Earlier this week, I posted a letter that I had received from quite an angry reader. I decided to post it because I felt it was important display evidence of one of our biggest challenges as people who are working to educate the public about experiences that are not always covered by the mainstream media (and when they are, often unfairly so). The challenge? Countering thoughts that go on in the privacy of the mind. Now that racism and hatred are far more hidden than they were in the past, somewhat as a result of the social contract we call political correctness in conjunction with the power of legal system to prohibit discrimination as well to prosecute those who actively engage in its continuation, racism is more difficult to detect. Like the children of well-intentioned parents, people curb their behavior in order to avoid being chastised, ultimately relegating racism (and sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, lookism, xenophobia, and the list goes on) to an internal place, bearing smiles on their faces, but hatred and prejudice in their hearts and minds.
I recognize that racism is a learned behavior, though the instructor is not always clear. People take in racist messages and imagery on a daily basis, often times without even realizing it. Un-doing the racism learned is a long process that requires an extensive amount of critical thinking and a very open mind. It is a challenging and sometimes self-deprecating endeavor, especially considering that one must question the biases within oneself before assessing external influences.
I am certainly one undergoing that very process and it's one of the motivating factors for my writing. It is my way of asking questions as I search for answers. It also happens to be a way of sharing this process with others and inviting them to engage in it by way of discussion.
My idea of discussion, however, does not include an anonymous e-mail that not only insults my intelligence, but that also accuses me of being many things I am not and resorts to generalizations and non-sequiturs in the guise of a coherent argument. This is not discussion. This is not constructive criticism. This is sensationalism in the form of hate mail, hate mail that even in itself seems completely un-original and that reads more like spam than a valid grievance geared toward anti-racist writers such as myself.
Some may ask why I even chose to give the author the time of day by bringing attention to the letter by posting it here and providing my reply. But at the end of the day, the content of the letter is someone’s idea of truth, no matter how inaccurate, and I was compelled to use this blog as a forum for discussion about the power of racism and how it blinds us from seeing anything else.
Here is my reply. Though I never sent it to the author, I suppose that if he or she had the ability to find my email address, then he or she certainly won’t have any difficulty finding this blog and work therein. My comments are in bold, the author’s in italics.
This presumption that America is racist, that whites are bigots and that white America controls the media and uses that control to diminish and oppress minorities in general and black people in particular is a monstrous lie (and anyone who has thought about it for two seconds, knows it). Yet black racists like yourself and liberal racists are somehow part of the mainstream conversation about race in America today. If women and people of color are being oppressed, why isn't there an exodus? Why do you live here? Why are Haitians and Mexicans and everybody else dying to come here? To be oppressed?
That America is racist is not a presumption at all. It’s true, at least for those who experience it. America, like many nations, was created with racism as its first building block. Without race-based dehumanization, the enslavement of Native Americans and black Africans, as well as the indentured servitude of Asians, all of which enabled the progress our nation made despite its infancy as a competing world power, would never have happened. The remnants of this dehumanizing remain very much alive, though of course, it’s coupled with other –isms that result in the demeaning of certain groups of people based on facets of their identity and place in society (i.e. sexism, poverty, religion-based hatred). The media is certainly a good example, though I have never once said it was controlled by whites. I think that racism toward ethnic and racial minorities is such an immense part of our society that even people of color have internalized its effects and often express prejudice and commit acts of discrimination toward other and their own ethnic/racial groups as well. No one group is devoid of this fault, and I have never said otherwise. We all have work to do. However, sometimes as a result of not having experienced racism, some people have an inability to empathize or even see it at all. If one has never experienced something, especially if it’s not tangible or necessarily easy to replicate, the process of denying its existence or calling those who do experience its effects liars in need of attention is made all the more easy. Women and people of color, the examples you chose to highlight, are members of this country as well. One thing that politicians often tout as America’s most cherished asset is its sense of and commitment to democracy. And as anyone who has ever taken a history class should know, one key aspect to a democratic nation is the voice of its citizens. What makes America great is the ability for its inhabitants to make it even better. Instead of pondering why people who fight racism don’t just leave, it’s important to consider why they continue to speak out when they experience something that is clearly inconsistent with the image the United States would like to project, one that is unabashedly marketed toward people in other countries, many of whom are “dying to come here” not only because that very image is so powerful, but also because they may be facing extreme poverty, injustice, or political unrest that makes life below acceptable standards for any human being. They’re “dying” to come here, because any alternative is better than the conditions they face. Even when they arrive, the reality is not always as pictured, and oppression can certainly occur. Have you never heard of sweatshop labor or sexual slavery or work without pay, just to name a few problems many immigrants, legal or otherwise, often face? America is sometimes a last resort, sure, but that doesn’t, by any means, make it perfect or mean that racism that people experience here should be excused simply because the situation of living here (for most of us) isn’t as (overtly) bad as it is in other countries.
In fact liberalism — if you want to call it that — has become a form of political extremism. It is conspiratorial-minded, blind to the obvious and filled with a venomous, unthinking bias against people whose skin colors include whiter shades of pale. Do black males abandon their children and commit five times the violent crime that males from other ethnic groups do? White racism is responsible. Do black mobs tear up a city like Cincinnati because violent criminals are shot by police? Progressives know that the problem is really slavery, segregation and institutional racism, and cheer the rioters on.
