDoctor, you made this VERY EXCELLENT point to Fins2theleft: "In my personal experience, a minefield is an apt analogy. Keep in mind that none of us created the status quo; we are simply a part of it."

And yet it appears-- at least somewhat-- that we (the various participants here) keep moving back and forth from and to that point. That we sometimes agree and sometimes don't, to varying degrees. Either we are a part, or we are not apart. The decision has to be made. Am *I* your oppressor? Have *I* done anything to *you* that you know of? Or anybody you regard as "your people" (whoever they may be) ?? If you think the answer is "yes", then we have some additional "racist" issues to discuss. If the answer is "no", then we have only personal issues to discuss.

And BTW, I'm no more the "spokesman for white people" than you are for "black people". I just honestly don't know how to phrase my thoughts in any other manner but I don't want that to stop me from trying to communicate.

And I have a question for you-- Should I blame YOU personally for what people of your color did to me in the past? They are still alive, and I am still alive. I was personally injured. Shouldn't that "entitle me" to some restitution? (Technically, legally, it should, just not from you but from them. But that's an aside) But you I'm sure understand my larger meaning? What do you think?

Or anybody? I'm not trying to pick on SpinDoctor or TeenDoc or anybody else here. There are a lot of great questions and directions to discuss and have opinions on. TeenDoc says she's tired of having the discussion. Okay, I can completely understand and relate to that. I can understand that dealing with racism from either side can get tiring. And as I told her in PM, I wish it would just go-away once and for all and people could just be people.

And even OahuSurfer himself admits to feeling pangs of racism from time-to-time: "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't felt some ugly, sick and evil feeling in my own psyche also more than once on first glance of seeing a black man with a white woman. And that, makes me feel like shit inside and proves to me without doubt that racism, and particularly racism against blacks, is institutionalized."

And unlike him, I'm not going to put him down for saying it. Instead I applaud him for his honesty.

OahuSurger-- You ask me if I've ever been to jail-- and I have to ask you right back: Why on earth would I ever aspire to go to such a place?

You seem to wear it as a badge of honor, or victimhood-- I'm not sure which. Can you elucidate? Did you do something that merited you going there? Or is your comment intended to mean that you were "discriminated against"? Were you falsely accused? Were you forced into a confession? Or did you do something you shouldn't have done?

OahuSurfer: "NO IDEAS, that's You, E."

You indeed have found me out. Hopefully you're the only one. Let's not tell my boss, eh? He still thinks I'm useful.
Mr. E

My reply to your initial comment left @ 6:32 AM is as follows:
(I’ll read the rest of the thread & return with more)

I can’t thank you enough for dropping by. Your comments add much needed texture and perspective to this discussion. Although we are coming at this from two different ends of the spectrum, we share a lot of common ground as far as our thoughts and frustrations are concerned. As far as where we may disagree, all I can do is offer my perspective.

First of all, let me say that my post has a fundamentally sound purpose beyond providing fodder for those who feel victimized, or assigning blame to anyone based upon their ethnic or racial background. Let’s be clear here, I am not calling anyone a racist. Let’s get back to that at the end of my comments.

Is this a Black / White Thing? – As much as either of us hate to admit it, this theme remains dominant, any time race or ethnic background issues are raised. We share a long history of experiences and events that have left an indelible mark on our society.

Can’t we get this behind us? – I think you and I are of the same mind on this point as well. We would both love nothing more than to turn the page on this ugly chapter in our history and move forward as one nation. How soon this will happen is anyone’s guess.
Race is one of many lines that divide our country as we continue to grapple with women’s issues, gay rights, immigration, aging baby boomers and differences in political ideology. Are there people who play the race card to their advantage? Absolutely (cue up Al Sharpton). However, there are also legitimate issues of intolerance and injustice occurring everyday in America, even in 2009.

Don’t be a victim? - I have heard it said is that once you blame someone else for your situation, you exonerate yourself of culpability. I believe in self-determination. I also understand that “life is not fair, get over it” (as famously echoed by Bill Gates!). We are not born with the same talents; nurtured and taught in the same manner or afforded the same opportunities in this world. Equal opportunity is an ideal, but opportunity abounds. Everyone born into this great nation has a chance to be successful. Their own effort is the one thing they can control.

