Monday, June 30, 2008

An email I received

Someone forwarded the email seen below to me the other day. Usually I ignore most of these forwarded emails, but, having met recently with the principal of our middle school, who happens to be African American, I decided to reply to this one.

The principal told us that "Minnesota Nice" is part of what makes it harder to combat racism than in the south. He said if people hear something they disagree with, they will often not say anything, or leave the room. He said we need to do more than that.

Here's the email:

Proud To Be White

Someone finally said it.
How many are actually paying attention to this?

There are African Americans,
Mexican Americans,
Asian Americans,
Arab Americans,
Native Americans, etc.
.....And then there are just -

You pass me on the street
and sneer in my direction.
You Call me 'White boy,'
'Cracker,' 'Honkey,'
'Whitey,' 'Caveman,'
.....And that's OK.

But when I call you Nigger,
Kike, Towel head,
Sand-nigger, Camel Jockey,
Beaner, Gook, or Chink,
.....You call me a racist.

You say that whites commit a lot
of violence against you,
so why are the ghettos the most
dangerous places to live?

You have the United Negro College Fund.
You have Hispanic History Month.
You have Martin Luther King Day.
You have Asian History Month.
You have Black History Month.
You have Cesar Chavez Day.
You have Ma'uled Al-Nabi.
You have Yom Hashoah.
You have Kawanza.
You have the NAACP.
And you have BET.

If we had WET
(White Entertainment Television)
.....We'd be racists.

If we had a White Pride Day
.....You would call us racists.

If we had White History Month
.....We'd be racists.
If we had any organization for only whites
to 'advance' OUR lives,
.....We'd be racists.

We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,
a Black Chamber of Commerce,
and then we just have the plain
Chamber of Commerce.
Wonder who pays for that?

If we had a college fund that only gave
white students scholarships
.....You know we'd be racists.

There are over 60 openly-proclaimed
Black-only Colleges in the US,
yet if there were 'White-only Colleges'
.....THAT would be a racist college.

In the Million-Man March,
you believed that you were
marching for your race and rights.
If we marched for our race and rights,
.....You would call us racists.

You are proud to be black,
brown, yellow and red,
and you're not afraid to announce it.
But when we announce our white pride
.....You call us racists.

You rob us,
carjack us,
and shoot at us.
But, when a white police officer
shoots a black gang member
or beats up a black drug-dealer
who is running from the LAW and
posing a threat to ALL of society
.....You call him a racist.

I am proud.
.....But, you call me a racist.

Why is it that only
can be racists?
There is nothing improper about this e-mail.
Let's see which of you
are proud enough to send it on...

Here are some of the things I said:

I know you didn't write the email you forwarded to me, but I will tell you that I AM proud of my background and heritage, not simply "white" but Scandinavian-American. And my parents belong to the Swedish Institute and there is nothing racist about that. I know that my Swedish grandmother was ashamed that the Swedes, to remain neutral, sold arms to Hitler during World War II, but I told her I was proud that Sweden took in Jewish people when so many other countries were killing them. But of course, it is up to me, as an individual, to live up to the high ideals that I am proud of.

But then, I am usually judged as an individual, not primarily as a member of my race. I have never heard anyone say, "A white man cheated me, or robbed me, or held me up, so not I don't trust white men." If one white man (or white woman) does something shameful, we do not judge all white people on that, do we? That is the kind of society I want to work for.

Martin Luther King had a dream that we would one day be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. I don't believe that is still the case.

I also wrote:

Also, while I am proud to call myself an American, I am prouder still to call myself a "child of God," which is something I did nothing to earn and has nothing to do with my race or ethnicity, the color of my skin or my class.

Though all of us can be prejudiced (blacks can be prejudiced against asians or whites or whoever), usually those of us who are white are judged as individuals -- not our race or culture. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case with people of color.

