I’m not much of a blogger. Two posts in one year, and a year so filled with racially loaded issues that I could have been busy on a daily basis all year! It’s a shame really. I tire of the sound bites and the irrationality so regularly displayed in the national media and via endless internet chatter. It seems that the stories that arrive and disappear with relatively little fanfare somehow touch something in me.
A case in point, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times from November 21, 2012 : “Black family reports hate crimes in Yorba Linda”
Yorba Linda is an upscale city within Orange County, California. It lies about an hour south of Los Angeles. A black police officer who works in Inglewood (a city within Los Angeles County where I taught elementary school for 10 years) moved there with his family, happy to be living in what is perceived to be a safe community. But then a number of racist acts took place targeting the family home, the young adult son, and then the 6-year old child. These incidences ranged from rejection to verbal assault to actual physical attack on the family home.
So, what do I have to say about this that the news story doesn’t tell? It’s how much this reminds me of the most subtle of ways that our reactions and words undercut our ability to truly recognize the depth of the problem of racism and to feel the anger and upset that should be poring out of us all.
I was raised in Orange County. I have friends who grew up in Yorba Linda. My father was a police officer, like the black man chased out of his neighborhood. And I worked in Inglewood long enough that I still feel somewhat attached to the place where the black man works. So, to some degree this is personal for me. And while I may have strong opinions about the inequity of our law enforcement and judicial systems, I don’t assume that any individual police officer is anything less than a courageous individual intending to support and serve a community to the best of his/her ability unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise.
What jumped out at me when reading this article was a quote from the Orange County Human Relations Commission. This commission tracks hate crimes and the wife of the black officer had reported the incidences to them. Good for her! And then ‘good for them’ for deciding to make the move to get this issue made public, bringing it to the attention of politicians, and intending to hold “listening sessions to gauge the experience of African Americans in Orange County.”
And yet, here’s what strikes me: People already know a lot about what happens to black families in Orange County. A local pastor from the Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. church in Irvine is even quoted as describing how he regularly hears congregants sharing their “challenges.” But, that’s not really the issue. Yes, I think the information they’re seeking is already well-know…to SOME. The issue is why is that SOME so small? Why don’t more people know that racism is rife in Orange County?
I would suggest that it has to do with the way we respond to racism, by using approaches that downplay our community culpability. It’s a sort of “bad apple” approach, where we get to believe that because “those people who did that thing” are racist, that there is nothing required from all us “good, community-loving people.”
I’ll try to explain what I mean. Here is a quote offered by the executive director of the Human Relations Commission. It reads, “It just illustrates that even amid our really wonderful community, life is different for some people.”
That’s actually the statement that offends my sensibilities most. I completely understand the political nature of this person’s position, and therefore the use of moderated, neutered language. And I also believe that the pastor from Irvine quoted above may have been doing something similar (but for different reasons). And surely, to label an entire community and all its inhabitants as fundamentally racist would be a gross overreaction and defeat any effort at dialogue and the development of shared understandings.
Yet, I strongly question the veracity of saying that Yorba Linda is “a really wonderful community”, when used as a blanket judgement. This is where white privilege is really rearing its ugly head, in my opinion, and in a way that I wish we could name a lot more than we do. Yorba Linda is NOT a really wonderful community for some people, and it is populated by some people who are the cause of that fact.
Here is what I would propose…and I think it’s simple in implementation. (It’s the need for it that is challenging to accept). We need to regularly name our privilege. How would this translate? Easy.
“It just illustrates that even amid WHAT APPEARS TO THOSE OF US IN THE RACIAL MAJORITY TO BE a really wonderful community, life is different for some people WHO ARE SUBJECT TO ONGOING RACISM).”
At least this owns the fact that the “really wonderful community” part is not the STANDARD experience of those in the community. It’s not, and it never will be until those of us with the privilege of NOT experiencing racism can more readily and regularly recognize that we fail to see the racism around us because we don’t want to see it.
(And to be fair, this issue also must extend to all of us. The institutionalized systems set in place hundreds of years ago based upon a fundamental mistaken attribution (from symbolic to literal) wherein white (people) were considered good and pure, and then black (people) were linked to evil and all things bad must be fully understood and its remnants fought against. This long-standing systemic white supremacy has made black people in our society subject to racism from multiple directions, not only from white people. So, there is a lot of work to be done, by many groups.)
But, as a white person myself, I take ownership of myself and how my white Orange County society shaped me. And, I think that’s a healthy thing to do. It’s healthy and good to believe that when even one family is being driven out of a community solely due to the color of their skin that we cannot call it a “wonderful community” without some serious qualification. And, ultimately, this rant of mine is just arguing for the recognition that 1) a qualification is necessary, and 2) we need to work on being able to recognize the need for it. Because, ultimately, if we don’t see the privilege in the standardizing of our white experience, then there is little hope that we’ll be able to honestly live in ethnically diverse communities that are ever going to be wonderful for all who live in them.