Where our points of view may diverge is that I do not begrudge anyone of their right to feel victimized. This may be a bit easier from where I sit because I am not the target of their racial animosity. Also, I have a higher degree of empathy for those who feel victimized, because I can readily identify with their struggle and have traveled some of the same roads. I help where I can, but feel this is a personal choice and do not think less of anyone who chooses not to be bothered. Again, that is a personal choice.

Blacks need to learn to speak the language in order to increase their opportunities for economic success - I agree.

Why can’t we all just be Americans? – We can, but Heritage is a source of pride. African American cultural pride has always existed to some degree in the Black community, but became a huge deal during the counter culture revolution of the 1960’s.
When James Brown said, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, that changed everything. A people who had been cut off from their ancestry and treated as less than for generations were suddenly imbued with a feeling of self worth by a simple phrase.
For some, taking this away would be like trying to take a bone from a hungry dog.

Why is it OK for Black people to call each other Nigger? – Its not (at least by my personal standards it isn’t. I make no apologies for people who choose to use this word.

Why do Blacks get upset when White’s Co-opt the word? – Given the history of Black oppression by Whites, your use of the word, regardless of intentions, takes on a whole new meaning.

Its offensive when Blacks refer to Whites as Honky or Cracker – I personally don’t think its right to call anyone names. The only place I’ve heard the word honky is on TV. I’ve heard cracker in parts of the south.

Now that we have dispensed with some of the ancillary issues, let’s get to the main point of your comment.

“Your whole list is as racist as anything you claim anybody else to be.”

First of all, there are a lot of folks who can’t even agree on the meaning of the term racist. Some schools of thought say that all “isms” are power oriented, that a person must be able to exert tangible negative impact over another (i.e. employment, education, housing, legislation) in order to be racist. The dictionary defines racism as a hatred or feeling of superiority over another race. By either definition, I have not called anyone a racist.

The purpose of my list is to offer concrete steps to avoid or diffuse the tension that exists between those who continually see themselves as victims and those who are sick and tired of the entire victimhood mentality. Using the 2nd definition (the dictionary definition) provided above; it’s quite possible that either the perpetrator or the aggrieved could harbor race animosity (i.e. actually be racist). However, the more common scenario is these are simple misunderstandings that evolve into assumptions and accusations. My list is designed to help steer clear of these mishaps which can lead to harsh words and hurt feelings.

I agree whole heartedly with your final suggestion of seeking common ground. If we look to create a list of do’s (as opposed to don’ts), this will head the list. Regardless of our varied backgrounds, there are many things we have in common as human beings that we can discuss when we come together at a social gathering. As we get to know each other better, we can wade deeper into the water and begin to address our more unique perspectives. This approach as always worked for me. I hope you find value in it as well.
@Mr E

But the title of the post is "How not to converse with black people in social situations".

I'm still not following how the title or tenor of the posting makes this racist as you seem to feel. And since I am by nature an empath, it concerns me that I am not understanding your perspective here.

Suppose I, having lived in Cape Town, South Africa, write a list of Things Not To Say To Someone From Cape Town. Would that be equally problematic?

What about if I write a thread entitled, "Top 10 things that women hate about men" Would that be equally problematic? Sexist or interesting?

Was it that by pointing out some of the racial (not racist, mind you) gaffes that often come up in conversation at BlackPeople'sMeetingsTM this somehow conveyed an attack...a calling out, as it were? Is this how you took the post?

And furthermore, it does nobody any good-- you or me-- to expect only "well educated" people to be able to "get" and "understand" racially-oriented ideas and concepts. In order to be successful, such conversation and discussion needs to be able to be presented and take place on all levels, with all members of society regardless of educational level or background.

Wait, wait, wait! Stop the proverbial and literal bus! Now perhaps I'm being sensitive, but I do not remember ever making an assertion that only "well-educated" people should be the ones to "get" these issues. Nuclear physics yes, sensitivity to race, class, gender and knowing when to and when not to cross boundaries, no. The latter should be mandatory learning for anyone with a brain.

