Racism IS

hazard ave rocks for blog

hazard avenue, ink drawing, RW

          About a lifetime ago, in our loft in Brooklyn, my wife and I watched the light streaming in through the big old factory-building windows and saw, floating in the warm slanting beams, a million dust particles bouncing and floating.

          “Am I wrong, or didn’t we just finish cleaning the whole loft?” I said.

          “Dust IS,” she said, which I thought was kind of brilliant.

“Yeah, dust IS,” like an element, a part of creation you can’t edit out no matter what you do. It is just there. Racism is just like that.

          Why bother saying anything more about it, and, especially, why should a white man say anything? No matter what a white man says is bound to be wrong. That also “IS”. And yet, this topic keeps coming up and keeps needing to be addressed one way or the other, with essays and editorials and/or with looting, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

          “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” declared Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady”. And the white man says,“ Why can’t a black man be more like a white man?” Things would go a lot easier for everyone if that were the case. That’s what we think anyway, most of us, if I can stick my neck out a bit.

          Affirmative action, scholarships, a helping hand; they all were well intentioned ways of giving black people a way into the white world where we would all be more happy. But they, generally speaking, were not having any of that; not much anyway. It reminds me of that naïve idea we had that if we would  just give those Iraqis the ability to vote and maybe a few credit cards they would, lickety split, be transformed into happy, prosperous, law-abiding Republicans and Democrats.

          I went to boarding school for the high school years. I went back to the 25th reunion, already a long time ago. When we were in school in the early sixties there were maybe three African American students. Twenty five years later I was standing next to a long-time professor watching the classes of years past parade across the athletic field and saw no color anywhere except for the American flag. And I asked him about that.

          “ How is that possible”, I asked, “after all that has happened?” And he said, “We can’t get them. They don’t want to come and when they do they don’t stay long. They drop out.” And now we are getting into the nitty gritty because many of them say, in one way or another,  “Fuck you whitey.” Simple as that. Racism IS.

          I have lived all over the world and everywhere it is the same; the whiter you are the better it is for you. Nobody wants to be darker. Everybody wants to be lighter in skin color. That is a mysterious fact.  And  the African group is at the bottom of the barrel, maybe because they are the blackest. A well-traveled white person can appreciate that black is beautiful. I haven’t noticed that black people accept that easily.

          There are a lot of other things I could say, stories I could tell connected with this topic, but to what end? What I read on this issue from white men always is self-serving in one way or another, or, in my case, also angry in one way or another. It is too much to take on and futile too. Racism IS. The best I can do is to keep ungenerous thoughts moving through and out of my mind, accepting that they are there, but not attaching to them or acting on them.

          In an essay titled “The Heart of Whiteness” from the New Yorker of August 15th, 2014, Tobias Wolff said,

          “A friend of mine once compared the presence of a lie in a piece of writing to a drop of dye in pure water. However slightly, it will tint the water, and the water cannot be made pure again, because the dye has become part of it. I wonder if something like that happens to us. When the first sneering name, the first joke, the first slanderous myth or image of another race—or tribe, or religion, or sexual identity—enters our ears, can we ever wholly cleanse ourselves of its effect?”

 

Ricker Winsor

Bali, Indonesia

ricker.winsor@gmail.com

www.rickerwinsor.com

 

 

4 thoughts on “Racism IS

  1. Excellent thoughts, Ricker! So true, at least to what I’ve observed. Add to that, when a black man becomes educated or speaks intelligently, he is often ridiculed by his own race and told he isn’t ” black enough” or he is ” acting white” which perpetuates the whole thing. P.S. White women risk skin cancer or spray fake tans to get darker.

    • Yes that is true. And I have seen that dynamic many times. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. Cheers, Ricker

  2. Ricker, I really like the painting.

    I do have a problem with some of the things you wrote in your essay. I think you knew some people might which you expressed when you wrote:
    “Why bother saying anything more about it, and, especially, why should a white man say anything? No matter what a white man says is bound to be wrong. That also ‘IS’.”

    You wrote:
    “’Yeah, dust IS,’ like an element, a part of creation you can’t edit out no matter what you do. It is just there. Racism is just like that.”

    Racism is taught and it is part of many cultures including mine but it is not an element that will exist no matter what you or I or anyone does. I don’t believe that. I refuse to believe that. Do I think it is easy to edit-end-eliminate-erase racism? No of course it is not easy. But I know it can be done because I have witnessed it. We can change racism into equity and justice.

    You wrote:
    “’Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ declared Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’. And the white man says,’ Why can’t a black man be more like a white man?’ Things would go a lot easier for everyone if that were the case. That’s what we think anyway, most of us, if I can stick my neck out a bit.”

    What does “like a white man” mean? And what does “like a black man” mean? Who are you thinking of when you write that? What kind of generalizations are you making?

    And easier for whom? Who is “most of us”?

    Then you wrote about your school’s apparent failure to recruit or keep blacks:
    “We can’t get them. They don’t want to come and when they do they don’t stay long. They drop out.”

    Maybe they felt unwelcome there and knew they could drop IN someplace else where they would be welcome and celebrated as students should be in their schools.

    And you wrote:
    “Nobody wants to be darker. Everybody wants to be lighter in skin color. That is a mysterious fact. And the African group is at the bottom of the barrel, maybe because they are the blackest. A well-traveled white person can appreciate that black is beautiful. I haven’t noticed that black people accept that easily.”

    Wow, are you really saying that you believe that white people can appreciate dark black people as beautiful while people of color do not? And when you say “that is a mysterious fact,” I wonder upon what you base your contention that it is a fact.

    Whose barrel, Ricker?

    There are plenty of black people who are very proud of being black and have been for decades. Personal friends and acquaintances and also public figures like the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Nina Simone and Lupita Nyong’o for example. They understand what it means to be black and proud in ways that you and I cannot because they live it.

    I think you are not seeing past the barrel created by white privilege and I hope you can climb out of. It takes effort. I know because I work at it as much as possible myself.

    Thanks,
    Gabi

  3. Hi Gabi, This essay is just current at Reflets du Temps, translated in French. People like to see things the way they should be and not as they are. In response to some other comments I wrote, “I think I do quite well with colorblindness on an individual level, close up, person to person, but it gets more difficult with distance as we relate back to our ethnic or racial group and view others from that perspective. My science friends think it is in the DNA, an inherent fear of “the other.” I was with MLKing’s Poor People’s campaign as a photographer and my sister was a member of SNCC and knew Stokley. I, as you know, have lived all over the world with people of every color. We were in Trinidad the last two years, where the two main groups are African descent and Indian descent. My observations come from a lifetime of multicultural experience. I think when you live in a place like Olympia it is easier to have wonderful egalitarian ideas that have very little relationship to reality, Here, on the golf courses, the Japanese and Korean women cover every part of their bodies despite the heat to avoid getting even a shade darker. I had a black roommate in boarding school. Maybe you remember me writing about him there and in college. He works for Obama now and is from Tuskegee, Ala. I remember his mother talking critically about people as being “darker” or “lighter” as if that was important and she not the only one. I appreciate your taking the time to respond and I wish you good luck holding on to your fantasies. I too share your feeling that we should be able to do better.

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