Tag Archives: racial stereotypes

In the Blink of an Eye

“Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.”

 

I read a blog sent out by ACLU that said just because police are afraid of an African-American man (or woman) that is no excuse to kill them.

It got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

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He says that we make decisions in the blink of an eye. Sometimes this is excellent. Some could call it intuition. But it often leads to the kinds of tragedies that are played out on the streets of big and small cities across America.

Police officers answering calls, especially domestic violence calls, are afraid for their lives. They know what has happened to other officers and that it could happen to them. They pull their guns fast and use them faster. If it’s a person of color it seems even faster. I’m not sure it’s because of racial hatred. It’s definitely racial profiling.

Ruminating about this, I started thinking about my own quick impressions of people. If I see a white older man in a suit, I think to myself: If that guy is a senator and a Republican he’s probably a Christian who only feels charity to other Christians. If he’s a “southern gentleman”, I throw in that he’s a racist bigot. I know it’s wrong to think that way. I’m trying to get over it.

Living in California there are many Hispanic people around me. Yesterday I got my car washed and sat next to two women speaking rapid fire Spanish. I’ve been working on my Spanish so I always eavesdrop to try to figure out what’s being said. As usual, I could pick out a few words here and there, but it was too quick for me. The men washing the cars, the man who took my information, the young woman who checked me out—they were all Hispanic. Should I generalize that all Hispanics are working class so how could they afford to get their car washed? A scene in the movie Beatrice At Dinner illustrates this well. When Beatrice, a guest, comes up to speak to Lithgow’s character, he asks her to refill his drink. He assumes she’s a servant. It’s not only because she’s wearing casual clothing; it’s because she’s Hispanic by birth. It’s a cringe-worthy moment.

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The ACLU blog got me thinking about how I feel if I see a black man. Do I immediately blink and feel fear? I don’t. I’m very happy to say that. I do not want to be a racist. I do not want to jump to conclusions about a person because of his or her race.

I was fortunate to grow up in Seattle and attend schools that were multi-racial and ethnic. I went back and taught in my junior high school and learned as much from my students as I taught them. So I avoided a lot of the scourge of racism. Not all, of course. But like Spanish, I keep working on it.

Besides being “white”, I am Jewish, which makes me a little schizophrenic in America, and always a little afraid.

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I don’t “look Jewish” so I can pass easily in society. Until someone spouts a Jewish slur. That’s why I announce early into a conversation with a new acquaintance that I’m Jewish. I don’t want to suffer again the embarrassment of hearing someone say: “Don’t Jew me down.”

I’ve never wanted to admit that America is not the land of the free and the home of the brave. I love that myth. I love the stories of the Pilgrims and the Indians sharing the first Thanksgiving.

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It’s so sad at 71 to be aware it was a mythology we were taught. My generation was raised on Westerns where homesteaders and cowboys were heroes.

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We never realized that the scalps being taken and the arrows being shot were from the knives and bows of the people the land belonged to.

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They were defending their property! We had no compassion whatsoever. It’s taken me a long time and perhaps the Donald Trump administration to pull the blinders fully from my rose colored eye-apparel.

I’m not saying I’m not proud to be an American. I am.

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I know how lucky I am that my grandparents had the courage to immigrate here, to a democratic capitalist nation. To a place where they had opportunity. I’m just acknowledging that the United States is not perfect. Nothing is. (Not even me.) But we can keep learning and growing.

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We don’t have to be a melting pot to create a fabulous America. We can be a mixed salad with innovative and flavorful ingredients. Remember the posters United WE Stand after 9/11? Let’s remember that is our greatness.

True Confessions

This is going to be a confession of sorts—or an admission, at the least. First, though, a disclaimer. This blog is not about politics even if it is about Barack Obama. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of politics, politicians and Talking Heads—especially the Talking Heads. This blog is about me—about who I was in 1967 and who I am now.

The President of the United States.

When I began teaching in Seattle’s inner city, I’d just turned 21 three days before. I admit I was a wide-eyed optimist who believed I could help change the world. No, at 21 I was sure I could. I wasn’t alone in my mission to right the wrongs of America. The Late Sixties was the beginning of a cultural revolution that would shake up our society. My way was not to protest in the streets. I chose to work within the system. I believed education was the key to getting people out of the Ghetto.

1970–my last day teaching at Meany. I was seven months pregnant–in those days you were supposed to quit by six months!

Teaching at Meany Junior High during this time was an education for me, as well as for the students. When I walked in the doors as a teacher, only six years had passed since I’d left for high school. Many of the same teachers and administrators remained there. The intimidating Miss MacPherson was the librarian, and I was still afraid of her. The curriculum, too, was the same—but as Bob Dylan pointed out, “it was the times they are a changing”. And changing at warp speed. Within two years, most of the former teachers were gone, and the old texts were replaced with books that attempted to be more relevant. Rather than teaching Shakespeare, I’d be happy if I could get some students to write their name on a piece of paper.

My personal goal was to be the best teacher I could be. I wanted to reach each student—to teach them the fundamentals of English and also the love of learning. I had another agenda, as well. I wanted every student in my classes to know that he or she could succeed. That the chains of poverty and racial prejudice could be broken—yes, that even an African American could be President of the United States. (The idea that it could be a woman probably didn’t even occur to me.)

Fast forward thirty-eight years. Barack Obama is running for President. Our country was at war. There was in a financial melt-down. And the Republicans couldn’t stop the bleeding. I voted for Obama because I thought we needed change, and I didn’t think McCain could do the job. I was elated when Obama won. I didn’t expect him to create prosperity out of chaos, but I knew he’d do a good job. But also, on a personal level, I was thrilled. Even though those years were hard, I thought, we did accomplish something during the Civil Rights struggle. Our work was validated, and I felt pride that Americans had moved beyond past prejudice and stereotypes. Again I was naïve.

Four years later, I’ve seen the proof of the hatred and disdain many whites still have for people of color. At first I’d attributed the antipathy to Obama as a desire to get even by the Republicans who had been humiliated by McCain’s drubbing. But then I began receiving emails that hinted at something more. It started with assertions that Obama, the socialist slime, wasn’t really an American. Then the racial overtones became more overt. My idealistic notions took a dive. Last week, John Sununu’s remarks actually made me cry. He felt he could disparage Colin Powell on national television and get away with it—that Americans would be willing participants in racial profiling of this man who has served his country in war and in peace. I felt so disheartened.

But I am in my sixties—I can’t be the girl of the Sixties. I took my dog for a walk and calmed down. I reminded myself that our society has moved forward in many ways, that pettiness is part of human nature as is Xenophobia. We aren’t perfect and never will be. But I felt I couldn’t be silent—that I had to share my real feelings.

Again, I reiterate that I am sick of politics. I felt sad today that it was news when Bill Clinton said that President Obama “has been a good commander-in-chief without regard to race.” Or maybe I should feel good that he just put it out in the open. I don’t know. My HOPE this year is the politicians will get over themselves and start working for the welfare of our nation instead of their party. Bi-partisanship. Now that’s a word I’d like to hear more often. (Okay, so I’m still an idealist. What can I do?)

Bi-partisanship in action.