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Can Anyone Win The Race (Conversation)?

What is the conversation about race that takes place when only Latinos, only Whites, only Blacks, only Asians, or only like ethnicities are alone in their conversations? Let’s not kid ourselves, when men are alone, or women are alone we know how the conversation differs without the other gender in the mix. So, why would it be any different in terms of race? As a matter of fact, it would be even more dysfunctional because across gender lines there is love for our sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, girlfriends and boyfriends. Across racial lines we often don’t see a connection, which prevents us from loving one another, and instead exacerbates our hatred or inconsideration for one another.

People want to deny our preoccupation with race, though undeniably talking about race is more often than not, problematic. Just recently I received an email, along with many others, about an article in the Press Republican that reported on the conviction of the child rapist in Plattsburgh. The author stated he was “very offended to see that under the headline that said "Child rapist gets 10 years to life", it was also stated, "Puerto Rican man convicted of abuse and rape of young girls in the area." The author’s concern was that the ethnicity of the rapist wasn’t germane to the topic at hand. The author also pointed out that on the same day another writer wrote an article that stated that a “Peru man gets 12 years for abuse." In this article the writer did “mention the person's name but no where in the article does [the writer] mention his ethnic background and rightfully so.” Was this deliberate collusion on the part of one writer versus the other? Of course not, (and I can say that because I know many of the writers for the Press Republican, as well as the management and know that) the paper wouldn’t deliberately put out such a problematic message. However, did the writer perhaps misstep in engaging the details? Is there inconsistency in the way stories are reported from one writer to the next?

Perhaps we can evolve beyond these awkward situations with more dialogue on race. Perhaps we can transcend our uncomfortable feelings trying to articulate the chasm of differences by exposure to others that originate from these different communities. Perhaps a solution to this problem could be the Press Republican and other local companies joining the ranks of other businesses, organizations and companies and introducing its employees to diversity and social justice education as well. In this rapidly changing world of ours is anyone beyond the challenge of becoming more educated about the differences that exist between communities. As an educator in this field, I continually learn so much from one engagement to another.

Is all this commotion an overreaction? Not if you are a member of a community and feeling devalued or disrespected. Have you ever been grossly in the minority in terms of some aspect of your identity and felt that way? The saying “just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean you aren’t being chased” could be quite applicable in this situation. I remember years ago having to address the Press Republican’s printing of the N-word in a letter to the editor (October 2002) when I knew the B-word, or C-word would not have appeared in print. Would the N-word have been printed in a newspaper if that newspaper had a staff that was all Black? Frankly, it is hard to answer that question because of the wide array of ideologies that pervade our society. However, the more diversity (in this case racial) that exists within any conversation would enhance the possibility of differing sensibilities being considered.


Yesterday I had my first class meeting of the semester for my African American Culture course. I entered this class with a completely different sensibility than ever before, greatly influenced by the Obama presidency. The other seven previous times I have taught this course I have structured it around the fact that African American culture today is still responding to the aftermath of slavery. You can see the aftermath of slavery in Black paranoia, disdain for interracial dating, hesitance or disinterest in voting, use of the N-word, an overt preoccupation with physical prowess (sports and entertainment) as opposed to academic enterprises, etc. How my approach to engaging current day Black culture will be affected by the ascent of a bi-racial man to the presidency is uncertain to me at this time, since I really haven’t fully processed the various dimensions of this reality. And for those of you who don’t agree with my assertion that African American culture today is a response to slave culture, why does Obama embrace his blackness over his whiteness when he self-identifies (read Dreams From My Father” to really experience what I am talking about). Have race relations changed? Should our ability to elect a so-called Black president be seen as an indication that we really have advanced in our ability to look beyond race? Or is it like the old saying “even a broken clock provides accurate time twice a day.” Tell me what you think?

