Monday, January 16, 2006

My Reality TV is not Black & White

BOYFRIEND TROY & BOYFRIEND CLEM
in The Puck Building

Great. Construction in my building involving electricity is causing a strong wavering on my computer monitor today, causing everything to shimmy and shake on the screen as I try to concentrate. Lovely. AND my floors and walls are shaking so badly that books are coming off of shelves. Living here has become more an invasion than a sanctuary and I cannot wait to move. I am so sick of it.

Anyway, enough bitching...

Recently, Clem and I went to his company's holiday party; delayed due to the Transit Strike. I met some really sweet, kind people with whom he works. Since Clem works for a charity organization, there are probably, naturally, going to be some kind-hearted people within; plus Clem just seems to attract and maintain nice people, anyway.

Going as Clem's "boyfriend" was interesting, and since I am used to dating guys who usually slice a line between us in public as a way to avoid self-consciousness and judgments from other people, I was very impressed and felt so alive in the fact that it never even occurred to him to bring me if he couldn't stand with me as a couple. It doesn't matter that we live in New York City, or that I may be a part of a legitimate couple; it is still ingrained in a large part of gay culture to hide who we are as a means to keep the peace and fit in. It's like we believe we can be accepted in small doses, so don't stand too close together; or that we can be accepted, as long as the implication of actual, sexual, intimate contact isn't involved, so, for god's sake, DON'T TOUCH or even worse, KISS!

I am finding that Clem is the kind of guy who would rather lose his job than to lose his dignity and integrity as a human being. He would rather endure the possibility of a judgmental glance than to endure a false division between us to protect ignorant people. He would rather people learn from example and experience, than to remain stuck in fear over some incorrect idea about what a gay couple is. For these reasons (and many others), it is easy to continue a timid, but unimpeded, path of Love with Clem. Sighhh...

Toward the end of the night of the party, a lovely Black man came to join us lingering folks who were enjoying light-hearted banter about things in life. He was very composed, with his very nice dreds pulled back carefully, and he crossed his legs conclusively as he began to chime into our playful and lively interaction. His participation in the discussion only lasted about 3 minutes before he hijacked us into the direction of RACISM. I don't know if I even recall exactly how he did it, but somehow he found a vague window of opportunity and slammed the subject down into the middle of a party. His first claims were that one of the White girls there wouldn't know what "struggle" is because she was raised "White." She kindly suggested him that color has NOTHING to do with how we experience or attract "struggle" in life. She went on to say that she has come a long way beyond her own painful past that involved abuse and poverty and that just because she is White does not mean she was privileged. This prompted me to suggest that the root of most divisions among people is in CLASSISM, not Racism, and that I feel it is a disservice to the real issue of Racism to automatically call every challenge as being sourced in some kind of Racist motivation.

Well, this spun him completely out of control and there became no room for discussion after this. He then went into the canned responses that White People are automatically RACISTS, just by the nature of their color, and that Black People are incapable of Racism, since they are so oppressed. He raised his voice to the point of causing people to leave the room, flailing his arms, leaning into my face, pointing his fingers into my chest, and all the while screaming at me that it is just so typical of a WHITE MAN to not let him get a word in edgewise.

WHAT???!!!

He would not let me speak. He would not let us have a discussion. He would have nothing to do with my suggestion that his behavior, beliefs, and attitude were part of the very thing locking himself into the reality against which he fights. I mean, if he could suddenly splash himself into a group of innocent people and without provocation immediately translate them into raging racists, then it seems to me that there is more of an investment in MAKING the world seem that way, than there is in an effort to change the world for the better.

His voice and preaching escalated into truly closing out the night with a wave of discomfort and hostility as he tried to wrangle in the Coat Check girls, who happened to be Black, pointing at me as the "Ignorant White Man."

Well this may display me as some kind of "Ignorant White Man," but I wonder how these false, rampant claims and accusations of Racism by Black people upon White people based only on the differences in the color of our skin are helpful. Is the inherent racism in that very presumption not obvious!!!??

