Tina K. Russell

July 7, 2007

Race

Filed under: martin luther king jr., race, the boondocks, tv, us — Tina Russell @ 8:59 am

I just saw The Boondocks. I’ve been watching this show for a while, the show based upon the Aaron McGruder comics. By “a while,” I mean a week or two. I got it from the library, a service which Michael Moore deftly reminds us is, you know, socialized reading.

That is, I got season one from the library. It’s pretty good. The animation is beautiful. And the girl with the puffy pigtails is so cute, I would intensely like to devour her. But, that is not the point here, today.

I saw the episode in which Martin Luther King, Jr. comes back from the dead. It’s really, really super-depressing. (This is episode… hmmm… nine, I think, of season one.) He turns on the TV and sees rappers in fistfights, rappers beating their wives, a whole mess of what we consider to be “urban entertainment” (certain at-risk, urban entertainment, certainly)… and he asks, “what has become of my people?”

“I guess,” our hero, Huey, says, “we’ve all been waiting for you to come back.”

“The Martin Luther King Jr. they’re waiting for,” King replies, “died long ago.”

It’s severely depressing. Basically, The Boondocks spends a lot of time admonishing, well, black people, as though to ask, “how did we end up in this mess?” How did we universally decide to stop fighting for our rights and, instead, start fighting over the white man’s scraps while buying “bling” (my least favorite thing in the world, to be sure) (well, I dislike the movie “Brazil,” Windows bluescreens, and any use of “an historical” more, but “bling” is up there) and Bluetooth headseats to try and prove that we made something of ourselves. That’s pathetic… if you want to show how successful you are… _be_ a success, don’t wait for anybody’s permission, certainly not the white man’s. And don’t use your possessions to show off your “status…” you’re only reflecting how poor you are, but more importantly–and more damagingly–how clearly ashamed you are of it.

Now, I’m white… as white as they come, actually. My mother is all-American, had ancestors on the Mayflower, and could join the Daughters of the American Revolution if she didn’t find them repulsive. My dad had a Norwegian father and a German mother, and was born in Oslo, and moved to Chicago when he was five. From that mix, I like to think of myself as of Norwegian descent, ’cause I like Scandanavia, land of efficiency, diplomatic relations with Palestine, Norse mythology, tiny houses, universal healthcare, and _scary_ high living standards (can you believe they have a population crisis… the other way?). Also, my Norwegian blood–the Viking in me–makes me hella tall and skinny, something I’m quite proud of, since it means I’ve attained the American ideal without any actual effort. (Just so you know, fat people generally aren’t of unsound morals or discipline, that’s just a stereotype… I’m just lucky that I was born skinny, although even hella skinny women and men get eating disorders from the pressure to be _absolutely perfect_, which nobody is without a Photoshop makeover.)

Anyway, where was I? So, yes, I’m Whitey McWhiteperson, and I’ve never had any shame in that. Us white people, well… we’ve created some good things in our time. Let’s see, there’s Spider-Man… well, Stan Lee is Jewish (does anybody know of Steve Ditko’s ancestry?), and they come in all colors, so I guess that doesn’t count. Well, there’s Sonic–no, those are Japanese creators. How about… uhh… Star Trek? Gene Roddenberry isn’t Jewish, is he? …

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never felt ashamed for being white, other than, you know, centuries of oppression of other people, but that’s more _human_ than white, you know? Give one guy more guns and convince him he’s different than the other guy, pretty soon he’s shot the other guy full of holes and considers it God’s will. At the same time, the “black problem”–that black people still live in something of a permanent underclass, a kind of American caste system, that’s tough to break out of–has always been a strong interest of mine… my dad listened to blues music as I grew up, so maybe that has something to do with it. (He, in turn, had racist parents who wouldn’t let him listen to “black music,” or “race music” as they called it back then. Now we call it “urban music.” Is anybody but me sick of people trying to talk about race without really talking about race?) I also read Milestone comics (one of which, Static, was the basis for the TV series “Static Shock”), studied the civil rights movement in high school, and the NAACP in college (which is, incidentally, a _thoroughly_ badass organization). So, yeah… I like black people, I guess, or at least learning about them.