It doesn't matter which side of the discussion you're on. Nearly everybody sits at the table with some notion of race, what it means, who it applies to, and in what manner.

Well what about the people who don't see my race...

OK, I'll be serious. I think you are saying that everyone has a built in stereotype related to race/ethnicity/religion/class etc. I disagree. Some people do and some people don't. Some people like to label and file people neatly and others abhor labels and attempts to fit people into neat boxes. But even still, say you believe that people with missing teeth all live in trailer parks because that's what you're Momma and Daddy said. You can still use your higher functioning brain and not walk up to the toothless fellow and say, "So where's your trailer?" Rational thought can overcome stereotypes...but here's the kicker...only if you put that rational thought to use. If you give less than a tinker's damn about what the other person thinks/feels about your assumptions, then rational thought be damned. Also, if you don't know how your question/statement lands on the person, you'll never know that you might have inadvertently stepped on toes because of your lapse into stereotype-land. And that brings us back to the purpose of the list: sharing what may offend though people do not realize.

I'll give you another parallel area. My daughter joined our family through domestic open adoption. Here are some things that have been said to me over the past 2 years:

The overt:
So how much did she cost?
Do you get to give her back if something is wrong with her?
Why'd you adopt? Something wrong with you or your husband?
Why'd you adopt a white baby?

The more subtle:
Aren't you afraid her REAL mother is going to come back for her?
Don't you want your OWN child?

All of these are examples of straight up ignorant statements said by people without a clue. Did they mean to be harmful? Most likely not. But not everyone engages his/her brain before speaking. So am I being adoptionist if I created a list, Things Not To Say To An Adoptive Parent? Maybe you wouldn't like it, while others would appreciate learning that "real" mother is not the term used for the child's biologic or firstmother.

Then there's SpinDoctor's question from the original post: "What is your opinion regarding……..? – This question can start a brush fire when related to a hot button issue (i.e. affirmative action) or some current events story involving Black people."

Then what the heck are we going to discuss here? The weather in Cleveland? If its a hot-button topic for you to be asked, as a "black person", why do you think it would be any better when you ask it yourself of (presumably) non-black persons? Which is of course exactly what you're doing in the post-- telling people what you think "black people" don't like, don't want, and find offensive-- and then opening the airwaves to the public-- right?

I'm still not making the leap that you are here, and that's why I'm getting lost. How is saying that going to a black person as the Minority Authority problematic for the black person the same as creating a list of items that blacks have found problematic in discussions with majority individuals? (And yes, this list is completely anecdotal and not scientifically based.) Hopefully you can have a dialogue with someone black without asking the "What do black people feel about?" gambit. You can ask what s/he feels about the incident as a person and not as the spokesperson for the Black diaspora. So there's another option that doesn't involve the weather.

"So what if you didn't have anything to do with what makes me upset, I'm blaming you anyway and dare you to get upset about it." And if I *do* get upset about it or express any concern over its implication-- I'm warned its a "good way to light someone's fuse".

In the example you referenced, the person discounts all the impact of racism...and let me be clear since it seems to be confounded as you are personalizing much of this context. When we speak of racism, we are talking about the racism that exists in society. Our society is race, class, and gender biased. The tentacles of these "isms" are so enmeshed in our world that it will be ages before any of these "go away." It's not personal. It's not something you did to me or how you did or did not oppress me. It's the fact that we still had Jim Crow into the 50s. It's the fact that the National Guard had to come in to help desegregate the schools. It's the fact that a resume with a "black-sounding" name will most likely get thrown in the wastebasket. It's the fact that even in a study published just last week, it was found that a white convicted felon's chances of employment are equivalent to those of a black man with no criminal record. Our society has these biases at its core and bootstraps or no, black or brown skin handicaps in our society.

Does this allow us to say we are victims and have no responsibility to strive for excellence within the biased system we have? Absolutely not! My family told me from the get that I'll have to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good. I was also trained...yes trained to comport myself in such a way that no one would have a valid reason to question whether I belonged. The pressure and the weight that this puts on our children is tremendous, but we know that the societal deck is stacked against us. It is what it is.

