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Race and Culture stereotypes

A few weeks ago when playing basketball I was told by a guy "You're the white boy no one is guarding so that's why you score all of these points."

In a gym full of African Americans and maybe 3 or 4 other caucasion guys I happened to have a few good nights in a row and it was causing problems for the opposing teams. When this guy said this to me I thought "white guy? What does that have to do with anything?" I laughed it up with him and reminded him that if I recalled there were plenty of defenders... they just weren't keeping up with me. I couldn't help but to think over the next few weeks about that comment. It was a racial comment for sure. It was one of many I've actually heard from African Americans since I grew up in Baltimore City and have always kept company with people from other races. I just have to remind myself that others don't know that. They assume that I'm a privilidged white guy who's had everything handed to me.

The other day this same guy got to pick teams and out of the whole gym he picked me. I laughed and asked him why he'd pick a "white guy" and I reminded him of the comment. He apologized and said "You know... I should't have said white guy.... I should have just said that they can't guard you." That was it... I smiled and told him I was cool and we went on to play.


Recently I read Clarence Thomas' book called "My grandfather's son". In it he addresses the problems he's had with race. Not only did he deal with racism from whites as did everyone around him during the years of his youth but he went into detail about what hurt him most. The racist treatment from blacks. He educates the reader on issues of "shades" within the black community. Thomas describes his ancestors being of a dark decent and he discusses how even within the black community his race seemed to be a target for humor. He also describes how lighter shade-blacks are picked on for not being 'black enough'.

The area where Thomas shows the most disdain is over the idea that he doesn't "think black". He said in a recent interview that he felt this was similar to slavery. "How can another man tell me what to think? I've arrived at my possitions based on the capicity to think through the issues." He went on to say that within his community he's allowed to disagree with other blacks over issues of no significance such as whether he roots for the Nationals baseball team or the Orioles. When it comes to the best approach to solving social ills however, he believes that there is still a racisim coming from blacks toward blacks who do not adopt the parties line.


I've also noticed a subtle cultural version of stereotypes. My sister was called a "Boushe" by some old friends who currently live in the city where we're from. This expression is basically a label applied to someone who moves from poverty to material wealth (loose definition) and no longer is at peace with living the old way of life. It's a slang adaptation of Karl Marx' discussion of various classes. The word play comes from the term "bourgeoisie". This term is thrown around a lot in the black community when referring to someone who has attained a lifestyle above that of the rest of their community. It's somewhat ironic that everyone wants to succeed and attain a better life but we've come up with words to defame their success.

The discussion was innocent enough but certainly reflected some of the perceptions. It's an 'ism' like any other.


While looking through new releases, I flipped through the new book by Bill Cosby entitled "Come on, people". It's effectively a work derived from the last three years traveling and meeting with African Americans across the nation. Cosby wants to challenge all races to live in the most positive way possible to get out of the cycle of murder, drugs, violence and poverty which exists in many of our inner city areas.

The opening of the book is Cosby's take on the fact that some believe he "Doesn't have his black card." He goes through a look at history identifying leaders who apparently have their 'black card' who have said the same things he's trying to say.

It's sad that because he approaches solutions for the African American community differently than those who claim to speak for the entire race of people that he's to a place where he's told that he's not 'black enough' or that he doesn't 'think black'.


Today I came across an article describing the most recent BET awards. This article speaks to the fact that two of the "Jenna 6" were presenters for the event's highest award.

I cannot pass judgement on these young men. What I understand of the case is that these 6 young men jumped and beat a white student so badly that he went uncouncious and then they stomped and kicked him more. There had been racial tension building when some white students tied nooses on a tree where white students had generally congregated at lunch previously. Apparently they were racist and hung the nooses in response to black students sitting in their area when they weren't invited.

I certainly believe that these racial tentions in this town are wrong and the white students were horribly wrong to do what they did. I am equally appauled that the black students jumped a white student and now are litterally being given a stage at the BET awards.


For me I have concern with all of these issues. Some of my thoughts are as follows:

1. Racism in all forms is wrong.
Me being singled out for being white is just as wrong as being singled out in any other race. My friend at the gym realized this and I appreciated hearing him say so.

2. Whites need to be mindful that we're only 1 generation removed from the assination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
All of the years of slavery, institutionalized racism and segregation cannot be fixed right away. It will take a few generations of equality for our society to truly balance out. It's very easy for a white man/woman to argue that the entire problem is that those of other races are lazy or ignorant. That's not only not true it is ignorant of the big picture. This country has 400 years of white examples of success. Nearly everyone celebrated in our history class was white. In comparrison we have only 40 years of "equality" in America. Is it any wonder why some of our older black friends still feel they are a part of the same story as they were when MLK was shot? We may look at it and say "Times have changed" but give some grace to the fact that the issues are fresh in their mind. Yes society may have changed but they are fighting in their view for the same thing as before. Are some taking advantage? Yes. Are all taking advantage? No.

3. African American's should consider solutions their leaders put out and look at the results of following one path over another.
Clarance Thomas, Condeleza Rice and Bill Cosby among others have the same skin tone as the rest of their ancestors children but they've found that there are alternative solutions to the problems apart from the likes of Jackson, Sharpton and NAACP. Having grown up in Baltimore City and being on welfare as a kid I am well versed in the plight of the poor and I'm extremely familiar with the challenges faced by those in that environment. Being educated I also have learned the value in personal responsibility, education and not allowing myself to buy into an empovirshed and failed mind-set. When our leaders (no matter their race) present solutions we must ask ourselves if those solutions have results that enable us to be all that we're created to be. Its sad to me that some of the most emovirshed areas of our country continue to elect the same leaders and continue to follow the same people and continue to get the same results.

I look for the day when people like Clarence Thomas (only the 2nd black man to hold his position) would be viewed as the fruition of the Civil Rights Movement. I also look for people like Senator Obamma not to be criticized for being light skinned or from true African decent. It'll also be nice when people who live in the city don't look with contempt on those who have advanced themselves in life. It seems odd to me that we continue to pull down those who have succeeded. Let's start lifting one another up.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Friday, October 19, 2007


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