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July 29, 2013

Racism, Conversations, and the Sound of One Hand Clapping

Yikes! Welcome, Instapundit, David Thompson, and The Virginian readers :)

An old Buddhist koan asks, "What is the sound of one hand, clapping?" A related - and more amusing - one asks, "If a man speaks and no woman is around to hear him, is he still wrong?" We laugh at the second one because there's an element of painful truth to it: the battle of the sexes often leaves women feeling frustrated and men feeling unfairly demonized. The answer to the first question is that, unlike our lonesome man (who is wrong simply by virtue of being male regardless of whether he has an audience), the sound of one hand clapping is actual silence.

Clapping, you see, is an act that requires two hands.

The same insight applies to conversations; any true exchange of views requires the active participation of at least two people. Moreover, two people with exactly the same memories and opinions can't really be said to be exchanging views, can they? Imagine a buyer and a seller, each offering exactly what the other already has: "I'll trade you this brand new crossbow for the identical one you're holding". Not much of an exchange, is it? After all that trouble, each walks away with exactly what he had to start with.

By its very nature, conversation - like any real exchange - implies some back and forth; one person offers his viewpoints and the other counters with a different set of ideas, recollections, or thoughts. The entire point is that, having sincerely tried to understand each other's position, each party walks away a bit wiser, hopefully with a better understanding of how the other person views things.

Pundits love to chide white Americans for their reluctance to speak honestly about race, but that reluctance should not surprise anyone. Attorney General Eric Holder, who commenced his last plea for honest racial dialog by calling the invitees "a nation of cowards", recently renewed the call for yet another national conversation about race; this time, one that is more open and presumably courageous. Mr. Holder (who is black) and our half black/half white President offered up memories of what they clearly presume to be uniquely black - and therefore uniquely painful - experiences: having people lock their car doors as you walk by, women clutching their purses in elevators, and perhaps most amusingly, "The Talk" (only) parents of black teens have with their sons about dealing with the police.

Victor Davis Hanson accepted Mr. Holder's invitation by offering up a few racial recollections of his own. His purpose, like that of Richard Cohen (who was quickly branded a racist), was to explain that the experiences cited by the President and Attorney General are all too often grounded in the actual (and painful) racial experiences of American whites. But rather than provoking that honest dialog Mr. Holder envisioned, the response to Mr. Hanson's recollections was aptly summed up in the title of Ta-Nehisi Coates' response: "It's the Racism, Stupid".

What stood out to this white reader was just how careful Mr. Hanson was to wrap his memories in caveats and context:

... my father was a lifelong Democrat. He had helped to establish a local junior college aimed at providing vocational education for at-risk minorities, and as a hands-on administrator he found himself on some occasions in a physical altercation with a disaffected student. In middle age, he and my mother once were parking their car on a visit to San Francisco when they were suddenly surrounded by several African-American teens. When confronted with their demands, he offered to give the thieves all his cash if they would leave him and my mother alone. Thankfully they took his cash and left.

I think that experience -- and others -- is why he once advised me, "When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you." Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like "typical black person." He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young -- or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.

It was after some first-hand episodes with young African-American males that I offered a similar lecture to my own son. The advice was born out of experience rather than subjective stereotyping. When I was a graduate student living in East Palo Alto, two adult black males once tried to break through the door of my apartment -- while I was in it. On a second occasion, four black males attempted to steal my bicycle -- while I was on it. I could cite three more examples that more or less conform to the same apprehensions once expressed by a younger Jesse Jackson. Regrettably, I expect that my son already has his own warnings prepared to pass on to his own future children.

Mr. Coates' response was typically dismissive. The racial experiences of blacks are poignant and touching: the young man who feels alienated by the suspicious glances of complete strangers, the father who finds it exquisitely painful to explain to his teenaged son that he mustn't give the police cause to arrest him, are meant to elicit sympathy.

The racial experiences of whites, on the other hand, are deemed not germane to this "honest" and frank racial discussion. For reasons not explained, they simply don't signify. Actual experiences like being robbed or threatened illustrate no larger theme about race relations in America. In this, they are different from the woman clutching her purse or the click of a car door. These more privileged experiences clearly underscore Deep, Racial Truths. The experiences of white folk, on the other hand, are treated as isolated incidents with no deeper meaning. Bringing them up is Not Helpful - it can only lead to forbidden thoughts and proscribed ideas (like the notion that people of all races are slow to forget unpleasant experiences, or that we all have an unfortunate tendency to generalize from particulars). The President is right to think purse-clutching women are indicative of some larger problem. Hanson is wrong to think that menacing teens are symbolic of anything.

This morning, Patterico highlights a similar attempt to shut down that honest national conversation. It consists of a list of Things White People Shouldn't Say When Discussing Race:

I went to the linked article, by Jenée Desmond-Harris of TheRoot.com, a black online magazine run in part by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. with corporate ties to Slate and the Washington Post. It is a “nonexhaustive list of ground rules and reminders” for conducting our “national conversation on race.” Given the site where it appeared, you will probably not be surprised to learn that Ms. Desmond-Harris’s piece reads like a list of things white people had better not say to black people. Here are some examples:
1. Talking about race isn’t racist. Don’t say that. Vilifying people who discuss race and point out racism — making them the bad guys — is one of the ways racism is maintained. So is acting as if “blacks suffer from racism” and “whites suffer from reverse racism” are equally valid points of view.

. . . .

5. Black people shouldn’t have to fit your definition of what’s respectable to deserve equality or justice. It’s silly and unfounded to blame inequality caused by institutionalized racism on, say, sagging pants or rap music. If you want to celebrate black people who are educated and high-achieving and defy persistent stereotypes, great, but that can’t be a requirement for fair treatment. We got into trouble with this type of thinking when evidence that Trayvon Martin was a normal teenager messed up so many people’s impression of him as a sympathetic victim.

. . . .

7. Individual racism and systemic racism are two different things. We should care about all the structures that maintain racial inequality, not just individual actors. (This is why it’s not unreasonable to jump from George Zimmerman’s impression of Trayvon Martin to racial profiling by police.) That said, individual acts can provide strong reminders about larger attitudes and problems. Ahem, Paula Deen. Ahem.

Individual racism is irrelevant, apparently, unless we’re talking about a white racist, in which case it is super-meaningful and illustrative of whites’ attitudes in general. Got it. Al Sharpton’s racism? Just one guy. Paula Deen’s? That is representative of “larger attitudes”!

The other numbered points are more of the same: don’t cite blacks like Bill Cosby on race issues; don’t talk about black-on-black crime (with a link to a piece titled Exposing the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime); and so forth. They’re basically rules for white people on things not to say to blacks.

Desmond-Harris’s piece noted that Saletan had done his own piece on how to have a conversation on race. I looked at that piece and noted that, with a couple of perfunctory nods to even-handedness, it too was basically a compendium of rules for white people on how to talk to blacks about race (e.g. don’t freak out if someone calls you a racist because, hey, maybe you really are one!).

I wondered: are there any pieces on how to talk to white people about race? Or is that not an important topic?

That's a good question, actually, and it's one I've been thinking about quite a lot lately. If this conversation is worth having then shouldn't it permit a real exchange of views and not just one side lecturing the other (or setting forth ground rules that essentially prevent exactly the kind of honest dialog we're told we're cowards for avoiding)? If we're ever to have a real conversation, then both sides need to be more respectful of each other's experiences, more aware of each other's sensitivities, and more forgiving of unintentional slights.

And neither side gets to unilaterally set the rules.

If we are to have that conversation, whites need to be willing to share their experiences and blacks need to be willing to listen. Here are my experiences with race:

I grew up in New England. When I was thirteen or so, my father was stationed in Washington DC area. Up until that time, my experience with blacks was limited to playing with the friend of a friend in 3rd grade. One of my most vivid memories is of lying in our bathing suits on my neighbor's lawn and holding hands as the sun warmed us. I will never forget looking at her hand in mine and marveling at the deep pink of her palms. My only other memory is of several encounters in the 4th and 6th grades with the lone black girl in my classes. Her name was Linda.

The fact that my very first experience with bullying involved that lone black girl was, to my way of thinking, just a coincidence. Yes, Linda relentlessly bullied the other girls on the playground, cutting in line, pushing people out of her way and grabbing the jump rope whenever she decided it was "her turn". Linda had two turns to everyone else's one. And yes, Linda hung around after school and repeatedly tried to draw me into fights. But that had nothing to do with the color of her skin. It was simply, I thought, that she was miserable and lonely. She had few friends. Given her personality, that wasn't surprising. Linda was like a fish out of water. A tiny white girl named Joy clung to her side like a remora. Linda didn't really like Joy, but even a parasite was better than being alone.

Eventually I managed to make friends with Joy, but while I never got into a fight with Linda, I was never able to connect with her.

In the 7th grade we moved to DC. My new junior high had recently started bussing blacks from the city and rural whites from the surrounding farms into our middle class school district. For the first time, as I walked down the hallways between classes I was groped by black boys and often witnessed black-on-white fistfights. I was uncomfortable with the verbal backlash to this aggression and belligerence. But oddly, I never heard the much-discussed "n word" pass anyone's lips (black or white).

One day, leaving school, a large and vicious group of black girls began beating up another girl. I had never seen a group of kids beat up a lone victim, and it terrified me. At about this time, I lost a new jacket my mother had just bought me. It was very distinctive - a brightly colored plaid. I later saw it on a girl in one of my classes. She was at least two sizes larger than me, and the jacket's buttons were strained to the breaking point.

My name was inside that jacket, so there was no doubt that its new 'owner' knew exactly who it belonged to. Yet I didn't report it stolen. The girl was the one who had incited the group beating I had witnessed the week before. I got the message and suddenly, the jacket didn't seem worth having to fight off her numerous friends.

The next year, we moved to high school and the racial tensions continued. They were, so far as I could see, instigated by a small group of students. I had several black friends - students I shared classes with - so it was clear that not every black student in our school had a problem with whites.

But there is a hard, hard truth here. If it is acceptable for the President of the United States or the Attorney General to regale us with a remembered litany of racial slights, why is it racist and wrong for Victor Davis Hanson to share memories that left an imprint upon him? Why is it racist and wrong for me to do the same?

