Learning To Overcome My Latent White Supremacy

Black Identity, Film, Race, Uncategorized

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Recently I was talking to a friend about a skit I’m working to film and produce. The skit features two young adult women. I have two actors in mind for this and one happens to be white and the other happens to be black. When I was describing the concept to my friend, I mentioned that I didn’t want for there to be a racial component to the story. He provided a simple solution saying, “You should only use white actors.” I was caught o off guard, it sounded racist but my friend is not racist at all. I thought about the interaction for a while and realized how easy it is to be complicit in a system of white supremacy.

I originally started sharing this as a Facebook comment to this short article about Woody Allen not hiring black actors unless the story “Requires it.” I started by writing the post like this:

Recently I was talking to a friend about a short PSA I’m working to film and produce. the skit features two women. I had two actors in mind and one is black. I said that I wanted to use the black actor but didn’t want to have a racial component in the story. He provided a simple solution saying, “You should only use white actors.” I was floored but understood how easy it is to be complicit in a system of white supremacy.

There are a few things wrong with my original words and the thinking behind them.

“I had two actors in mind and one is black.” This in a way assumes that the normal thing to be is white. I didn’t mean it that way but my brain automatically went there instead of saying that one is black and one is white.

“I wanted to use the black  actor but didn’t want to have a racial component in the story.” This is HUGELY PROBLEMATIC and I almost left it out there in a comment trying to show solidarity with a fellow black person who is an actor. It’s a problem because it places the onus of racial tension on the black person. It implies that black people are a racial problem. They are not. (We are not.)

As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me,   “Race is a product of racism.” It’s a white problem. Not necessarily the problem of an individual person who is called white but of the whole system of attitudes and behaviors that have created the terms, white, and black. A system that has persisted and has continued to oppress black and brown people in sometimes very subtle and nuanced ways but also in violent and obvious ways. Obvious at least to those who are paying attention either by proximity or by intentional wakefulness.

As some of you may know, I am the son of a black mother. She denied being black for my whole childhood and came out to me as a black person when I was in my 20s. Here’s a post about some of that:  THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF GROWING UP WITH A CONFUSED RACIAL IDENTITY

So, yeah. I’m half black and also a little bit racist. I’ve got white supremacy in my thinking. I am unintentionally compliant in this system. I promise I’m really working on this.

I carpool and work with a very thoughtful and woke white friend and we talk about systemic white supremacy every time we ride together. It’s an inexhaustible topic of conversation. I feel that we will never run out of things to say on the topic.

ConFuSing pAragrapH>>>Being a person of mixed race, I find that I have trouble with language regarding race. I don’t self-identify as a white person but when I look at things I’ve said or written I find that I only sometimes identify as a black person. I usually call black people they and sometimes call white people they, although if I look closely, I find that I imply that I share a white experience, which I do in some ways. I have been subject to various forms of white racism in my life and have been treated as other enough times to make me feel genuinely other. I don’t really look black though and I was raised by a poor single black mother who had a life riddled with violence, drug abuse, imprisonment, unfortunate police encounters, domestic abuse, and deep shame regarding her own identity as a black woman. In many of these ways, I think I share an experience that many black people have had and yet I often feel like an outsider in that group as well.

I’m doing racism sometimes and I’m really sorry about it. I think it’s important for people to come to terms with the fact that racism exists and that they probably participate in it without even knowing.

Was I writing about film? Yes. I guess so. If you’re working in film, do better. Don’t assume you’re not racist.

So you’re feeling offended by Beyoncé and her black friends.

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On Sunday, the Colorado Football Men with their leader, Terry Manny, and the Carolina Fast Guys, also all men, faced off in an extremely important match. My family and I actually went to a friends house to look at it. Our friends prepared tons of sweet and salty goodies for our enjoyment. It was a big deal.

After some time, there was a big concert where 3 relatively unknown artists got the chance to play for a huge audience. At the end of the overwhelmingly spectacular, (although not musically stimulating) performances there was an inspirational retrospective montage featuring other struggling artist getting their chance to shine before capacity crowds. As far as I can tell from my extensive research, this has happened nearly L times.

One of the artists named, Beyoncé, sang and danced with her beautiful buddies. They were ultra serious and had dark skin. They also wore black clothing that was sometimes shiny and I was frightened but only for a moment. After they finished, my daughter Jane briefly imitated some of their moves and it looked very cool.

What’s the problem? It turns out that there was A LOT of context in there. Beyoncé sung lyrics that reminded people of racial tension in the mid 20th century and throughout American history. It didn’t just look aggressive, it was aggressive. Well, actually it wasn’t aggressive. It was assertive. Aggressive means that someone was ready to attack or confront and in this case, there were very tight time constraints and since it was a choreographed performance with a political message, it should be processed as performance art.

Here are some things to consider before you call this a racist display.

CONTEXT:

What is happening in our country right now regarding people of color? Are opportunities equitable right now or is there a vast and long standing bias that favors white people? Do you know about #BlackLivesMatter but think it should be #AllLivesMatter or even better #PoliceLivesMatter? Be careful here, because #BlackLivesMatter is actually saying #BlackLivesMatterToo.

REPRESENTATION:

Some are noting that Beyoncé only had black dancers up there with her. Is that important? Why do you think she did that? Is it really racist or is she trying to send a message. I’ll admit, when I saw the performance, I didn’t like it. They were frowning a lot and I couldn’t tell what they were singing and the music was just not my thing. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw that people were upset about the performance art element.

HISTORY:

What has happened in the past regarding people of color? Have things always been great until recently and we just need to make America great again or have things been bad for a long time with infuriatingly small improvements mostly at the cost of black lives?