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I agree there are still many challenges and milestones ahead of our country before everyone is treated equally. I also believe we have made enormous steps in that direction. I also find it frustrating that it is acceptable to mention race in certain circumstances and not others. Race is one of the things that set people apart. I do not believe race should influence people’s judgment or opinions but as far as who that person is, it does help define who we are. People should be proud of whatever race they are. As you have preached for year’s diversity is what makes America great. Fortunately we are such a diverse culture. Also because of the diversity we do need race and gender to define us. If you were looking for someone, would you rather know the person you are looking for is a 43-year old or a 43-year-old Hispanic male. Would you be just as annoyed if the article you read said he was a white male? I hold no prejudice towards African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians or anyone who lives here in America, male or female. We are all Americans and should be proud of it. When we do something great we should be praised for it, when we do something wrong we should be criticized for it. If someone breaks the law, what is wrong with saying they broke the law. We need to stop finger pointing.

America just celebrated the election of the first African American to the presidency. What a great milestone for African American people, what a great milestone for all American people. Does this mean we elected him because he is African American? Does that mean he will do a better job in office because he is African American? I certainly hope not. I hope we elected him because he was the right person for the job based on his political views. I am not offended because Obama’s election is being hailed as an African American milestone. Great for him and great for the African American people. Would everyone feel the same if McCain had won and he was reported as the 44th white American president? When we finally elect a woman president that day will also be a great milestone and I’m sure it will be headlined around the world that we have our first woman president in America. I also will not take offence to that. On the contrary I am and will be extremely proud even though I am not African American or a woman.

Since I am not African American I cannot speak for how race affects the African American culture. However I can relate to being in a minority class, not by my race but by sex in my profession. I am a male nurse and am very proud of my profession and myself. I am also very proud of being in the minority. However I do not feel I am a better nurse because of it nor do I want any special consideration because I’m in the minority. I do not get offended when I’m referred to as “the male nurse” nor is it offensive when I’m asked to help out with certain Pt’s because I’m a male. I also find it funny when it is implied that male nurses are gay. I am a father, brother, and a son. I am also a firefighter, EMT and a male nurse. When I fill out census paperwork I check white-male, that is who I am. It helps define me as a person.

As strange as this may sound, you should embrace the diversity around you. Diversity is a good thing and referring to someone by his or her race is not always a bad thing. Just because someone’s race is mentioned does not mean the comment was derogatory. The man you are referring to needs to be punished, and in my opinion put away for life or until his victims forget what he did. I would feel this way no matter what race he is. Do I feel because he is Hispanic that all Hispanic men are sex offenders or that the Hispanic race in general are less of a people? Of course not. Did the article imply that? No. It stated a fact; a Puerto Rican man was convicted of abuse and rape of young girls in the area. If we took into consideration everything that might be found offensive the article would look something like “a person was convicted of abuse and rape of other people in the area”. The facts are still there but there is also a lot that is missing.

Just as I cannot speak for members of other peoples race I don’t think it is fair that you speak for them either. I have many close friends that are ethnically different than I am. To me they are still like family. I do not pretend to know what it is like to be ethnically different than what I am. Nor do I pretend know what it is like to be anyone other than who I am. You ask why is it problematic talking about race. It is because of questions like yours, “Did the writer perhaps misstep in reporting the details”, No, he reported the details. The person was a Puerto Rican man was he not? Facts are facts and there is nothing wrong with saying the man was from Puerto Rico, the man was from Pout Rico. I don’t know why anyone else from Pout Rico would feel devalued or disrespected. They did not commit the crime. By implying there was anything other than facts reported you are insinuating the writer is racist, either knowingly or not. How can anyone talk about race without them being accused of racism? If you didn’t realize I have used the words African American instead of the word Black American every time I have made the reference. Like me a lot of people do not want to be thought of as racist. That’s because I’m not. How can anyone talk about race without walking on thin ice?
Now I know not everyone feels the same way I do, and I know we do not live in a perfect world where racism does not exist. I am not that naive. However what you need to realize is there are many people that do feel as I do and that number is growing. Barack Obama’s presidency is testimony to that. You insinuate that these statements are derogatory, that even unknowingly people are being racist. I find that just as offensive. By doing this you are feeding the fire. Can anyone win the race conversation! Why would anyone have to win? We are different, and that is OK. We all bring something different to the conversation. I am still a man and so are you. We are both Americans and many men and women of every ethnicity have died to give us the right to have this conversation. The men and women fighting for our country do not care if the people beside them are black, white or Hispanic. All they care about is that there is another American beside them. Lets start looking to what we have in common, realize we are different and be proud of whom we are. We need to stop finger pointing and looking for fault in people.

