January 16, 2012

Racism & Prejudice: Brothas from a Different Mother

Next week I’m attending  a seminar on defining racism.

Should be interesting because: 1) I’ve been living in the skin I’m in for nearly 43 years and I’d like to hear about any advancements on the topic; and 2) back in college, some class I took defined racism as movement, advancement or otherwise being prevented and/or restricted based upon race.  Embedded in the definition was that racism took two parties – someone in power (the racist) and someone whose rights were being violated.

So according to that definition, racism is an action, not an attitude. One is a disabling trespass while the other is prejudice. I tend to agree.

It’s my belief that Martin Luther King and the thousands of civil rights fighters stood up against racism. They stood up against actions that prevented people from the pursuit of happiness – whether that meant voting, drinking from a common bubbler, or not ending up as Strange Fruit on a Poplar tree when all they wanted to do was get from Point A to Point B.

I don’t think these folks gave their reputations and in some cases, their lives, to stop prejudice. Prejudice is an attitude – it’s a heart thing. This doesn’t mean that I condone prejudice or racism; all I’m saying is that I think we’ve got to get this stuff straight or end up in perpetual litigation or always have our noses out of joint because someone looks cockeyed or says something offensive.

So, like my college course, I’ll administer a little test. Figure out whether the following scenarios are Racist or Prejudice.  Here we go:
  1. You’re out with your biracial family and someone gives you  an obvious disapproving glare. If you chose Prejudice: Ding-Ding-ding-ding, you’re right! The Glarer’s got a bug up his or her hiney. They’ve got a problem, and it’s not yours. Remember, you’re not here to change their heart (that’s God’s job). You’re here to be the best mate to your spouse and best parent to your child. Now move on…nothing to see here.
  2. You give a presentation and an attendee excitedly walks up to greet you afterward and says “You are so articulate!”  No, no , no…it’s not racism. I’m not even sure if it’s truly Prejudice. The person probably just thought you wouldn’t look/act/sound like they thought you would. Take it as a compliment, and pat yourself on the back for opening someone’s eyes.
  3. You’re driving in one of Milwaukee’s swanky suburbs, knowing full well that no – and I mean  no – black folks live around there. You get pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black). Yup. It’s probably Racism. Here’s what you do:  1) Get your license and show it to the officer; 2) Get mad; 3) Get over it and drive off. It happens, but it really doesn’t stop you from “the pursuit of happiness” does it?  Important:  if it happens more than two times, get a name and call the police station to complain.
So…when is it really Racism?
It’s racism when you’re a ten year old ballerina. You’ve taken lessons since first grade with the same people and they’re all advancing to Pointe’ and you’re not. It's goofy, so you tell your mom. She recognizes it as racism and she knows this is your first true encounter with it. She tells you to talk to the teacher about it, so you do. This is what the teacher tells you:
Black bodies weren’t meant for classical dance. The tendons in black people’s feet aren’t as long in the ones in white people’s feet. So there’s no way they’re able to point like they should for dancing on Pointe’.
You tell your mom. She doesn't file a lawsuit and she doesn’t contact the ACLU to close the place down. Instead, she asks if you believe any of what the teacher said. Through tears, you tell her “No.” She asks you about your part – your responsibility in reaching your goal. You know that you need to practice more and tell her so. You practice more, and three months later, you’re picking out Pointe’ shoes.
Prejudice is about attitudes, and God will change the people who want to be changed. Racism is about action. Some actions you let slide and you use the other actions for personal growth, or if they're grievous enough, you wave the red flag on 'em. Neither one is good, but that’s the reality.

I think MLK would want us to know the difference between the two…don’t you?


  1. 2) i know i've told u more than once that 'u r so articulate'......never thinking that my comment was ever remotely prejudice or portraying even an inkling of racism....

    i actually tell my husband that all the time.....and as u know.....i'm white and so is he

    so for me.....it simply means that the person, white or black or yellow, is really really good at putting their thoughts into words (something that i wish i could say for myself)......and that truthfully, the color of one's skin is never part of the equation when i say....... 'u r so articulate'


  2. ...that's because you're a smart and sweet person who'd NEVER go in that direction. There are folks, however, who put that kind of spin on things -- but you're not of them and I never thought you were.

    That's why you're one of my favorite people... :)

    And did I say thanks for reading? Thanks for reading -- and commenting too.

  3. This was a very very well written piece. I wish more people had this opinion.

  4. Thanks, SAM...glad I was making some sense.

  5. This was the best, most moving thing I have read so far this year.

    Yes, I know we aren't that far into the year, but still.

    It's not often that I read something on the internet that makes me tear up, and I did just that when I got to the part about the 10 year old ballerina. That teacher's beliefs just make me sad. Sad and angry.

