Sunday blogging against racism #21a–true tales from my former workplace

I wrestled mightily with the decision to leave my good-paying job at the phone company two years ago. Sometimes I still wonder about my timing (that I would have left was, I am certain, inevitable eventually, but sometimes I wonder if I should have held out a little bit longer), but in another sense, I just knew that it was time to go.

hmm. none of what I’ve said thus far has anything to do with what I’m about to say . . . except for the fact that I am occasionally reminded of the rather “unique” culture of that place . . .

I was reminded anew this weekend when a friend related a story of a recent incident at my old workplace. Apparently, there was some minor issue between two employees, and after the one woman involved (who is black) walked away, the other woman (white) said, “If she was hanging from an apple tree, I wouldn’t bother cutting her down.”

(yes, this is hearsay, blah blah blah–and perhaps if I hadn’t heard so many similar comments myself during my time there, I would question this account, but I can assure you that such comments were far from uncommon in that place.)

 There are two aspects of this that are particularly maddening to me:

1) It was another employee who overheard this comment and went to management with it. Apparently, the manager who received the complaint is friendly with the person who (“allegedly”) made this remark. The issue was eventually brought to a higher level of management, but although an obligatory statement was made about this being “unacceptable”, apparently one manager also encouraged the person who reported the incident to contact the company’s EEO department for more help.

I am quite familiar with the tendency of the management there to sweep such things under the rug, to fall back on, “but it’s a ‘he-said, she-said’; there were no witnesses.” (They could get away with this in large part because of the reluctance of the other employees to admit that they had heard anything.) From what I understand, the woman the comment was directed towards (although she did not actually hear it said) is reluctant to pursue this and apparently doesn’t want to “make waves”. BUT THIS IS NO TIME TO BE MAKING FLIPPANT REMARKS ABOUT PEOPLE HANGING FROM TREES! (not that there’s ever a “right” time for such comments, but in light of the events of the past year, such a comment is even more egregious, and I don’t care WHO claims that they didn’t hear anything, it’s still NOT okay to sweep this under the rug. It was like this when I was there also–that whole mentality of, “if we don’t talk about it, it will go away.”

2) I would be remiss if I presented this story without exploring my own complicity in the matter, and the fact that it is so much easier for me to express outrage about blatant, “out there”/”not me” racism than to examine the mess that lurks within my own heart. This would be a perfect example of how we so easily get stuck in Power¹–the ways that racism hurts people of color–and avoid looking at the exponential damage that racism causes in Power² (the ways that I benefit as a white person, such as the fact that my manager, who is likely to be from the same majority culture as I am, will more easily dismiss complaints against me) and Power³ (the fact that racism ultimately destroys us all.) Continue reading

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Sunday blogging against racism #12a–the noose thing

At an anti-racism caucus a few weeks ago, we were talking about the Jena 6 and the subsequent flurry of noose sightings all over the country, and one participant wondered if there really has been an increase in noose hangings, or if the media is just putting more focus on the sightings these days.

I am pretty sure that there is some increase, given the whole copycat phenomenon, but noose hangings are nothing new. A friend sent me this thoroughly disturbing story that she had heard on NPR the previous weekend . . . you can read the short blurb, but to get the full effect, I would recommend that you listen to the entire podcast (it’s about 30 to 40 minutes long.) I wanted to vomit after listening–and you may feel that way too–but listen anyway.

Many of us have rallied around the battle cry of “Free the Jena Six!”, as well we should. But I didn’t hear anybody crying out to free Charles Hickman, and in the podcast he makes it painfully clear that, no matter how large a settlement he received, he really never will be free of this again. “It’s in my mind now”, he kept saying.

Oh, Mr. Hickman, I am so, so sorry. And it’s in my mind now, too, only I don’t want it out of my mind . . . I don’t want to forget the discomfort I felt as I heard your story, and I don’t want to ever stop wrestling with my own complicity in this.

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To those who say that Jena isn’t about race

I was struck by how these wise words from W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk are still so applicable today: (emphasis added)

It was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War; and however much they who marched South and North in 1861 may have fixed on the technical points, of union and local autonomy as a shibboleth, all nevertheless knew, as we know, that the question of Negro slavery was the real cause of the conflict. Curious it was, too, how this deeper question ever forced itself to the surface despite effort and disclaimer. No sooner had Northern armies touched Southern soil than this old question, newly guised, sprang from the earth,–What shall be done with Negroes?

“why are you so sensitive about a little old noose?”

News from Louisiana about how some of the local boys responded to this week’s protests.

But there aren’t race problems there; it’s just the big, bad media and those awful folks on the internet riling people up. At least that’s what Tio Tomás had to say about it . . . he seemed to have a lot of compassion for the poor little white boy who was attacked . . . I almost puked when he made a statement about how it can really hurt when someone is stepping on your face with their sneaker . . .

Right. Because black folks don’t know ANYTHING about THAT.

Sunday blogging against racism #7b–Jena update

It made me sad to read one blogger’s commentary on this past Thursday’s Jena protests, wondering where all of the white folks were. I was unable to go because of work and financial constraints, but I try to tell myself I would have been there if I could. I am not sure I can call myself a white anti-racist if I’m not willing to stand with my brothers and sisters of color when they are being treated wrongly. Sure, I wore my t-shirt on Thursday, and printed a few pages of flyers, but because I was at a work conference, I was timid and reluctant to hand out even the few flyers I printed.

What is it going to take before I’m willing to give more than lip service to all of this? What will it take before I’m willing to stand with people of color to fight this insiduous evil?

anyway, here’s the update letter I received yesterday. (below the fold) If you want to receive Jena 6 updates, visit www.colorofchange.org for subscription information.

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