*** Gary, your frustrations with discussing race aren't unique to only you. Most people struggle with speaking about race/racism. Why? Because no one wants to be labeled a racist, and so discussions are fraught with anxiety because any miscommunication might give people the impression that the person miscommunicating is a racist. While I understand this anxiety, I also know people need to recognize it for what it is. What is that? Well, my take on it is everyone is racist. Yes, everyone socialized in America. How is that? Well, because we haven't taken the necessary steps to challenge one another about our misconceptions about race. But before I go further, Gary, let me ask you a few questions.

Are you sexist? What I am really asking you is do you misstep occasionally in terms of the respect you should be giving women? Do you call adult women, girl? Have an expectation that women should be at your beck and call, at least at certain times? When really upset with a woman have you had to reel in the word "bitch" from the tip of your lips? How about this one, do you think it is your duty to protect women? Have you ever called another man, or consciously thought of another man as a sissy? If your answer to any of these is yes, then are you comfortable acknowledging the fact that you may be sexist? You don't go around wanting to be sexist, but have never probably really thought about some of the inadvertent things you do to contribute to the infantalization of women. Most men haven't! I know I didn't until a few women who knew I was trying real hard to be a better person pulled my coattail and patiently began to educate me about some of my ways.

If you are able to see that you are sexist, then you should be able to see that you, like so many other Americans socialized to see and react to race, might be inadvertently contributing to racism simply because you haven't engaged it. We need to talk about race and racism, or we will never be comfortable with how we may perpetrate it, albeit inadvertently. More so, we won't be able to move beyond it if we don't know we are succumbing to it.

People love to say I exacerbate racism with my conversation about it. However, most people that take my classes and hear me speak on the topic at length, leave those moments with a better understanding of how they may actually be exhibiting the behavior they so stridently try to avoid.

Your question about Obama,

"Does that mean he will do a better job in office because he is African American? I certainly hope not. I hope we elected him because he was the right person for the job based on his political views,"

is as complex as it is quite intriguing. Some would argue that he (or Hillary if she had won) could do a better job in office because he is African American (and she is a woman). No president of this country prior has really had to grapple with being ostracized by some aspect of their identity to the point of structured second class citizenship and denial of inalienable rights. He may have a level of familiarity with the underclass of society that will possibly afford them a champion for their causes compared to other White candidates. Those "political views" that you tout as the reason we should hold up for voting for Obama can't be separated from his bi-racial humble beginnings any more than they can be separated from his Harvard education.

The Puerto Rican man comment that you and Whaler (another blogger) want to equate with other descriptors doesn't work. When crime is largely associated with Black and Brown men in a disproportionate way by the media members of those communities get sensitive. I enjoyed your self identifying as a male nurse and how secure you are in your profession. That is a good thing. However, just like there are many Brown and Black people who didn't react to the "Puerto Rican" comment, there are some male nurses who might be sensitive to comments that wouldn't offend you at all. That is what makes the world go round Gary. I do embrace diversity, everyday, which is why I can read your blog posting and respect it, sincerely, but not have to agree with it. Can you do that, without judging me as a race antagonizer? It doesn't appear so!

I can respect that you don't feel I should speak for people of other races. As a matter of fact, I agree. I don't speak for people of other races, I speak for myself. Non-blacks (which would include you Gary), women, gays, physically and mentally challenged individuals, the wealthy and poor are all in my crew. If I see someone disrespecting any disenfranchised person I may enter that moment if I think I can make a difference that someone else may not make. I am sorry that you don't think I should, but I would bet the farm that if I were advocating for your severely disabled child or bi-racial nephew/niece who were being oppressed by insensitive, inconsiderate people simply because they were different, you wouldn't have a problem with it, would you Gary?