EDUCATION:

When an artist makes reference to something in history, does it mean that they wholeheartedly support and endorse what happened in the past and are recommending a similar corse of action or are they educating people? Is Beyoncé trying to get people to think abstractly or is she calling for violent action. If she’s calling for violent action, who is her audience and against whom does she hope to act?

THINK:

Before you react or vent about this, think first. What is the context behind the performance. What has happened historically? What is representation? What is there to learn?  There is something deeply wrong with the fact that black people are being put in the position to explain the history of their/our legacy every time the media and individuals forget.

 

Tiny Review of “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans

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I read  by . The whole thing reads like a prayer and is probably the most meditative and overtly belief oriented book I’ve read. It brought up a lot of memories of my high school youth group days and my time being involved in a kind of church start-up in the early 2000s. Although I think I agree with Rachel on nearly every topic I’ve read her opinions on, it was almost uncomfortable at times because I realized that I think of Rachel as someone who is disillusioned with God as I am. I don’t think that is accurate though, her story is one of true independence of thought mixed with a real and deep faith in the redemptive power of Jesus. If you are a non believer or an ex christian and want to make yourself uncomfortable by reading an intelligently conceived, prayerful memoir, this book would be a good place to start. If you are someone who has dismissed Evans as a heretic for her views and opinions, you need to read this. I think this would challenge you as well. Rachel, please continue to write books.

I’m thinking about this woman I met on the playground the other day. Well, I guess I didn’t meet her, I mostly just observed her. Her daughter who looked to be about 6/7 years old hopped on the swing and started going. The mother started chanting a weird mantra, “Pay attention, you know you get hurt when you don’t pay attention. You’re tired, make sure you’re holding on. Pay attention…”

Why did she need to talk to her kid like that? She was totally capable. The nagging mom just continued pushing her with tiny pushes and discouraging words while I had Jane on the next swing swinging, “Big up high” as Jane puts it.

It was weird. I don’t get why she felt the need to continuously micromanage her kid. I see this sort of thing all of the time. That, or a parent just talking on the phone the whole time while the kid does whatever.

I can’t help but think that this mother was knocking her little girl down with out even knowing it. It makes me think of how people just fall into certain words and phrases with kids. I see it in myself sometimes. I’m working on getting myself into other habits. Habits of telling Jane that she’s a good person, that she is honest, that she is capable.

Jane on the swings

-Jane at 12 months old on the swings.-

Earlier today I was telling Jane about Becca and I said, “Your Mom is a good person.” She repeated it and said, “I call mommy, say, good person?” I loved that. I think Jane is starting to understand that encouragement is meant to be shared.

I really love being at the park with Jane. She’s at the point where she can just jump in and play with other kids. She’s not in the corner anymore, she’s in the mix. I hope to remember at every stage to keep encouraging her, to select my words carefully and to lift her up at the right times.

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Provocative Blog Title About Modesty and Culture.

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Today on my ride home from teaching lessons I saw a womanly figure in my peripheral vision. She was laying in the grass soaking up some sun. I didn’t want to stare so I just glanced. At first I couldn’t really see what was going on but upon a second glance I noticed something. Breasts. She had two of them. She was sitting with another human being but I wasn’t able to identify the gender. I guess I wasn’t focusing on the other figure. This all lasted about 1.5 seconds and as I rode off I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with that?”

The answer is nothing. She didn’t hurt anyone. She probably just wanted to feel the sun all over her body. I’m a dude so it’s pretty much acceptable for me to bare my (super hairy) chest whenever I want to as long as I’m outside. It’s weird that it’s different for girls.

One of the really cool things about Germany is that this sort of thing is no big deal. I’m sure that no one went up to the woman and asked her to cover up for any reason. She wasn’t causing anyone to “stumble” and if someone did stumble in any metaphorical or literal way because of her choice to not wear a shirt, it would have not been her fault.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about slut shaming. It’s this thing where something horrible happens to a woman and she gets blamed because of her appearance and or past sexual history. We see this ALL OF THE TIME. If a woman is attacked or harassed all too often the first question is, “Well, what was she wearing?” This is the wrong question.

Many of you who have known me for a while probably know that I’m pretty bashful when it comes to sexy stuff. I was the type of guy who would turn away when I walked by Victoria Secret because I would feel embarrassed. For a number of years now, I’ve decided to think about this differently. I came to the realization that sexuality is just a part of life and that I shouldn’t shy away from it or feel ashamed for having thoughts or feeling feelings because they are natural.

I’ve seen some talk recently about the importance of modesty. Some quote the bible and talk about how women are responsible for not causing their ‘brothers’ to sin. This is one of those things that really reveals the age of the culture of the bible. People still think this way and I think that one of the main influences for this is the adherence to ancient religious texts.

A friend of mine shared this today and although it’s written from a Christian perspective, my contrarian mind can’t think of much to say about it other than, “Hell yeah man!” I couldn’t agree more.

http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/

Sea Glass

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This is an original song that I started writing about 7 years ago. I was in California to spend a weekend with Lisa and Sarah Hine. They are two years apart but have the same birthday so I went out with a group of friends to party with them. This song came to me when I was walking the beach one morning. Sarah lived in Long Beach at the time and Everyone was staying at her house. I remember everyone was just laying around, (it could have been 6 in the morning) so I went out to the beach. The first verse came to me right away after I picked up a piece of sea glass off of the shore. I remember being so impressed with the texture. I love texture.

Less than a year later I found myself in love with a woman named Rebecca. The song started to take meaning in the light of getting to know her. At the time, I was playing music with my best friend, Melanie. When I told her that I wanted to make the song about Becca, she helped me finish it contributing the second verse.

In Sea Glass, I compare finding the glass to finding my love. She, like the glass, had been refined and shaped by tumultuous experiences to become the beautiful treasure that she is.