Sunday, May 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Mixed Race America!

Today is my one-year blogiversary. Here was my very first entry titled "Random thoughts about Race":

"Why blog about race? Why the need or compulsion to write about race in a public internet forum? I'm not sure--perhaps this is a continuation of my experiment with the now defunct "Race to Survive" blog (a blog I began this past fall to talk about race in popular culture because the reality show Survivor had divided people into tribes by race). Perhaps I want to talk about race in popular culture and general American culture (like the upcoming presidential race). Or perhaps I want to blog in public because I'm embarking on a 15 month project of finishing my book manuscript on passing. At any rate, whether it's a conversation with random or known people in cyberspace or simply a way for me to get my thoughts on paper in a public way, I'm going to use this space to jot down my miscellaneous musings about race. And I invite you to join in the conversation."


[BTW, I like that I was so optimistic that I wrote "finishing" my book manuscript on passing. Considering I'm no longer working on passing and I only have two and a half chapters anywhere near completion, this was a very ambitious statement to make]

I'd like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has clicked on to this site, whether you were doing a google search with the phrase mixed-race or whether you are a childhood friend, I appreciate the support, on and off line that all of you have given me. And I especially appreciate the people who have left comments--a really big shout out to all of you--because you've all helped me clarify my thinking about race and mixed-race issues--I especially like the push-back I've gotten from people, the moments of tension and dissent which, when done respectfully as 99% of the time has happened (I'm discounting, of course, the episode about the Duke Lacrosse case in July) has been really productive for me (and hopefully for you too!)

To close, I just want to talk about an incident that happened at a party last night, which affirmed both the reason I'm interested in issues of race in the U.S. as well as talking about them on this blog and not just in academic settings (because lets face it, many more people will read this blog than will EVER read the book I eventually produce about mixed-race issues).

I'll try to sum up as concisely as possible because I know I get long winded, but basically I entered into a very intense conversation with a guy I'll call "Well Intentioned White Liberal" (or WIWL for short). Among other things claimed by WIWL was that he questioned Obama's aptitude for being president because of his affiliations with Reverend Wright or (that lunatic) as WIWL referred to him, that he didn't understand why there had to be "black" churches--and why black liberation theology couldn't just be "liberation theology" and that he believed the solution to racism in this country is a colorblind society in which affirmative action is used in cases of poverty and not race or gender. When I asked WIWL where his sources are coming from (I asked him if he had ever been to a black church service, whether he had ever had conversations with African Americans to talk about where their "anger" is coming from, whether he had any black friends or non-white friends, whether he had read or studied issues of race or anti-racism, and I specifically asked him where his facts about affirmative action were coming from), he admitted to not knowing many African American people and having no African American friends, that he is a computer programmer in his professional life, grew up in Vermont, does not have a strong religious affiliation, and when pressed about the source issue for affirmative action, could not site any sources but instead kept telling me (all the while pointing to his head) that he just "knew" things about affirmative action but had no actual "facts" to back up his opinions.

Now, I know it's problematic to claim authority and expertise based on one's PhD, but I had met WIWL in other social situations--he knew I was a professor at Southern U. who works on issues of race and racism (among other things). As we debated I continually mentioned sources and cited scholars as well as my own (and others) personal experiences with racism, but none of this mattered to WIWL--his own opinions were what counted--his own privilege. And he just couldn't recognize the ways in which his opinions were informed by his privilege, to the degree that he felt that we were on an equal playing field in terms of knowledge--that his lack of facts and research in this area counted the same as my years of studying this topic as well as my lived experiences as a person of color and a beneficiary of affirmative action.

And it strikes me that if I had been confronted with a scholar who studied climate change, and I had some theories about global warming based on my one viewing of Inconvenient Truth, and I kept arguing with this scholar, discounting his/her years of scholarship and expertise on this matter, I'd look like an ASS--and yet, WIWL just kept plugging away at his argument.

WIWL is not a bad guy. I was frustrated with him (and angry/annoyed) but I don't think that he's inherently a bad guy. In fact, he was TOTALLY INSULTED when I asked him if he was a Republican--he said that he had voted for Obama in the primaries and was a liberal. I believe that he thinks that all people are equal--that he wants to live in a colorblind world. I also believe that his privilege blinds him and doesn't allow him to see the complication of race--because he doesn't want to feel guilty or bad--because he doesn't want to give up his comfortable position, his privilege.