You say we need to stop finger pointing and looking for fault in people, but then point your finger at me quite a bit in your post and take me to task, even to the point of stating that I preach. I don't preach, though if I am saying something that someone doesn't want to hear, it may sound that way. Gary, you wrote a passionate post that covered a great deal of territory. It got my attention and made me think. I hope my response made you think as well. You know, what is ironic is the fact that people from all over the country pay me to discuss these topics with them, over and over again. I had a college student I had never met writing me letters thanking me for the change she had witnessed in her younger sibling based on the strength of something I said in a diversity enlightenment session that he attended. Because you don't value my putting a complex concern out there for our community to consider, I should stop, eh. Well G, that won't happen. I would bet the farm that for every person who doesn't value this conversation we are having, there are just as many people who get something out of it. So, when people don't want to engage these discussions all they have to do is not check me out. However, I am not going to stop discussing these concerns when others are tuning in to possibly become more comfortable with discussing these matters.

Again, I like your energy and hope you weigh in again. Oh, and who wins the race (conversation) isn't as important as being part of the event. *** -- J.W.

JW-

I understand the point you are trying to make in your post...however, the example you used to draw out your point simply doesn't fit.

The author(s) of both headlines WAS/WERE being perfectly consistent. If the man was a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, I'd agree with you...but did you read the article? It said he WAS PUERTO RICAN! Likewise the man from the other article was FROM PERU!

There was no ethnic undertone in the sub-headline...or the artcile itself. I read it, and re-read it. It was simply reporting that the man wasn't from here. I've seen other articles with similar headlines using words like Spaniard, or Frenchman, or Swede. Would those be equally offensive to you?

*** Whaler, I really appreciate your weighing in on this topic. Especially since it is quite convoluted, in terms of the layers that surround it.

To the matter at hand. You say the author of both headlines was "perfectly consistent." My interpretation of "perfect" and "consistent" differ from yours. Citing one man's identity and the other's place of residence as a compontent of his identity are very different. What was the specifics of the man from Peru? Was he of European descent, African descent, Caribbean descent, German descent, etc.? We know the other man was Puerto Rican, but saying he was Puerto Rican versus saying he was from Puerto Rico are two different things. In a less anxious culture, or alternate universe where isms don't exist, we wouldn't be having this discussion. However, we live in the good old USA. They shouldn't have to be different (man from Puerto Rico versus Puerto Rican), but they are. Even if you can't see it, a member of our community who may/may not be Puerto Rican had a problem with it. I saw his point and chose to put it out there for discussion.

The saying "just because you are paranoid doesn't mean you aren't being chased" could apply here to the reaction of our local citizen. Also, "if you throw a rock in a pack of dogs, the one that howls is the one who got hit" might apply as well. The local citizen who brought this to my attention may be oversensitive, but so might some of the readers who just don't have the vision, perhaps from certain life experiences, to see his point. Perhaps it is because many Americans have a different response to Frenchman than they may have to Puerto Rican or Middle Easterner.

Oh, and I wasn't offended, necessarily, because I firmly believe the writer of the article simply mis-stepped, as we are all likely to do from time to time when discussing difficult aspects of our differences. I am not free of sin, so I won't cast the first stone. However, I don't think there is a problem with discussing the merits of stone throwing as well as sinning. *** -- J.W.

J.W. –

I must confess my “snafu” to you and apologize for my original response that I was going to post criticizing this most recent blog. I regret thinking too quickly and hastily manipulating my fingers over my keyboard with the intent to contradict you and set the record straight. It wasn’t until I went back and reread both articles that I noticed in small print under the headlines of the man from Puerto Rico convicted of rape that the writer did indeed identify him as “Puerto Rican.” This oversight (not intentional) on my part has given me a totally different perspective on the discussion you have initiated. Below is an excerpt from the reply that I intended to post:

************************************************************
For as long as I have been blogging with you, J.W., I can honestly say the majority of the time I have always agreed with your side of the conversation, or for the most part, been on the same side of the railroad tracks when it comes to issues as delicate as ethnicity and race. But this time, I have to disagree with you.

