Monday, January 15, 2007

A reflection on racism

Alana and Logan had today off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I didn't have it off, because the holiday is not statutory. Most Americans don't have it off, either; as is the case in Canada, several holidays are "optional" for businesses (read: businesses don't want anyone taking a day off if they could get away with it).

I don't know how many Americans outside of the media reflected on racial relations in the U.S. on this day. Probably very few. I did reflect on American race relations (but, hey, I'm not an American).

Racism here in the Deep South is more prominent than in Canada. That's not to say that Canada is some racial utopia where everyone just gets along. No, not at all. Canada has its share of racists. Most racism in Canada involves specific nationalities rather than race per se. When I worked on the assembly line at GM in Oshawa I heard a fair bit of racist comments, particularly aimed at East Indians and Pakistanis. While working at Kodak I remember one day when a couple of people were talking about how the crime in Toronto was largely the fault of Jamaicans (in spite of the fact that most Canadian criminals are white). The most spectacularly absurd piece of racism I ever saw took place in a parking lot in a mall in Toronto's west end. A black woman, who had parked illegally, cursed a young black security guard who forced her to move her vehicle. The woman, with a strong Caribbean accent, called the young man a "f---ing African!" The young man couldn't help laughing at her...

That having been said, I've noticed more racist comments in my three years working in Louisiana than I had in my whole life up until that point (quite a feat given my comment about the GM assembly line). Most of it is small, passing stuff, but some of it is serious. Whether it's deeply racist jokes, or a whispered comment in Arkansas last month where the speaker felt it necessary to point out they lived in the white section of town. The most baffling (at least to me) was an overheard comment at the shock (shock!) of a car dealership sending out a black salesman to talk to a white male customer.

While watching the Saints game on Saturday, Logan asked why so many people were wearing Drew Brees jerseys instead of Reggie Bush jerseys. I remembered a lot of Bush jerseys in New Orleans last month. Looking up at the screen I saw that everyone in the shot wearing Brees jerseys were white. Now, that may be a coincidence. I do remember that most of the Bush jerseys were worn by blacks. I couldn't help but think that this was race related, though. Since the Saints started playing well I'd heard a lot of comments along the line of, "Drew Brees is a great quarterback. And *whisper*, he's white." Honest, I've heard this line, or something similar, several times. Not only are the fans happy to have a winning team, white fans are ecstatic that they have a white player to cheer on. I didn't explain this to Logan (who is too young to see racism, thankfully).

I don't want to suggest that racism is a feature strictly of white society. It's not. Alana told me stories of what she heard at work, where actual black people work. The difference is that black racism tends to be reactive while white racism seems to be proactive, or culturally ingrained.

It's not all bad news on the racial tolerance front, though. Perhaps surprisingly, the person I get along best with at work is very conservative and very religious. While I don't always agree with him, his opinion is well thought out and I always come away rethinking my own opinion. It's that kind of discussion that's missing in modern media. Anyway, one day we had an amazing discussion on race. While most of the openly racist people at work are self-admitted Christians (they usually say things like, "I consider myself a good Christian, but..." This person is very much a Christian, but he lives his belief. It turns out he's very much against racism. He told a story about growing up in a ubiquitously racist area of the country and yet developing a deep hatred of racism.

Racism is still very much a problem in the U.S. For the most part it has been driven underground. In public the races intermingle and talk amongst each other in a cordial, even friendly manner. It's when you are accepted into that special "club" that the racist comments come out strong. It's a learned thing, too, because kids aren't naturally racist. Kids of all races play together outside together without thinking about it. The "thinking" only shows up later. There are some encouraging signs that the youth of today are less likely to think that way. I hope so, because the United States has a long, long way to go before it achieves anything close to racial harmony.

2 comments:

JAM said...

Allan, on my recent trip back to Louisiana, I heard the n-word more times in four days than I have in ten years in Florida.

I felt like someone from outer space.

Down here, whites, blacks, and hispanics all date, hang out and marry in a way that would blow the typical north Louisianian's mind.

The church my wife and I attend is approximately 40% white, 40% black, and 20% hispanic. A group of Haitians use our church building for their services every week.

Last week, my wife was talking with someone, and mentioned our church. The lady asked her what church she went to. My wife named the church and its location. The lady's face registered understanding and she said, "I know that church, that's that black church."

I guess with the Haitians using our building, and the high number of black members of our congregation, if one passes by frequently, they'll see way more blacks than whites.

Our associate pastor and his wife are from Puerto Rico. We have Spanish speaking bible studies and things like that going on all the time.

My wife is our church's secretary and doesn't speak a word of Spanish, and is often confronted with that language barrier.

When I was in high school in Monroe in the late 70's, in the Monroe City School System, EVERYONE was bussed to Carrol Jr. High in the 7th grade. EVERYONE was bussed to Lee Jr. High for 8th grade and Neville High for 9th grade. EVERYONE was bussed back to Carrol High for 10th grade, and we were allowed to choose whether we wanted to go to Carrol or Neville for our junior and senior years. It was during those years that Ouachita Christian School, River Oaks, and Saint Frederic's populations exploded with kids whose parents didn't want their kids sent to "the black school", Carrol. They were totally willing to pay the huge price of private school to avoid this. Apparently all three of those schools are still doing well to avoid kids from having to go to Carrol or Wossman.

Sad but true.

Allan Goodall said...

Allan, on my recent trip back to Louisiana, I heard the n-word more times in four days than I have in ten years in Florida.

Oddly enough, I don't hear that. Well, okay, I heard it once out of the mouth of Alana's ex...


Last week, my wife was talking with someone, and mentioned our church. The lady asked her what church she went to. My wife named the church and its location. The lady's face registered understanding and she said, "I know that church, that's that black church."

There's a lot of segregation with regard to churches around here. Of course everyone is officially welcome in any church, but you have to wonder how accepting these churches would be if someone from another race walked in.

On the other hand, the person I mentioned in the blog, the person I work with who is stridently against racism? He says his church is mixed, racially.

There was a black church in... gosh, I want to say New Orleans, but maybe it was somewhere else, that was giving $5 to every white person who came to their church in an effort to encourage racial mixing. This was back in 2003. I know because the minister (and musician!) who married Alana and I joked about it after the ceremony.


Our associate pastor and his wife are from Puerto Rico. We have Spanish speaking bible studies and things like that going on all the time.

That's pretty cool!

Alana's brother, Dr. Mikey, married a woman (also a PhD) from Puerto Rico. I like talking with Marie Vee. She pronounces English words like I do, and she is used to the metric system. *L*


My wife is our church's secretary and doesn't speak a word of Spanish, and is often confronted with that language barrier.

Alana wants to take Spanish lessons. Given the number of Spanish speakers that come into her office, it would be a big help. Unfortunately the State won't pay anything toward classes. They'll happily pat you on the back for it, but they won't help fund it.


When I was in high school in Monroe in the late 70's, in the Monroe City School System, EVERYONE was bussed to Carrol Jr. High in the 7th grade.

As we're the same age, I went to high school at the same time. I remember seeing Buffalo, NY news stations talking about bussing. I never quite understood it back then. It was something that was completely foreign to Canadians.

Alana went to school in Rapides Parish. There was a famous incident in her school where the parents of three girls (or was it five girls?) gave up their legal rights as parents so the girls could live elsewhere and not be bussed.

It was during those years that Ouachita Christian School, River Oaks, and Saint Frederic's populations exploded with kids whose parents didn't want their kids sent to "the black school", Carrol. They were totally willing to pay the huge price of private school to avoid this.

Alana went to a Christian school for grade 7 and 8 so she wouldn't be bussed, but in her case it was to cut down on the huge commute times. She was looking at spending over an hour each way on the bus!


Apparently all three of those schools are still doing well to avoid kids from having to go to Carrol or Wossman.

Actually, what I've heard is that Ouachita Parish High School is gone downhill so much that no one wants to send their kids there. We've heard stories about violence and disruptive kids. As such, we're looking at moving closer to Neville High School or West Monroe High School sometime in the next five years.

We hear there are problems at Lee Junior High, too, but it's hard to tell if there are real problems or if it's just rumour.