  6. Thanks Steeven. That's a pretty high compliment - beginning of the year or not! :)

    In the case of my ballet experience, to me those could either be teachable moments or just sad. Thankful that my mom used it as the former, ya know?

  7. All good points. I especially like where you discussed your belief on King. I've not studied him, but I would be willing to bet that he knew you couldn't stop prejudicial mindset, nor could you change natural segregation, but stopping racial actions is definitely something that can be done.

    I don't think I'd ever thought about it in that way.

    Cool. ;)

    And thanks for linking-up with us. Hopefully you will try some of the prompts also?

  8. Thanks so much for the feedback Brandon; and yes: actions are somewhat manageable. Attitudes...meh, not so much.

    Story Dam's link-up is a wonderful feature; and the whole concept of having a community of great writers and critical eyes is awesome...and appreciated (and just a teeeensy bit intimidating) :)

    Definitely planning on trying some of the prompts to nudge me up and along in my writing skills.

    Thanks again!

    1. Intimidating? Nah. Good group of folks hanging out with us over there. You'll be fine. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with on the prompts! :) Welcome.

    2. Whew!

      FYI: just started following on Facebook too! :)

  9. Rochelle, Thank You so much for this.

    I was raised that it was prejudice, no matter what the circumstances, to feel or speak badly about anyone else. Regardless of color, religion, etc. Most of the community I grew up in had the same beliefs. It wasn't until my family moved away to another state when I was 12 that I heard the word racism, or saw it in such a way that made my stomach turn. Before then I never had to witness intentional segregation. Honestly, I wasn't quite sure how to handle it. I had never been told by my white friends that it wasn't cool to talk to the black girl sitting next to me on the bus, or the Mexican boy sitting behind me in class. Both of whom looked at me like I was crazy as well. I remember the first few months in our new community being called names, the 'N' word was spoken like it was nothing. That was a word that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap faster than saying the 'F' word. It wasn't allowed, period. When spoken it was often followed by the word lover, which in my families eyes was them being prejudice towards me because of the way I was raised.
    I stood up, and still do, for my beliefs that we are all created equal no matter what. It is not my place to judge anyone for anything. My name is not God nor Jesus and I refused to conform to those around me constantly trying to make me feel as though they were. Some of their parents were even worse, which explains why they were the way they were. Things like this are taught at home.
    Until then I had never thought about having to make a conscious effort to raise my children to love everyone, accept everyone. To not judge for what was on the outside and love everyone for what was on the inside. It breaks my heart now to think that it took me actually having to witness hatred such as this to help me see it. But at the same time I'm also thankful for it because it made me more aware.
    My oldest thanks Brandon and I all the time for raising her not to be prejudice and for teaching her by example to stand up to those who are. (I'm writing a post that tells a story she shared with me, I'll link it up next week)
    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! I still think it's unfortunate that this is a lesson we have to teach, if it were left up to me all children would be raised the same as I was, and the way we have raised ours. But until then all I can do is hope that mine teach others to change their actions and help them feel differently.

    Sorry for rambling on, this is something that really tugs at my heart. I hope I made sense, I just sat down and started typing away ;)

    Hugs, Brandi and thanks for linking this up with Story Dam, Brandon and I really hope to see more of you over there :)

  10. Wow, Brandi. Don't you dare apologize. You weren't rambling on at all. I choked up reading your comments and I can "feel your heart" coming through them.

    Thank YOU. Thank you so much for that. It humbles me to think that what I've written was able to touch someone and strike a chord.

    What you and others have let me know is so reassuring -- that there are people, white and black, who get that: 1) changing attitudes are beyond our pay scale, but still do the right thing by tending our own gardens; 2) this kind of stuff can be discussed honestly and intelligently; and 3) the outside of a person is no predictor of what's on the inside.

    And that's the way it ought to be.

    This also is reminding me of the importance of planting the right seeds with our kids, and that, while we may not live to see the fully grown tree -- it does take root and bear fruit. I say this only because my mom's been gone for over twenty years now, but she used that ballet incident to plant some seeds in me and I like to think they're bearing fruit now. Just like your parents did with you and now you're doing the same with your children.

    Again...that's how it should be. Glad to know that we're not alone, eh?

    Hugs to you too, Brandi. Thank you for your feedback and thank you so much for Story Dam.

  11. Excellent article, Rochelle!

    You explained the difference between racism and prejudice better than anything I've ever read or heard on the subject. With what I've learned, I hope to pass this information on to others, and will hopefully articulate it as well. :>)

    1. Thank YOU, Cynthia! It's a touchy topic and will continue to be, and this is just my take on it. Glad it resonated. :)