I do understand how it feels to be in the minority from when I lived in Japan. There is something about sticking out and knowing people see you and are watching you all the time that perhaps makes you want to band together with people like yourself sometimes. I assume that is where some of the ethnic groups' organizations came from.

Also, just as the "ladies aids" came from a time in our church history when women couldn't vote or have any power in the church, so some of the organizations for minorities (and the historic black colleges) came from a time when black people didn't have power in the wider society.

I realize that there were many parts of the email I didn't address, especially the part that begins "You rob us...." which implies that victims of crime are mostly white, and that perpetrators are mostly people of color. (in reality, victims of crime are disproportionately people of color.)

Anyway, I'm glad I responded, but I'm not entirely happy with what I wrote. What would you have said?


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I'm not sure what I would have said.

I do know that there have been studies that show it takes something like 12 positive statements to counteract 1 negative one--that if you put a child down, it takes 12 words of praise to balance that out.

If that's even partially true, then there aren't enough minority pride occasions or organizations to counteract all the snubs, institutional biases, and negative stereotypes flung about on an hourly basis in this country.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

P.S. I applaud you for saying something.

Jan said...

Ruth's comment about the need for 12 positive statements to counteract one negative one bowls me over. That must be true.

Diane, I am proud of what you wrote. I am always surprised when someone sends me something in that vein. Right now I'm feeling so sad at those sentiments, I don't have adequate words. But you did. I'm glad.

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

The unfortunate thing is that one can't really argue with such things because one can always find at least small grains of truth, even if they are taken out of context, in any type of statement, like when someone proof-texts from the Bible.

But I think you made a valiant effort.

I don't know about Japan, but I was in Korea where I know I stuck out, but there wasn't anything negative about that in the short time I was there.

I've been in Uganda, where, obviously I stuck out. Quite frankly, I think that we (our group of about 10 whites) were treated better because we were white. I think that some assumptions were made about us, like that we were rich. Well, we ARE richer than most of those people, but none of us is rich by US and Canadian standards. It was kind of strange to feel like we were being honored all the time.

I've caught myself in some "isms" at times, in spite of not being brought up that way and also I'm in a mixed race neuclear family. It has shown me just how much the media has ingrained certain unfortunate values in me. I think a good question to ask anybody is if they've ever caught themselves thinking some kind of "ism."

Anytime we look at somebody and see color first we may easily make a misstep of thinking some kind of prejudicial thought. Been there, done that! Lord, forgive me.

Chris Duckworth said...

I would have written various four-letter words and told this person where they could go.

Or, if I otherwise respected the sender of this email, I probably would have used various four-letter words, asked if they were feeling ok, and suggested that perhaps someone had hijacked their email, for surely a self-respecting, socially-aware, otherwise nice and upstanding person couldn't forward along such garbage.

Or, perhaps, I would have invited the person out for a drink, and ask them to tell me more about how they feel. I would want to ask this person if they had ever known a member of a racial minority class, if they had ever been to a ghetto, if they had ever had ancestors who were pushed off their land, or held in slavery, or subjected to oppressive governments, or suffered under generations upon generations of colonialism, or . . .

I'd want to ask them when the last time they were denied service at the lunch counter, followed by cops, or turned down for a mortgage due to their race. I'd want to know about the heaps of insults they received as a child because of their race or culture, how many times they were beat up in school because they were different, or how often they were disciplined by teachers in school for following his/her culture's customs or speaking his/her native language.

I'd have to resist inflicting harm on such a person.

And after I do all that in my own fantasy world, I'd have to pray for such a person. And for myself.

And then, I'd want to sit down and try to figure out why this person is so angry. And tell them why their email made me so angry. And try to understand what is going on.

mompriest said...

I might have said that when one is a member of the privledged majority (or if not the majority at least the privledged with power) life is already so full of opportunities that we don't need to create our special groups...we've been special a long time already. It's the same issue that comes up regarding why have women's clergy groups?...well because women clergy have not been part of the privledged powerful for much of our vocational's changing but slowly...same with any other marginalized or minority member of a society....