I read both of those articles in the Press Republican regarding the two individuals who were convicted of rape and sex abuse. The editorial relating to the man from Puerto Rico never stated his ethnic identity. The only reference the article made was that he was from Puerto Rico, not that he was Puerto Rican. I’m sure many of the readers, including myself, just assumed his ethnic background based on his name and his former residence and didn’t pay much attention to the subtitle of the article in mention.

I believe the Press Republican staff writer who wrote the article was correct in stating his facts regarding the report. Not once in the article did he state the gentleman’s ethnicity, but only reported his original domicile. For those of you who may want to view both articles and form an opinion, you can visit the following websites:

http://www.pressrepublican.com/archivesearch/local_story_026220611.html
http://www.pressrepublican.com/archivesearch/local_story_028042432.html

Both articles only indicate where the convicted felons were from, the one man being from Puerto Rico and the other gentleman from the Peru area………...
*************************************************************

With that said and the air cleared, my thoughts on this subject have completely taken a 180 degree turn to where I once again agree with your point of concern. While surfing the web the other day, I came across several articles with the following headlines:

Black Guilty of Forcing Phone Down White Woman's Throat
Texas Police ID Black Suspect in Serial Homo Rapes of White Men
21 Years Later DNA Nails the Right Black Rapist
Jamaican Migrant Rape Suspect Arrested After Anonymous Tip
DNA That Freed One Negro Links Another To Cobb Rape
Arrest Ends Hunt For Suspected Black East End Rapist
Durham Negro Charged With Rape

I actually tried to find some “White on Black” crime where the culprit’s ethnicity or race was listed, but was unsuccessful in my search. As we are well aware, crime of this nature does exist, but we never hear about those occurrences.

Just a few months ago, an article by the same staff writer appeared in the Press Republican in which three sisters were accused and found guilty of a gang related assault on another female individual.

http://www.pressrepublican.com/archivesearch/local_story_301221526.html

Not once in this article were the sisters’ race or ethnicity identified. So why would the writer choose to state the ethnicity of the offender in one article and not the other? My speculation is that the writer did not intend to cause any harm by his poor selection of terminology, and it was probably just an innocent, misconstrued choice of vocabulary on his part. By bringing examples such as this to the public’s attention, however, we can only hope that society will become more responsive to viewpoints involving diversity and take a positive approach to committing themselves to being better individuals.

JW-

I understand the distinction you're trying to make regarding the use of Puerto Rican as a descriptor. To the general public there may be an implication or association made as a result of using those words. That's the reality of the world we live in. As you said...we've (as a society) been socialized to think in terms of minority=crime.

But is that right? Is it fair? Is it fair to the author to have to worry about how the cretins among us interpret things in the worst context possible? In this case, the man COULD BE WHITE! There are white Puerto Ricans, aren't there? ;)

The headlines that LMM found online, with the exception of the Jamaican reference, don't appear to be analagous. They are all clearly offensive, using racial descriptors rather than facts about the persons location. In fact, I'd like to see links to each of those headlines, as I find it hard to believe they are at all recent. I could see those headlines written 50 years ago...even 40 or 30 years ago...but to use the word Negro now? I don't think that would fly. If they are recent headlines in reputable publications, I'd be shocked.

What happens if a Puerto Rican commits a crime in Plattsburgh? Should the Press not report that he's from Puerto Rico because some might be offended by a possible implication? Should we not say that a criminal from Peru be identified as being from Peru? What would you say about a headline that reads, "Puerto Rican Man Becomes Heavyweight Champion of the World"? Is it only OK to add the descriptor "Puerto Rican" when being Puerto Rican is a matter of pride, and not when it is associated with anything bad?

