Monday, April 21, 2008

Who you callin'_______?

A friend of ours was driving to church in Mt. Vernon, NY on Sunday, looking forward to her weekly dose of inspiration. She passed a woman riding her bike. The cyclist apparently felt in some way threatened by our friend’s car and she yelled, “You motha fuckin’ ass nigga.” Our friend was stunned. What was there to say? All she could think to do in response was honk her horn.

But later that day, she called a friend who lives in Atlanta to commiserate. Her friend had had a similar experience. While driving her BMW this woman was passed by a white woman driving a Taurus. For no apparent reason the woman shouted out the window, “Take your nigga ass back to Stone Mountain.”

Now, some people would try to say the word “nigger” no longer has the same hurtful, hateful snarling connotation that it used to. That it’s just something people call each other, like buddy. That these two white women might have hurled the same words at another white person whose driving they had a beef with. To that we say, GET REAL. The word is specific and it’s meant to put people (us black people) in their places. Not to say there aren’t some choice words black folks call white people. Because we all know there are cuss words for every race, creed and color.

So, does America still need a meaningful, and ongoing conversation about race and not just lip service? Clearly. There’s a whole lot we don’t understand about each other. The most fundamental of which is that we are all far more alike, than we may have been led to believe. It is encouraging that there are people of all races who are backing Obama for president, but there are lots of us on all sides who are mightily pissed off about what other folks say, do, and feel they are entitled to. And the issue of race keeps raising it’s ugly head during this presidential campaign season, but why wouldn’t it? There is much less space these days between what we feel and what we say in public.

Is there an economic component to the animosity? Sure. Any time people feel threatened they look for somebody to attack, and an expensive foreign car driving black woman is as good a target as any when people feel powerless against $4.00 a gallon gasoline and milk, and all the larger economic forces that mean some people can still buy $10million dollar homes and others can’t afford their $50 a month rent increase. Ooops! Isn’t that just about what Obama said that got him “ in trouble” at the San Francisco dinner? That economic strain and disenfranchisement sends everyone retreating to their own corner ready to protect and defend whatever they can manage to hold onto? And sometimes the best defense is an offense? At least that’s what WE think he meant.

Well, maybe it’s good to get it all out in the open instead of letting it fester under the surface. But only if we clean up the wound and apply a salve that will allow it to heal. Except it’s not just one wound and it’s gonna take a whole lot of healing. So, in the meantime, what do you say when somebody calls you something that makes the hairs on your arms stand up? Do you ignore it or confront it? Does confronting it change anybody’s mind or just get the anger off your chest? And will any of it make life better?

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 2:51 PM


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