Monday, April 9, 2007

One version of what Don Imus could have said….

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the remarks that came out of my mouth the other day about the Rutgers women's basketball team.

It was so easy to say, I’ve had to ask myself: where was my self-censor? You know, there are some things I know I would never say—I’d catch myself—sexual remarks about little girls or boys, for example, or making fun of people in wheelchairs. Either I was brought up to know that would be wrong or I learned it as I went along in life. So why didn’t I learn that about Black people? And why would I think of a group of strong, talented women as whores?

I’ve said that I was “a good person who made a bad mistake.” I think I have to go further, now, and say that I am a good person raised in a racist society and I have not paid attention to the ways that that has shaped my thinking and my language.

A friend asked me why I have been so emphatic in saying I’m not racist. She said, “Come on, Honey, there’s just about NO way a white person can grow up in this world and not have some racism in him.”

“But I’m a good person!” I said again.

“So?” she said. “You think that both can’t be true at the same time? You think that being a good person lets you off the hook?”

This is really hard, and a big blow to my self-image, but I think I want to stop making excuses, now. I think I want to dig a little deeper into why this stupid, ignorant—and yes, racist—comment came out of my mouth. Maybe I won’t like what I find, but I don’t think I can change it until I own it. That’s the least I can do as a person of power and privilege for those people who are still looking for the level playing field. I’m sorry.

Back to Michaelann: I drove home through Springfield’s South End today and felt very sad. Housing is run-down, businesses are struggling or absent, trash blows in the streets. I can imagine that many Italians with deep roots in the South End have looked around, remembered the past, and asked themselves, “What’s different?”-- and then decided, “It’s the Puerto Ricans!”— because Puerto Ricans are what they can see. Much harder for people to see is what isn’t there: the factories, stores and area farms that used to provide decent jobs for hard-working people, the tax base that’s been stolen by the higher-ups. Even harder are concepts like globalization and the military-industrial complex, let alone being able to understand how they affect their neighborhood.

Any corner tells the story If we knew how to see:

Where did the steel in the street sign come? Who made it? How much were the people who made it paid?

What about the concrete in the sidewalk? The glass in the newsstand window? The magazines on the store’s shelves? The clothes in their pages? The orange dye in the Fritos? The printing on the lottery ticket?

Who benefits and who pays?

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