Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holding the Cards

As I watched the outrage over the Trayvon Martin case begin to spread across the internet, my initial reaction was something like pride. I was seeing people get behind a cause who usually stay quiet about such issues. Granted, it was nothing like the outpouring of reposts I saw from the Kony 2012 video...but that's another topic. It was good to feel united in something, because who could POSSIBLY deny that this crime was race related? White and Black alike had to see this for what it was. Even as I allowed that sense of pride take over, I feared it wouldn’t last. Within days, some of the outrage had turned to boredom, which turned into ignorance. Something like…

“Ok okay, I get it, hoodies and Skittles. I let you guys have your moment for a couple of days, now can we please stop hearing about this kid?”
(I’m paraphrasing).

I understand…I’m guilty of it myself. Specific topics on Facebook have a certain shelf life, and if they go over their time limit, it becomes easy to joke about it. Examples:

“Gee, is it hot outside? I couldn’t tell.”


“GAH, anyone watching Walking Dead tonight? YEAH, they’re still on the farm, we know!”

So, all that said, I knew the solidarity wouldn’t last and that some of my white friends would start to squirm uncomfortably after a few days of being in the hot seat. Not that they are directly to blame, but you talk about racial issues for too long, and, like an overplayed Facebook status, it becomes too difficult to keep those mouths and fingers quiet.

Enter “the Race Card”.

The race card is something that white people like to talk about because it absolves us of guilt.


There is no race card. White people made it up as a way to once again say to minorities, “you’re nuts. You’re imagining things. Get over it. Slavery was like, a million years ago. We’re equal. Promise.”

*wink, wink*

I just realized I've never heard any non-white person talk about the "race card". Know why? Because we're holding the cards. But it's easier to feel okay about that fact if we brush it aside as a silly game. Oh, they're playing the race card again. Translation:” I don't want to look like a jerk just for being white, and I don't think you have anything to be upset about. “

Pretending racism doesn't exist is not the answer.

I understand the theory. It’s time to move on. I agree. That would be lovely, of course. But we can’t move on by telling a whole group of people that they are IMAGINING years of being followed, pulled over, ignored, made fun of, profiled, degraded, and even murdered. Having empathy doesn’t have to equal accepting ALL the blame.

Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person had a problem that you didn’t understand? Did you look at them and say, “Oh, stop playing the ________card”. Or did you try to see it from their perspective and realize that it takes WORK and UNDERSTANDING to make things right? There’s no time limit to recovery. It takes however long it takes.

In the middle of White People Are Getting Tired of Hearing About Trayvon Week, this little movie called The Hunger Games opened up to the third highest opening weekend for a movie, ever. Everyone has been raving about the movie. Again, one of the few times recently when MOST people I know agree on something. (I’m learning to stop trusting that feeling). Then this blog post appears calling out Twitter users for posting horribly racist thoughts about the movie.

For those 7 of you who have not read the books or seen the movie, one very important character in the books, sweet little Rue, is described as dark-skinned, and comes from the district that is hinted to be primarily made up of Black people. It doesn’t spell it out, but for anyone with basic reading comprehension skills, you could figure it out and envision your Rue accordingly.

After the movie, tweets like these began to surface:
(I wish I was paraphrasing)

“Ewwwww, Rue is black? I’m not watching.”

“I still don’t understand why Rue is going to be a little black girl in the movie. I pictured her white. Maybe I’m racist though…”

“Rue can’t be black in the movie. No. It can’t be.”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad. #ihatemyself”

YES, I know that we ALL know that a lot of people are not this blatantly ignorant. There are idiots of all shapes, sizes, and races. That is common knowledge.


If my son ever tells me about a time when he is being followed, or some blonde won’t date him, or he gets pulled over for no reason, or someone gets out of the pool when he gets in, or he’s upset about a comment made on the bus, am I supposed to look at him and tell him he’s just “playing the race card?”

Would you tell him that?

How can we not agree that it’s an absurd concept? Is there a “Jew card?” or a” Gay card”? Can we make ourselves feel better about any kind of discrimination simply by giving ourselves an out in the form of an imaginary card?

“Oh, Mark is just upset because he can’t legally marry his partner. He thinks he’s not being treated fairly. Playing the ol’ Gay Card again. Eyeroll.”

The point is this.