I wasn't able to completely convince WIWL last night, but I *hope* that I made a dent in his comfort level (judging from the reaction of the rest of the party guests, who teased me all night about my righetousness and intensity, but in an affectionate way) I think that I at least gave him some food for thought. I'm not saying it's my mission to go to cocktail parties and confront all WIWLs or similar people about issues of race, but I do think that I tried to be as respectful as possible while not ceding my own political ground, and I also tried to really get him to *feel* the passion of my convictions. Which is also what I want to do with this blog. I may not always say the right thing at the right moment, but I do hold to my convictions on mixed-race issues in America.

Thanks for stopping by--and please continue to leave comments--I love the dialogue!

7 comments:

Gillian Swart said...

Cool; happy birthday! Just today I found your blog. Added it to my link list and will be checking back frequently.

Sang-Shil said...

Happy blog-iversary! I'm really glad that I discovered this blog. I always feel like I learn so much whenever I read here, from both your writing and the comments of others. Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful posts and responses.

Here's to many more years of blogging!

Brian Hunt said...

Happy anniversary! It's been a pleasure to read.

Tami said...

Congratulations...late! I am just finishing up a writing assignment that has been keeping me from my favorite blogs (Boooo!). It is finished and I am back.

I am looking forward to catching up on all your posts.

Jennifer said...

Tami!
Thanks for the well wishes--and congrats on finishing your writing deadline!

Anna said...

THIS IS MY FIRST TIME VISITING .I LIKE WHAT I HAVE READ SO FAR...NICE PAGE.ONE OF THE BIG PROBLEMS IN SOCIETY IS, PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO ADMIT THERE IS A RACE PROBLEM.I WAS ASKED BY A WHITE GUY, WHY ARE THERE BLACK BEAUTY CONTESTS? I TOLD HIM LOOK AT TV ADS,VERY RARELY DO WE SEE BLACK PEOPLE OR OTHER ETHNICS UNLESS IT'S A BLACK PROGRAM ON. BEAUTY CONTESTS DONT ALLOW MANY BLACK WOMEN TO ENTER ,ONLY A FEW GET A FAIR CHANCE.LOOK AT SUPER MODELS,I REMEMBER TYRA BANKS SAYING ONCE, THE INDUSTRY ONLY ALLOWS ONE BLACK SUPERMODEL AT A TIME.I SAW A PROGRAM A FEW WEEKS AGO, PUTTING THE INDUSTRY ON BLAST AS SEEING BLACK MODELS, AS IN ONE SEASON, AND OUT THE NEXT.BEAUTY IS BEAUTY.A WOMAN SAID TO ME ONCE,YOU HAVE BLACK HISTORY MONTH .WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT? I ALSO WANT TO SAY ALL WHITE PEOPLE AND OTHERS ARE NOT ALL THIS WAY,I COME FROM A MULTI-CULTURAL FAMILY.SO I'M COOL WITH ALL PEOPLE...AND MY EX IS A WHITE MAN FROM THE DEEP SOUTH.I THINK THERE IS A LOT LESS RACISM NOW THEN THERE WAS AS EARLY AS 10 YEARS AGO..IT WOULD BE NICE IF WE COULD JUST SEE PEOPLE AS HUMAN.SELECT THE PERSON THAT'S BEST SUITED FOR THE JOB, IF THEY MEET THE REQUIREMENTS,THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS IN THE WORLD THAT WE CAN BE CONCERNED ABOUT,HUNGRY,WARS,INFLATION,GAS PRICES..THIS EFFECTS EVERYONE.HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Jennifer said...

Anna,
Thanks for finding the blog and for leaving a comment. Yes, racism is, unfortunately, alive and well and race continues to be a confounding issue in American society. Which is why I'm interested in researching this topic and, more importantly, why I want to have discussions with folks like you about things related to race.

It's not a binary issue--not "black and white" if you will.

I hope you'll continue to leave thoughtful and insightful comments like the one above. Thanks for stopping by!