White folks have completely missed the point of the melting pot society. They have. And moreover, they don’t seem to be aware of this fact. We have become ignorant and absent minded, boiling entire cultures and races down to food choices at the Old Country Buffet. The fact that we have entire channels dedicated to Black entertainment, Latino entertainment, homosexual culture, or even women’s interests shows that the white males in power are doing their best to keep the rest of our beautifully diverse population at arm’s length and reduced to marketing demographics.
In an USA Today Gallup poll, white people were asked whether they felt that racial discrimination played a role in lower education and income levels for black Americans. Only 32% felt that it played a role in education and 35% felt it played a role in lower incomes. That being said, 64% of blacks felt that it hurt their educational opportunities and 71% felt that it inhibited their income. Something is wrong here. How can white people be so unaware of the fact that statistically, they have ridiculous amounts of opportunity and advantage in this country just by not being tanner than most? Another striking point raised by the study states,
“Blacks and whites continue to see different worlds when it comes to race. Two-thirds of non-Hispanic whites say they are satisfied with the way blacks are treated in the USA; two-thirds of blacks say they are dissatisfied. Most blacks identify racial discrimination as a major factor in a list of problems the African American community faces, including shorter life expectancies than whites and a higher likelihood of going to prison. Most whites call racism a minor factor or not a factor in those situations. “(Page, Risser)
White people think racism is minor? Why then are one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 in prison? Whether they are arresting innocent men or crime is actually more prevalent among that population, the fact of the matter is that America has racism and classism inherently built in to the way it deals with its citizens. Those black males may be unlawfully incarcerated or may be the product of a socio-economic cycle that reduces their families and opportunities to poverty level causing little alternative to lives of crime. And yet, white America doesn’t think there is a problem. We will turn up our Eminem record in the car and lock the doors when a black man with baggy clothes and no smile walks past. It’s just what we do. And we don’t seem to have a problem with trying to enforce education that disregards the black experience hoping to create skill sets with no actual ability to analyze or critically think regarding deeper meaning and issues. According to Lisa Delpit, “Let there be no doubt: a skilled minority person who is not also capable of critical analysis becomes the trainable, low-level functionary of the dominant society, simply the grease that keeps the institutions which orchestrate his or her oppression running smoothly” (Delpit 19).
It is interesting to look at the ways we steal culture (especially black) and repurpose it as whites as well. We love Cosby when he dances and plays a doctor on TV. We want Kobe to hit the three ball and to see Flava Flav fall in love and wear Viking horns. But we can’t stand to hear NWA say that the police in L.A. profile black citizens and deliver beatings unfairly. We don’t want the black man sitting next to us on the bus unless he’s Usher. This seems to be a little off point. Why are other cultures only o.k. as novelty and not as reality? I remember growing up that loving music was something that came natural to me. I loved Metallica but still wanted to hear Stevie Wonder as often as I could. Other kids seemed puzzled. The white kids wondered why I thought that the blues where so amazing. I was confused that they couldn’t feel the soul. Anytime I said or did anything that related to black culture it was met with “you’re not black you know” or “how can you listen to that”? My thoughts were, “what does that have to do with music”? When it’s Hammer Time that dance off is on no matter how pale you are.
White America seems to think that as long as you do your best to never understand the differences between them and minorities, people will then join you or suffer exclusion for not flying right. Now, not all white Americans feel that way. I, for one, am quite the opposite. Of course, I don’t claim to be fully socially aware, but I am ahead of the pack by a country mile in regards to most whites. Try asking the average white person what Mattar Paneer is and you will probably get some blank looks. Not many of them will tell you how tasty it can be. But I digress.
White America has come to a point where it’s youth simply doesn’t buy into the segregation and ignorance and it’s elderly are voting as hard as they can to “keep that Muslim Socialist” out of office. It’s a schizophrenic condition that splits the best of its people down the middle. Young whites, though generally kept in the dark about other races by their parents still seek out different people and experiences. They have a sense that diversity will be a key factor in saving this planet from its inhabitants. They just aren’t sure how to go about doing that yet.
