Walk a Mile in Another Man’s Shoes, Empathy, Conscientiousness and All That Good Stuff
* – I must preface this particular entry by stating that there are no “absolutes” in my vocabulary, such as “all”, “never”, “always” and so forth. As such, this is not applicable to every person who happens to be a part of a particular group mentioned below. Internalization and self-application of the statements below are one’s own issues and are not the intent or purpose of this article.
… you know, unless the shoe fits. Then wear it until the soles are gone.
I do not speak for all of the Black diaspora. Whether it is regarding positive matters or negative matters, I do not speak for all of the Black Diaspora. I have lived in every socio-economically delineated environment possible: the hood, the suburbs, mere blocks away from multi-millionaires in New York City, rubbed elbows with others in Alpine, out in Jersey, the projects, college quads, around older people, around majority Black, around majority Puerto Rican, around majority Dominican, around majority Italian, in the south, three of the five boroughs of New York City and on Long Island, and have traveled within 22 of 50 states and most of the Caribbean. I still do not speak for all of the Black diaspora en totale.
Why am I prefacing this? Because I am sick and absolutely tired of people who aren’t Black trying to tell Black people where they “should” be (in relation to others who have come/been brought to this country) versus where they find themselves — particularly from an educational, financial and business-ownership standpoint — instead of listening to Black people who have both achieved the “American Dream” and have faltered at times while experiencing ebbs and flows and glimpses of said dream, as to why those who never seem to ascend from the economic doldrums that are so unfairly and reflexively stereotyped of most Blacks in the eyes of the very same people who try to tell Black people who they are, what they are, where they should live, why they have or have not achieved this or that, and worst yet, doing it all with condescension.
The audacity and unmitigated gall of such actions is vomit-inducing. Especially in the face of someone articulate and experienced in this life to the point where they can explain the “why” and “why not”, even if they have not walked in the shoes of every Black person on the face of this Earth (and particularly in the United States, where the issue is more acute in nature). To bloviate about matters that you will never know of from an internal standpoint without listening to those who can do so accurately, is an affront of the highest order. Reactions ranging from verbal chastisement to flat out dotting eyes are justified. Casting aspersions upon a systematically and institutionally oppressed group of people when you are virtually standing on the penthouse balcony, encircled by possessions, privileges and opportunities that the aforementioned group has been strategically shut off from is cowardice to the nth degree.
Yet, therein lies the problem in the matter here.
The politically-correct agenda that is in play; seeking to force embattled Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder into changing the team nickname because a (mythical, non-existent) group of Native Americans — the same group who are routinely polled and overwhelmingly (i.e. over 90%) state that they are not offended by the name at all — and many of the rest are paid to say that they are indeed offended, is one example of this. I am never going to be Native American. Other than the sliver that is in my lineage from several generations ago, I know little to nothing about their culture, customs, perspectives and outlook on life, and what it must be like to walk in their shoes with dozens of negative stereotypes in the minds of others preceding anything they say or do. I will never tell them that they should not be offended by the “Redskins” moniker. I personally do not see any real problem with it (dig further into this issue and see who’s really behind this matter, which is another subject for another day), but if a Native American said that they were offended by the name, I would respect that and listen to why it bothers them. They can inform me, and, because I possess “good sense”, I would shut my mouth on the issue; except to cite the experiences of those unto whom the issue affects.
Similarly, I am not a woman. I never will be a woman. I do not know what it is to be a woman in the eyes of men, in the eyes of countries and religions whose customs seem to treat women with barbaric disregard in comparison to how women are viewed in the United States. Furthermore, I could not imagine being a woman in the United States or anywhere for that matter, and be Black, Latina, Asian, Arab or Native American. However, I learned many years ago to listen to the experiences of women and maybe my opinions would congeal and coalesce with those of women; rather than dismiss their concerns as trivial or feminist-driven tripe.
When it comes to being Black in this world, and particularly in the United States, seemingly everyone who isn’t Black has an opinion on why 1) the plethora of negative stereotypes that exist about Black people indeed do exist, 2) the first reflex in response to meeting Black people who have nothing to do with any of the aforementioned negative stereotypes is to still speak or act towards said Black person with those stereotypes in mind and, 3) Black people “haven’t advanced any further than they have.”
I am going to attack each one of these one by one, and hopefully I won’t have to revisit this again, until someone pisses me off to the point where I have to create an addendum to this piece.
First of all, stereotypes themselves contain a MODICUM of truth — not a good amount, not MOSTLY truth — but a mere MODICUM therein. Some may have more factual basis than others, but the bottom line about stereotypes is that they are rooted in fear, lack of contact with the stereotypee on the part of the stereotyper, and, ultimately are formed from behind barriers that exist between the stereotypee and stereotyper. Stereotypes can be overcome by simply realizing that the experiences of dealing with 19 Black people and watching a bunch of carefully-crafted imagery utilized in the media, storytelling in the home and in the media, perpetuation therein by puppeteers using rappers and entertainers, and the nightly news does not make you suddenly an expert — nor does it lend you any credence — to speak definitively on ANYTHING involving Black peoples’ faults, struggles and relative misfortune in the United States. Just because you had a few drinking buddies who were Black, chased skirt with Black guys and indulged in other debauchery with Black people in general does not provide you with a complete perspective to the point where you can accurately speak about Black people as a whole.
