Race part 3

Step 2

Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Well, my power greater than myself is ah, the blog. See I confess, process and profess all this stuff on the blog. Damn. In all the 12 step programs I’ve tried, this step and step three always seem like ths stupidest ones. I don’t believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I’m not sure anything can, but I’m trying every day.

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

And I haven’t made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of god as I understand god. Because I don’t understand god at all. I am an unbeliever. But that will have to wait for another day because right now we are talking about race; and if I don’t stick to the topic, god-as-I-understand-god only knows when we’ll get back to it.

Step 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Racist, classist whatever is my failing, I do try hard to be good. That’s what I want on my grave: She Was Good. Or she tried to be good. Nah, put “she was good” the people who know better will smile, and the people who don’t will think I was good. But I am weak. And I fail sometimes. I say this by way of explanation for why I still (even after the arguments from smart people who know me well) think I’m a racist.

I feel racist because of my reaction to the fact that my little rental house isn’t looking good on the market, not to white folks. I have attributed this to the fact that the house is in a majority black neighborhood. When people ask me how the neighborhood is, I feel dishonest if I don’t tell them it’s mostly black (but I don’t). But I think that’s what they’re looking for. Maybe they are and maybe they’re not. But you know they are. Even if they don’t admit it to themselves.

When the white college kids came to walk through, I was gung-ho. They were gung-ho, I thought. But when the skinny black lady across the street came out to chat with me on the way in, I cringed inside and wished she had stayed in her house. That’s a racist thought. I didn’t act on it. But I felt it. And the college kids never did return my calls after they came to the house, saw the neighborhood. They were better than the heavy-set white woman with kids, who wrinkled her nose out in the front yard, looked around and said, “Mmm, I don’t think so.”

When we were trying to sell this same house, I honestly thought about planting white people around the block to make all those chicken-shit white people think it was whiter than it is. Let me break this down: It isn’t my own racism I’m reacting to when I want to “stage” the neighborhood. It’s my perception that buyers who are white (and most of St. Paul is white, so it’s an important market segment) are afraid to buy on a street they think is mostly black.

So what’s worse? Wanting to trick them because I want the sale? Wanting to trick them because I think it sucks that this city is so segregated? Relegating the actual (black) neighbors to the status of detriment in the neighborhood? Elevatint white people to an asset? But I’m doing all those things. And they are totally racist. I’m not judging myself here, just acknowledging it.

These are only thoughts I’ve had. I haven’t done anything to act them out. But I did think of it as a viable option. What does that mean?

Can it mean anything worse than the fact that the black guy at the apartment next door and the black guy across the street both asked me to try not to rent to any more black people? And what do you say to a black person who says, “Try not to rent to no more black folks. Find you a nice Hmong family. They nice and quiet.”? What do you say to that?

I’m not a bad person because I’m a racist. By saying it, I just acknowledge my own vulnerability and work on it every day. I’m a struggling racist. Struggling every day with my own racist thoughts and with what the truth is about race in this part of the world. Admitting I’m a racist is my way of telling people it’s OK to admit you are weak. It’s even OK for white people to talk about race.

If we make people afraid to talk openly about what they KNOW is true, they will go to the other side (the side of people who had made friends with their inner racist) because they think it ‘s the only place they can possibly belong, and while they’re there, they will be thinking,accurately, that we are lying about what is going on in the real world. They’ll be right. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some people are stagnated racists. They admit it, they don’t fight it and they blame which ever group they don’t like. Those people are more common than we’d like, but they’re a small percentage of the population.

There are people out there (my dear mother-in-law, for instance) who claim not to notice race. I have to believe them, but I can’t even comprehend how someone might not notice another person’s race. They are a rare breed, people who don’t even notice. I don’t mean people who ignore race, but the ones who really don’t notice. Here’s the kind of notice I’m talking about.

Have you ever had a zit or an extra roll of fat that you wished would go away, because people you talked to kept looking at it when they talked to you? Ever had that happen? If I recall correctly, a normal person can tell when the gaze of someone they’re talking to wanders even a quarter inch away from their eyes. So when someone can’t stop looking at that welt on your face or they notice your cottage cheesy thighs, you know they saw. And it takes something away from the conversation. You know even if they’re trying to listen to you, they are really not attending to you the way they would if you had a clear complexion.

Or a white complexion. Black people know. And it isn’t fair to them or me that I have that static in my mind. But I do. I think most people do. I also think most people are so embarrassed about how much they think about it that they actually deny that it has an im pact on their behavior. I was taught not to put the race of the person into a story unless it was pertinent to the story. It’s almost always pertinent in this culture. Everything to do with race is so loaded that for a white person to pretend she didn’t notice that someone was black is usually disingenuous.

Here’s the crux of what I’m getting at here, three things: Credibility double bind. If you can’t admit you noticed that guy who took your billfold was black, you’re lying. If you do admit it, you’re a racist. If you tell your kids not to take the Selby Avenue route home, you’re being racist. Selby is predominantly black in this part of town, and if you don’t admit that’s what you’re worried about, you are lying. If you don’t tell them to walk somewhere else, you’re stupid. Get it?

And when you start lying about things it’s because you’re afraid of the truth. Remember,admitting the truth can’t hurt you. The truth is there whether you admit it or not. It itself can hurt you. But it’s worse if it sneaks up on you.


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