Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Skin-Deep: Racism in America


I saw a promo for a feature, Skin-Deep: Racism in America, that will be on CNN's Paula Zahn show this evening. The clip showed a discussion of "sundown" towns, where blacks were encouraged to get out of the town before dark fell. I'm glad to see an attempt to talk about racism. We Southerners are well aware of our history on the subject of racism in general, and quite frankly, it isn't pretty.

This really isn't a regional issue, though. When we lived in Mariemont, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, I learned that this quaint, planned village had its own history as a "sundown" town where black maids and service workers were told to leave before dark for their own good. Of course, this had been customary many years earlier, but there lingered the idea that blacks weren't welcome. I checked the 2000 U.S. Census and found that out of a population of 3408, a mere 34 were African American.

I wonder how long it takes to change. We start down the road to Equality, but so often I think attitudes like those expressed in the clip for the show tonight reveal that underlying racism. Most telling was a white woman in a cafe who said something like, "No, I'm not a racist. I talk to black people. But," she added, "when it comes to eating with them, I draw the line." I ask, dear gentle readers, how many times have you heard or said those words, "No, I'm not a racist."

21 comments:

Dirty Butter said...

The community next to us was traditionally White, making any Black families who tried to move there feel very uncomfortable. Our schools, on the other hand, in the very next town, were about 70% Black. Yes, it still lives, just in subtler forms.

Sheila said...

Thanks for your comments, Rosemary.

P.S. to readers: Rosemary, aka, Dirty Butter, has some good stories at her blog about growing up during the Civil Rights era in Alabama. Check them out.

Don said...

People seem to have varied definitions of racism and racist and use the words indiscriminately at times it seems to me. My definition of a racist is one who considers his race superior to others. The white woman who said she talks to blacks but draws the line at sitting down with them to eat with them may be a racist, or she may simply be an ignorant bigot depending on why she draws that line.

I grew up before MLK’s civil rights struggle in a totally segregated south, but I never considered my race superior to the black (or Negro as it was known then) race. In 1953 I went into the military and it had been integrated by then and I had no problem with it. Blacks served over me, under me, and alongside me. We were all in the same boat and knew that if we went into combat we had to help protect the guy next to us just as he would protect the guy next to him with skin color never any consideration because it was a matter of survival.

Sheila, Montgomery , the birthplace of MLK’s movement, still today has a gigantic race problem that keeps the community largely divided along racial lines. Evidence of that can be heard 5 days a week on the Kevin Elkins talk radio program on AM 1440. You can hear the venom, the anger, the hate in the voices of people who phone in and express their feelings and almost everyone who speaks that way is obviously black. Why is that? Caucasian callers don’t talk that way. Why is that?

A year or so ago Attorney Jerry Beasley was on the show and someone asked him what it would take to stop the racism here and I think he may have gotten it right when he replied that the only way it will happen is for people to change what is in their hearts, one at a time.

Sheila said...

Don, You are right about the racism in Montgomery. I think we've made great progress, but there is still a wall between the two races. People outside of Montgomery may not realize that the population is nearly divided 50-50 in this city. I don't know when the resentments can be overcome and I don't see many leaders in this town who are willing to give it a shot.

Yet, I always feel that by talking about this issue we have a chance to change what is in a person's heart. One at a time.

Jay Croft said...

To Don:

You asked why some radio callers breathe anger and hatred.

Where there is oppression, whether conscious or not, then there will inevitably be anger.

I am a Deaf person. There have been times when I have been very, very angry about the patronizing and oppressive attitudes of people who are not Deaf and have no idea what we go through daily.

One of the first things I did when I moved to Birmingham ten years ago was to join the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I feel very much at home there.

Sheila said...

Thanks, Jay. I often wonder if some of the radio talk shows don't foster more ill will than any good they might do in allowing people to vent.

Don said...

Jay, I can't say that I understand your feelings of anger, not having been in your shoes. I can only say that I hope government, businesses, and just ordinary people continue to provide whatever accommodations are possible to make life better for the handicapped. But these callers I hear in Montgomery are usually expressing anger over things that happened in the past before many of them were even born. They seem to be using something that happened to their ancestors as an excuse for their present condition, rather than making the most of their opportunities.

Sheila, you may be onto something.

Sheila said...

Don,
Thanks for the comment. This CNN story was picked up by NPR and I heard a little bit in the car this morning. The funniest comment there was regarding the white woman who had said she drew the line at eating with black folks. The man on NPR said, "I think most black people looking at this woman wouldn't care to eat with her either."

I don't know what the answer is but sometimes we need to be reminded that the road to Equality is bumpy, long and winding. We also need to remember that as long as we keep trying, there's a chance we'll get there.

I have been through Equality (Alabama, that is) but didn't stop as I didn't see much a reason to, but I absolutely love this name. I can't remember if they have a post office. You probably know. But that would be one neat postmark.

Jay Croft said...

Don, they don't "continue to provide" necessary, legally mandated services. We have to ask, and sometimes we have to demand. Sometimes we have to go to court.

Recently a leader in the Deaf community in St. Paul MN was pepper sprayed and beaten by police there. He was tossed into jail and left there for the weekend. He was denied the right to an interpreter, and also denied the right to contact his family.

Why? Apparently he ran a red light and did not see the police car chasing him. All that for a routine traffic stop?

This man is no thug. He is 54 years old, mild-mannered, a former teacher. I know him. There's no way that he would not attempt to cooperate with police.