So as for your question about oppressor/victim, you've got to let go the micro perspective and consider what is said in a macro perspective. I've got nothing against you or white people as a monolith (hell, I married one). But I do recognize the societal biases that are at work here. There is racism, sexism, and classism inherent in our society. Wishing won't make them go away. Denialism won't get rid of these ills. We must instead face the macro level issues and address them. Having a honest non-finger pointing non-defensive discussion is the first part of the solution.

And I managed to get little work done today...not good at all.
Fins –

I appreciate your trying to summarize the key issues. Although the discussion has grown to be much larger than my original intention, all points are connected. When you strip everything else away, this captures it for me:

‘the eternal question, "How then, shall we live". That is, what responsibility does each of us have and what can each of us "do" as a person to make things better in society.’

Thanks for throwing in the admonishment that we need to all try to maintain a degree of civility if the conversation is to be at all productive.

Teendoc –

You gave me goose bumps! So much of the perception of Blacks in America is manipulated through the media. Many individual’s exposure is superficial at best. Bill Cosby characterized the relationship as a “drive by”. Yet, these same individuals claim to have intimate knowledge of our behavior, our goals and our motivation.

The “color blind’ theme you raised is near and dear to my heart as well. The public schools (at least the ones my children attended) encourage children to have an understanding and appreciation for each other’s cultures. They try to instill a sense that different does not equate to better or worse. I believe we can be proud of our on culture while still exhibiting an appreciation for others.

Mr. E –

The title of my post is a generalization with a purpose. There are certain statements, phrases, topics or questions that carry an emotional charge when surfaced in a social setting where Black people are (A) present, (B) represent a minority within the group dynamic and (C) have either a casual or non-existent personal relationship with the attendees. When all of these factors converge, you have a climate (perfect storm) that is ripe for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

Some Blacks in this type of environment are adept at coping with uncomfortable situations when they arise, placing them in proper perspective and discerning the most appropriate responses that will allow them to maintain their dignity without embarrassing or humiliating anyone. They tend to respect the value of social decorum. Even if they felt the slight was intentional, they are more apt to side-step a confrontation. At this same gathering, you may encounter a Black person who either by choice or strength of social skills is not in the habit of overlooking certain behaviors. The point here is that in a situation where you cannot predict the behavior of others, it always best to adopt a conservative approach and err on the side of caution.

In short, I don’t know if all will be offended or any will be offended, but neither do you. Given these facts, which course of action would you deem to be the most pragmatic?

Allow me to explain a few of the points you raised regarding my post:

This question can start a brush fire when related to a hot button issue (i.e. affirmative action) or some current events story involving Black people."

By signing on to the comment thread in this post, all who join make a conscious choice to engage in this discussion. When I attend my next door neighbor’s house party, I do not go there planning on discussing affirmative action with a room full of White folks, most of whom I do not know. Can we agree that the setting makes a difference?

"My grandparents came to this country with nothing….”

This observation is all based upon context. Let’s say someone has made a comment about poor Blacks needing to be more self determined and stop looking for handouts. Let’s say the next comment out of their mouth is about how their ancestors bootstrapped themselves up of humble origins. Once again (hypothetically of course), the minority in the group does not have a relationship with anyone at the gathering other than the neighbor who invited them (and that is a casual relationship). Can you see how the Black person might conclude this to be more than just idle social chit chat? Context is everything.

Let’s be clear on this point. You are not the oppressor.

Your last question about reparations appears to be rhetorical. I will bypass it, unless you feel it worthy of a response.

I apologize that our discussion cannot be more interactive; but I find it interesting none the less.

your last admission, er, comment, is most telling. I do think you have no ideas on this, precisely why I am trying, in this case with shock treatment (we've found it is usually, though not always, all that works with white folks) to shake your brain into thinking.

