Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jill Scott and the Diverse Faces of Racism

Today’s politically culture would have us believe that only white people can really be racist. But as easy as that theory may make the problem appear, it’s overwhelmingly and inexcusably ignorant.

Jill Scott – a three-time Grammy-winning artist, writer, actress, philanthropist, mother and invitee to Michelle Obama's poetry and prose appreciation night at the White House this coming Wednesday – should be far too educated to buy into such ridiculous notions. But schooling doesn’t affect a person’s character any more than race determines their worth. If anything, sometimes it just makes it worse, as it becomes easier to argue our way out of bad behavior.

Scott, a black woman, tries to do just that in an article on interracial dating:

“My new friend… is happily married to a White woman. I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn’t marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit… [her punctuation] wince.”

She goes on to ponder:  “Did the reality of his relationship somehow diminish his soul’s credibility? The answer is not simple.” Scott proceeds to excuse her reaction as not racist because she wasn’t raised to be that way and because “African people worldwide are known to be welcoming and open-minded. We share our culture sometimes to our own peril and most of us love the very notion of love.”

Yet Scott indicts herself repeatedly even in that brief defense, making gross generalizations about “African people worldwide,” an enormously diverse group just as prone as any other race to fits of atrocities and heroics, intelligence and stupidity. That’s evident from even the most rudimentary understanding of human behavior, much less world history and events. I could produce just as many references to debunk her idea that most Africans “love the very notion of love” as I could if she was saying such silly things about whites, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics or other ethnic groups.

Equally important to note is her theory that being with a white woman might “diminish” a black man’s “soul’s credibility”… and the fact that she never dismisses the idea. Even setting aside the egotism involved in asking that question, it’s palpably racist to think that loving a person with a different skin color could have such harmful effects.

Racism Is Racism Is Racism No Matter What Other People Say and Do or Have Said and Have Done

If any white U.S. citizen made such absurdly ill-mannered comments, they would be rightfully condemned as racist. So why should Jill Scott be held to any different standards in this regard?

She argues that she and other black women who “wince” at interracial relationships deserve a pass because of the disrespect and degradation of slavery. But if past wrongs can still condemn a group generations later, then can’t I – as a white woman – claim the same right to think less of an entire group of people because of things done to me much more recently?

For example, I left my apartment to go for a walk last evening and said a polite hello to my black neighbor’s son and his black friend, only to hear the latter say, That ass is the bomb” as I walked away. Forgetting the fact that I’m a decent decade older than the little twerp – and that the phrase “the bomb” was lame enough when I was his age, much less now – that was still disrespectful.

So was the time a black guy followed me for blocks, calling out sexually inappropriate things and actually making me fear for my safety. I even had a black man try to rufie me in a club once.

To those still desperately trying to excuse racism, let me strip off the shiny gloss: That would have been rape… just as horrible an act as what too many slave owners did to too many slave women. Inconvenient skin color doesn’t disguise that harsh reality.

With that said, I’ve also had white men make me wish I owned a snarling Doberman Pinscher. And there are plenty of white and black women who are equally adept at various forms of intimidatation as well.

In short: People are people, which means they can be dreadful no matter their ethnic background. It’s high time for us to realize that despite our obvious differences, we’re all human and all capable of the same emotions and actions.

That means that blacks can be racist too. And it means that, no matter her excuses, Jill Scott is just that.

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