by Jen Chau, originally published at The Time Is Always Right
This is – I think – our favorite game to play when it comes to race. Locate the racist, focus on the racist, blog and tweet the crap out of that racist, and shame that racist as much as possible. The racist shouldn’t be able to carry on life as he knew it. I too hope for change in the person who took a misstep, but I think we are missing the bigger picture. We use magnifying glasses to focus on individual events rather than seeing the connections and the patterns that point to larger societal problems.
Just last night, the story broke about a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana refusing to marry interracial couples. What ensues is shock, lots of WTFing, and general disbelief. Well, mostly. There are some people who I have seen virtually sigh and then look away with tired eyes. Me included. The shock of some can feel disempowering to others who know full well that this is reality. While everyone was jumping to speak to this, all I felt like doing was going to sleep. And this story absolutely points to the work that I do with Swirl. Heck, this guy doesn’t want to marry interracial couples because he’s afraid of what the kids will be -
“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”
So I definitely have a gut reaction to all of this. But instead of wanting to write to this guy and drag him kicking and screaming out of his racism, I want to ask questions. I think it’s great that so many people were posting this story and bringing it to light, but it’s what we do NEXT that is the most important. Do we perform some kind of witchhunt on this guy to prove to him that mixed race people are in fact deranged? I mean, it might sound fun, but what is it going to get us? What can we do to really make this a worthwhile conversation?
These are the things I wish we would think and talk about:
- Why is there so much shock about this? Yes we are in 2009. Yes we have a multiracial African American man as our President. AND? Racism and bias is alive and well. If we are shocked, we have to look at that and ask ourselves why we are shocked. Maybe we feel safe in our small little worlds because we surround ourselves with like-minded people. I am sure a lot of us do this to a certain extent. However, there are examples and examples that there are still people in this country who discriminate and treat people unfairly (and then worse, and more violent). And even more than make it into the press. What about all of the other IR couples this guy turned away before we found out about this one?
Perhaps we need such a defense mechanism to continue. If we are surprised, then that probably means that we have coaxed ourselves into believing that this stuff doesn’t really happen and it allows us to life more carefree lives. And then we get abruptly rushed into reality, but only for a moment - to read about it, talk about it, and retweet it. Then, once we feel we have said enough demeaning things about this racist, we go back to our lives and feel better for it. Until it happens again. It’s this cycle that we need to break. Because you know what? The aim should not be to FIND the racists and sufficiently shame them. It should be to understand WHY these behaviors still exist, and to think about the big picture actions we can take to get our society to a better place. If we as a country decide to take on each individual that happens to enter the spotlight for a minute, we are not going to have the impact we want to have. We are too focused on the individual and not thinking about the structural racism that has helped to create, encourage, and sustain this individual and so many others. I know it’s easier not to think about this – and largely, we haven’t. I am always curious about how we react as a society to these moments, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen us get to the bigger picture and the solutions. These moments resolve themselves when the offender finally issues an apology. Ohhhhh, he’s sorry. Ok. Back to business!
- Why do people still believe that mixed race kids are going to suffer? We will miss a huge opportunity if we don’t look at the content of this issue. Many times we miss this too, because we are so intent on labeling someone as racist (it’s racist or not racist – VERY black and white and too simplistic, but that’s how we do). Let’s talk about what he thinks about mixed race kids. Most of the emails and reactions I have seen about this story have been by mixed race people who think it’s ridiculous, so this probably means there’s a fair amount of education that probably needs to be done. Obama has done a lot to raise national consciousness around what it means to be mixed (not so much that he himself has talked about it incessently, but his mere presence has caused the media to ask others to speak on it, Swirl included). However, we still have a way to go. It wasn’t until 2000 that the US Census allowed mixed race people to identify as more than one race, so there is still a lot of room for understanding around multiracial identity. Perhaps that becomes the work – not putting our effort into speaking against this Justice of the Peace, but promoting what’s out there and putting more out there about what it means to be mixed and how it can be challenging and wonderful all at once – but who doesn’t have both challenge and beauty in their lives? We need to humanize the experience, and I am going to be working with Swirl to do this. Please email me if you are interested in working with me on a project that is brewing in my head as we speak.
- When this dies down, what are we going to do? I guess this is the biggest question for me. While there are definitely tireless activists out there who think about and plan the demise of racism every single day, there are more of us in this country who only get riled up for just this kind of event and then go back into dormancy. Again, this is your perogative. I’m not judging – everyone should live the life they want. BUT I would like it (if this stuff really pisses you off) if you would join others who are trying to do something. We need more people to fight ignorance and hatred in this country.
I saw this comment at the bottom of the SFGate article about the Justice of the Peace (I posted the link above):
10/15/2009 2:10:13 PM
You have got to be kidding, I’m going back into my own little world where this could never happen.
Well, I suppose we will hear from him next time something offensive happens to bring him out of his own little world.
My hope is that everyone comes out of their “own little worlds” to see that we are all in this world together. Once we are willing to see things as they really are, we can work together for change.