I don't think I grew up racist. The worst argument I ever had with a friend occurred in my Junior year. My father, a Navy Captain, had transferred again and I now attended a private school in Tidewater, Virginia. There were only 2 blacks in the entire Upper School and there were no fights, ever. My best friend came down to visit me, and one night we sat looking out at the water and talking about school. I'm not sure how we got onto the subject, but the racial problems at my old HS came up and my friend, the daughter of German parents, dared to say something unacceptable.

She dared to say that she deeply resented having to worry about being groped or bullied or beaten up because of events that occurred over a hundred years before her parents came to this country. She resented being targeted because her skin was lighter than the skin of certain other students. She was the descendant of German Jews who were targeted by the Nazis. And she really didn't see why she should have to tread carefully around people to whom neither she nor her ancestors had offered any offense?

I responded with all the airy platitudes I had been carefully taught. Slavery was wrong, and had left deep wounds. She should understand and make allowances. She should watch what she said (and how she said it), lest she compound the injury.

In my defense, I was a child still. But I was still wrong, and what's worse, I was deeply unfair to a friend who had done no wrong except to speak honestly about race during a private moment when there was no possibility of hurting anyone. That's a reaction many whites are familiar with - when they attempt to honestly share their feelings on this topic, they are insulted, vilified, dismissed. Make no mistake - the racial memories of white folks can be painful, too. But the bad experiences - the ones that make us angry, or frighten us - are not all there is because thankfully, bad people of all colors are still in the minority.

Like most Americans, I have other racial experiences; happy ones. Friendships filled with laughter and good times. Acts of kindness and compassion. But pain looms large in our recollections.

Another old friend came to visit me in Virginia - a young, black man I had dated at my old school. I've told that story before, here - how his mother stood up for what was right and held her son to the standard we all should aspire to: seeing the person beyond the culture, the clothes, the accent, the skin color.

Does either side of the racial divide honestly want to understand where the other is coming from?

It's hard to escape the thought that Holder's remembered conversation with his father is offered to white America as some sort of teaching moment: "See? This is what we've been going through all these years. This is the world we live in..." But I read it with a sense of disbelief, because most parents I know have had exactly the same conversation with their sons at some point. Ours occurred after my well groomed, red haired, and very white-skinned son came home from an evening out, complaining that the police had "hassled" him and his friends for "no good reason".

"You're a teenaged boy, out driving around late at night. It's not exactly unknown for groups of teenaged boys to get into trouble, son", I remember responding. "Look at how you're dressed".

How he was dressed wasn't unacceptable, but it was a far cry from the way he dressed at school: no t-shirts, jeans that fit, shirt with a collar, belt, leather shoes. He was wearing baggy jeans, a t-shirt with a flannel shirt over it, Sketchers-type sneakers, and a beanie. His attire was a cross between West coast 90s grunge and hip-hop. I expect his demeanor was subtly different as well.

"What did you expect, son?", I asked. "You look like you're up to no good". And that was the entire point of the costume: to look older, hipper, somewhat edgy. To look dangerous.

Was it wrong for me to teach my son that people rarely look below the surface? Is it profiling when I - a grown woman - instinctively throw my shoulders back and walk more briskly when I find myself alone in the parking garage of my office late at night? I don't believe that all men are rapists - not even close.

On more than one occasion it has occurred to me that a lone man in an elevator or in the parking garage can probably sense the heightened alertness in my body language - the sense of threat. It's not something I'm comfortable with, and it has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the fact that women don't often rape or attack other women. Was I sexually profiling when I locked my car doors several weeks ago while my husband ducked into a convenience store late at night? There wasn't a black person in sight, but there were a lot of men. I doubt I would have locked the doors, had the parking lot been full of women.

Are men who avoid being alone with women they work with, profiling? Or are they just prudent? How can any of us know why another human being is uneasy around us unless we know their history? This is the implied refrain running through our too often one-sided conversations about race: "You have to be extra careful of what you say because you can't possibly understand how I might interpret your words".

That's an observation that cuts both ways. Or ought to. If you only know your side of the story of America, you are operating blindly. And if you won't allow your fellow Americans the same latitude you demand, you can't expect them to engage in conversation with you. Honest conversations are often uncomfortable and painful. They can make us momentarily angry, or paranoid, or resentful.

But at the other side of that honest conversation lies something worth attaining: the understanding that while our experiences do play a role in shaping our perceptions, they don't have to define us. They don't necessarily determine who we are or how we relate to others unless we let them. There is always so much more to learn about other people and other lives if only we are willing to risk a little pain, a little anger, a little discomfort.

A little humility.

Are we ready for that? Will we ever be ready for it? I'm game if you are.

Posted by Cassandra at July 29, 2013 07:00 AM

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Comments

I'm game if anyone will answer one simple question:
What *races* are we talking about here?

Posted by: DL Sly at July 29, 2013 02:48 PM

Are you supposed to answer a koan? :)

Posted by: Grim at July 29, 2013 02:51 PM

Are you supposed to answer a koan? :)

Well, I think you're supposed to think about it :)

[breaking out in song]

I am woman, hear me Roar
I'm getting too big to ignore...

My boys used to love that one when they were little... heh.

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 03:22 PM

What *races* are we talking about here?

As my esteemed spouse always points out, "Since when did Hispanic become a race?" :p When did we start dividing Hispanics into white Hispanics and black Hispanics?

A lot of people seem to use race as a proxy for socio-economic status or culture, albeit inconsistently. It applies, when it applies.

*sigh*

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 03:37 PM

National Conversation = We Need to Talk = You Need to Shut Up While I Lecture You About Everything You've Done Wrong.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 29, 2013 03:47 PM

That's definitely the way it comes across, especially when The List includes things the other person is not allowed to say because their skin is the wrong color, or because it might make someone feel bad. I kept imagining the same standard being applied to the President's remarks.

On the way to work last week, I listened to a rather astonishing local talk radio show in which I learned (in excruciating detail) what the 4 or 5 hosts and guests truly think about race. It was pretty disturbing stuff.

I couldn't imagine a bunch of white people seriously discussing how to win the coming race war against blacks on public radio. Did you know we're in the middle of a race war? That's what these folks were talking about, to include government conspiracies to exterminate anyone with brown skin, circling black helicopters - and not the good kind, neither! - evil Jooooos, and a lot of what I can only describe as hate speech directed at whites.

Paid for with our tax dollars.

On the one hand, they were just talking. On the other, it's hard to believe anything they discussed would be tolerated had the participants been white. I think any really honest discussion has to include that double standard. I actually believe that saying certain things is just not helpful or acceptable. Saying we're in a race war isn't helpful or acceptable.

On another drive home, I listened to a local talk show in which the discussion centered around the injustice in the fact that Trayvon Martin was tried by an all white jury.

It's hard to know how to respond to that, or to the many times over the past few weeks when I've been told that it's racist to generalize from a few negative experiences to an entire race, by a speaker who then proceeds to do just that :p

I agree that we need some ground rules. I just think that perhaps they ought to apply to everyone.

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 04:22 PM

No, that's against the rules. From your article:

"Yep, sometimes there are different standards for
black and white stuff.... To accept this requires letting go of the idea that this is really simple and thinking a little deeper about context and history. Please give up on the "But what if the races were reversed?" line of thinking. That type of analysis makes conversations simple, but it also makes them totally unhelpful."

Actually, they may really be right about that to a certain degree. That 'let's just reverse the case' mode of inquiry is called deconstruction, and I think it often does produce simplistic (not just simple) answers -- and not just in this conversation. It can be interesting to ask 'what would happen if we reversed...?' But just as the author says, if you don't take into account history and context, you're going to end up with an unhelpful recommendation a fair amount of the time.

Posted by: Grim at July 29, 2013 04:25 PM

Please give up on the "But what if the races were reversed?" line of thinking. That type of analysis makes conversations simple, but it also makes them totally unhelpful."

That's amusing, given that this is exactly what the President did in his last speech :p

It can be interesting to ask 'what would happen if we reversed...?' But just as the author says, if you don't take into account history and context, you're going to end up with an unhelpful recommendation a fair amount of the time.

The problem here is that people who have an axe to grind against whomever they've decided is The Other (women, men, blacks, whites) present cherry picked anecdotes where the answer to "what would happen if the roles were reversed" is assumed to be a foregone conclusion because.... racism/sexism/political correctness/liberalism/conservatism. Name your poison.

I happen to think it's a useful question, and one to which the answer has changed over time. We don't know the answer ever, definitively. But it helps pry us out of the "My team, wrong or right" lens through which most of us see the world.

That's a real problem in any discussion like this, but it's hardly an insuperable barrier. I can think of any number of permutations of the Zimmerman case where simply flipping the race changes what various people assume about the facts. It's not a perfect way of discounting bias, but it's a start.

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 04:46 PM

There are cases in which it can be a useful question, but it's usually -- if we apply it honestly -- in finding out why things are as they are, rather than suggesting that they should be otherwise.

Let's say that group A locks their car doors when relatively large numbers of group B walk by. Would group B do the same if group A walked by? What does that tell us?

Well, nothing! As an abstract question, we don't know if A is afraid of B because of blind prejudice, or good reasons; or if B isn't afraid of A because of A's virtue, or because B has some powers that make even a group of A not much of a threat to a member of B. There could be a religious or a social custom at work -- perhaps group A considers group B unclean, or perhaps group A is trying to demonstrate modesty in an ostentatious way that is culturally valued.

History and context are everything. What if the person in the car was a B? Would he lock the door? No? All that tells us is that we ought to inquire into "why not?".

We can't do that, though, if (as you rightly say) we assume an answer from the structure of the question itself. You don't even have to cherry pick the anecdotes: the frame is strong enough that you can use any anecdote you like. Some sort of prejudice is assumed by the form of the argument.

Posted by: Grim at July 29, 2013 06:04 PM

Let's say that group A locks their car doors when relatively large numbers of group B walk by. Would group B do the same if group A walked by? What does that tell us?

