Brown Man Thinking Hard has posted an excellent video to help non-Blacks step into the shoes of a Black person in this “post-racial” America and discover just how flimsy the term “post-racial” can be. I have long had my own fantasies of opening a summer camp for heterosexuals called “Gay Camp”, where they have the opportunity to experience first-hand what it’s like to live as a sexual minority in the United States. And so of course I love this video, which takes a similar approach to examining racism, white privilege and residual Black reticence.
Although I’ve been personally aware of and pissed off at racism since kindergarten (I can remember my moment of awakening to it, in fact), I still found that this video had an impact on me. In particular, the picture of the white stick figure placed in stark numerical minority to the black stick figures made the back of my brain squirm in unfamiliar discomfort. And I find this interesting. Here I am a person who not only has despised racism for a lifetime but also has a first-hand understanding of bigotry because I’m part of a sexual minority, and still I could be affected by the imagery. What does this mean?
I’m tempted to conclude that it means that experience with one form of oppression doesn’t automatically and totally translate into complete empathy for another form. Because the truth is that as a white person, I’ve visited places where I’m a racial minority, but I’ve never lived as a racial minority in a racist society still struggling with a slavery legacy.
Perhaps the notion of “eternal vigilance” I was invoking last week in regard to the LGBT legal landscape applies to me as an individual as much as it applies to our community(ies) working for change on a broader scale. I’m glad this video pinged me. I will never know what it’s like to grow up and live as a racial minority, but I can play the reality game and at least be reminded that my disapproval of racism doesn’t mean that I can get lazy and forget the nuances of what racial minorities face daily.
Ok, enough about me. What did you think of the video? How did you respond to it on a gut level? Anyone willing to meander a bit further with me along my stream of consciousness can continue below the fold.When the video mentioned the de facto slavery that continued after emancipation, it reminded me of a chilling memory I had a few years ago while reading Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name. The memory was of ancient jars of turpentine in my grandpa’s garage. This was the 60s and 70s. Grandpa never threw anything away that might be useful, and those jars, which he occasionally asked me to fetch for him when he was working on some handyman project, were easily old enough to have been produced by the “free” Georgia black men described in Blackmon’s book. It is sobering to contemplate how we can unknowingly be using the products of something so horrific as home-grown slavery.