It’s not just about Skittles and hoodies. It’s not just about Rue. It’s about facts, and learning to face them instead of sweeping them under the rug. I for one would bet the farm that if Trayvon were white, he’d still be alive. It’s okay if you don’t agree. But you don’t have to dismiss the possibility to justify your righteousness. You didn’t shoot him. Not your fault. You’re surely not racist, so therefore racism must not even exist. Shrug.


Is it so hard to admit that, as white people, we tend to be the default? The “norm”? And I get that it’s uncomfortable to have to “feel bad” for that. It SUCKS when my 6 year old kid tells me he wants to be white. To deny that white privilege exists is nothing more than a defense mechanism.

Try to empathize with this kid’s family.

With those of us who fear that one day it could be us.

With your fellow HUMAN BEINGS… not as a THEM but as a WE.

If you don’t want to stand together on this, then feel free to sit down.

But when you do, you should also shut up.


lcm0709 said...

OMG of all the reasons I desperately love you, this is one of the major ones. Your passion and your forthrightness in matters of such grave importance is legend (wait for it...) dary. I am SO freaking proud to know you.

And imagine that my son - age 6 - was told by his classmate that he could not marry a little girl in his class because she is white.

In 2012.

So if people don't like to hear the truth of what is going on in this country - in 2012 - they have the freedom to not be my friend because until I don't live my life with a knot in my stomach that the day WILL come (and has come already in a way) when my children are subjected to all this bull I am never sitting down and never shutting up.

Mother to Mimi and Max
who will defend their right to TRUE equality until the day I die.

meagen jones said...

WOW, very well said, thanks for sharing a piece of your brain with us, couldnt of said it even nearly as good as you!

ErinM said...

I love your way of putting this. It has been driving me crazy when white people talk in general terms about "That's messed up" with Trayvon's death and try to say that race wasn't an issue. BS. Race was absolutely an issue. A black child was killed for walking home because a white man decided that was a crime. And what's worse is that many, many black people have similar experiences of being targeted for "walking while black". This is not an isolated incident, though it's all the more deplorable that Trayvon was murdered. Many white people want to act like racism is not present anymore. Whether they're genuinely that ignorant about it (head-in-the-sand phenomenom) or they're indulging in white privilege and saying that they're "colorblind" and race-divisions are not "relevant", they're contributing to the problem. Racism is present. It needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be actively fought every single day.

Jason and I recently had a conversation about how we're just now becoming more educated about how many things we need to learn to raise Melkamu safely. Things that, because of white privilege, we never even thought about teaching Patrick. Someday, my sons will walk down the street at night. Possibly wearing hoodies and drinking some iced tea. The danger to Patrick in that case is almost non-existent because he's white. For Melkamu, it's a lethally-dangerous situation. I get terrified just thinking about it.

Thank you, again, for writing so eloquently something that ties my stomach up in knots every day.

Julie said...

Yay Heather!

Rebecca said...

Not like me to leave a controversial post like this but to each there own right?? Yes we all know that racial profiling and racism run rampant in the world even still and we should all be working towards acceptance of other races, genders, sexual orientations etc. but is this really a story of white vs. black racial profiling?? I really don’t think so. It was first reported that Zimmerman was white – Oh Lord – here come the shouts of racism – he’s just a white man that is racist against the black man. Then a few days later turns out he’s not in fact white – he’s Latino or according to this article: we still aren’t sure of his exact race. So because he’s not white anymore the “race card” is off the table? How could it come off the table if that “was the reason” he was shot anyways? Let’s all be completely honest with ourselves and realize that we all stereotype – you see a tiny blonde with hot pick lipstick and skimpy clothes and you think “ditz or possibly skank.” As a woman you see a man (regardless of race) and tuck in your purse or throw an extra eye on your kids. You see a fat person and automatically think lazy. We all have stereotypes that are a natural reaction to how we were raised and the environment we came from – that tiny blonde could be coming back from a costume party – that man might be walking up to you to pick up the baby doll your little girl just dropped that you didn’t see and that fat person very well could have a real reason for being that well and if not then hell let them be fat – in peace. None of us were there so no one can speak of what went on but can we PLEASE (for lack of a better term) not use the “race card” for a situation where the focus should be on a young boy that was murdered for no reason and get to the bottom of that? Why does a horrible story like this have to be the back bone of a race movement? If Zimmerman were black we probably wouldn’t have even heard of this story but call him a white man and it’s on. I’m in no way saying that Trayvon should have ever been killed regardless of what was going on but should a story like this really be what we use to “promote” equality when all this story does is breed hate and more racism?

jayme said...

