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Excuse me if the title of this article makes me seem a bit perturbed and ornery. It’s just that I grow weary at times listening to the endless sensationalism the media feeds us and we in turn regurgitate their nonsense on demand. When we do this, when we react without thinking and feed into the baser aspects of our humanity, we devolve into a society of Pavlov’s dogs where our emotions are manipulated through grievance.
I write this in light of yet another outrage that is being peddled by our mainstream media. This time it’s the BBC and LA Times teaming up like WWE wrestlers to dip us into yet another lake of rage. The incident that is being fanned into a social media inferno was caused by the most innocuous moment. A professor named Robert E. Kelly was being interviewed by BBC when his kids broke loose in their dad’s office and started to cause a raucous. It was a moment that most parents could identify with; parenthetically what is it about parents being on the phone that draws children to their mom or dad like Trump is drawn to extra small gloves? In a moment of levity, Professor Kelly could be seen live on TV trying to shoo away his kids while still conducting the interview.
All the sudden the door flung open and a woman shot through the portal in ways that would have impressed Walter Payton. I have to give it to mothers and women in general; when the moment calls for it every woman can transform into a super hero to save the day–especially when it involves children. The whole transaction was a case study in the challenges of being a parent, the dangers of conducting work at home and overall a moment to get a snicker at the innocence of children and how even their most intrusive interruptions can induce a shake of a head combined with a smile.
Ah but the LA Times saw divisive opportunism where most normal people would have seen a family moment. They immediately published an article titled “That Asian mom is not the nanny. Why do so many people assume she is?’ and started pushing the racism angle. This is how our bankrupt mainstream media sparks an inferno then editorializes disbelief ex post facto. And this is precisely what the LA Times did, throughout the whole article they present the duplicitous “on one hand versus the other” analysis pretending to be neutral observers when all along they were the fire starters. This is the pernicious face of elitism as feckless “journalists” get to lecture us about morality while observing the ethics befitting of Nero. If you look at the article in question, you will see almost half the space is occupied by ads and sponsor placement. The notion of a “free press” is about as laughable as Kim Jong-un winning a Nobel Peace prize or Obama deserving the one he received in 2009.
But let me move on from the media; jackals do what they do and hyenas cackle all night and in the same way our mainstream media are soulless yellow press peddlers. Instead, let me focus on us, the people, and the conniption too many have to fall for the sensationalism and outrage the press feeds us. Moreover, I actually want to talk about something else that I know is a third rail, but heck here at Ghion Journal we live to grab third rails for it is precisely these “unmentionables” that keep us locked up in the prisons of ignorance and animus. So I hope you have your seat belts on because we are about to enter some turbulence.
Stop labeling everything that does not fit your narrow prism and that offends your sensibilities as racism. If someone says something that is divergent from you, that is not racism nor is it racism when someone insults you. Hurt feelings do not equate racism. Let me explain, you see racism exists within the context of power. So if I am at a local coffee shop and the barista calls me a “nigger”, that is not racism. What the fella just displayed is his own ignorance first and foremost but beyond that he just revealed himself to be a bigot at worse but, in the most benign, form he is just person among nearly eight billion on this earth who has stereotypes about people who are different than him.
So then what is racism? Well let me change up the context. Let’s say instead of the coffee shop I am now at work and when I walk by my boss’s office, I overhear him saying “I hate niggers and I hate working with them, I need to figure out how to get rid of this Teddy guy”. Now within this context, you best believe my boss is most certainly a racist. So what separates the action of the barista at the coffee shop apart from my boss at work? Well, the barista—though imbued with through and through ignorance—does not have an ability to materially impact my life. He has no power over me and the choice is mine whether I am going to debase myself to respond to the blabbering of a nitwit or to just laugh at him and walk out.
But in the second context, my boss has an ability to obstruct my life and prevent me from realizing my potential. When a person’s bigotry is combined with power, a stereotype then morphs into racism. This is what attorneys call “actionable”, as in my boss’s demeanor and status gives him the ability to act and his bigotry thus becomes actionable. Thus, what folks faced in the 1950’s and 60’s where they were hosed down by state troopers because of their complexion and their actions—that would be the essence of institutionalized racism. If a boss has stereotypes that he/she acts upon to prevent someone’s ability to advance or if a hotel manager refuses to let someone get a room because that person is of a certain ethnicity or complexion, that too is racism. Someone taunting you on Facebook or Twitter that you don’t know is not racism and the minute you accuse someone you don’t even know as a racist because he hurt your feelings, you end minimizing the true nefarious nature of racism.
Moreover, racism is not unidirectional; racism is multifaceted. If I am the boss and the person who reports to me is “white” and I harbor hatred against “crackers” and in the process prevent a Caucasian fellow from advancing or fire him without cause, in that context I am the racist. Why? Because I am the person who has the power in that situation and the person who is working under me, who happens to be “white”, is the one who is bearing the brunt of my racist behaviors. What I am saying is that no one has a monopoly on racism because racism only exists within the combined dynamics of bigotry and power.
For my brown skinned brothers and sister who might want to get annoyed at me for stating this truth, let me just say this. Why the hell do we have to always paint ourselves as the victims. Yes I know folks from the continent of “Africa” have felt the burden of racism in ways that is mind bending and racism happens to disproportional affect “black folk”. But I submit to you, the way to overcome racism is not to label any and everything as racism because when everything is racist then nothing is racist. Overusing something makes that thing lose meaning and power. Moreover, the way to fight hatred is not through closed fist or pointing finger but through extended and open hands. To those whom much has been burdened with much blessings are possible; if we turn the hatred that is shone at us and reflect love instead we could heal cold hearts and heal ourselves in the process.
Moreover, stop being so quick to ascribe racism towards others while glossing over the stereotypes we harbor towards others. If my skin was “white” and someone heard me and my boys back in the day share jokes about Asians, women, Latinos and gays, I would have been labeled the next David Duke. I’m just admitting something that we all do, who among us doesn’t see a driver from a particular ethnicity and roll our eyes with some stereotype laden thought? Who among us has not made a crude joke about one race or another? So either we give leeway towards the stereotype others have and stop labeling everything racist—unless it is accompanied by actions that can impede our lives—or we cast ourselves as racists too for the thoughts we often harbor. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
So no, the people who might have initially thought that the woman who rushed to grab the children while Professor Kelly was being interviewed are not racist for thinking she was the nanny when in fact she was their mother. They just fell victim to their own limited experiences with people from Asia or they watched one too many movies and TV shows where nannies were portrayed as minorities. I’m not about to ascribe racism to their initial thoughts any more than I will ascribe racism to my friends when they make obtuse jokes about Indians owning 7-11s or make fun of Ethiopians for being skinny. People will not learn any lessons when they are being put in defensive positions. We have to ask ourselves, is our aim to change hearts or to burn them. So extend to people that might have bigotry in their hearts and let kindness and intellect speak against the stereotypes of others instead of trying to score cheap points and fighting hatred with yet more hatred.
Or we could go on yelling racism every two seconds as if we have turrets and we will just keep turning ourselves into caricatures and punchlines. I promise you one thing, the LA Times is not worried about justice any more than President orange orangutan is worried about grammatically correct Tweets. Can we please stop acting like a bunch of kindergartners crying foul every time someone hurts us running to social media to throw temperatures? Be more like our parents and grandparents before them who faced hell so that we can face less of it. Stop letting demagogues and media hounds pit us one against the other and instead be forbearing towards one another. At the very least, understand the difference between a stereotype and racism. Racism exists when stereotypes are joined with malicious intentions married with the power to act on them.
If you are so fragile to get offended by an opinion, what makes you think you strong enough to fight against injustice?
if you want to know why I kept using quote marks around “white” and “black” watch this video and understand what true racism is about.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.