For instance, young white Americans came out in droves to vote for Barack Obama. The movement to elect him became internet based and very social. It was a cool thing to be voting for him. YES WE CAN! Even though we aren’t sure what that means yet. Even when Obama dealt with the Reverend Wright issues in his campaign, white folks seemed to only see that they were somehow making things o.k. by voting for not only the most intelligent candidate in recent memory but for the black guy. The issue of race in America exploded and it started to come to a head during the Reverend Wright discussion. As said by Barack Obama,
“Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, “contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and the successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America. . . . And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Rev. Wright. . . . He contains within him the contradictions — the good and the bad — of the community that he has served so diligently for so many years. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.” (Merida)
This set into motion debates that still last to this day. Ignoring the fact that calling Obama a Muslim, Socialist, Nazi, foreign born, anti-Christ all stem directly from ignorance and prejudice, white America went straight to the reverse racism card. They called every aspect of Obama’s faith, which is a total personal and non political matter, into question. Now, America had to air its dirty laundry. We went on television and the radio and to billboards and newspapers with our verbal battles. It was all too apparent that we hadn’t overcome racism in America. We were fine with black males making millions for catching touchdowns for white coaches and team owners, but this guy wants to be president. White people weren’t sure whether to focus on his ability to govern, white guilt, or fear of a black man in charge when hitting the voting booth.
Election Day proved to be historic, not only for the election of Obama but for the statistics that came with. According to information in an article from contexts.org, 64.1% of Americans voted that day which is the most since 1908 and Barack was the first Democrat to win more than 50% of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter. But what is most revealing is the white vote statistics. 41% of white males according to CNN’s exit polls voted for Obama while 57% voted for Mccain and 46% of white females joined the Obama cause as well. Also, when asked about issues versus personal qualities, 58% said issues were more important. Of these 58%, 60% had voted for Obama. Of those who felt that personal qualities were more important in choosing a candidate, 58% had voted for Mccain. What does this say about the white vote? In, my humble opinion, it boils down to a particular sentiment among white voters. Some white voters felt that Barack Obama was qualified and had no problem voting based on that. Couple that with a 95% vote from the black voting community and you have yourself a victory speech on the way. However, the majority of white Americans voted for Mccain and they said that character issues where most important. Point blank, a large segment of white Americans hid behind their lack of knowledge of the black American experience and of Barack Obama with a certain prejudice that wasn’t of a hatred based condition, but a fear of the unknown. “What? A black guy for president? But I don’t know any black people outside of the office or the NBA. What if he’s this or that or the other thing? This can’t be safe. Vote for what you know. Vote for the old white veteran guy.” There exists a fear of what we don’t know. We are exposed to so little of actual interaction with diversity in our white suburban lives that we just don’t know if we can trust someone who seems so different. Is Barack Obama like Jaleel White or Colin Powell or is he like the Gangster Disciples that keep spray painting the school downtown? This question may seem ridiculous but it exists nonetheless. As a rule, you can bet that most white Americans aren’t cultured beyond TV and general home life. This leads to a desire for something more in the youth, and a fear of change in their parents. It is why so many young men and women burned draft cards and bras all those years ago and why so many came out and voted for Obama just two years ago.
Older white Americans see black folks as something entirely different from themselves. They are Americans, sure, but black Americans, Latinos, or those Indian shop owners they might say. These ideas put divide between the races that would not exist in the mindset of a true melting pot. To still see minorities as the “other” is to trivialize them and marginalize them as savage among the civilized. James Baldwin put it best stating,
“Not once have the Civilized been able to honor, recognize, or describe the Savage. He is, practically speaking, the source of their wealth, his continued subjugation the key to their power and glory…the black has become, economically, all but expendable and is, therefore, encouraged…I believe…to make himself useful…while white men take on the heavy burden of ruling the world.” (Baldwin xiii)
When we see things from this perspective, it is easy to see why our culture has taken the shape it has today. As a white male, I have before me an inheritance of superficial integration only. I have no direct link to non-white members of society aside from the ones that I have forged for myself as an adult. It’s not that our parents have intentionally left out these experiences in our rearing, but rather that they haven’t known how to provide them or assumed that the superficial connections were diverse enough to see us through. Their generation may have been of tolerance, but not of co-mingling. Tolerance means accepting the fact that something is there or is different and not fighting against it. I tolerate stomach aches when I eat too much. I tolerate relatives when they share boring stories. Toleration is not meant, however, to be a tool of inclusion. It separates by its nature. It is meant to point out the dissimilarities between two things and force an acknowledgment of this fact. Tolerance does not seek to learn of the other, but merely to tolerate them.
I think Baldwin was on to something very heavy in his statement. White folks just aren’t all that interested in recognizing how much they pull from other races to build their empires. Religion, gunpowder, noodles, mathematics, and yes, even the many uses for peanuts come from people of color and yet these things all have a strong place in white culture and their power structures. Again, it’s not that white Americans don’t want to recognize these facts; they just were taught to ignore them. These are considered answers on a test or quiz questions for the black history month display that the school makes them create. No true integration is taking place in these moments. Quite frankly, we missed the bus white people. Sure, we waved while it passed by not sure of what the gesture meant that we cast our way, but we haven’t decided to take the ride on the American culture bus. What we now must do is leave our next generation with something tangible. We must take the Obama effect one step further to move beyond a sense of tolerance and toward a sense of community. White America needs to see that the histories of each and every racial group and minority are part of a shared history, an American history. As the philosopher Cornel West puts it, “A fully functional multiracial society cannot be achieved without a sense of history and open, honest dialogue.” Until we, as white persons, seek out shared history and open our hearts and minds to real discourse on a human level, we will not form the relationships and bonds necessary to give our children the brighter future they deserve. We must move to a society that as a whole becomes post-racial, a community that identifies as first a people, then as Americans, and finally as individual micro cultures. Melting pots are not places for separation but for the blending together of elements. If white America insists on being the oil in the water, it will be skimmed off the top eventually. It is our choice to decide if we want to be more than just the privileged members of a society. It is our choice to be true members of American culture. If we fail to realize what opportunity lies before us, we condemn the future of a nation. I, for one, choose no longer to be the great white dope.
“14 Exit Poll Statistics About Obama’s Victory » The Color Line.” Contexts. Web. 27 July 2010. <http://contexts.org/colorline/2008/11/06/14-exit-poll-statistics-about-obama’s-victory/>.
Aizenman, N.c. “New High In U.S. Prison Numbers – Washingtonpost.com.” Washingtonpost.com – Nation, World, Technology and Washington Area News and Headlines. Web. 27 July 2010. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/02/28/ST2008022803016.html>.
Baldwin, James. Preface. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon, 1984. Print.
Delpit, Lisa D. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: New, 2006. Print.
“Essence Magazine, Black Hairstyles, Black Women,Celebrity Photos, Entertainment News, Celebrity Gossip – Essence.com.” Essence Magazine, Black Hairstyles, Black Women, Celebrity Photos, Entertainment News, Celebrity Gossip – Essence.com. Web. 27 July 2010. <http://www1.essence.com/news_entertainment/news/articles/carol_swain_commentary_on_race_relations/>.
Merida, Kevin. “Obama, Trying to Bridge America’s Racial Divide – Washingtonpost.com.” Washingtonpost.com – Nation, World, Technology and Washington Area News and Headlines. Web. 27 July 2010. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/18/AR2008031803486.html>.
Page, Susan, and William Risser. “Poll: Racial Divide Narrowing but Persists – USATODAY.com.” News, Travel, Weather, Entertainment, Sports, Technology, U.S. & World – USATODAY.com. Web. 27 July 2010. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-07-23-Race-poll_N.htm>.
“Race Quotes.” Find the Famous Quotes You Need, ThinkExist.com Quotations. Web. 27 July 2010. <http://thinkexist.com/quotations/race/>.