I don't lock my doors simply because of who is walking by. I lock my doors more in some neighborhoods or areas and times than others. In broad daylight at a convenience store, I'd be highly unlikely EVER to lock my door no matter where it was.

At midnight, I'd be unlikely not to lock it no matter where it was. I locked my doors more when my husband was deployed for a year at a time even though my neighborhood probably wasn't any more dangerous. Time and place. And circumstance.

When I'm walking in the parking garage at my office in the morning and I encounter a lone man, I feel no sense of threat. If the same thing happens at 8:30 at night after almost everyone in the building has gone home and it's dark, I am always at least aware that I need to have my keys out and be alert.

I have a real problem with the "you can't possibly understand my unique pain/rage but damn you, you had best never forget it" shtick. Either you want me to assume you're a person mostly like myself, or an exotic creature whose inner resentments and barely restrained rage I can never, ever fathom.

I can't do both, but telling me you're seething with repressed anger does little to convince me that underneath, we're all human beings who should be able to get along with a modicum of effort on both sides.

Which is kind of the problem. I get the feeling a lot of these folks can't make up their minds whether we're all irreconcilably unlike each other or kindred spirits. Personally, I'd rather err on the side of all people being mostly human. I don't think I need to understand everyone I meet to get along with them.

And I really don't want to have to feel responsible for their feelings. I believe I should be reasonably polite and considerate, but if I can't possibly be expected to understand someone's unique experience, how can I have a hope in hell of not hitting a nerve?

Yikes. I've had the thought many a time when reading outrageous stories about rapes and domestic violence and the sickening nexus of sex with violence in popular culture that clearly there is some fairly large subset of men who find hurting/humiliating women to be "sexy". You have only to turn on the TV to become immersed in this nonsense.

I suppose I could let that feeling overwhelm me to the point where I suspected all men of harboring similar sensibilities, but where does that get me? Where does it leave society, or relations between men and women?

Nowhere, that's where. That's why I prefer to focus on how people treat me in real life and not worry overly much about what they might be thinking. Deeds, not thoughts.

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 06:27 PM

YAG's formulation has it just right.

When those who have made of their blackness a career, profession, or vocation, call for dialogues on race they have it in mind what many women have in mind when they say to a man 'we need to talk'. It means I'll talk and take a measure of your response in its attitude, demeanor, tone, mood, tenor, empathy, regret, and contrition - down to the inflections.

No dialogue on race can commence without an admission by the black culprit class that black culture has been nearly destroyed by liberal condescension of blacks as volitionally incompetent to know right from wrong and act accordingly to their best interests and success. Complicit in this are the professionally black cottage industrialists dealing in 'racism'.

"Honest conversations are often uncomfortable and painful."

What's even more uncomfortable and painful is when one side has received a dispensation from all culpability for their dire straits and the other side all accountability.

Who are whites to dialogue with?

Charlie Rangel: “It’s not ‘spic’ or ‘nigger’ anymore. [Instead] they say ‘let’s cut taxes.’”

That ship (dialogue) has not sailed – it has sunk.

Posted by: George Pal at July 29, 2013 06:54 PM

There is no point to the conversation. It's merely a downward spiral to accusations.

"I will keep one heart to show the world, one to show my family, and the third one that only I will see."

Posted by: Allen at July 29, 2013 06:55 PM

There is no point to the conversation. It's merely a downward spiral to accusations.

Doesn't that depend on who you're having the conversation with, though? I can't think of a single blanket statement that applies to every member of any group of people.

I agree with you (and George) that the continual insults, sucker punches, and displays of bad faith from the vocal minority (pun fully intended) have all but destroyed the trust and goodwill needed for conversations between people who would actually like for things to improve. That's why I wrote this, after much hesitation.

That's what they want - they want us to stop trying to get along; to hate and resent each other. Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book because it works so well. As a wise man once said:

There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs-partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.

Good advice for anyone, as I've never known a well honed and carefully hoarded sense of grievance to make anyone happier, smarter, or better able to survive.

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 07:20 PM

When those who have made of their blackness a career, profession, or vocation, call for dialogues on race they have it in mind what many women have in mind when they say to a man 'we need to talk'. It means I'll talk and take a measure of your response in its attitude, demeanor, tone, mood, tenor, empathy, regret, and contrition - down to the inflections.

OK George, I'll bite.

I've said, "we need to talk" many a time over the years to various men in my life, and yes - I've always paid attention to both the spoken word and the way things were said. Most people - even men! - do that.

I don't recall ever saying that to someone I did not genuinely care for deeply. Why assume you know what women are thinking? How is this any better than the folks who can't wait to tell us what so-and-so *really* meant, when in reality they have no way of knowing?

I don't have much confidence in anyone's assertion that they know what someone else is thinking.

Presuming bad faith when people try to discuss a problem is always an option, certainly. It doesn't make much sense in the context of a long term relationship, unless of course one isn't really interested in the success (or failure) of that relationship. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be married today if I couldn't discuss problems with my husband.

I don't know many marriages that can survive that.

Posted by: Cass at July 29, 2013 07:28 PM

Coleman Young: "Law and order is code for keep the n------s down."

Really, is there any statement that's not code for racism? How about "quit trying to kill me"? Do I really have to hear, "But I'm only trying to kill you because you hurt my feelings by considering me a potential murderer"?

I was struck by this helpful advice: "individual acts can provide strong reminders about larger attitudes and problems." But apparently that works only one way.

I've always been a big one for taking in accurate information about the person in front of me even if it conflicts with my group-based expectations. But I'm not crazy enough to think I shouldn't base expectations on actual experience. And I need a safe space in which to use a particular experience to change my expectations; I won't be engaging in much re-evaluation if I'm in fear for my life.

The whole sorry business seems to amount to saying "Don't you dare accuse me of hypocrisy, because I'd rather focus on my unique grievances, and you owe me." Count me out of the conversation.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 29, 2013 07:38 PM

Observations:

1. I grew up in Seattle, and have since moved around a bit, and travelled extensively. Appears obvious to me that the 'issue' of race is hugely different, depending on what part of the country you are in, and sometimes even by neighborhood. I've found the issue to be much more tense/aggressive in large urban metro areas in the Northeast and upper 'Midwest.'

2. The entire discussion of race is based on the false premise that people are fundamentally different due to inherited physical attributes, particularly skin color.
. . . Martin Luther King was right, and the current generation of race baiters ought to reread his words.

3. There *are* people w/ dark skin that are willing to engage in a constructive discussion of race based issues, including Ben Carson, Juan Williams, LtCol Allen West (yeah, I'm a fan), Bill Cosby; hell I'd include Charles Barkley.
Mitch McConnell is married to a Chinese American woman (and former cabinet secretary) with less that 'pale' skin; I am greatly amused by libs that describe him as a racist.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at July 29, 2013 11:16 PM

I say that because it is pointless. If I know where it is going to end, why start?

Heck, my family were serfs under the Czar, after the Civil War in this country, and then clawed their way here. I'm supposed to engage in what? I'm guilty of what?

Some of my forebears relatives were refused entrance to this country due to "excessive" ethnicity. Yet I'm supposed to engage in a conversation about race because of my skin color?

This is were it always ends up, if you are not black you'd better fess up. To hell with it.

Posted by: Allen at July 29, 2013 11:17 PM

1. During the Watts Riot my father remarked to my brother and me that the trouble with race wars is that they put children in uniform. A poignant analysis all by itself, but a comment made earlier in an entirely different context made it even more penetrating. My dad, a WWII vet, had told of discussing in the barracks how come he and his friends would kill other soldiers. He related that many of the men defaulted to "because they wear a different uniform", even expressing anger that anybody would want further thought about the question.

2. Years ago. Stopped our construction work at friend's. Lunchtime. Joining us for the workday was the son of a long time friend, that friend a missionary to India and Nepal. The son brought with him another friend, a student from Nepal. Don't recall the circumstances that led to our conversation touching on relations between races in the U.S. But the college age kid from Nepal completely overwhelmed me, 30 yrs his senior, with how completely out of touch I was.

I had been talking of black-white in the U.S. While I had thought of it, I had never realized how significant an issue race hatred was all over the world. The kid talked about the missionary problems with Nepalese hating those from India. And conversely. And how it was not merely Hindu vs Muslim in India vs Pakistan, but deep racial hatreds.

How had I missed connecting the dots? I knew about racial factors motivating the Japanese choices leading to WWII, knew about, eg, the Rape of Nanking. I even knew the Chinese thought of themselves as superior to the Japanese.

Now I know with a lot more clarity about WWII Italy vs Ethiopia, about Cambodians vs Viets, Viets vs Chinese, about different (as in more than one) genocide wars not only having happened but going on now at various places in Africa. I've read Thomas Sowell's pieces about racism. Getting people to change out of a uniform and talk isn't easy.

Posted by: Roy at July 29, 2013 11:50 PM

After some reflection, I decided it would be better to sleep on it before responding to some of the comments.

A few disconnected thoughts:

re: the Coleman Young (whoever he is - never heard of the guy) and Charles Rangel quotes. What's the takeaway here? That because a progressive said something monumentally stupid (surprise!), there's no point in discussing whatever topic they've chosen to beclown themselves with this week?

When Rush Limbaugh regaled a waiting America with his less-than-encyclopedic knowledge of the heretofore unknown connection between taking the Pill and being a slut, I didn't accept the liberal mantra that he is authorized to speak for all conservatives. Do Rangel/Young speak for all progressives? Where did they get that authority?

Grim's take was that people like that should be ignored because they're not worth our time. I thought it useful for conservatives to point out that most of us really do know that being on the Pill doesn't mean you're having sex every day of the month.

He shot off his mouth for the same reason people like Rangel shoot off theirs - they're appeals to emotion and boy howdy did a lot of conservatives cheer him on. I was literally shocked at how many hadn't bothered to read what Fluke actually said (which was bad enough before it was distorted beyond recognition).

It's not just adults listening to these twits. Children and young adults are listening too, and some day they'll vote. It sure would be nice if there were a few sane voices (not to mention accurate information) out there to counter the blowhards.

The entire discussion of race is based on the false premise that people are fundamentally different due to inherited physical attributes, particularly skin color.

I would qualify that just a bit: the discussion is based on the false premise that anyone who favors/disagrees with race conscious public policy is motivated by racial animus. I have enough liberal friends to know that's not true - I disagree about the best way to help people who are struggling, but I don't think my progressive friends hate all white people (including themselves) and I don't think all conservatives hate blacks and want them to suffer.

It's easy to fall back on the position that anyone who disagrees with you is motivated by some unspoken agenda that only you (in the generic sense, not aimed at anyone here) are smart enough to detect. That's the underlying premise behind both the "racist dog whistle" and the popular notion that no progressive is ever just honestly wrong about some things - they must be Evil. It's a way of dismissing disagreement without addressing *why* the other person is wrong.

If I know where it is going to end, why start?

How do you know where it's going to end? I don't claim to know where any of this will end up.

Certainly some people, somewhere will say bad things during the discussion. So what? That always happens. It happened during the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention. Some of the invective was so vicious you could have used it to strip varnish. Does that mean there was no point to hashing out policy differences and forming a government?

While I had thought of it, I had never realized how significant an issue race hatred was all over the world. The kid talked about the missionary problems with Nepalese hating those from India. And conversely. And how it was not merely Hindu vs Muslim in India vs Pakistan, but deep racial hatreds.How had I missed connecting the dots? I knew about racial factors motivating the Japanese choices leading to WWII, knew about, eg, the Rape of Nanking. I even knew the Chinese thought of themselves as superior to the Japanese.

Bingo. We think things are just so hard and so awful here, but we're not killing each other in the streets.

I don't know any better response to unreason than to respond with something better for those people who want something better. Arguably, I don't do such a great job of that, but I do what I can. The goal isn't to stop morons from being morons or demagogues from stirring up hate and discontent. Those aren't reasonable goals.

The goal is not to cede the floor to the screamers.

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 07:54 AM

That's definitely the way it comes across

It's not the way it comes across, that's the way it actually is. A follow up post at Patterico about Jenée Desmond-Harris proves it:

Not to mention, "conversation" and "dialogue" suggest everyone gets to talk. And lets be honest, some people need to listen
Anyone who desires a conversation can have it. Find someone of the other race that you know personally and have built up some trust and start talking. It's even easier now as on the internet no one knows you're a dog. Find a forum where the people there act respectful and of good character and just start talking.

The point of real conversations are to increase understanding, exchange ideas, and maybe to persuade. The point of a "National Conversation" is that those real conversations haven't gotten the "right" results and it's now time for the floggings to begin.


The problem here is that people who have an axe to grind against whomever they've decided is The Other (women, men, blacks, whites) present cherry picked anecdotes where the answer to "what would happen if the roles were reversed" is assumed to be a foregone conclusion because.... racism/sexism/political correctness/liberalism/conservatism. Name your poison.

Yep foregone conclusion. That's why this black guy who killed an unarmed white teen in "self-defense" got the electric chair not even an hour after the verdict was read. Those La-Z-Boys with the built in back massager sound a little chintzy to me, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 30, 2013 09:02 AM

While I don't have a problem with anyone who feels the need to engage in individual conversations about race, I also don't see such conversations having any appreciable effect on public policy.

And while I've often come away from conversations with individuals with an increased understanding of how differently people view the same events, I would be hard pressed to think of a single individual conversation that has materially changed my thinking on any issue.

That is not true of public debates. I can think of several times when I've read a well crafted argument and thought, "Well I never saw the slightest bit of virtue to X, but this argument is one that makes perfect sense to me". It hasn't been my experience very often that individuals I talk to in real life have thought things out to the degree needed to craft a really coherent argument. I may gain other insights from conversations with individuals, but I don't get the same kind of insights I get from formal arguments.

Media IS a conversation. If we decide, "Oh, this person said something dumb that makes me furious, thus there's no point in thinking about/discussing public policy issue Y any more", then the conversation goes on just the same, except no one reads a reasoned rebuttal because the reasonable people on both sides took their balls and went home.

I'm not saying that anyone *must* engage in a national conversation. Only that that's the way minds are most likely to be changed.

If I had tuned out of the Martin/Zimmerman case, for instance, I would not know anything about SYG laws. I wouldn't know that they weren't even invoked in this case. I would not know that Martin had been in trouble several times with authority, or that stolen property (reported stolen separately by the owners, but wrongly classified as "found" in a report) had been found in his backpack.

Surely that information is germane to the discussion? Surely the fact that a school district was so worried about suppressing the actual frequency of criminal activity at a public school is germane to this discussion? Overcompensation has got to be relevant during any discussion over whether minorities are treated "fairly" by the system. And "but for" this ongoing conversation, I wouldn't even know about it.

I'm sorry, but I can't agree that there's no point to discussing any of this. Ducking conflict doesn't make it go away, and being called names by people I don't respect shouldn't deter me or anyone else who wants to participate from pushing back against distortions and mischaracterizations.

What is the point of discussing ANYTHING, if the outcome is all predestined? Why have I been showing up here for the last decade or so?

Maybe this is all a colossal waste of time and I should just give up. We already know nothing will ever change.

I'm sorry, but I don't understand that way of thinking. Self governance is hard. Conflict is hard.

The alternatives are even harder.

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 10:21 AM

"OK George, I'll bite."

I did say many women - not all, not even a majority.

And I have not surmised beforehand what women, or men, are thinking; only noted a response that rejects any effort to understand a different though valid point and is made as critique and correction. One may not presume bad faith but may recognize it after the fact. And your anecdotal experiences are no more valid than mine.

Besides which, your post on race began with the slam of the lonesome man. It's not demolition derby if no-one hits back, ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

Posted by: George Pal at July 30, 2013 10:26 AM

My point is that debates, even public ones happen, and generally spontaneously.

Those that go out crying from the hills "We need a debate, We need a debate" are really saying "My side's losing, My side's losing, you need to shut up"

The Zimmerman case has cause a lot of discussion and much of it about race. This is a good thing. We've been having a national conversation. It's been going on for months already. But the greivance monsters aren't winning it.

We need a "National Conversation" because they are losing the national conversation.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 30, 2013 10:52 AM

....I have not surmised beforehand what women, or men, are thinking; only noted a response that rejects any effort to understand a different though valid point and is made as critique and correction. One may not presume bad faith but may recognize it after the fact. And your anecdotal experiences are no more valid than mine.

George, I don't think my anecdotal experiences are any more valid than anyone else's. I can't talk about other people's experiences. I haven't experienced them.

I'm really puzzled by the notion that telling someone your experience differs from theirs is in any way equivalent to saying that their experiences are inferior or invalid? I don't mind defending things I have actually argued, but don't think I should have to defend positions I never held in the first place (even in my mind).

I offered the joke about a man being wrong even if no woman is around to hear him as an indictment of exactly that kind of thinking ... on both sides. Obviously everything said by a man can't be literally wrong - that's just stupid. But isn't it equally stupid to act as though seriously believing men are always wrong is some kind of uniquely feminine trait?

Over the years, my husband and I have developed a few inside jokes we use to defuse confrontations. One of them developed after an argument in which he accused me of "yelling" at him. After we both calmed down, I pointed out that although he frequently really does yell at me, I have rarely if ever actually yelled at him. I've learned not to take his yelling personally - raising their voices is a thing guys often do during confrontations. The very fact that I don't yell makes him more conscious of any sign of anger in my voice. So even though I don't actually yell at him, the effect of my relatively restrained arguing on him is exactly the same as if I had yelled.

And people think men aren't able to read women :p

It's become a joke now, and the point of the joke is that I need to remember that simply not yelling during arguments doesn't mean he doesn't *feel* yelled at. And he needs to remember that just because raising their voices is something guys do (and may not mean what I think it means), it really sucks to be on the receiving end.

Perceptions differ. They also matter. That was the point of my "man is always wrong" joke - men often come away from conversations with women feeling like nothing they say is ever right. I suspect part of this is that they go into conversations thinking there's some magic thing they can say that will somehow make problems go away, and there isn't most of the time.

And women often come away from those conversations feeling that an inflexible stereotype about women having to "win" is being used to dismiss sometimes legitimate concerns.

At some point, both sides need to learn to set aside their emotions long enough to entertain the strong possibility that their viewpoint isn't the only viewpoint that counts.

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 11:02 AM

Besides which, your post on race began with the slam of the lonesome man. It's not demolition derby if no-one hits back, ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

Fair enough :)

But you didn't seriously think you'd get the last word, did you? You *are* dealing with a woman...

Just sayin' :p

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 11:06 AM

"I suspect part of this is that they [men] go into conversations thinking there's some magic thing they can say that will somehow make problems go away, and there isn't most of the time."

Holy Moly! You mean there's isn't any such thing? I suppose I'll just have to give up trying to come up with one and stick with the old incantations...
"You look beautiful" and "I love you".

Posted by: George Pal at July 30, 2013 11:19 AM

Pay no attention to her, George. There is a "magic thing." It's spelled J-E-W-E-L-R-Y.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 30, 2013 11:55 AM

You're a lucky man, spd. My wife is more impressed by long sessions of hard physical labor on behalf of one of her projects.

Posted by: Grim at July 30, 2013 12:13 PM

"having people lock their car doors as you walk by, women clutching their purses in elevators, and perhaps most amusingly, "The Talk" (only) parents of black teens have with their sons about dealing with the police."

I'm (to outward appearances) white. I'm also male, 6' 2", north of 250 pounds and favor black leather jackets. I've had all those things happen to me. I've had people cross the street to avoid me when walking down one at night. I've had a cop pull his gun out and point it at me when he stopped me for a ticket in the middle of winter when it was cold and I was stupid enough to get out of my car and stick my hands in my pockets.

So, sorry guys, no sympathy.

Posted by: RonF at July 30, 2013 12:20 PM

S"o is acting as if “blacks suffer from racism” and “whites suffer from reverse racism” are equally valid points of view."

Here's another one. What's your definition of "racism"?

Here's 3 from www.dictionary.com:

1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Sound about right to you? They do to me. But not to the left. To the left, all these things apply only if the person holding such beliefs or promoting such policies or hatred has the power to impose them on others. And - only white people have such power, blacks do not. Thus, they either deny that blacks can be racist, or we get the concept of "reverse racism" introduced. "Reverse racism" is nonsense. Racism is racism, it's a scalar quantity, not a vector quantity. "Reverse racism" does not exist.

Posted by: RonF at July 30, 2013 12:26 PM

I'm (to outward appearances) white. I'm also male, 6' 2", north of 250 pounds and favor black leather jackets. I've had all those things happen to me. I've had people cross the street to avoid me when walking down one at night. I've had a cop pull his gun out and point it at me when he stopped me for a ticket in the middle of winter when it was cold and I was stupid enough to get out of my car and stick my hands in my pockets.

Ron, you ignorant slut... :)

Your experiences can all be explained away (or better yet, simply ignored). Mssrs. Obama and Holder, on the otter heiny, have the power to read the minds of purse-clutching white women and door clickers everywhere. There's only one explanation that fits: haters gonna hate.

Which you would surely understand, if only you had a proper respect for the scintillating mental prowess of your intellectual betters...

*running away*

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 12:28 PM

Pay no attention to her, George. There is a "magic thing." It's spelled J-E-W-E-L-R-Y.

It's a good thing the Blog Princess is such a patient, gentle creature... :)

*cough*

Seriously, for all I know there may well be a magic thing. I should not have presumed to speak for All Womynkynd, half-vast as I am reputed to be :p

What does it for me every time is the simple willingness to sit down for a moment and see if we can find a solution.

Though I'll readily admit that like most people I like to get my way, (or "win", or whatever guys assume women are doing when we want to solve a problem that doesn't seem to be getting better on its own), I'll settle for simple willingness to meet me half way.

Ppppppttttthhhhhhtttthhh!

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 12:39 PM

"Reverse racism" is nonsense. Racism is racism, it's a scalar quantity, not a vector quantity. "Reverse racism" does not exist.

Amen, Ron.

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 12:40 PM

Actually, Cass, I think spd has a serious point behind the jesting. One of the things that really does sometimes work when conversation can't is a demonstration, by personal sacrifice, of commitment to the other's happiness or well-being.

It doesn't always work. Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates is relevant to an example I wrote about a year or so back, which began with such a gesture that ended up being slapped away. But it's the kind of thing that sometimes can work, where no words will.

Posted by: Grim at July 30, 2013 01:01 PM

One of the more infuriating things about mr rdr is that even when he's yanking my chain, he is sometimes right. I swear he does that on purpose just to annoy me. :p

One of the things that really does sometimes work when conversation can't is a demonstration, by personal sacrifice, of commitment to the other's happiness or well-being.

That makes perfect sense to me. I almost responded to the jewelry thing by saying that whether it worked or not probably had something to do with the perceived issue that prompted the request to talk in the first place.

I don't think jewelry would work terribly well for me because when I'm upset about something, I want to address *that* problem. If what I were upset about was a failure to buy me jewelry or show evidence that I was valued in some way, then absolutely: jewelry answers the mail.

If what I was upset about was the other person not taking things I said seriously or being dismissive, then it's probably the worst possible response because I'd feel the other person was trying to buy my silence. Here, I walk away convinced that my original assessment was spot on - the other person's lack of respect for me is confirmed.

On at least one occasion I have gone into a Marital Discussion utterly convinced that I was unalterably in the right and the spousal unit was being completely unreasonable. But during the discussion, I learned that he had a good reason for whatever it was he was doing. So he wasn't, in fact, being unreasonable at all - it was just that I couldn't imagine what his reason was until he explained it to me. It only made sense from his perspective, and so it never occurred to me.

In those cases, the resolution was that he would continue to do exactly what he had been doing, and I would adjust my thinking. Now is that a "win" (dear Lord... I hate that way of looking at things and will never understand it as long as I live) for me?

Yes, I think it was, because I'm no longer upset and I never expected the world to revolve around me anyway.

Was it a "win" for him? No question, unless one views requests for clarification as attempts to dominate the other person. But let's face it - he didn't have to change a thing. I was the one who "gave in", if we absolutely have to talk about relating to other people as some kind of contest where the object is to beat the other person and anything that benefits them represents a loss for you.

Competition has its place in life, but I don't think it works terribly well in marriages. I've learned a lot more by just learning to shut up and listen than I ever did by trying to make my husband over in my own image.

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 01:58 PM

I've learned a lot more by just learning to shut up and listen than I ever did by trying to make my husband over in my own image.

And before anyone asks, yes - shutting up is still very hard for me. Every.single.time :p

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 02:00 PM

"Pay no attention to her, George. There is a "magic thing." It's spelled J-E-W-E-L-R-Y."

Funny, I coulda swore it was spelled K-N-I-V-E-S. You sure about that spd?

Posted by: DL Sly at July 30, 2013 02:11 PM

I think I know the source of your confusion, Sly. In moments of extreme anxiety "K-N-I-V-E-S" sounds very much like "DIE-munds" to many men.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 30, 2013 02:31 PM

DL, you and the LG may be cut from the same cloth.

The general rule of thumb is to never buy a woman a birthday gift that comes with an electrical plug.

The one, and only, birthday gift I've ever given her that made her cry was a Kitchen-Aid Stand mixer. A J.A. Henckle 8" chef's knife was close, but no cigar.

It's a good thing it was still in its packaging, though.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 30, 2013 03:46 PM

As I used to tell my kids, stereotypes exist for a reason: If you have no other information about a person, you tend to act on the stereotype. It's a simple life-saving measure.

But if you act as if the stereotype is always true, even when you know better, then you are racist, and it doesn't matter what race you are.

Side note: my magic words to my spouse (or to other women) are, "Yes, dear!" That at least diffuses the situation long enough for you to take other measures. Most men simply process things differently than most women. Most men accept this; for some reason, most women (in my experience) don't.

Posted by: Rex at July 30, 2013 05:10 PM

One possible difference between the way many women see the world and the way men do lies in context.

Women tend to see the world more holistically than men do. I listen to my husband or my male friends and co-workers talk, and everything is so disconnected. This over here has absolutely no relation to that over there. It's not necessarily a matter of which view is right, because both are useful.

It's useful to be able to disconnect things and deal with them one at a time. But sometimes, it's also useful to be able to discern cause and effect so you fix the real problem rather than addressing only a minor symptom of a larger problem that will continue to bite you in the tuckus when you least expect it unless you address it.

Presents are one thing I think we see differently. I know I do. There's not much in life I can't buy for myself (and more efficiently, too). But it means a lot to me when the Spousal Unit notices something that would make my life easier - his thoughtfulness is the real gift. Hence my surprise and delight when he bought me a mini chopper (with a cord attached!) many moons ago.

I wasn't disappointed or insulted, because at the time I knew he desired me as a woman and I didn't happen to be feeling trapped. But I can easily imagine receiving the same gift at another time (during the first 2 years we were married, for instance) and interpreting it as meaning he took me (or my role as chief cook and bottle washer) for granted :p

And you know what? At that time I probably would have been right to some extent. We both had some growing up to do back then, and he wasn't the person he is today. I'm easier to get along with because he is more considerate, and vice versa.

I've gotten jewelry when he was deployed, and liked it because it meant he was thinking about me even though he was far away. Getting the same thing after a big argument could mean one of two things to me (depending on the state of our relationship): that he thought an expensive gift would get me off his back, or that he was genuinely sorry we had quarreled and wanted to show how much I meant to him.

The same gift, different meanings depending on the time, place, people, and circumstance.

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 05:15 PM

In the interest of comity between the sexes and in pursuit of diminishing the gulf and chasm between them I offer this – the genetic imperative by which each functions to the consternation of the other:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiVCD9QMAMI&feature=player_embedded

Posted by: George Pal at July 30, 2013 05:30 PM

George, that never gets old :)

Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 05:59 PM

Rex, I couldn't agree more about stereotyping.

"Yes, dear", on the otter heiny, would likely cause me to axe murder my spouse in his sleep :p

But if it works for you, it's all good. It must come across differently, or maybe it answers the mail for some people. But to me, "yes, dear" has always seemed patronizing (as in, 'if I pretend to agree with her even though I don't, she'll leave me alone').

I'd rather have my husband just say, "I don't agree with you, but I really don't want to talk about that right now." That leaves me knowing exactly where I stand, and so long as he doesn't overuse it, I completely understand. Sometimes after work I feel shell shocked and don't want to deal with another conflict, either :p


Posted by: Cass at July 30, 2013 06:05 PM

When I travel to foreign countries, I usually dress up a little bit, adding a blazer (but no tie). And I try at those times, as best I can, to be polite. I have never, ever had trouble with customs, or anyone else, when I was wearing that costume.

OTOH, in 1985, when I bought a VW GTI, I found myself being followed by the police several times. Why? Because there was someone in the area stealing them.

(Speaking of costumes, here's some practical advice: If you want to pay less for car maintenance and repairs, dress down, if you are a man, ask first about costs. I'm not sure what the right strategy for women would be; it probably depends on age and marital status.)

Posted by: Jim Miller at July 30, 2013 07:15 PM

Coleman Young ("Law and order is code for keep the n-------s down") was the mayor of Detroit for 20 years, presiding over the critical phase of its appalling collapse between 1974 and 1994. His comment was not a one-off idiocy but part and parcel of his response to concerns to the middle class that then fled his city. He was so obsessed with reading coded racism into any request for rational government that he was content to spout that drivel while he let his city degenerate into a set for "Escape from New York."

Nor was it simply a remark that expressed one man's insanity: it was his platform, and he got re-elected on it for decades in a major city. His successors in spirit now want to extract federal money to bail out Detroit in the name of reparations, rather than honestly confront the city's problems, and they attribute any reluctance to the inveterate racism of their political opponents.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 30, 2013 07:23 PM

If Eric Holder wanted to have a conversation with me about race, I think I would use a standard, and often very useful, technique;

I would suggest that each of us try stating the other person's position, and then modifying it until they agreed that we were saying roughly what they believed.

(But, to be frank, I might do that partly because I think I would find it easier to state his positions than he would mine -- and, like Cass, I like to win.)

That way, you can start a discussion with -- assuming you are both being honest -- a reasonable understanding of the other person's position.

When I have used the technique, it seemed to reduce tensions and make it easier for us to talk about the actual issues.

Posted by: Jim Miller at July 30, 2013 07:27 PM

Marriage counsellors advocate that very useful technique.

My husband hates it like death. It makes him insane to be asked to try it.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 30, 2013 09:42 PM

Having done it with you several times, Tex, I can't imagine why he'd find it frustrating. :)

Posted by: Grim at July 30, 2013 11:32 PM

That said, it can be a useful technique -- at least for recognizing that what you think you're hearing isn't what they think they're saying. That's a problem Cass and I have had just as often. Unspoken assumptions and understandings are, very often, nearly impossible to clarify.

Posted by: Grim at July 30, 2013 11:33 PM

Excellent link George!
While I won't endorse all the details, it is important to remember that people approach issues with different perspectives.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at July 31, 2013 12:29 AM

I would suggest that each of us try stating the other person's position, and then modifying it until they agreed that we were saying roughly what they believed.

Have never tried this, but I can see how it would be very helpful. I've noticed that most people, when they are making the case for what they believe, will frame their own beliefs in extremely flattering terms while framing the other person's in distinctly unflattering ones.

It's something I notice all the time during our discussions here and at Grim's place. There's almost always a "good guys/bad guys" subtext to most arguments, and few people are going to willingly agree to being cast as the bad guy.

At the same time, I can also see it making things worse unless it was done very carefully.

Posted by: Cass at July 31, 2013 07:28 AM

Thanks for the info, Tex. I have not been following the Detroit bankruptcy story closely.

My question still stands, though - there are always going to be people who say vicious/outrageous things (sometimes on a daily basis). While I agree that one should feel no duty to engage with an unreasonable person, I don't think the mere presence of completely unreasonable people renders an entire issue unfit for debate.

If that were the case, nothing would ever be decided because one or two unreasonable people would have the power to shut down debate.

In a way, people like that remind me of toddlers pitching fits - they like provoking strong reactions so everyone stops what they're doing and they become the center of attention. But that only rewards the behavior. So in that sense (brace yourself, Grim!) ignoring them - or preferably, calmly pointing out that they're being unreasonable/ridiculous and then going back to the serious discussion - seems like a good way of dealing with them.

I have to admit the Detroit thing amuses me a bit. Obama climbed right out there on that limb during the campaign, promising he wasn't going to allow them to go under. Now they are, and he's not willing to do a blessed thing about it :p

Posted by: Cass at July 31, 2013 07:35 AM

Nevertheless, after enough members of a particular movement or fad have demonstrated what their idea of the "conversation" means, I can decide my time and attention are better spent elsewhere. I despise racism and sympathize deeply with those who suffer from it. I'll engage in a conversation about race all day long with someone who hasn't demonstrated a compulsion to read racism into every single fact or idea that happens to be inconvenient for him. But none of those people have urged a national conversation on race lately.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 31, 2013 09:21 AM

Nevertheless, after enough members of a particular movement or fad have demonstrated what their idea of the "conversation" means, I can decide my time and attention are better spent elsewhere.

Absolutely - I have no power to force anyone to engage in the conversation and wouldn't do so even if I could. I'm just pointing out that the conversation will take place regardless of whether individuals decide to participate or not. That's how societies form political consensus.

So it's also quite reasonable to think that the conversation will be a more informed and robust one if some of the sane folks persevere :p If you want to win (and we all do), you have to show up. Of course there are a lot of games out there and not everyone has the same priorities.

Posted by: Cass at July 31, 2013 11:01 AM

Just in case that last bit came across wrong, it wasn't meant as a slam, but rather as a statement of fact - people should make rational decisions about how to spend their time based on their values and priorities :)

Posted by: Cass at July 31, 2013 11:02 AM

If I want to win a debate with a crazy person, I have to do more than show up. I have to figure out a way to cure the insanity. I don't know how. I'll have to stick with winning the debate with sane people -- such as, perhaps, people who might otherwise be getting confused or guilty listening to the crazy people, but still retain enough capacity for logic and honesty to be able to engage in debate.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 31, 2013 03:09 PM

I think you and I are talking about different debates, Tex. You're talking about an individual debate (mano a mano) with Charles Rangel, which I agree is pointless and almost certainly unwinnable.

I'm talking about that national conversation, in which many people participate and many more only watch, or read, or weigh the arguments. *That's* the one I want to win.

Eric Holder, for instance, can invite whites to talk about race. And while we don't believe for one freaking second he's sincere or that we're going to change his mind, it's more reasonable to hope that showing up the gaping holes in his arguments may persuade those who only listen....and hopefully, vote.

Posted by: Cass at July 31, 2013 04:40 PM

Fair enough. I'm always happy to talk in general about race relations as long as I don't have to do it with Eric Holder or Rachel Madow. And it's not likely to be on the terms he demands, either.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 1, 2013 09:05 AM

And it's not likely to be on the terms he demands, either

I think that's really a good thing, though.

One thing I hear all the time with the MRA types and their champions is how men are "silenced" by the fear of disapproval. That just makes me nuts -if they truly believe something is sexist and unfair, men need to speak up and make their case to their fellow Americans. They need to push back against ridiculous policies like the DoEd trying to replace the reasonable person standard for what constitutes sexual harrassment/assault and the presumption of innocence with subjective and infinitely malleable "rules" that make the law impossible to understand, much less obey.

If men all agree to be "silenced" (really, just intimidated), nothing changes.

I've tried very hard to speak up on issues where I think the law or society is sexist towards men because I *want* men to speak out against this crap. Some of it is way over the top and needs to stop.

I think the same thing happens with racial stuff - people don't want to seem racist, and they really do sympathize with the real abuses that go on. How can anyone's heart not be touched by the disintegration of the black family, or by so many black children growing up in a cultural wasteland that almost guarantees the pathology will be passed to the next generation, and the next, and the next after than?

I think we really DO need to push back, not so whites can "win" and blacks can "lose", but so we negotiate acceptable ways of settling disputes, fairer laws (fairer to *everyone*, I mean), and hopefully erode the reservoir of ill feeling that has been continually replenished by people who exploit racial tensions for their own selfish gain?

Posted by: Cass at August 1, 2013 09:30 AM

Unfortunately, speaking up does no good and quite frequently gets you into a lot of trouble. Our views are dismissed and we are viewed as Neanderthals.

Example: Tailhook Convention. It was a victory celebration, a party after kicking Saddam's butt with very few casualties after DESERT STORM. As happens, a few guys went slightly overboard and harassed a few women. But it wasn't treated as a party that became a little wild. No, instead it became a witch-hunt that ended people's careers for no good reason and severely hurt the morale of everyone in the military. Promotions throughout the services were put on hold for over a year so that the clerks could verify that everyone on each promotion list wasn't in attendance at Tailhook. WTF? Yet to question this insane reaction was the harbinger of instant death. I think witch-hunt is putting it mildly.

So, no, we don't speak up, because the National Idiots will crucify you if you do.

Posted by: Rex at August 1, 2013 09:07 PM

I teach at a college and even if a student wants to discuss how they are doing and why they are not doing well, which is very personal, I do not close the door. I leave it open and have the lights on even during the day.
This is true whether the student is female or male, (I am male).

I can not and will not take the chance on being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior.
I even cc one of the advisers on all emails to students. it is that bad today.

Posted by: Rich at August 2, 2013 05:24 PM

From TheRoot.com:

We got into trouble with this type of thinking when evidence that Trayvon Martin was a normal teenager messed up so many people’s impression of him as a sympathetic victim.
Getting involved with drugs, perhaps normal. Getting suspended from school multiple times, not so normal. Having a backpack with stolen jewelry, not so normal.

Posted by: Gringo at August 2, 2013 05:24 PM

The first requirement of ANY racial conversation is for all sides to admit that racists come in all colors. This conversation can never happen because one side will refuse to admit ANY level of racism, that fact is in itself racist. This entire issue is a non-starter until all sides are talking from the same position. Lets move on to something important.

Posted by: derfel cadarn at August 2, 2013 05:33 PM

"Are we ready for that? Will we ever be ready for it?"

Depends whom you mean by "we", obviously.

Posted by: A6 at August 2, 2013 05:44 PM

But just as the author says, if you don't take into account history and context, you're going to end up with an unhelpful recommendation a fair amount of the time.

But if all you do is wallow in "history and context", you'll never get away from it.

Posted by: Rob Crawford at August 2, 2013 05:50 PM

While I agree that one should feel no duty to engage with an unreasonable person, I don't think the mere presence of completely unreasonable people renders an entire issue unfit for debate.

The problem is, the completely unreasonable people have been given complete control not just over one side of the discussion, but over what is "acceptable" for the other side to even THINK. As a result, most people I know have just given up: "No matter what this sign says, you'll say it's racist".

Posted by: Rob Crawford at August 2, 2013 05:55 PM

I am a white male. About a month ago, I stayed late after an evening meeting at a restaurant to talk to a friend. After he and I were through, the others had cleared out. Our cars being at opposite ends of the parking lot, we parted at the door. The parking lot was quite dark, and as I walked to my car, I saw that, if I kept going at the same speed, I would bump into a woman who was also walking across the lot. Concerned that she might fear me, I sped up significantly so as to pass well in front of her. We all have to be conscious of how others might perceive us, fairly or unfairly.

Posted by: Pettifogger at August 2, 2013 06:13 PM

I lock my doors if I notice I somehow managed not to when I started the car.

Usually nobody's next to my car.

Sometimes it's a black man.

Sometimes it's a white man.

Sometimes it's a pretty girl - plainly I am terrified of her, right?

Really, as others have noted, sometimes (usually) a guy locking his doors has nothing at all to do with the nearest pedestrian or the color of their skin.

Posted by: Sigivald at August 2, 2013 06:21 PM

I grew up in Montana during the '60s when the only images I saw of black people were the race riots going on then. Then I joined the Army.
The Army at that time was about one third African American, so here is this hick from Montana hanging out with people that I only knew rioted and burned things down. But over time, I came to the understanding that it's not the color of the skin, but the attitude that mattered the most. Those who were effective in the Army were well regarded no matter the color of their skin. Those who were not effective were dismissed, no matter the color of their skin.
So much of what we term "race" is really behavior. And the problem spawned by behavior attributed more to one race than another leads to fear if appropriate. For instance, seeing a group of young male Chinese Americans will not put me on guard as much as seeing a group of young African Americans wearing gangster gear, yelling, shoving and being disprespectful of others in general. Am I racists towards the black kids, but not the Asian ones? Possibly.
But like your example of being a woman alone in a garage and being wary of a man who could rape you, the same would apply to our young Black Americans. The price you pay for being trusting can be too high to bear. So you take reasonable steps, like clutching your purse, or locking your doors. While the effect on the young Black Americans may make them feel singled out, which is unfortunate, what if you had a reason to fear them. It does happen, since African Americans have committed half the homicides in America.
Another way to look at behavior instead of race - Who would you rather your daughter marry - Will Smith or Eminem? Who would you rather have as a neighbor - Denzel Washington or former SDS leader Bill Ayers?
We identify more with those who share our culture than we do with those who share our skin color.

Posted by: Steve at August 2, 2013 06:55 PM

Great piece about a subject that is increasingly on my mind. To me there isn't any desire to have a conversation about race as much as a lecture about race. Racism has become the go-to subject when certain people want to shut down any conversation. Racism can't be talked about because those that invoke it specifically do so often to gain the high moral ground and end all debate.

I grew up in the south and came away from there with a progressive attitude about race but what I learned after moving to LA was that people in the south are much more integrated in their daily lives and have much more honest discussion about race than anybody I knew outside of it. In LA people basically live in their bubbles and mouth platitudes to keep themselves on the perceived "correct" side of the issue.

What is most disappointing about the Obama administration is how completely it has not only failed to live up to the promise of racial reconciliation but has actually harmed racial relations in the past 5 years. I am now called a racist because I disagree with my president's political position? Well if I'm a racist then the majority of people in the world are racist and the word no longer has any real meaning.

In fact, I hunger for the day that "racist" become as vilified a word as the "N" word. It's casual usage has become just as hateful and dependent on the same sort of bigotry.

Posted by: costume at August 2, 2013 07:04 PM

One thing I hear all the time with the MRA types and their champions is how men are "silenced" by the fear of disapproval.

Disapproval we can handle. Dealing with a legal system that can and will get us fired from our jobs, barred from future employment, and very possibly lead to lawsuits and jail time, all on the unsupported word of a single individual, that's silencing.

Same thing applies to race. White people, especially men, are very aware that there is an entire legally empowered industry that wants nothing better than an excuse for outrage and the possibility of a payday just waiting for them to put a toe wrong. Or are you saying it's nothing to worry about when having "chiggers" on your Facebook page will get it shut down, while a page calling for George Zimmerman to be killed stays up?

Posted by: SDN at August 2, 2013 07:10 PM

What bothers me most about all this goes back to when I was 18 in 1956. A friend of mine and I hung out every Friday night in a black bar in Chicago. We were the only white faces in there and we never felt any animosity. My friend started going in there when he had a summer job on a beer truck. They thought we were 21, I guess. Nobody ever asked us. We would spend every evening playing bumper pool. My friend and I git very good at bumper pool so we won most games. Other guys, all black, would line up to play us and usually lose. Here we were drinking beer and playing a competitive game and we never, I mean never, had a moments concern about the difference between us.

What happened ?

Posted by: Mike_K at August 2, 2013 07:28 PM

Any statistician would support street level racial and age profiling based upon good math. Always accurate? No. A prudent guideline? yes.

Posted by: Walter Rincon at August 2, 2013 07:32 PM

White people see what happens to a John Derbyshire, and they draw the obvious conclusion - it is best to not say anything about race. Not because of what black people will say or do, but because of the way other white people react.

Posted by: SteveM at August 2, 2013 07:52 PM

"There is no point to the conversation. It's merely a downward spiral to accusations."

About how I feel, pretty much. I was raised in So Cal, by fairly liberal (for the time) parents, who pretty much accepted the whole "content of your character, not the color of your skin" set of expectations, and spent 20 years in the military, where that concept was emphasized to the point of tedium.

So here I hoped that the election of a person of color (or at least half of color) and with very little experience in the real world of business, the military or in the world of politics outside of the special case of the machine politics of Chicago, would mean that we would finally hear the end of 'Amerikka is teh most raaaaacist nation evah!'
Sigh - not so. A dialog about race means that persons of pallor (like myself, no matter how well-meaning, or how recently our ancestors immigrated to the US) hold our tongues while we are lectured.

But there is a bright spot - increasingly, those of us of pallor are less and less inclined to sit still for the lecture. Good thing - for I am pretty damned tired of it.

Posted by: Sgt. Mom at August 2, 2013 07:54 PM

I just wanted to drop a line and say thanks for a very eloquently put argument (for lack of a better word). I have, too, had my own experiences with race. Some terrifying and others joyful. Some of my own race and some involving others. My color doesn't matter. And neither did theirs. They are "personal" experiences and while they have served to shape me over the years, they don't rule my existence. They are not imagined, not those of others and certainly not those of decades or hundreds of years ago.

There are people who are ruled by race. We're never going to be rid of that. But we certainly can make it better in our own corner of the world by associating with like minded people regardless of their color. Conversations about race with people overly concerned about race are pointless when one side's mind is closed.

It's not much different than a conversation with someone overly political.

Let me tell you a short story that had nothing to do with race but everything to do with closed minds.

At work one day I was walking toward a group of co-workers who were talking. As I approached and could hear some of the conversation I realized they were talking politics. My alarms went off and I began to change course to avoid them. I was too late.

One of the women reached out to me and asked, "Hey Judy, (we'll call me Judy because that's my name) you're a liberal. Maybe you can help settle this." I smiled at her and said, "Well, actually, I lean a bit toward the right." She was non-plussed. She looked totally confused and said, "But ... but, you're so nice."

And THAT is the problem.

Posted by: Oysteria at August 2, 2013 08:43 PM

One of the things I've grown tired of is the constant refrain from liberal leftists that one must somehow excuse the bad behavior and ignorant attitudes of some Blacks because it has historical "root causes." The problem with that argument is that ALL human behavior has root causes. Should we excuse the behavior of White criminals simply because that also has root causes? I don't think so. I think that like many Whites, I am suffering from "accusation burnout." I have always tried to get along with people, and I have never had any desire to harm Blacks in any way whatsoever, and so listening to angry, race-hustling Black demagogues and the familiar litany of historical excuses for their contemporary thuggery and childish resentment, I feel nothing but unbounded contempt for them, their righteous self-pity, and their emotionally retarded addiction to playing "pin the tail on the honkies" whenever something goes wrong in the Black community. This has actually had a clarifying - and I think, very positive - effect on how I should proceed in my interactions with other people. All I have to do is follow MLK's advice, the only way that ever made any sense, and judge each individual by his attitude and behavior. By no longer feeling any sense of moral obligation to Blacks as a group (which I had always felt under pressure to do as a good p.c. liberal), I find it much easier to sympathize with individual Blacks who are truly decent and kind (And by that, I don't mean "servile;" I mean decent and kind.), and I don't feel any "white guilt" about hating and disrespecting those who are belligerent and hateful themselves. To Blacks in the first category I say "We can make it work, you and I. I'm happy and proud to extend my hand to you." But as for Blacks in the second, I've reached a point where the only sentiment I feel is as follows: "F*ck you AND your slave ancestors. If they were anything like you, they probably deserved every whipping they got." It's not pretty, but you can't have an honest conversation about race, if you tell people that they must bottle up their angry feelings, because in the end they'll tell YOU to go f*ck off too.


Lastly, I think one of the reasons why many formerly liberal Whites have abandoned the Left is not because they reject the ideal of interracial friendship, but because they sense that the relationship between race-conscious Black militants and self-righteous White liberals is not really a friendship in any sense worth coveting. It's more a political marriage of convenience. The White liberal plays the role of "guilty oppressor," because he thinks it buys him moral absolution and reflects on his superior virtue. The Black militant finds the White liberal useful as a sympathetic and easily manipulated audience who will never challenge him to be truly self-critical, and thereby undermine the feeling of political power he derives by invoking the liberal's "white guilt." In this respect, the White liberal is not really a friend to the Black militant at all; he is merely the latter's prison bitch. And when emotionally better-adjusted Whites look at this nauseating symbiosis, they say to themselves: "Gross! I want no part of this."

Posted by: abdul7591 at August 2, 2013 09:51 PM

I'll suggest Larry Correia's post on profiling:
http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/on-profiling-and-stand-your-ground/
which includes

There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.


And this happens to black men, white men, Asians, Latinos, you name it, and I think that’s awesome. That means that woman is paying attention to her surroundings and knows that simple physics gives a huge advantage to the male in case he decides to do something. Aren’t you from the same side that is constantly complaining that America has a “rape culture”?

I happen to look like a scary 6’5” Tony Soprano. I’m actually physically intimidating, and that is at 37 years old and years of desk job. When I was in my 20s I could bench press 365 pounds and was 270 pounds, 16% body fat, of Big Ugly. I usually had a shaved head and a goatee and I looked like my favorite hobby was punching things, which it was. I was a hundred times more physically intimidating that President Lady Parts on his best day. So I’ve been profiled tons, and I’ve had lots of women obviously assess me like I was a threat.

And I don’t think it is a bad thing at all.

Personally, years ago I stopped giving a crap about trying to talk to ANYONE who starts that "My/Their ancestors were slaves so we must-" garbage. Really? I have to act like I did something wrong because of something that ended well over a century ago? Because of idiots who treated blacks badly(they REALLY get pissed when you point out the KKK was founded and run by Democrats, or that Bull Conner was a bigshot in the 'D' party)I'M supposed to crawl and apologize and make allowances?.

My big go-round was with a guy who insisted that 'The whole country has to apologize for slavery!' I pointed out I'd had not a damn thing to do with slavery, and was not going to apologize for something I had no responsibility for; he finally decided I was either horribly insensitive or too stupid to understand the nuances of the thing. I'd already decided he was a damned fool trying to show how superior he was by pushing other people to pretend they could apologize for things that happened more than a century ago.

Posted by: Firehand at August 2, 2013 10:14 PM

when blacks admit that white people ended slavery,when blacks admit that racism is a human condition not a white condition, when blacks are held to the same standard as whites, when blacks admit that their biggest problems are not because of whites, maybe then we can have a conversation about race. BTW, look up black on white crime and tell me who the real racists are.

Posted by: bob at August 2, 2013 11:13 PM

Wow!
It was a great post to begin with Cass, but you've done something special in planting a seed and encouraging the growth of the thread.

Very Respectfully,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at August 2, 2013 11:28 PM

After hearing the reasoning processes of some of the black members of the Congress, I'm not sure this dialogue is going to be productive. Some people cannot ever be convinced of anything but what they fervently believe, rational or not. In other words, I think we're in the situation of "this isn't working" rather than "this needs to be discussed".

Posted by: MnemonicMike at August 2, 2013 11:55 PM

Whites and Blacks -as groups- have common
and distinctive characteristics;
They share a homicidal hominid ancestry.
The Blacks lack several millenia of natural
selection for psychological characteristics
which enable social and civil behavior.
The expression of these characteristics
depends on the level of prosperity in the
society, which is in an accelerating decline;
It is too late to have your discussion.

Posted by: M. Report at August 3, 2013 12:32 AM

But if all you do is wallow in "history and context", you'll never get away from it.

I couldn't agree more, Rob.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 3, 2013 08:54 AM

So many thought provoking comments - it's hard to know where to start.

One thing that struck me forcibly about the President's and Eric Holder's comments about being profiled or somehow singled out was that they were committing exactly the same error they were accusing whites of - interpreting events and jumping to conclusions about other people based on the color of their skin. A black woman in an elevator clutching her purse wouldn't be suspected of racism as often as a white woman doing so, one suspects.

I'm reminded of this video, in which people respond differently to a young person in a park sawing off a bike lock.

As several commenters have pointed out, men in particular are often viewed as threatening by women - even by women who admire and love men. And because it has become so ridiculously easy to sue men for perceived sexual offenses/discrimination, many men are now extra cautious around women. They pose a legal threat, not a physical one, but a threat is a threat.

That caution is not at all irrational - it's just a common sense risk calculation.

I doubt in either case that these folks hate all men or all women - it's just that there are serious, life altering consequences for not taking precautions in certain situations.

One of the weirder experiences I had as a young woman was being the only white person in an all black trade school. It was eye opening for me - I never truly understood on a visceral level how it feels to be completely surrounded by people who look, talk, and in many cases act completely differently from you. It can make a person more inclined to attribute to race or racism, incidents that have plenty of other explanations. In that context, race seems like the most obvious - or the only - explanation, but it's not.

No one talked to me for weeks. When I made overtures to other students, they would briefly respond and then look away. It was really very strange. But it did change, eventually, and it helped that I had a lifetime of being the new person and knew from experience that most of what I was experiencing was normal. It was just an awkward situation I'm guessing they didn't know how to handle or interpret any better than I did.

Looking beyond the simple explanation is neither natural nor easy, and it doesn't help when our leaders encourage a simplistic (and wrong-headed) view of race relations in which the bad guys are singled out by race.

There are bad guys on both sides, and ignoring half of the problem doesn't encourage trust or reciprocity.


Posted by: Cassandra at August 3, 2013 09:37 AM

I grew up in lily-white Palo Alto, CA and we rarely even encountered blacks unless we went across the freeway to East Palo Alto--which we did frequently to go fishing off the train bridge. People advised us not to park our car in EPA, and sure enough, after fishing one day we returned to find that our battery had been stolen. The black man across the street loaned us a battery after he noted that he had feared that we had been robbed when we saw a group of black youths looking under the hood of the car. We got a new battery and returned his loaner the next day.

My first day in 7th grade I was in line to get on the school bus home which was rapidly filling. Just before boarding, three black girls--all bigger than me--cut in front of me in line. Aware that they would get the last seats I yelled, "Cut! Hey, these girls just cut..." SLAP. For the first time in my life I was hit so hard in the face that I saw stars. For the next three years, I walked home rather than hassle with the bus ever again.

Did my experiences turn me racist? Hardly. Did my scant early encounters with blacks have some effect on my feelings about blacks in general? Probably. What I feel now about the whole situation is mostly frustration and boredom with the inane recurring pattern of racial conversations. What I feel now is that black America is either going to figure it out on their own or they are not. A 70 percent illegitimacy rate, fathers gone AWOL, voting for Democrats that refuse to allow them to flee from their terrible schools, killing each other over gangs / drugs. I have come to realize that the ball is in their court (and has been for a few decades now). Until they take responsibility for the pathologies of their sub-culture there will be no improvement.

I'm not happy about that, but I'm not going to stay up nights thinking about it either. That's just the way it is for me at this point. The conversation is never going to happen because it is a guaranteed loser for me.

Posted by: PD Quig at August 3, 2013 10:58 AM

I know the feeling. I'm the descendant of a veteran of the Grand Army of the Republic. The other branches of my family did not come to this country until the 1880s or later. No member of my family lived south of the Mason-Dixon line until the 1970s. And yet somehow I am held to be responsible for the evils of an institution that was formally killed a century before my birth.

Never mind that my first professional job was working for a social service program that was run by a black-owned business. When it came time for promotions, they invariably went to African-Americans, despite my having equal if not superior credentials. When the company went bankrupt, final paychecks were only sent to the minority employees -- with the exception of the white secretary who was the bosses mistress -- and eventually I was able to recoup less than 30 cents on the dollar of what I was owed despite the fact that the minority employees had received every penny they earned.

I've spent most of the last 20 years teaching, almost all of it in majority minority communities. The overwhelming majority of my students will tell you that I am scrupulously fair -- but every year I know that I will be accused of racism by at least one student or parent because I won't accept a late assignment, won't change a grade, or won't overlook a serious disciplinary infraction. Why? Because the accusers know that there is no consequence to making that false accusation and think that there's a chance that either I or someone in authority above me will cave in and give them what they want. After all, I'm a white guy, so a racial attack upon me is no big deal and probably deserved.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at August 3, 2013 04:42 PM

This is probably one of the most balanced and thoughtful articles I've read on the subject of race issue in this country in quite some time.


While I don't know what the solution is to the problems this country is experiencing from violent blacks, I do know that pretending the problems in the black community are non-existent is not the answer.


Unfortunately, I also believe that the violence, the sloth, the immorality and horrific incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies within the black community will not begin to be addressed until this sandbox regime is replaced with genuine, clear-thinking, responsible adults.

Posted by: SonRise at August 5, 2013 06:02 PM

This brief (sarcastic humor) video explains PERFECTLY what the author (and I) experienced growing up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fonSqHNoWkQ

STUPIDITY HAS CONSEQUENCES.

Posted by: Kauf Buch at August 5, 2013 06:40 PM

...and the word for the day is, "Vibrancy"!

Very funny stuff :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 5, 2013 09:09 PM

All groups do not esteem the same values regardless of what our diversity elites tell us. Muslims do not esteem women nor non Muslims. Many orientals do not esteem individual rights over group rights. Our liberals do not tolerate anything they do not hold in high regard. Spme whites favor family ties over education, others value work and order over "diversity. And on it goes.

Most groups if brought up by another nationaloity or group may change, except I have found blacks. No matter where blacks are to be found the same characteristics endure. Now how can that be. Japanese in Brazil and the USA are not like the Japanese in Japan. Germans in the US or South America differ from Germans in central Europe. Brits change when away from the UK. But blacks in Jamica

Posted by: Veritas at August 6, 2013 03:15 PM

My experience is very different.

When I was first married, I worked in retail in DC and was fortunate enough to work with several recent immigrants from Kenya and Nigeria. I have rarely worked with a more pleasant group of people - most were overqualified to be working as cashiers but they were reliable, quick to learn, energetic, and cheerful. Unlike a lot of my other cashiers, they didn't act as though the job was beneath them or they were being inconvenienced if I asked them to take on other tasks when things were slow.

One gentleman in particular always showed up to work in a neatly pressed white shirt and tie. It took me a while to notice that he only had one or two shirts - one was neatly mended and another was slightly worn on the edges of the collar. It wasn't until I engaged him in conversation one day that I learned he had several advanced degrees. He was working on getting his credentials recognized in the US.

I think culture matters greatly - both national culture and family culture.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 6, 2013 04:55 PM

Veritas

Most groups if brought up by another nationaloity or group may change, except I have found blacks. No matter where blacks are to be found the same characteristics endure.

That is not my experience with 1)engineering students from Africa, 2) living in Trinidad. Definitely not the same as people from the 'hood. Not at all.

Posted by: Gringo at August 6, 2013 08:26 PM

My experience with actual Africans resembles yours, Cass, but remember the ones who get visas are often unusual. Several advanced degrees is no more characteristic of Kenya than South Carolina.

Culture is important, though. The military culture here in America does not solve our problems of race, but it mitigates them to such a degree that people of goodwill can overcome them. People without it are another question, but even they are restrained somewhat.

Posted by: Grim at August 6, 2013 09:10 PM

That's been my experience as well. But as Grim notes, African immigrants with advanced degrees or in the upper middle class aren't exactly representative.

That said, except in mostly superficial ways, there aren't a whole lot of differences in upper-middle class Whites, Blacks, Africans, Asians, Orientals, etc.

Like I said, while my own experiences aren't "representative", I am passingly familiar with some missionaries who have gone to Africa and were among some of the poorest of the poor. They almost all come back amazed at the faith, generosity, and caring attitudes of the people they served.

So while I am sure that the African Immigrants we've met aren't representative, I am also sure that the Africans that most Americans would encounter in the news (i.e. the political leadership) isn't representative either.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 7, 2013 09:05 AM