Standing (Until We Knock Each Other Down Again)

The discussion centering at Prometheus 6’s Site is coming along nicely. In his post “Where We Stand” I only take issue with a couple of points.

Black people have only been free for two generations. White people have only had free people of other races around them for two generations. Neither group has mastered their situation yet, and who can blame either? Because this society still gives racialized feedback so clearly and strongly that the honorable efforts made by many on both sides of the veil are simply overwhelmed.

Part of the muddying here comes from the very word “race”, which I don’t think has been adequately defined for this discussion yet. Even people like me and people I expect to be sensitive to this (like P6) fall into the trap of thinking that “race” means “black or white” without taking into account other races.

When you talk about race in America, 90% of the people seem to take into account only Black and White, and it is as if the other races (whatever race means) don’t matter. Which brings me to my point — white people have only had free black people around them for two generations.

Here’s one of the anecdotes of racialized feedback:

Pager found that blacks “are less than half as likely to receive consideration by employers relative to their white counterparts, and black non-offenders fall behind even whites with prior felony convictions.� In other words, even though being black and having served time both negatively affect one�s employment opportunities, controlling for education and skills you are better off being a white male with a felony conviction than a black male with no criminal record.

I have a real issue with the methodology in the study, and having read the report, it seems to be one that occurred to the tester (but wasn’t weighted as heavily.) There are far too many intangibles in the hiring process for me to consider this study as authoritative.

Studies like the one that showed that “black” names on resumes were less likely to get calls than “white” names are more credible to me, because there actually are controls on the variables. In this, the evidence is just measured anecdote. (I take issue with the names study too, because I read the names as being as much “poor and not poor” as “black and not black”, but that is an entire post on its own.)

And there are many, many White people who consciously attempt to bridge the gap. But because they believe the problem is one of individual belief their efforts are flawed. Seeing Black people are still angry and wondering why their openness has no effect, they naturally take the rejection of their personal gestures as a personal rejection�it’s almost impossible for a person not to.

There is another element to this — that rejection is usually seen as an irrational rejection. The viewpoint is, “I gave you what you were asking for, and now you want more?” It leads someone to believe that either the person they are dealing with was never looking for fairness in the first place, but instead an actual advantage, or that the person is simply irrational. Neither outlook helps either person much.

Once you get to that point, it is easy to see anyone who even brings the subject up as being irrational, no one likes to deal with an irrational adverse situation.

So this is where we stand, Black and White folks. At the dawn of an age neither has been prepared for, believing in a society geared to change people into exactly that which we all declare we don’t want to be.

I don’t have the final answer. I don’t think anyone does. But I do know this much�both sides must remember that we were all broken by this. Though the normal assumption is that Black folks alone were the ones that were broken, in fact White people in general were just as programmed as Black people. We were broken in different ways though, and therefore need different messages�we all need to understand that trying to get Black folks to where White folks are isn’t going to work any more than getting White folks to where Black folks are will. We all need to get to a new place.

I think the important thing to remember is that it is deprogramming that needs to be done, not reprogramming.


  1. Prometheus 6 says:

    Seriously annoyed right now

    One of the sections I write for at Open Source Politics is the Knowledge section, which is about education and info tech. And I’ve been considering writing a review of the Movable Type-specific desktop clients because I much prefer being…

  2. Prometheus 6 says:

    I’m still standing (yeah, yeah, yeah)

    Phelps at The Everlasting Phelps has commented on Where We Stand in a post titled, interestingly enough, Standing (Until We Knock Each Other Down Again). The title makes me want to discuss the points he comments on (there are only…

  3. markm says:

    One hundred and forty years is two generations??? The way they are usually counted, it’s five generations.

    Or are they claiming that blacks have only been free since the Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s?

  4. Phelps says:

    Even I don’t believe that “unbound but living under Jim Crow” is “free”.