With regard to liberalism/leftism, I have never once said that as a form of political expression it cannot veer into the realm of extremism. In fact, I often find myself disagreeing with leftists as much as conservatives, and instead have chosen to allow my words to define me as opposed to a political affiliation. As far as crimes committed by black people are concerned, you will never hear/see me blame whites, so I am not sure why you even included that in your letter. However, black people and other non-white groups (in addition to whites involved in subcultures like skaters, punks, and other scenes that involve a manner of dress that counters traditional norms) are often profiled unfairly by law enforcement officials and many crimes committed by the aforementioned yield harsher sentencing, which is an important fact to note here. We are all under the same laws, but experience them in drastically different ways. With regard to your statistics about black criminals, I find them to be a simple distraction, a rhetorical device you have employed in order to hide your letter’s total lack of substance and the weakness of your argument, which I have yet to pinpoint in its entirety. Your statistics about black males or black criminals have little bearing on what I write, why I write, or my personal identity. Would you have brought them up if I weren’t black? Afterall, I write about many different groups of people, not just blacks, so why you chose to focus exclusively on them in your letter is beyond me. . . unless of course you chose this group as your focal point because you saw my skin color before you read my words.
The facts of American life roundly refute the prejudices of liberal extremism, but to little effect. America is not racist. If anything, the social establishment and the media exhibit far more concern for the fate of black Americans than they do for any other racial or ethnic group. A three quarters white actress declares herself black to gain status in Hollywood. And everybody knows she’s smart to do it. The predisposition of the media is far more likely to believe the worst about whites and to bend over backwards to legitimize racial paranoia among blacks. How else could an inciter of racial hatred, convicted liar, wannabe drug dealer, paid snitch and shakedown artist like Al Sharpton become a "civil rights leader" and Democratic Party presidential candidate? Does an LA prosecutor indict O.J. Simpson for killing his wife because he beat and threatened her, skipped town and tried to flee the country after the crime was committed and was tied to the victim through blood and DNA samples? He must have been framed by racist whites on the Los Angeles police force. The reader is correct in recalling that the media didn’t draw this conclusion; but, then again, the media treats with respect the Johnnie Cochrans who did.
Regarding your third paragraph, I agree that there is an immense amount of coverage regarding black Americans expressing grievances toward representations that they find to be skewed and unjust. They are right to do so—once again, this is their right as Americans. Other groups bear a similar ire with regard to the issue of racism, but they are often silenced because their issues are considered tangential in a society that only thinks in black and white. Polarity allows for more simple media coverage, plain and simple. God forbid they challenge their audiences by introducing new topics. So while blacks may seem more vocal about the issues they face, even this outspoken-ness is sometimes disproportionately represented in the media while others are ignored. Not only that, but when anti-racist activists of non-black backgrounds attempt to speak up on behalf of blacks and vice-versa, there is little coverage. Asian-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans made significant contributions to the civil rights movement, but in order to keep it simple, and arguably to divide groups of color, we learn our history via bi-colored lenses: black and white. This is a matter of distorted representation, not black attention hunger as you allege. Also, I am insulted by your assumption that Al Sharpton, OJ Simpson, and Johnnie Cochran represent blacks just because they are black men you have seen on television. That assumption in itself is a clear accusation that ALL blacks are victims of groupthink. We are individuals. We each have our own thoughts, opinions, ideas, and concerns, despite our shared history, so please respect that.On January 19th of this year, a white man named Ken Tillery was lynched by four blacks in Jasper Texas — the very same, small Texas town where James Byrd was lynched by whites four years earlier. The Byrd lynching was on the front page of every American newspaper. The president made speeches about him. The nation hated his killers. Ken Tillery disappeared without a trace. You think you will write a column about that? Or will you ever talk about this story reported in the NYT (4/23/03) Although blacks are 12% of the population in reality it is just 2% of the blacks that commit 50% of the murders and a greater percentage of other crimes. Consider: black females - 6%. Blacks from zero yrs. to 12yrs. and black males from 50-100 years commit an infinitesimal percentage of the crimes. Therefore we are left with two percent. If we eliminate crimes committed by this two percent from the U.S. statistics our country compares very favorably with all Western countries. Fact -- blacks kill 7 times more than whites kill. Fact -- blacks kill whites 20 times more than whites kill blacks. Fact -- blacks mug or commit group crime against whites 50 times more than whites commit against blacks. Fact -- blacks rape white women 2000 (yes 2000) times more than whites rape black women. In New York City, about 300 white women are raped by blacks every year BUT there has not been a black woman raped by a white male in anybody’s memory (going back over 20 yrs.) Consider: Al Sharpton had to go upstate New York to find a hoax and that was over 10 years ago.
Your last paragraph is, by far, the one I find the most irrelevant. So you list crime statistics. Given, your representation of those statistics, much like your withering argument, is muddled, inaccurate, inconclusive, and misleading. What resolution are you suggesting? Are you saying that people should no longer talk about racism or race at all because some black people commit crimes? I wonder how your statistics would function when class, education levels, and home environment are thrown in. Not that these are excuses, but they certainly correlate with criminal activity. Your inclusion of occurrences of rape also fails to account for the amount of rapes that go unreported every year, rendering rape statistics, for the most part, null and void as a hope of supporting your statements on the subject as it relates to race.
Race does not dictate behavior, but I guess since I’m such a racist, how could I ever realize that? Race, in itself, is a figment of our imagination. Experiences that result from human internalization of this scientific myth, however, are not, and I will continue to write about them until our society somehow avoids allowing a cultural experiment in codification gone horribly wrong from governing our behavior towards and thoughts of people different from ourselves.
P.S. a little background:
I received the letter after having made a post on Racialicious regarding MTV's mishandling of diversity on its show The Real World. However, I was not the only person to receive such mail. Other writers for Racialicious have received venomous e-mails from the same author. Wayetu Moore, editor-in-chief here at The Coup Magazine has, in the past, also received hate mail from people working to silence people who are working diligently to give a voice to those whose concerns are distorted or disregarded all together. However, receiving letters like this only motivates me in my mission to provide work to my readership that challenges them and that encourages open minds and social change.
- Wendi Muse