But mostly I like what you said.

Lindy said...

well, I think this is very, very, very sticky. More than anything, I admire you for being willing to address it. I am not sure I would have.

I too am proud of my heritage: German American. I have stories about how brave and enterprising my antecedents were and I hope a little of that lives on in me.

I also recognize that I inherit an enormous amount of privilege because of my race, and in some places because of my family. I didn't earn any of that. I just reap the benefits.

I think that blacks were treated horribly in this country and that for the most part they still are. I imagine that if I were black, I would... well, I'd be a seething cauldron of boiling rage is what I'd be.

When I first moved out to the farm I patronized a little mini-mart for things like gas, snacks, lunch, whatever. One day -- MONTHS after I moved there -- I noticed that I never had to wait in line. As I started paying attention I noticed that people (Mexicans) literally moved out of line until I was at the head. All the time they talked to me and were friendly so that I hardly noticed at all. Privilege is like that. It's hard to notice. I don't trust myself to weigh in anymore than that.

Peace Diane. I hope all is well with you and Scout.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Everyone else has said what I would say. America has a whole lot to make up for in recreating a level playing field.

Though on a lighter note, that e-mail reads to me as if I am the person of color. Which, after some suntanning is actually true. I'm a medium ecru now.

This color business has got to stop. We're all Americans. Just Americans. And should all share in the good parts of that. I am certainly not ashamed of my skin color. But I also hope I am never proud of it. 'Cause pride goeth before the fall. And my bones are currently too thin for a fall.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Diane, you did very well. Perhaps the person who sent you the email learned from your response. I probably would have been briefer and said something like, "This is disgusting." You took the better part. And as Chris said, it would be a good thing to pray for that person. I don't know if I would have thought of that, more's the pity.

FranIAm said...

Diane - I think you are great to have said something. It is a sick sad world we live in.

It is hard when the majority plays the role of the persecuted.

(which by the way will short circuit the post i told you about last night.)

This kind of thing makes me so angry - I usually delete.

I am really glad you spoke up. It is easy to continue to dissect your words.

The reality is- YOU SPOKE UP.

Mrs. M said...

I'm not sure what I would have said, but I am so glad that you said something. Thank you. And I'm glad that you posted it, as a reminder that those of us trying to speak up aren't alone.

Ivy said...

You did a great job, Diane. I admit I probably would have just been annoyed and deleted it. It took courage to write that. Well done.

steve said...

I think you responded beautifully. The need to define oneself as "proud" of one's heritage often stems from the experience of prejudice, of living in a society that does not inherently value that part of your identity.

"White" pride rings hollow to my ears because there is no larger societal prejudice to defy, no need to assert our essential value because this society already values and empowers us.

Choralgirl said...

I think you did great, and join the admiring throng in thanking you for speaking out.

I'm with Mompriest and Steve--identity politics is a matter of survival for persecuted minorities, and a matter of vanity for those in positions of privilege.

I'd want to say something like,"Come and tell me about your 'white pride' after you've been passed over for a bunch of jobs/housing/opportunities because of your skin color, when the police routinely pull you over on your way home in a rich suburb, when you fear for your life because of who you were born to be. Until then, the gracious thing to do is to be quiet about it and work to level the playing field."

Marsha said...

Honestly, I stopped replying at all to these types of emails/opinions ages ago. I like my blood pressure right where it is.

Did you ever get the award? I put it in an email for you awhile back.

Diane said...

oh Marsha, it is going up next! I have been having some trouble with images on blogger, but I think I have it figured out.

Rev SS said...

I'm proud of you too, Diane ... what they all said, especially ... "Until then, the gracious thing to do is to be quiet about it and work to level the playing field."

Juniper said...

I'm with those who said they usually delete these kind of things - I'm reallly impressed at the level at which you were willing to engage this. Thanks for speaking up and out.