This Reverse Racism seems to be getting worse and worse and it's becoming an ironic blow against Racial Equality in more ways than I think anyone is taking seriously. I will define "reverse racism" as a non-white person relying on the history of Racism to justify using behavior, perception, and belief to perpetuate the very Racism they claim to fight against. For instance: How can the statement that "Whites are automatically Racist" and that "Blacks are incapable of Racism" be helpful, or true? How helpful would it be for Gays and Lesbians if we were to immediately presume, and with great amounts of hostility, that all Straight people were automatically Homophobic, and that it was our place to demean them, or preach obnoxiously to them, unprovoked, about their failings as Heterosexuals and how they are to blame for our oppression?

I find that any form of oppression or -ism is something that needs to be addressed directly and toward the source. If an old man rapes someone, you don't punish his Grandson, or hold his Grandson accountable in any way. This is projection (definition: "The attribution of one's own attitudes, feelings, or suppositions to others") and displacement (definition: "A psychological defense mechanism in which there is an unconscious shift of emotions, affect, or desires from the original object to a more acceptable or immediate substitute") at its worst. Displacement and Projection are at the root of what has become termed "Reverse Racism."

The mere mention of "reverse racism" is met with scoffs, with this concept being dismissed as just another attempt by "the whites" to avoid responsibility for Racism. For instance, Tim Wise, a self-proclaimed "anti-racist" and activist/educator says:

The day that someone produces a newspaper ad that reads: “Twenty honkies for sale today: good condition, best offer accepted,” or “Cracker to be lynched tonight: whistled at black woman,” then perhaps I’ll see the equivalence of these slurs with the more common type to which we’ve grown accustomed. When white churches start getting burned down by militant blacks who spray paint “kill the honkies” on the sidewalks outside, then maybe I’ll take seriously these concerns over “reverse racism.” Until then, I guess I’ll find myself laughing at the thought of another old Saturday Night Live skit: this time with Garrett Morris as a convict in the prison talent show who sings: Gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I see. Gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I see. And once I kill all the whiteys I see Then whitey he won’t bother me Gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I see.

I cannot fathom how someone who is "anti-racist" can claim that he will only begin to take seriously the effects of "Reverse" Racism when he sees these violent and inhumane acts reported on a regular basis, and finds humor in imagining a Black man singing about killing White people. The context of his article " Honky Wanna Cracker?" is the exploration of why it is okay for minorities to speak in racists remarks against White people, explaining that because Whites are in dominant positions, these remarks have no impact. And this, from an educated Black man in a position of authority and activism!

I am sorry, but as I stood in the middle of the Puck Building as a Black man screamed, "You are a racist because you are White!" I could not help but see the blatant Racism in that very stance.

Racism is Racism. There is no real "reverse" Racism, because Racism is just that: Racism. It either is, or it isn't. It will never matter if it is directed from a successful White Man or from an oppressed Black Woman. Racism is Racism. And for the record, Racism IS NOT the same thing as PREJUDICE, which is what is more likely the case in instances of inequality or inappropriate assumptions. Prejudices can lead to Racism, but they are not the same.

Racism is defined as, "The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others." Prejudice is defined as, "The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions." We are ALL guilty of Prejudices that we build based on fears and experiences, but it is a RARE thing to actually have a stance of Racism by definition.

When the Black man sat down with us to join our banter, my only thought was, "oh goodie, another person joining in," since I was excited to be meeting many of Clem's co-workers. His skin color didn't even occur to me. I don't know what the Black man's first thoughts were, but I can venture to guess, based on his immediate hijacking of the conversation into an opportunity to be sanctimoniously preaching, that his perceptions were colored both by Racism and Prejudice. Is his behavior excusable based on his Race's historical struggle against the White Man? Are his attacks upon White people considered justified because of claims of rampant racism? Are we Racist or anti-Racist only be definition of our skin color?

Recently, I was standing on Sixth Avenue near Cosi @ 13th Street and there is often a Black man standing along the shops asking for money. He is a tall, thin man who is always dressed in various outfits of pure white and accessories of silver; wearing huge platforms, braided, white wigs, and makeup. He stands quietly and invites donations to himself. It is always a pleasant exchange when one gives him some money, and even if you don't. His presence is just somehow spiritual and kind and peaceful. I like when I see him. He's become a well-known character along 6th Ave.

