If you’re in a room filled with people of color, the conversation begins with the assumption that racism exists, it has an impact on our everyday lives, and we have to negotiate it in order to do such things as work, go to school, or otherwise live our lives.
But if that room is filled with white people, the conversation changes. In White World, the assumption that racism exists isn’t a given. If it is indeed acknowledged, it is usually only in the context that it isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be because (a)People of color are doing better than they were in the bad old days of Jim Crow and (b)Well, the PRESIDENT is black now, so racism is gone.
(By the way, it amazes me how the only context in which Barack Obama is totally black is during the “racism doesn’t exist anymore” discussion.)
From the moment that Barack Obama became the first black man that we could discuss during President’s Day, folks much smarter than me knew that he was going to cause a lot of folks some mental anguish.
One of those folks was Dr. Sonya Peterson-Lewis. Peterson-Lewis is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University, and she told me that because white men would no longer be able to think of the presidency as their own exclusive club now that Obama has joined it, they’d have to make some adjustments, adjustments that they may not be able to make without manifestations of fear rearing their ugly heads.
Enter the Tea Parties.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with tax protesters doing their thing. They’re entitled to it. To say that I have serious problems with my tax dollars going to defense contractors, wars, Dick Cheney’s pension, etc. is an understatement.
But I’d never allow my protest to manifest itself by carrying a sign like this around:
If you’re a fan of President Obama, or are just afraid to see the anger that creates signs like that go to its illogical conclusion, the urge to say “Hey! This is nuts!” tends to rise up inside of you.
When it comes from people of color, the urge is easily ignored. He’s one of us. We’re supposed to say “Hey! This is nuts!”
But when it comes from a white person, especially a white man, that urge gets noticed. I had a friend who was run out of town by the Klan for acting on her urge to say “Hey! This is nuts!”, but it didn’t make as much of a noise.
Making a noise is something that Keith Olbermann has become kind of good at.
During a Special Comment on Monday night’s edition of “Countdown”, Olbermann did something that white men aren’t really big on: he talked about racism using the paradigm used by people of color. He not only assumed it existed, he called people on it.
If you missed it, here it is.
On the one hand, I have to give Olbermann his props for understanding that we can’t get past racism if we don’t talk about it honestly. But on the other hand, watching my friend go through what she’s been through for speaking out has been an education. She’s had to move several times, has found things like dead rabbits at her door, and has yet to find a place in which she feels safe.
Hopefully, MSNBC will do a better job at protecting him than everyone from the FBI to the local police department has done with protecting my friend.
But if not, Olbermann might consider going to his next New York Yankees game strapped. I’m just sayin’…