I think what you're advocating is that people think about the context of the words they use. And I'm with you 100%. Words are important...they can hurt as badly as a closed fist. However...in fairness to the writer of this article, I likely would have carefully thought about my words, and STILL chose to use the descriptor Puerto Rican as it was used in print.

Can anyone win the race? Well as long as there is a race then no. The Race is the problem. The race to be the superior race and keep all other races below you is not one to brag about winning. There needs to be a stop to this “race” and people need to start seeing people as individuals rather than by class, age, sex, race, abilities or sexual preference(forgive me if I have left out anything). But the race still exists today. There is no denying that talks about race amongst our small groups of racially alike friends do occur. The words exchanged in those conversations are all too often less than flattering. It seems that shortly out of grade school we forget that golden rule that has been thrown at us for what seems like forever and we don’t treat others as we like to be treated. It just doesn’t happen, if we have nothing nice to say, we still say it. It is extremely unfortunate at this day and age that racial issues are often the topic of discussion in those small groups. The stuff that is said is something many of us would never admit to talking about with anybody else outside that group so why do we continue to feel the need to say it? Could it be that our ignorance gets a hold of us and controls us like a puppet? With each passing year I see ignorance as a more powerful and ugly force in our society. But who do we blame for our ignorance? Ourselves? Parents? Educators? Society? All of the above?

As far as the articles in the paper mentioning one man’s race while leaving the other out seems to be an outcome of the society. Race, in my opinion should not be mentioned nor should it matter, but I can say that from the outside looking in. Had I been a reporter I could have just as easily made the same mistakes (are they mistakes sometimes?). It is not just here in the northern end of New York that we see such descriptions of people. The media all over the US seems to be using the same template. Almost to remind the country to fear these people, look at the crimes they commit, this is why they will never be the dominant race. I see this and I am always curious, where does this all come from? Who is telling these reporters to only show black crimes? Being a Caucasian male when I describe people I do so with the default race in my descriptions being that of my own. If I am describing anybody outside my race I am often unsure and feel slightly uncomfortable about mentioning race or not. Is it really necessary when describing the personality of someone? Is it really necessary when talking about the actions that one did? I lean more towards the side of not mentioning race and mention purely the individual. This is not the case however, for many of my friends. As often as I talk to them about these issues they still slip up every now and again with such descriptions and conversations. They say “it is not that big of a deal” but they are all White middle class heterosexual males. They have never been oppressed in their life besides being picked on by the school bully (if they were not the bully themselves). I have never been oppressed either but I do recognize that it occurs and how harmful it is to the victim therefore I try very hard not to oppress anyone with my words or actions. Since they have not taken the same steps in life or engaged in the same conversations I have can I blame them for their actions? It is a question that I never can really answer myself. I do know one thing. If they educate themselves on other cultures and learn what they are all about then 9 out of 10 would not be so afraid of “them” and race relations would surely improve. Perhaps this is why Obama embraces his blackness, to show a glimpse to those out there that don’t know what black culture is all about. Does this mean that there are no longer racial tensions? No way, there is still a long way to go. However, with the election of Obama there is hope that maybe in my lifetime or at least in my children’s lifetime (if I have any) that one day race relations will have improved or at least are on the right track to do so.

I think the issue is quite clear we as individuals are created equal. Were equally treated regardless of our race ,mentality . People spend their whole life interpreting the differences of human mankind. You cannot change stigmas. Lessons learned have changed perception once thought to be the norm. Yes slavery was not right obviously .However I am not responsible for its occurance niether are any person of the new generation. I,m white and had a severe nervous breakdown in the military so I know a thing or two about stigmas and discrimination and being arrested for false pretenses, Paranoia. I also know a great deal about being abused . The reason I have a G.E.D. education. People can talk discuss this subject for ever but it won't change the infiltrated misconceptions implanted in ones being from the past . Nobody cares anyway so what is your point ? I know the point I,m trying to make is not everyone understands so who cares it can,t be solved. People are equal thats all I know for that we,ve come along way as a human race. If everyone could act that way we,d be perfect .

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