Today begins National National Awareness Month Awareness Month. Really.
I'm aware of what I want to post this next 28 days. For such a short month, it has a lot of stuff to be aware of: Groundhogs/MidWinter, love, dead Presidents, among them. I'm so happy the Oscars aren't until March.
One thing I've realized most of my life is that the very discussion of race puts some people on edge. Martha, go hide the chickens! The man's gonna talk about race!
I hear what some of you are thinking - "Why don't we all get along?" Well, yeah, I'm in favor of that, except that I just think it's a lot more complicated.
In fact, the conversation has already started on this blog. Check out the replies to this post. Correspondent Alan writes: "I couldn't be a friends with a black person because I could never be comfortable around him, because of bad racial experiences I've had in the past (I'm 46, if that's important), and because black people in general seem so easily offended and I would always be afraid I'd say the wrong thing."
Well, here's the thing, Alan: if I used the criteria you used - that I have had "bad racial experiences in the past" with white people (and I have, a lot more than I'm going to write about here), then by your terms, I could never have any white friends. Yet I do, a lot of them actually. As for saying the wrong thing, well, that comes with the territory in most human interaction (including marriage, your example). So what do you do? Live alone in a cave? Nope, you just listen. (And I'm not exactly sure what being 46, which is 6 years younger than I am, means in this context.) And FWIW, I really don't think I'm "easily offended".
Maybe you should go see the movie "Glory Road", about the Texas Western basketball team that made history, to understand the roots of anger; it's flawed in in a major way, which I'll talk aboout later in the week, but it has its value.. Better yet, seek out the SAG award-winning, Oscar-nominated "Crash" , which seems to be saying, in the words of Avenue Q, perhaps "everyone's a little racist." Tonight on PBS (at least in this market), there's "African American Lives", a 2-part, 4-hour "Roots" experience for prominent blacks, and :"that's What I'm Talking About", a three-part talk about blacks in pop culture, neither of which I've seen, but want to check out.
You may have missed the story about the racial-tinged Nazi march in Toledo, OH just last year. Yup, race is still an issue. I find it interesting that it seemed to take Katrina to show that race still matters in this country. I'm not just saying it, it's the mainstream media such as Newsweek.
And while I'm talking about New Orleans, I found the city's mayor Ray Nagin's explanation of his "Chocolate City" comment disingenuous at best. "You need white milk to make a deep chocolate," I saw him proffer after the initial criticism of his remarks. Certainly he's familiar with the song about certain cities "going black", and the purported empowerment that would engender. Yeah, he apologized, but I doubt it was a mere slip of the tongue.
I'm a big fan of a blogger known as Gay Prof, and I recommend this column. And I believe I understand when he says in this fine piece: "Apparently the AP only thinks of 'racial progress' as a black and white issue (please picture GayProf shaking his head in frustration)." But GayProf is a history guy, so I'm willing to bet that he would acknowledge the Special Relationship that black/white racial issues have had in this country. And I'm not just talking slavery.
In the 1890 Census, the government was counting people who were white, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, black, mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon. Mulatto was defined as a person who was three-eighths to five-eighths black. A quadroon was one-quarter black and an octoroon one-eighth black, later defined as someone with "one drop" of black blood. And that type of thinking about race still exists.
When Vanessa Williams became Miss America in 1986, some complained that she was black, and others that she, with the green eyes and the fair complexion, wasn't black enough. Reminds me of the Joan Armatrading song "How Cruel" in which she sings: "I heard somebody say once I was way too black And someone answers she's not black enough for me." In Armatrading's case, the conversation was partly skin color, partly other people's expectation of what "being black" is. I can relate, big time.
Race matters in this country. Maybe it won't someday, but we're not there yet. Just last year, there was a vote in the U.S. Senate apologizing for its failure to act against the nearly 5,000 lynchings of black people that took place at the end of the 19th Century and for several decades into the 20th Century. 85 senators signed on, but the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist allowed for a voice vote, so that the 15 other Senators, all Republicans, including the two from Mississippi, wouldn't be recorded as "no" votes. Unsolved murders of black teenagers, and black and white civil rights workers from decades ago are only now being prosecuted. In part, that's why Coretta Scott King was still fighting the fight nearly four decades after her husband died.
(Top image swiped from http://www.ldsuccess.org/parent_guide/what_are/self-awareness.html)