Saturday, April 2, 2011

Grappling with being one among many

This week one of my African American co-workers warned that race relations in this country are going to get worse in the near future. Initially, my instinct is to ignore that kind of warning. After all, "we've come a long way baby," haven't we? But I've also learned that when it comes to these kinds of questions, my sense of things (rooted in white privilege) isn't always the best gauge to use to make predictions. So I should probably pause that reaction and pay attention a bit more closely.

That warning was followed up today by my reading of a comment thread on a blog about this article by Ron Brownstein on the political implications of the huge demographic change this country is experiencing. Commenters on the blog I was reading range from the far left to the far right (and everything in between). But last night the righties had a field day in having a discussion pretty much amongst themselves. The racism and bigotry expressed was not of the name-calling variety - but a complete ignorance about history and culture. From that ignorance, stereotypes about black and brown people (and their assumed inferiority) were rampant and I was reminded again of just how deep this issue goes and how much its being triggered by the changes we're all experiencing.

Tim Wise explores this a bit in talking about the "perfect storm" for white anxiety.

Because of the changes Wise describes, racial tensions in this country are growing. But unlike how that has historically happened in this country, its not being fueled by black and brown people standing up for their rights as citizens of this country. Instead, its being driven by the anxiety of white people. That changes the dynamics.

White America is having to grapple with the growing power wielded by people of color and that is creating a backlash. I think perhaps that's why it concerns my co-worker so much. Its one thing to free African Americans from slavery or give them a kind of qualified access to things like voting and education. But now all of that is beginning to come home to roost and white America is having to actually struggle with the notion of equality. The idea of a country that is defined from our perspective with "others" marginalized to the fringe is starting to crumble. As Wise points out in the video, that means having to grapple with our own racialized identity as one among many. Now its getting personal.

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