This happens all the time, despite Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990.

Jay Croft said...

I used Mapquest to find Equality, Alabama. It's up Route 9, north of Wetumpka.

There are several very interesting town names in that area! Reminds me of central Pennsylvania, which has towns named Intercourse, Paradise and, formerly, Blue Ball, but now changed to Blue Bell.

Sheila said...

Jay, I have a question for you. Do you carry something to identify yourself as a deaf person in case you find yourself in a situation such as the former teacher did (not that YOU would)? I would think that the police would have some procedure to deal with this situation. But then again, your point is well taken that until you make these deficits in public services known, hearing people aren't probably going to think about it too much. It's like your comment about the lack of a tornado warning system for hearing impaired people.

I can see why you have become an advocate.

On the subject of Equality: it is near Santuck, a giant flea market held most months of the year. I do like unusual names, but I think those folks in Intercourse might want to rethink the name.

Jay Croft said...

As to Intercourse, Pennsylvania--it was named by the Amish, I think. It would be interesting to find out why. I'll see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

As far as I know, there's no plan to change the name. It may be a PR ploy--no one forgets a town with a name like that!

Jay Croft said...

Some Deaf people carry some sort of ID. Most feel it is not really necessary. Pointing to the ears and shaking one's head is, or should be, recognized anywhere.

Once in a great while a police officer or a judge says that the person is faking deafness, or that the person can read lips if he or she really wanted to. That's when difficulties begin.

Sheila said...

Here's what Jay wrote:

Intercourse was founded in 1754. The community was originally named Cross Keys, after a local tavern. Intercourse became the name in 1814, and there are various theories to explain this; one possibility is that the name derived from a race course, the "Entercourse", at the intersection of the town's two major roads. Another is that at the time, the word "intercourse" had commercial connotations relating to business transactions, and that the area was named "Intercourse" in hopes that it would become a center of commerce. "Sexual intercourse" was a legalistic sub-meaning of the term, roughly analogous to the non-sexual modern meaning of "congress" as in "sexual congress". As the more general use of the term fell out of popular usage, the narrower meaning became the term's primary connotation. Now that the town's major industry is tourism, the name serves as an excellent attraction.

From Sheila:
I think it worked 'cause here we are writing about it.

Jay, thanks for answering my question since I was thinking a police officer might suspect that. Of course, then a deaf person is always going to be guilty until proven otherwise. You after Sacha Boren Cohen fooled so many Americans with the Borat character, I find myself asking, "Is this real?"

Anonymous said...

Don said...
Jay, regrettably there are some jerks in this world who have evil intent and enjoy kicking someone when they are down. Hopefully, though they are a tiny minority. There are many more people who are insensitive to or unaware of the needs of their impaired neighbors because, like me, they have not experienced the same problems in their own lives. We, the unimpaired, need to be made aware of what needs to be done to help those of you who do have these added hurdles to jump. It will be through the efforts of advocates such as you that we are taught and hopefully will react in a way to help.

What methods, or facilities, do you use to make yourself heard? Does the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute have a legislative agenda? Does it have a website?

If there is a legislative agenda and legislators fail to pass legislation to help level the playing field that could possibly be remedied if Alabama became the 25th Initiative and Referendum (I&R) state which would allow voters to introduce the needed legislation which would bypass both the legislature and the governor and be put on the ballot for voters to approve or reject. Helping us obtain I&R has been the focus of my efforts for nearly 3 years now. You may be interested in looking at my website devoted to that @ www.doctoriq.com.

Jay Croft said...

Hey, Don, everyone is "impaired." Can you fly? I can't and neither can you. But a bird, with its little bird-brain, can.

What's more, everyone will, eventually, have some "impairment." We'll get old and wrinkly, we'll break a leg, we'll need all sorts of medical help.

Legislation is in place. It's enforcement that is the problem.

As to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, they are not an overtly legislative group. Go to their website, www.bcri.org. The Southern Poverty Law Center focuses on hate crimes and injustices based on poverty and/or race.

Albama Arise is the organization that focuses on legislative issues. They have done remarkable work in our slow-chugging legislature. www.alabamaarise.org.

Don said...

Jay, thanks for the link to BCRI, which I had been unaware of. Alabama Arise seems to be well organized and has had considerable success with its legislative proposals.

I don't know how to overcome the lack of enforcement of laws. Do you have any suggestions?

Dirty Butter said...

Since you've already mentioned my posts on the Civil Rights Movement, Sheila, I thought I'd let you know I've just posted the last of the series on my Yesterday's Memories blog, if anyone's interested.

Sheila said...

I'll go over and check it out.

Jay Croft said...

Don, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is awesome. It's really worth a trip up to Birmingham. They are open on weekends but closed on Mondays. Go to www.bcri.org for further information.

When you see the captions on the videos, guess who was responsible for getting them there!

The BCRI was built a few months before the Americans with Disabilities Act became effective. However, the BCRI, realizing that they serve all people, had them put in when they renovated their video system.

Don said...

Jay, I've looked at the BCRI site, thanks to you, and have it bookmarked. I regret that I can't visit the institute in person because I too am physically impaired, or whatever one wants to call it. I've lived over half of my life in pain from a spinal condition which 2 surgical procedures haven't helped and travelling increases the pain, so I am mostly home-bound except for necessary trips such as to medical appointments.