It's an effort to be pithy here, so, first- you now sound like what we call a "scaid haole", as in, me to you, "Wat Haole- Scaid?" And you are. So are so many American whites. Scared Scared Scared- why? Because of the Right's fear machine, Willie Horton, Rush and so on. Apparantly, and you don't state your education though OS being a writers site means most of us have University Educations, and if you don't, that explains a lot. Nothing like the school of hard knocks to make you a bigot...reading the Classics with students from many cultures ... less likely.

BTW, know full well I have plenty Caucasion blood in my veins, I can, and do when I want to, Pass like Lena Horn.

So, what do scared, confused whites do? One typical response is either really truly stay confused or try and bait and switch.

So, you quote me on East Oakland, and miss the whole point? I threatened you? (THERE IT IS FOR ANYONE WHO KNOWS WHATS REALLY UP HERE) I threatened you? That if you showed up white you get your ass kicked? Hardly, I said no such thing. Our current tenant in the East Oakland property is white, a jew actually. But he is from Brooklyn and has NO PROBLEM being white in East Oakland. So, what I said was, the truth, if you, with big typed words, come marching into a social network and use the N word, then I assume, unless you're a punk, that you would roll up to Seminary and let it fly verbally. After all, half the people there are lobbing N-Bombs all through their conversation, why shouldn't you too? Well of course the answer is because if you do, THAT IS WHEN THE TROUBLE STARTS. You ignored my other point, that not only are East Oakland Blacks in truth one of the most friendly and approachable groups I've ever had the honor to spend time with, but that a white boy, a young stranger who really wanted to understand, why the hate? took it on himself to visit the hood all over the country and write a book not about the killing but all his great experiences with his new giving and accepting friends. But he did not roll up and say, " What Up My N####Z!" And, believe or not, there are lots of whites, though more latins and asians who do use the n-bomb, lots of polynesians too, why? To take ownership! To get that fucking word back, back from you, back from slavery, back from Uncle Fucking Tom! Thats why, Brah.

History E, recent history, Blacks got, and get, railroaded into jail not in Civil Rights times but ever since Reagan and the Drug War ... (Tupac: Instead of a war on Poverty, they got a War on Drugs so the Police can Bother Me!) by corrupt cops. E, listen dude, that does not mean they were guilty-- some were as innocent as the Persian Students we stand by today, and went to jail. for your info, yes I have been jailed on false evidence, many decades ago, then vindicated... again, you don't understand why Blacks believed that scumbag detective would plant evidence, as they do it all the time. And, you see it in the movies, art imitates life, so, understand what its like to have the cops up your ass? plant rocks on you when you dont even do or sell drugs? Welcome to Reality, friend. Travel young man, with open eyes. The questions will melt away.
Teen Doc, that was a nice explanation about the micr0/macro thing - I find this to be one of the most difficult points to explain to people in these kinds of discussions. As you well know, sometimes people get emotional because they take it personally when the discussion is really about social issues, and it can be hard to articulate the point that you did so nicely. Thanks.
Fins, I am, to myself, above all other things- Hawaiian.

Google Hawaii 1893 Annexation. Then realize the first apology came from Clinton in 1993. Google that. Hawaiians have been called the N-Word for a long, long time now. And we still haven't got all our land back- but we're working on it! Google that.

Then, if you want a civil discussion- bring it dude.
@Teendoc, SpinDoctor, OahuSurfer

Thanks for your comments. There's a lot to consider in there.

From your comments there seem to be two or three essential avenues to pursue. Dealing with ingrained aspects of racism within "the system"; Working to reform attitudes and opinions on the individual level; (bonus) Working to instill equilibrium into the system.

So addressing the first topic-- how is "the system" racist? What rules or procedures are codified there that are inherently racist?

I don't know how to answer that. As far as I know, the system is ostensibly neutral in granting "equal rights" and "equal access" to all citizens. (And I'm going to ignore gender for the moment).

I understand about Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, etc-- but all of those were supposedly banished. I understand segregation and sitting at the back of the bus and separate but equal lunch counters and white and colored bathrooms-- but what of that institutionalized bias actually exists in codified form today?

Addressing the second topic: Dealing with attitudes and opinions within individuals.

