The Black Guy

I remember attending a party, a get-together, maybe I was just out at the bar. A few days later, I was talking with a friend, and he was asking if I knew someone there. “He had short hair, a white t-shirt…” the descriptions kept going, and literally they could describe half the people in the room. So finally I asked, “The Black guy?”

My friend got flustered and didn’t know what to say. Finally he stammered, “Yeah.”

I shrugged and said, yeah, I knew him, and said his name. End of story.

Except it isn’t, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I’ve been racialized, how I’ve been shaped as a white man, how as a white man I’ve made mistakes that have hurt the people of color around me, that I’ve done things I thought were right that were actually pretty racist.

So why did my friend feel so horrified to fully describe that person as Black?

On the surface, as another white person, I’m sure he felt that if he acknowledged a Black person’s race that he would be doing something racist–it’s bad to describe people based upon their race. But that’s wrong: race is as valid a descriptor as height, hair color, or if he has hair at all. It isn’t until we make assumptions based upon race that it turns into prejudice, and it isn’t until that prejudice turns into action that it becomes discrimination.

But the fact that he couldn’t say, “He was Black,” screams of racism.

Think of it like this: What if instead of being Black, the man had done something embarrassing that would’ve immediately made his identity known. Maybe he’d dripped cheese dip on his sweater. Maybe he forgot to zip his fly. Maybe he came overdressed to a casual party. To call him out on any of these things would be describing him according to a fact that we perceive as embarrassing, as impolite to mention, as undesirable and inferior.

So we wouldn’t say, “He spilled wine on his pants,” because that would be rude, so when we refuse to name his race, when we refuse to acknowledge his Blackness, then what’s the unspoken conclusion we’re creating about what it means to be Black?

That being Black is undesirable and inferior.

Erasing parts of his identity to appear in-offensive implies there’s something offensive about the part of his identity we’re erasing. When we ignore race, when we refuse to see race, when we insist we’re colorblind, we’re perpetrating racism by stifling the conversation. By implying that just acknowledging someone’s race is calling them out for being something bad.

Moments like this bubble up for me all the time. Small bits of memory that seep into my awareness at odd moments throughout the day, while I’m watching something on TV, reading a book, hanging out with friends. They’re innocuous moments, the sort of filler that’s too bland, too real to ever be captured in cinema or script. Yet something about those moments riled me inside, left me unsettled and questioning: Why? Why did I react like that? Why did he?

It’s uncomfortable, I’ll admit, but maybe I’m a masochist: Examining that discomfort feels meaningful, feels significant. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know the solutions to the problems we’re facing, but maybe by looking back at these instances of cognitive dissonance, I can discover something about myself, something about the world I’m living in.

So, yeah, he was the Black guy. Why couldn’t we just say that from the start?

I was wrong

About a week ago, I wrote the following:

It’s a basic fact that the police are given power that the general populace does not have, and if everybody is the product of socialization within a racialized (and racist) society, then it’s inevitable that racists will be behind the badge–probably in roughly equal proportions as racists in general–and they will use, no, abuse that power in alignment with their own biases.

I shouldn’t have written something about the police without first educating myself about the police, and my assertion that policing is racist because some people are racist and they carry that prejudice with them wherever they go was nothing short of oversimplification.

Yeah, that’s probably a small part of the problem, but it’s not the real problem.

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Five Fast Facts About HIV

In a recent interview, Charlie Sheen disclosed his HIV+ status. I think it takes a lot of courage to do this because, despite science to the contrary, the disease is still stigmatized, both socially and legally, in ways that it shouldn’t be. However, I have to reprimand the reporter for asking questions such as, “Have you knowingly, or even unknowingly, transmitted the disease? Have you ever had unprotected sex since your diagnosis? Have you told each of your partners about your status before sexual intercourse? What risky behaviors did you pursue? And do you know how you contracted the disease?” These are invasive questions that, to me, are just as bad as asking a trans person about genitals and surgery, or maybe even worse.

So let me just say a fast few things about sex, safety, and HIV.

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The Brave Little Faggot

I was sitting outside in the beautiful fall North Carolina weather (our first day of sunlight in two weeks), musing about the story I might write for NaNoWriMo…I have an idea, but is it enough of an idea–

And then, from a table near mine, “–faggots kissing.”

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Fear on a Face of Ignorance

I have a backlog of posts waiting to be published. Many of them talk about race, and maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to share them. I’ve fallen under fear–the fear of losing social capital, the fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear of looking ignorant, the fear of admitting my own faults, the fear of alienating the people I can learn from.

So where did I go wrong?

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Lies My English Teachers Taught Me

For the past week I’ve been in Mexico with my fiance Harel. It’s been delightful spending time with him, but also stressful since money issues always tend to creep up on us (making it even more important that we reach our GoFundMe goals).

Today I’m not talking about money, though, but rather language.

Part of our financial strains are due to Harel’s recently transitioning from one job to another. He’s completed his TKT English certification course, and while he takes the certification test on August 8, in his new job he’ll be teaching English to business professionals. So on Tuesday, I was able to join Harel in a workshop his new job provided on the proper place for a native language when teaching a second language. While I’m not a teacher of language, I am a student of Spanish, and listening to a dozen teachers discuss differences between Spanish and English, my mind tried to take these challenges and generalize them.

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The Race is On

It’s easy, being white, to assume that racism doesn’t affect me.

(If this is too particular for you, allow me to generalize: It’s easy, being [insert dominant class here], to assume [the associated discrimination] doesn’t affect me.)

In fact, for many, it’s remarkably easy to assume racism doesn’t exist at all.

But the truth is, if we’re really honest with ourselves, it affects us like nothing else.

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Bye, Bye Bully Time

Last night a speaker came to campus to talk about bullying. She said a few words–I probably could’ve counted how many–and then she started asking questions. And when we didn’t willingly answer, she stood in silence waiting. And if we still didn’t answer (this only happened once), she walked up to someone and asked him directly.

This wasn’t a typical lecture. It went both ways.

And that got me thinking: bullying goes both ways, too.

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