But, of course, I know that if I, as a white person, or rather, as a person in general, am not doing something to solve this hideously entrenched underground system of institutionalized racism, I’m just a part of the problem… of course, the Supreme Court just ruled that we live in a perfect, colorblind society (pah!), so maybe I should just hang it up and go home.

No, really, I want to know what I can do, but I know the answer to that is “don’t be a dick,” because, in general, the civil rights movement gets stalled by some white person being a dick, and moves ahead with the help of some white person not being a dick. So, if I can just live with my internalized prejudices–which everybody has–be aware of them, and be nice to people, then I’m good. I think…

It’s just that… I know there’s a “black problem” in America, and I want to know what I can do to help. If I ruled the world… well, if I got to make the decisions… I would have my own reparations program, as Martin Luther King, Jr. called for in his day (a good century after “forty acres and a mule” fell flat; I think a white person keeping his or her promises is the sort of cataclysmic event that allows civil rights to move forward). Mine would be one of unprecedented trust and generosity… we would simply find out what black America needs, and give it to ’em, no questions asked. You need better housing in Chicago? No problem. Better schools in Baltimore? We’ll hook you up. A massive payout–which most white people fear and, I would think, few black people really seek–would only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and be a perfect way to put a big pile of money through, essentially, a giant shredder of infinitesimal divvying (like the Bush tax rebate, only at least well-meaning). What we do need to realize is that we, the United States of America, as an institution, have wronged the black people of our nation, grievously, and heinously, and we need to make restitution for our crimes… and we will, gladly, because it’s the right thing to do, and it won’t exactly put white America in the poorhouse. Besides, as Dr. King so deftly put it in his day, it’s a bargain compared to paying the back wages of black peoples’ enslaved ancestors, wealth that they earned but neither they nor their grandchildren never saw a penny of.

So, basically, when white people decry reparations as collective punishment, I want to cry… but I also want to clarify. I think nobody seriously wants to go door to door and say, “hello, you’re a white person, I’m here to bill you for your slaveholding ancestors.” Nobody should have to pay for the crimes of their ancestors, that’s not right. What we should do is attempt to fix some of the damage done by our country as an institution, a country founded on liberal ideals that soon came into contact with the black legacy of slavery. It took time for us to shake off the shackles of slavery, and America is much better off for it; pro-slavery activists in their day threatened that a removal of slavery would precipitate economic collapse, but such was hardly the truth when the South was, and to some extent still is, an economic shithole compared to the vastly wealthier North, an empire based on things like employment, wages, and retirement. It’s just that black people today still have marks from their ancestor’s enslavement, and that’s unfair. Dr. King justly argued that black people should thus be helped along, to compete on a just and equal basis… and nobody listened, and now we’re all the worse off for it.

Seriously… trying to make life hell for illegal immigrants in this country has only turned them into an underclass, an economic pestilence unable to rise above its means. Similarly, the Republican-Democratic “let’s forget about black people” agenda has only served to starve this underclass… We’ve achieved integration only in the sense that white people often slip into the ranks of the poor as well, and some black people can, with some gumption and some available resources, rise to the point of success at which people wonder aloud on talk shows about whether or not he or she is “really black” (I hate that). America is still spectacularly divided along the color line…

And what I mean is that when there are poor among us, it only hurts all of us… I’d like to see such a drive for the construction of infastructure, of education, of jobs for black people… and whites, too, of course, we just should not hide, or shy away from, the sorry state of black America and the fact that it’s pretty much our fault. What I mean is… regardless of what transpired in the past, we should help black America _because it is right_, but also because a permanent African-American underclass helps none of us. Trying to crush people to bits with economic misery… the poor, blacks, immigrants… it’s always intended to “free” us from them, as though they are some kind of burden, keeping us from reaching our full potential. But the truth is, it’s when you try to marginalize these people that they become an economic ball and chain… “the problem of the South” is what they used to call it. Now, I guess, it’s “the problem with black America”… and it’s telling that the government, or at least the “loyal Bushies” appointed by our esteemed and incompetent (with all due respect) President, would let New Orleans drown before sending any help. Maybe if the black people would all just _die_, they think, perhaps, we’d be free of the “black problem,” forever.

