Friday, November 2, 2012

Race: A Poem

I hear people say we are a race-obsessed society.
I beg to differ.
We are a race-dysfunctional society.
We don’t know how to talk about race.
We don’t understand race.
We confuse race and ethnicity.
We talk past each other, not to each other.
We wait until a fool says something foolish 
     (“Nappy-headed hos”) 
and then we talk about race, mediated by media.
We ask the wrong questions 
     (“Why can’t I say the N word if they get to say the N word?”) 
and jump to the wrong conclusions 
     (“We have a black president so how can we be racist?”)
We have race fatigue.
We are tired of talking about race.
We don’t understand why people don’t get along.
We just wish people would relax and get over "it."
But we can’t wish race and ethnicity away.
Race and ethnicity are us.

Why are we afraid of honest history?
Do we have to hear about the Pilgrims and Indians again this year?
How about history reduced to glossy magazines?
So much amazing African-American history 
     (amazing American history
that is disrespected by a shabby supermarket display.

If race doesn't matter then why does it matter?
Is your school diverse?
Is your neighborhood diverse?
How dare we say race doesn't matter?
Why do we ignore the power of symbols?
How does the Cleveland Indians logo still exist?
Why is it cute for kids to dress "like Indians" on Halloween?
Why do high school kids want to perform a blackface skit?
How dare we say race is no big deal or it's just a joke?
If race is a joke, I'll never get the punchline.
And I'll never find inequality funny.

None of us are perfect when it comes to race.
No one can know everything and know exactly what to say.
Let's start by dropping the claim of being color-blind.
And keep our eyes out for stronger lenses to see arrogance and privilege.


The End.





Author’s note: I took a picture of this display at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY in February 2011.

Author's note #2: I highly recommend Peter Kaufman's recent blog post about racism, which includes his analysis of a blackface skit that took place at a high school.

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