Saturday, June 26, 2010
What is Your "Be Better Than White People" Story?--Discrimination, Prejudice & Racism At The Office And Workplace in the 1950's
I can't even begin to imagine what the trailblazers in the Black Freedom Struggle endured. I know that our honored ancestors--many of whom were doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like-- had to pursue careers much less than they were capable of in order to put food on their families' tables and a roof over their folks' heads. But, the abstract of this history does not capture the tangible and real pain of what that lived present must have felt like. In total, what pride these honorable men and women exhibited as they persevered, fought, and resisted so that others would have more freedom and opportunity, even if decades later.
Does the spawn of the post-Civil Rights, Hip Hop generation (and exclusive of the outliers of course) have even a tenth of this comportment and dignity? And whose fault is it, that they may not?
So what my friends, is your quintessential (as I affectionately label it) be "X times better than White people" story? For me, it was my godparents, two professionals, one who could pass for white but found the thought dishonorable and disgusting given the history of White supremacy in this country, and another an impossibly brown in skin tone, never to get into the brown paper bag club brother, telling me that I would have to be at least 20 times better than white folks to get the same job.
I also remember my father, a sort of dark skinned, Sicilian-Italian looking negro in his youth, who as you know from a previous post wore a stocking cap to hide his "nappy" hair while a Sergeant in World War Two (lest he be sent out of his White combat unit in North Africa...yes, my family tree is both nebulous and fascinating), telling me to be 50 times better than white folk to get just as far.
My mom also told me about her experiences during the 1960's when she was one of the first black women to work in plain clothes security at a Macy's department store. She would fret about every detail--her hair, makeup and dress--because it was understood that all of the minorities had to be "better" than their white coworkers. And frankly, I have been told a version of the same story quite recently by mentors in the professorate who deeply understand that to do this "race stuff" successfully, one has to be damn better than your White colleagues studying "serious things" (as deemed by some traditionalists who hold the reigns) in order to get half as far in the business.
Is it no wonder then, that the real killer which is racism remains immune in so many ways to legislation because it remains a common poison in our society's ether, and semi-visible to all but those who choose to look honestly at our "democratic" project?
This is the reflexive. White privilege encourages white mediocrity, while also providing White folks' disproportionate power. Ironically, I wonder how many White folks, especially White men, ever look in the mirror and have a moment of critical self-evaluation where they ask themselves, "what have I gotten because of my skin color and gender?" A few? None? Many? Or do they fall into a white gender privileged induced haze of White victimology?
Most troubling to me, is that at present we have a post-Civil Rights generation of black and brown kids that while still suffering under a more closeted, backstage racism, this is a cohort that is robbed of a language to even discuss and frame their own experiences with racial inequality. For the Obama kids, even when staring them in the face--where race is real and a powerful variable in terms of their life chances--they choose to deny its power.
This reality burns too much. To have to admit that race may in fact impact the course, hem, and hew of one's future life trajectories is perhaps too heavy a burden for some to carry. Thus, in a brilliant inversion of language, morality, and responsibility by the Right, "playing the race card" has become a sin exclusive to people of color confronting racism, as opposed to the label on the deck we/you/they/us have been dealt in American society.
Per our tradition, some questions:
1. I am struck by the tone and cinematography of this educational video from the late 1950's and/early 1960's. It is more of a horror movie than anything else. Am I alone in being surprised by how critical the movie is of its White "villains" and how integration is implicitly a noble goal?"
2. Related point: White folks so often do find a way to rehabilitate their own image. Do they not? Why is the sister reduced to being such a helpless lamb before the slaughter?
3. How many of you have a "white" voice for phone interviews because it is understood that this tone is necessary to get a foot in the door? How many of you have shocked and surprised a potential employer by not being white--especially if you removed all those "black" or "minority" activities from your resume, i.e. the Black Student union?
4. Am I immoral because I told a student of color to "whiten" her resume, especially because in this economy employers will be making all sorts of unfair and subconscious judgments about who to interview (or not)?
5. Finally, in the 1950's White elites finally began to realize that they had to exercise positive leadership regarding "the race question," especially in the context of the Cold War and the stain of Jim Crow on America's image. Question: How many"regular" Americans to this day do not have proper a context for The Civil Rights Movement? And why the adherence to simple stories of tired old ladies like Rosa Parks and superhuman visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr., as opposed to a full, complex, rich, confusing history of real people and real struggles?
6. How can you not dig the jazz undertones and that Nixon spearheaded the commission which produced the video?