Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Difficult conversations...

"Why won't you go out with me? Because I'm black?"

"No, it's because you hit [your last girlfriend] and I don't date guys who hit girls,"

"Bullshit, it's because you don't date black guys."

That is a conversation from high school. I took out the name of the girl he had dated before because even after all this time I feel like it's not my place to name her. But that conversation sort of sums up a few issues I want to ramble about today.

The boy was a really good looking guy I had been friends with for a few years. He was also not a really good guy. He was a small time criminal on his way to big time. But his crime was selling pot so at the time it really didn't seem like a huge deal. Yes, I realize that seems odd to say coming from a respected grown up type person (shush, I AM!) but I was friends with a few people who sold a little dope in high school. He did a little more than that, he found other people to sell dope so sort of middle management pot dealer.

But good looking. Funny. Charming as all get out. We had flirted for ages. And as it became more apparent that he was going to ask me out soon a mutual friend of ours told me why he and his last girlfriend had broken up. He broke her jaw. So...that pretty well took care of any attraction. I didn't date guys who hit. But he couldn't wrap his brain around that part, so obviously it was because he was black.

This was 30 years ago. And things really haven't shifted all that much. People knew he had hit his girlfriend (the broken jaw was the last hit not the first one) and yet no charges were ever pressed. It was a private matter between them. Right? That's that way it was viewed. And we all shake our heads and say, "Well I would never..."

You don't know what you would never until you are faced with it. What if I hadn't been told what had happened and we had started dating? It would have been awhile before he ever laid a hand on me, that's the way it works. The first part is all good. And the first time he did would I have walked away or would I have said, "well, you were pushing it" because I wasn't a super lovely nice sweetheart when I was a teenager. I could very well have said or done or even struck first if pushed. But he was much bigger than I was. Much stronger. So any reaction from him would have been much more devastating to me.

And I did know that I wouldn't necessarily say anything. Remember I never told anyone when I was abused as a young child. I just knew that nobody would do anything about it so why say anything. And I also had a sister in an abusive relationship. And I knew she stayed. I didn't understand why she stayed, but I knew she did. And again...we didn't call the cops, we didn't force her to leave, the only thing I ever did was threaten him when he hit her in front of me. Domestic abuse isn't as simple as people want to make it out to be. You generally love your abuser as much as you fear them. It's not easy.

So as people are commenting more and more about the Ray Rice video and how could she stay and it must be for the money. I have to shake my head. I know poor people stay as much as rich ones. I know the physical abuse comes in stages. I don't know what the rest of their relationship is like so I can't say why she stayed. But she did. And she might leave later or she might never leave. He might hit her again or he might not. I don't know any of that. But I do know that he hit her, we all saw it. I do know that for some reason it wasn't enough to see him drag her unconscious body out of the elevator for people to understand that he knocked her out, they actually had to see the hit. I know that the best tweet I saw about the NFL reaction to it was that he wasn't suspended indefinitely because the NFL saw the video it was because WE did. Because once you see violence like that from someone bigger and stronger to someone weaker and the effect? Well you want to react. And we all want the abused to leave the abuser (Rihanna, Jaynay Rice, the nice quiet lady at the grocery store wearing long sleeves when it's pushing 90 and looking nervously at her husband as the line takes a little too long to move), and we don't understand why they don't. I get it. But it's rarely as simple as we think to leave.

The second part I want to touch on was his reaction that I wouldn't date him because he was black. Which was a crazy thing for him to say. I had dated the rainbow and he knew that. My best friend was black. And he knew that. I had been flirting with him for ages and was obviously attracted to him. And he knew that. But he could shut me down by saying it was because I didn't date black guys, because we had no real way to talk about race issues without shutting people down.

And we still don't. What we have instead is people wanting to make sure you understand that they aren't racist so racism obviously doesn't exist. Or that they have never been affected by racism so it's not a problem. Or that racial attitudes aren't still prevalent. Or that the scars of past racism don't still affect our world. Which is all crazy.

But since we are constantly limiting ourselves in how we can or will talk about it it's awfully hard to move forward.

The owner of the Atlanta Hawks released an email he wrote two years ago and is now selling his team. Because the email was racist. Because the NBA has set a precedent now because of Sterling. But the two incidents are so far removed. (Not going to get in to the whole what you say in your home being released to the public side, that's a different argument) Sterling had shown his attitudes over and over. He was a slum lord who called Hispanic people vermin. He had said and done things in the past that showed his attitudes. The Hawks owner? Well he wrote an email highlighting what he thought were marketing issues. A lot boiled down to because they had such a large African American fan base whites felt that it wasn't a safe place for them to come. Is that a racist statement? Absolutely. But is it his racism or a true statement of race relations in the states?

And that is the bigger question for me. And the one we need to address.

But how do you even begin to talk about it, to talk about how black people and white people might possibly hold unflattering views of each other strictly based on skin color when you can't talk about it without worry you will be branded racists? And not just blacks and whites but all races? How do you address a problem when no one feels like they can talk about the problem?

Last year when the 49ers and the Seahawks played Richard Sherman did the trash talk heard round the world after the game. And then did a masterful job of branding anyone who thought it was classless a racist. Now he didn't have to work too hard because plenty of people posted extremely racist things about it. Which is also the problem. I thought he was a jerk. I posted something about keeping it classy at the time. And then whenever I would talk about it with someone they would jump on me that he couldn't be a thug because he went to Stanford. Two things, going to Stanford means you had classes not that you have class. And two I didn't say he was a thug. I said he showed a lack of class. The last NFL player I had called a thug was Clay Matthews. But because there were racists out there saying horrid things you (I) couldn't say that you thought it was a bad move without being branded racist.

You won't date me because you don't date black guys.

Look at any posting about Obama. You get the people who say "Can't say anything bad about him or I will be branded a racist" not understanding that two posts above them someone called him a monkey. AND if you bring up Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson when you are discussing things that don't involve them you do come across as a racist. Also, if you say you have a problem with his policies you aren't a racist but if you say he's a little uppity in how he talks to congress...well...So's frustrating. I get it. The people who are shit for brains close avenues down for actual discussion.

Which is a problem.

Because we do have problems. Serious ones. Generational ones. Entrenched ones. And we need to find some way of talking about them. Because if we can't even talk about them, we can never fix them.

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