This is where I think the bulk of the problems exist. It is the application of rules, laws, procedures, processes BY individuals that promote and propagate racial discrimination at the institutional level. And also the individual that is responsible for promulgating racism at the personal level.

If we accept this as true then racism is indeed personal, not impersonal. The system *should* work for you but through the actions of someone-- some specific person or group of people-- whether on purpose or through custom-- who actively engages in racial discrimination or bias to your detriment. And thereby perverts the intent of the system that is supposed to be neutrally biased.

In my view it is this second aspect that is the most pernicious. There are likely to be subtle variations in intent here as well. Actions which are learned by rote and rarely, if ever, examined for their practical impact; Actions which are in-fact documented so appear to be institutionalized; Systemic bias by a group of people (ex., "the police") who perform in a common manner; and the individual acting alone of their own volition to act in a discriminatory manner.

And then the third topic, how to address (redress) the situation.

A lot of this I wonder whether is more 'classism' at work rather than 'racism' or some other type of 'ism'. As I have discussed in other posts, the upper classes have essentially locked-in access to natural resources and facilities for manipulating them into goods and products for consumption, along with the various service aspects required to get them to market-- transportation, warehousing, etc.

These resources are not coming up for re-competition. The people that "own" them are permitted to pass their claim to ownership to successive generations and thus the resources (and assets garnered as a consequence) simply accumulate. Everyone else is free to contend over the remnants.

A couple posts of yours back you lambasted me and called me a punk for using racial epiteths, especially the "N-word."

Please point out to me where I've done this, because to the best of my knowledge I've never used the N-word in my life, either vocally or in print - and certainly not in this thread.

And again, you seem intent on ranting and raving about how blacks have been treated historically in this country, and are still treated. Fine. But you seem to be unable to move beyond that and into a discussion of how then, blacks and whites CAN talk to each other respectfully to further / improve race relations.

So, please, review my posts if you like to convince yourself that I haven't used the "N-word" and then perhaps come up with a new reason, in your mind, why I'm a passive-aggressive, punk coward - or perhaps change your mind and consider that maybe my only crime is having a different opinion than you.

And, although I'm getting tired of suggesting it, let's move the conversation beyond insults and discuss how blacks and whites CAN talk to each other.
@malusinka, way, waaay up there, who asked how she could comment on President Obama's well-spoken manner without sounding racist-- since he certainly is the best speaker we've had in decades--

How about; "Barack Obama is the most eloquent president we've had in decades!
@Stella -- "How about; "Barack Obama is the most eloquent president we've had in decades!"

Compared to George W. Bush who was the worst we've had in centuries.
Mr. E

Although your last synopsis ventures well beyond the scope of my initial post, I essentially agree with many of the key points you’ve raised in your overall assessment of the race issue. As you say, historical events are only relevant in that they provide a backdrop and a framework for understanding current elements that permeate our institutions and society at large. Furthermore, I understand that we’ve only ventured so far afield because of the many viewpoints and perspectives that have been expressed in this thread. Such is the nature of open discussion that we sometimes must travel all the way around the world in order to get back to a single island of thought.

My post was an attempt to address (mostly) unintentional misunderstandings related to race or ethnicity involving minorities in social settings (that’s all). What it has validated, or reaffirmed, is that this is still an emotional topic for many Americans, and that hot buttons and sensitivities exist on both sides of the room. I’m truly glad that you, I and many of the contributors were able to reach a level of understanding and find some common ground.

As you say, how we got to this point is not the fault of any person who has contributed to this posting. However, we all have the ability to impact how we move forward from this point in some manner. Our daily actions (or inactions) determine whether we progress, regress, or remain stagnant, caught in and endless loop of blame and finger pointing. I know that you and many others who have joined in this discussion would like to move forward; I would as well.
I sincerely appreciate all of the insight, commentary and candid discourse.

I’ll be taking a much needed vacation from my real job (the one that pays the bills). Unfortunately, my wife will not allow me to take the laptop with us. Therefore, I am closing this thread. If you like, feel free to send me a PM, and I will be sure to read it upon my return.

Peace, Love &