by Latoya Peterson
Diversity Inc.’s Ask a White Guy Column has posted a letter that should feel all too familiar to any anti-racist activist. An excerpt:
I am a white female and I can tell you that I don’t talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination. We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired. I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against. Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc. If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar.
The writer also manages to fit in all of the following gems:
* “[B]lacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books. Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites. ”
* “Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.”
* “I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures. ”
* “Until we get over the past we will never fully get along.”
* “Get over the color!”
What do you even say to someone like that? Where do you even start?
Luckily, she sent her question in to someone who is paid to deal with this nonsense. Luke Visconti took great pains to address all of her concerns:
Given your current state, I would most strongly recommend you avoid racial discussions at work. This is good advice for most people. Your e-mail gives ample reason why many people will say something worthy of being fired. I don’t think you intended it to be offensive, but I’m afraid much of your e-mail is.
I’ll start with your comment about the NAACP, UNCF, etc. Black people founded these organizations to counter discrimination directed against them by white people. Keep in mind that the discrimination people faced today is NOTHING like the discrimination that existed when these organizations were founded. In our recent past, “discrimination” included thousands of African Americans being lynched and lawful bigotry like segregation.
The UNCF was founded to support our nation’s network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — the sole source of higher education for Black Americans until the 1960s. Black people had practically no access to “mainstream” higher education.
The NAACP was founded because legislation was passed in the early 20th century that prevented Black people from voting. Another reason the NAACP came together was lynching — until federal legislation was passed in the 1920s, thousands of Black people were murdered by hanging. The reason why federal legislation was important is that the local white-run law enforcement and judiciary proved to be incapable of prosecuting the white murderers. The NAACP was also instrumental in desegregating public higher education — with the help of the NAACP and the intercession of the federal government, James Meredith became the first Black student to be accepted to the University of Mississippi. He graduated in 1964.
Black Entertainment Television (BET) was launched and is still commercially viable because of the overwhelming lack of diversity in “mainstream” media. “Mainstream” media can be more accurately called white media. For example, there are practically no Black people featured in The New Yorker magazine, and no major Black characters on mega-hit television shows like “Friends” or “Seinfeld,” which were set in New York City (the city’s population is 26 percent Black).
A few years ago, a major retailer sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker and ran New Yorker-style cartoons as ads. One of the ads was a subway scene – with ALL white people (if you are familiar with New York, you will know that this is laughably impossible). This wasn’t an isolated mistake — around the same time, the parent company of The New Yorker mounted a sequence of billboards on a building in Manhattan. The theme was how people enjoy reading magazines. However, out of more than one dozen images, there was only one non-white person – an Asian woman looking at a magazine (with a white person on the cover). Now you know why there are magazines like Black Enterprise and JET.
Please don’t think this is isolated to one retailer or one publishing company. Exclusion of people of color is a consistent theme in media and the ad agency industry. For example, I recently visited another major New York media company, to discuss “diversity.” At the time, they had 35 corporate vice presidents — one white woman and 34 white men (all non-Latino). Representation like this takes real effort to accomplish in New York — a city whose population is 65 percent Black, Latino and Asian.
And so on.
The article was well researched and thorough. But, sigh. How many times are we going to rehash this shit? How many times does BET have to come up, without people realizing what that one channel out of hundreds is not close to parity. Or having to reconstruct the People’s History of the United States in order to explain why black people have designated organizations to advocate for their interests? It’s that racial fatigue setting in again, I suppose.
At any rate, I am glad there are people willing to thoughtfully engage with the same questions over and over and over again.
Someone has to do it.
I’m just glad it isn’t me.
(Thanks to Elton, Vaughn, and Luke for sending this in!)