Listen. Shut your rancid pie hole, and listen.
For every person who lives in the projects and commits crimes that land on the nightly news or the front of your local paper, there are dozens of others who are law-abiding citizens, who work hard (harder than the very people who love to label Black people as lazy, ironically), and are sick and tired of being redlined from jobs, housing, and being relegated to having to rely upon public assistance, rather than doing so and seemingly enjoying it to tax-evaders who love to complain about where their tax dollars are being allocated. Shut your fucking mouths. You people stink to high hell, and if your skeletons, backroom dealings, nepotism and other shady actions that allowed for you to get ahead were unfurled and exposed to the public, I sincerely doubt that you would be as vehement to speak out on others whose shoes you will never walk in a day in your life.
This is not to give license to hood rats, scumbags who run amok in the ‘hood stabbing innocent children to death and others who do nothing but perpetuate every negative stereotype that exists. I can’t stand those people any more than anyone else. Chris Rock put it best. I love Black people. I hate niggers. Not “niggas”, but “NIGGERS.” And if you are classless, seek to oppress and speak ill of others and condescend because you were fortunate while others are down, you are a NIGGER also, regardless of the color of your skin.
Immigrants who have come to this country from the ends of the Earth have been conditioned in their home countries before they even come to the United States: “Do not trust the Black man, he is evil, he is corrupt, he is a drug-dealing, drug-abusing, woman-beating, woman-chasing, baby-mama having criminal. Stay far away from him, he is beneath you,” in about 197 different languages and dialects.
* – I do not need to create this aside, but I shall, because there are people ignorant enough to think they truly are superior to another group or skin color of people because of some misconstrued Bible verse or some heinous, passed-down belief that society and the media only serve to perpetuate anytime and any way it can. But quite simply: BULLSHIT. And those who think this way and project it upon me always have and always will be put in their place. This type of stereotype that exists about Blacks in America is true about people from every walk of life. It just isn’t splattered all over news media and rehashed ad nauseum.
These stereotypes exist because they are passed down like heirlooms, and grow like an untreated bacteria. If left untreated, it will consume the human condition into believing something that began as utter horseshit to the point where they delude themselves into believing it is true. There are prejudices and biases, xenophobia and insular beliefs based upon culture and religious practices, but when those cross into systematic and institutionalized oppression (slavery; even if it is mostly mental in some cases), that is when the problem often reaches its boiling point. Tempers flare, epithets are used, asses get kicked, people get thrown in jail, and nothing is resolved.
I am no Civil Rights activist, nor am I an agent for social change. I am but one person. I cannot stand frauds like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson (while I am here, another widespread assumption is that Blacks unilaterally support these two charlatans, when in reality, those who are about something — the enlightened 5%, as my Nation of Gods and the Earths people would say, or in general, those unto whom none of the BS stereotypes are accurate — don’t like them any more than non-Blacks. In fact, there is greater disdain for them at times, because of their opportunist ways; often making Black people into sympathetic creatures who are only after hand-outs, while serving as bootlickers for “the White man.”
Personally, that will never be the case. But I do realize that I am cut from a different cloth, and people who love to live by these stereotypes are frustrated to no end when they realize they simply cannot do anything to rattle my cage, except by subjugating themselves by affixing said stereotypes to me in the first place.
I went out with my friends here a couple of weeks ago (and this is a common occurrence, although I do attribute this to insular upbringing, lack of general understanding and no real malice intended) and while having drinks, some random middle-aged White guy comes up to me (I am dressed in a Brasil soccer polo, jeans and hiker Timberlands with my dreadlocks neatly-kept and pulled back) speaking nothing but jive talk, doing a clumsy rendition of the general “man greeting” handshake, and stated, “ahhhh, I see you got the good ganja there brooooo!” with the Carlton Banks gun point afterward. My friend and I looked at each other, while he (White, BTW) said, “That’s so racist…” while I just shook my head and had to laugh. I do not get offended by these things, but I am the furthest thing from a “rudebwoy” and outside of my locs and skin color, what in the world would make this milquetoast ass dude think that I was a) stupid enough to smoke weed at a public spot with cops within 50 yards or b) that it was weed at all (actually a Newport)? I had on Brasil colors, not Jamaica, and my hair is not matted or unkempt. My locs are pretty much top notch in terms of texture and taste. But this just shows you the reflexive nature of stereotypes. What if I HAD been a “nigger” and responded in kind? He would have scooted away, mumbling under his breath to his wife and had everyone looking at me as if I had five heads.