Heather, Thank you for this.

In response to Rebecca, I feel the need to share something I wrote in another forum regarding this case and its implicit racism:

For me, it's not the individual acts of racism (which certainly still exist, and almost everyone I know has experienced on some level, be it an inappropriate joke or discrimination in service, etc.) that I'm most concerned about. The way that this case has been handled by law enforcement (including the "whitewashing" of George Zimmerman) is where capital "R" Racism comes into play.

What bothers me is the fact (yes, FACT) that the entire design of this nation was structured to advantage those of us with lighter skin and to dehumanize and disenfranchise people of colour.

The illusion that we are living in a post-racial society just because we happen to have a Black president (which is an argument I hear quite often) is 100% wrong. Racism is systematic, built into the very fabric of our nation. I have a lot more faith in my ability to teach my children how do deal with individual acts of racism, know their own value and self-worth, and brush off negative comments because they know in their hearts and souls that the people making those comments are wrong. I'm not sure how I can fully protect them against institutions and systems of power that were intentionally and specifically designed for them to fail.

Racist institutions and systems are powerful. They are fueled by disproportionate media coverage intended to stoke fears and "divide and conquer". discrimination begins in the school system with tracking and self-fulfilling prophecies. By 5th grade, many black boys have already begun to disengage from schools because they've already been targeted as behaviour "problems". Many schools have zero tolerance policies in place for all kinds of behaviours. Suspension rates for students of colour are *much* higher than for white students (look into the suspension and expulsion rates at your local high school, stratified by race). Once suspended, it's difficult to catch up, and kids are much more likely to have subsequent suspensions because they've been labeled "problem kids". Some urban high schools actually have police outposts on school grounds, so kids can be arrested at school and taken straight to jail without having to stop at the police station. Once kids are in the system, getting out and living a "normal" life is hard because they've already got so many strikes against them.

This is why I need to teach my children how to respond when they are questioned for nothing more than driving (or walking) while Black. Not so that they can play the victim or develop a victim mentality. But because there is real, actual danger for them to become victims of a system that was set up specifically for them to fail.

From my point of view, having this information (and sharing it with my children in age-appropriate ways) is empowering. Knowledge is power. I can teach them how to be aware of times when they are treated unfairly. And I will fight on behalf of my children (and their friends) every single time I see discrimination. If I have anything to say about it, my children (and their friends) will not be victims. And I strongly believe that parents of white children also need to be talking to their kids about race, racism and discrimination, so that we can all begin to dismantle it together.

If you want resources or more information, I'd highly recommend the following books:

Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy.
The New Jim Crow- Michelle Alexander

DawnC said...

Right on girl!

Cindy said...

And....she is back to her awesome writing. Thanks for sharing!!

Gingersnaps said...

I love this Heather! You said it perfectly!

Anonymous said...

Stories like this must be the backbone of discussions on race and the way that races relate, because otherwise the conversation never happens. Regardless of what Zimmerman's race is (white latino, etc.), as a non-black person, his actions were the result of Trayvon's race. To your own point, we all have stereotypes that we use to gauage our interactions with the peole around us. I believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with using stereotypes to create some predictability. The problem is when indvdiuals choose to act upon negative stereotypes that result in a specific group of people being excluded from specific liberties or opportunities, and in this case, the opportunity to live beyond the age of 17. I personally do not think that most non-black people are racists. I do however strongly believe that non-blacks, and specifically white individuals, have very clear racial biases based on stereotypes which cause them to make decisions about black people's skills, talents, abilities, and intents. Again, nothing inherently wrong with that when the biases are based on experiences, and when you don't alllow yourself to act upon biases that are clearly unfounded and have the potential to have grave negative impacts on the indvdiuals who have been put through the filter of a faulty world view.

hotflawedmama said...

love you, mama. I have missed your writing so much!

Anonymous said...

Please remove your rose colored glasses and watch/read the following in the links below...ALL by Black Men that are willing to see & capable of seeing both sides and face the truth: