At Your Service: July 28, 2010
Last week racism took center stage in the national conversation – where it belongs. Whether we like to believe it or not, racism remains pervasive in our culture and has far reaching consequences. It will remain a divisive force, until we confront it head on; and that means we must talk about it.
We most often think of racism as being a social issue. It is a factor in determining how people relate to one another and their subsequent behaviors. It has tremendous emotional charge that has been passed down for generations and is equally a personal experience for every person of color. The experiences vary from minor inconveniences to lifetime jail sentences to the murders of friends and/or family; ask and everyone has a tale to tell.
It also has economic ramifications that reach into the future. While the June 2010 unemployment rate among whites was 8.6 percent, it was 15.4 percent among African-Americans and 12.4 percent among Hispanics. Only 10.5 percent of white people live below the poverty line, while 24.5 percent of blacks and 33.9 percent of their children do. Current census data indicates that while minorities comprise less than one third of the population, they comprise 46 percent of children.
In my own experience, it is the single most influential factor in my life, though I generally give it no more thought than I give to the fact that I am a woman. They are equal in my experience of living but not in my experience of being in the world. What distinguishes the racial experience is that you never know when or where it is going to impact your day or life.
When I began my career it was the age of affirmative action and I worked for a television network. Though I choose to believe that I was made a vice president because I figured out how to earn what has become billions of dollars for the company, worked long hours six days a week and gave everything else in my life second place, a case could be made that I was promoted because the company got double EEO points for a black woman.
In that same year, I got so sick that I was taken to the emergency room of a NYC hospital for pains in my chest. Before they would give me a thorough examination, I was given tests for syphilis and gonorrhea, based on the assumption that a black woman in such expensive clothing must be a prostitute (the doctor looked me straight in the eye when he explained this). I had pleurisy.
Many would like to think that race is less an issue because we elected an African-American president. Certainly it has intensified the presence of racist references in the political arena. Sensitivity to the issue made it possible for a blogger (not a member of the legitimate press, subject to journalistic standards) to edit a tape and change the context to indicate racially biased activities of a black woman with a distinguished career and get her fired without an investigation. The white farmer she was claimed to have victimized was the first to her defense.
Until we open a dialogue around the issue of race, we remain subject to such hostage taking. The simple reality is that when it comes to race, we are all people of color: some are white, some are black, brown, yellow or some mix that all constitute the human race. If we want to win the race, we need to be in it together, taking the best ideas from one another and building a stronger community. We need to be talking.