But it’s not true… black people are here to stay, as are immigrants and aboriginals and all the marginalized people of America… as well as, you know, everybody else… I feel as though our government has declared war on the “average American,” as though the middle class is an aberration that should not be allowed to exist, and you should be either poor as dirt or the CEO of ExxonMobile. The poor aren’t the government’s concern… the rich are, and that’s sad because the government is supposed to stand up for _us_, be run by _us_ and look out for us when we need it. When New Orleans was flooding, people expected the government to come and help, because the government is supposed to be a proxy for the American people… and the American people, every last one of ’em, wanted to help when they heard about the flood. (Well, every last one except Brownie. Heck of a job!)

So, yes, we should do it, we should lend black America a hand, because of our crimes against them, because it will help us, but more than anything because it’s the right thing to do… it’s true that black America has lost its way, everyone’s expecting Martin Luther King to come back when he just won’t. But we can help… complaining about the sorry state of black America means nothing unless you are willing to help. And complaining that black children are all slackers and drug dealers or something means nothing unless you are willing to help the ones that are not… Stereotypes are convenient because they allow us to think that we’re doing the right thing, already. But we’ll never know what will happen until we try… perhaps fewer black children will end up as convicts if more of them had solid educations. In fact, I’m sure of it. There’s nothing that makes us different save for circumstances and means… if black people had the kind of access to resources that us white people have all the time, I’m sure they’d be just as well off as we are. Hell, education is the single most important factor as it is, I bet if every black child in America went to college we’d see the crime rate plummet in about twenty years. That said, maybe we could work on getting everybody into college, and simply prove that we really are some kind of colorblind society by recognizing that, if the problem is largely in black America, that’s where we will start fixing the problem, regardless of our own prejudices.

Most white people don’t like to talk about race, because they want to believe they don’t see race, that they are perfectly egalitarian and, oh, they have black friends, see? But, that’s a distracting sideshow… the truth is that race exists, even though it’s merely a cultural construct with no scientific basis. Some people accuse me of “tokenizing” when I say that we should, well, help the black man (and the black woman) out. I’d say they’re blind to reality… if we spend decades, centuries, trying to ground a specific group of people into powder, perhaps it would make sense to help them out now, so that there’s no animosity, we can all be friends and share a powerful, integrated economy where anyone can grow up to be a scientist (with the requisite talent and inclination) and nobody knows what “black” is because we’re so interbred that we’ve created a gorgeous rainbow of pink-brown skin colors.

It’s just the right thing to do… and it’s fun. Race is only a problem if you’re unwilling to confront it, to have fun with it, to find ways to solve it… that’s why I’m interested in the subject of race, and I think everybody should be. It’s interesting, it’s fun, and it shows a way we can help save the world. There’s no reason we should shy away from the topic… indeed, we should not when it’s so important to so many people. We should blow the topic wide open. Don’t be afraid of offending anybody… say what you mean, say what you feel. It’s the only way we can have a meaningful discussion.

And, we know you have a black friend. Stop talking about it, already. Yes, yes, you don’t see race, very nice, thank you…

…and, of course, the only way we can have this discussion is if petty liberals like me stop accusing people of racism whenever they say something they disagree with… I think “racism” as a word is both overused and underused. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to somebody’s confrontational idea… use “racism” for the kinds of policies that really deserve it, like the ones where we accuse illegal immigrants of being responsible for all the country’s problems. Bitch, bitch, bitch…

And “Lost in Translation.” I hated that movie.

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