I had stopped to look in a shop window near where he was standing and I suddenly heard over the music through my headphones a lot of yelling. I caught someone shouting, "I'll give you TEN DOLLARS! Yeah, I'll give it to you! Do you really want it??!!" I turned around to find a Black man standing in front of the "homeless" Black man, opening his wallet, flipping through the 20's and 10's, all while yelling at the homeless man antagonistically and loudly. I slipped my headphones off to hear what they were saying better, and the homeless man was responding softly, timidly, kindly. He was clearly embarrassed and feeling attacked and humiliated. The Black man then went on to say, "Why are you in this GET-up!? Why do you have to dress this way!! You are no better than THE WHITES when you do this!"

WHAT???!!

The Black man continued to hold over the homeless man his promise of ten dollars if the homeless man would just accept and proclaim that he was a victim of the White Man, and that he had "sold out" by coming out onto the street in his "costume." People around them were extremely uncomfortable, not really knowing how to react to such an attack, and hoping the Black man would just back off at some point. I was in so much shock, I just stood there, but the anger and need to defend this homeless man was welling up quickly. I was beginning to feel my anger rising, not because of his references to "the white man," but because this innocent man did not deserve this public humiliation. I knew if I took any steps in that direction, I would be engaged in a battle I would probably regret. The Black man was large, menacing, angry, hateful, demeaning, and he was looking for a fight. Anyone he could catch with eye contact, he would quickly turn at them and include in his tirade about The White Man.

He continued to tell the homeless man how the White Man is the reason the homeless man was all dressed up in a costume because the White Man taught him to create a gimmick to scam people. According to this Black man screaming in the street, White People are only liars, thieves, and we are the "devil incarnate." We White People are incapable of honesty and compassion, so we create gimmicks to trick Black People into buying things. Just as I was about to lose my cool and step in to protect the homeless man, the Black man spit out his words of FUCK YOU, YOU FAGGOT NIGGER to the homeless Black man and stormed off, never giving him a cent.

Ummm, yeah, and I, through mere guilt of being a White Man, am the problem?

I may not be able to save this homeless man from the street (and there are White and Black homeless people, thank you), but I compassionately shared what little I had, along with a silent appreciation of this particular homeless man's seeming kindness, while this Black man just exploited the homeless Black man as an opportunity to preach loudly from a soap box, and giving the homeless man nothing more than public humiliation.

I find the behavior of the man at the party and this man in the street (and both are too common) encourages an undermining and dismissal of the very real problem of Racism in our world. I find this behavior and display of belief to be an extreme distortion of the truth and even more directly contributing to and perpetuating our inequality.

I can hold an intelligent discussion about Racism. I can hold an intelligent discussion about Prejudice. I can hold a fairly-intelligent discussion about most things, but how can the problems of Race and Prejudice be discussed across the borders of color when we are automatically villainized?

The entire issue of Racism is not even that complicated. It exists; we deal with it together, and call it out when it is valid. We take responsibility for our part of the problem of Prejudice, and finally we are just nice to each other, for goodness sake.

I am writing about this because it upsets me when I see a problem that is so serious being perpetuated by the very people who report to be fighting the problem. It upsets me to think that so many have moved away from Fighting Racism as a problem to using "Fighting Racism" as an Identity.

4 comments:

christian said...

AMEN brother,

There was a micheal chat that you did troy in which I ask about something very similar. I think it was NOV maybe.

But I worte an English paper on this very thing. It really is annoying.

Anonymous said...

Hi Troy, I love your posts. So well written and thought provoking. I know you have a million things to do in your life, but have you considered submitting your articles for publication? I'm sure there are newspapers and magazines which would love to publish what you write. I'm so impressed by your observations! Thank you for sharing!
Love, Perrine

Anonymous said...

Next time you find yourself in a similar situation, where a black person starts ranting about being a victim, and how white people are priviledged, I think you should play with his head and say, "Yeah, you're right. It must really suck to be black. I'm glad I'm white."

That'll probably be the end of that.

-Nick

Anonymous said...

what is it with you? You seem to be a magnate for assholes