I have supreme confidence, so these things really do not bother me one iota. However, I do notice, and that’s worth listening to.
Even when someone (and personally, out of the tens of thousands of Black people I have been acquainted with in my life, I would very specifically say that 7 out of 10 Black people are more like myself and little to nothing like the negative stereotypes stipulate, while 2 of the 10 fit the bill completely, and the other 1 out of 10 may be loud in public and have gold teeth or drive a car with 24’s and a loud system (never mind their education level, profession and where they live and how they conduct themselves erstwhile) and the stupid stereotypical remarks come out. This is reality.
Mark Cuban stated as such a few weeks ago, and while his statements were ulterior in motive (due to the tiresome Donald Sterling fiasco), the premise is true. I stated earlier that we have inherent biases and prejudices. A good number of them are formulated through socialization, media and perpetuation both by those who fit the bill, and by constantly beating it into each others’ heads to convince ourselves that the stereotypes are true. Stereotypes make people feel safe, because the unknown causes fear. When you live everywhere and have been around every type of person there is, the stereotypes subside, except for entertainment value only.
The real galling stereotype is that “Black people are lazy” (blatantly false, and proven to be false many times over by people who actually conduct far-ranging studies), which leads to the belief by people who have never experienced much, if any, struggle in their lives to believe that so many Blacks are on welfare, public assistance for housing, etc. etc. etc. I do not need to recite stats. We know who is on welfare, and what percentage, per capita on average. But do you not know? The majority of Black people who are on these programs go there as an absolute last resort? Do you not know why? They do not get a fair shake in education, applying for and receiving jobs, housing, insurance, loans to start businesses and the like. When opportunities are blatantly withheld from your reach (miss me with “Affirmative Action”; it has helped women in general, and most of all, White women — and crying “reverse discrimination” is a whiny retort, as if White privilege still won’t provide a leg up in future attempts to gain employment or whatever the goal in question may be) you are not going to have the resources to achieve the same as others. Yes, Asians came to this nation and were oppressed for a time, but many have had access to assistance to start businesses that Blacks never received. Yes, people from all over Europe (White and otherwise) came here and were “low on the totem pole for a spell” and built lives for themselves. Kudos to their forefathers who worked hard and sacrificed, while leaving inheritable legacies for their children and children’s children. However, while there was initial oppression, there is still the lingering ability to assimilate into the forced-upon-us “norm” that excludes those who are not White.
This is not an attack on White people, nor do I need to “justify” it by going into a lame, whack, clownish diatribe about how many White friends I have. Besides, I have no privilege nor power to oppress.
White privilege is something that those who are afforded and privy to it fail to realize in its effects on their lives and the lives of non-Whites. I have written about this previously, particularly in my half-life long studies in sociology and psychology. Those who have studied those social sciences know the math when it comes to addressing this, so I shall not go there. However, White privilege weighs a great deal in terms of opportunities afforded and why there is general blindness, outright apathy (in some cases) and flat out ignorance in others, when this entire topic is on the table. When someone possesses a privilege of any sort, they rarely realize it until it is gone. Obviously, you are not going to change your skin color, no matter how much Michael Jackson, Bollywood actresses, and blonde starlets who sleep in a tanning bed three or four days a week attempt to do so. As such, that privilege (or lack thereof) does not shift in this lifetime.
Nepotism is another issue. While not inherently evil, the factor of nepotism cannot be discounted when it comes to the lack of opportunities for Blacks who aspire to become contributing citizens of this once-great nation. When you are not allowed to progress beyond a brick ceiling, your resources, clout and influence will also be limited, thereby reducing the chances of others coming through the door that you passed through — even if you wanted to bring them along with you. For others, decades and generation of oppression, rejection and being redlined causes them to quit and become resigned into the way of life that they have been stereotyped and conditioned to live. For others still, despite the aforementioned obstacles, they decide to make something beautiful of it, and a few decades ago, that is how Hip-Hop came to be birthed. When grass is suppressed under concrete and left to decay (as Blacks were left in the projects and slums throughout New York City and urban areas throughout the nation), then the abandonment leads to new growth. A unique growth. A growth that is unforeseen and unprecedented. In other words, when you do not have opportunities present, and are stereotypically rebuffed in your attempts to achieve what your non-Black counterparts are able to realize relatively unencumbered, then you find other means. Some turn to drugs. Others just find a way to create, invent, network and develop something beautiful. But when you ask a Black person who is articulate enough to explain why matters are the way they are with Black people as a whole, do not expect them to be able to speak for the entire diaspora. However, you better be ready to hear some harsh truth, because like it or not, we all have a role to play as citizens in the United States.
Now excuse me while I ruminate more on what Alan Reed (the man who voiced Fred Flintstone, of “The Flintstones” fame) once did to get a job when he was 19 years of age. I won’t even say it here, but it is up to you to go do your research, because it’s getting to that point for me.
Consider yourself educated now and shut the fuck up talking about a people whose experience you will never know first hand.