Kleshas and Tanhas

ethics morals faiths ideals

The Subtlety of Racism’s Pressure

with 11 comments

It’s been too long since my last post.
Something along the lines of San Diego, Winter Break, and the restart of the second semester is to blame.

There’s pressure on what my first post should revolve around; I had several ideas floating around. If there was ever the question why I write, it’s because I write better than I speak.  And nothing triggers my need to speak more than something controversial. Hence, I feel college has been a good fit thus far.

One of my new classes this semester is titled Race and Racism. To say that this class instills heated debates would be to jump the gun; not everyone feels a sense of urgency, or existence for that matter, of the pressing issue at hand: racism. Or at least that’s my perception. Maybe it has something to do with a unilateral student population from the East Coast, the Tri-state region especially. A like-minded people will never argue over anything more than minuscule details.

If anything, I feel that some of my earlier reflections portray my adaption – my integration – into a new lifestyle. This urbanized university living was no surprise to me. In fact, I ran to this idealized environment; history has always depicted specific regions as suitable for universities. The Northeast speaks for itself, boasting those Ivy League institutions of American antiquity. (This isn’t to ignore other universities from that same era, but let’s face it: they’ve been there for awhile and they seem to be doing something right if they’ve retained their prestige.) On a personal note, I felt like the Southern boy headed to the Big City for an education; whatever era that derives from best…

Here I am; writing the contrasts between home and, well, home. (That transition of the baby bird leaving the nest is still playing out to its fullest.) Community service in North Philadelphia makes me want to say things. And when the Tri-state student population is familiar to these findings I see so profound and foreign, the first thing off my tongue might not sound as polished and intriguing as my writing (hopefully) strives to accomplish.

So, what sparked my mind to the point where I had to write? Ah, Race and Racism.

I have never really cared too much about other people’s perceptions of me. For the first time, that has changed. Slightly. Speaking out against the majority in the classroom setting is enjoyable from time to time. You become the catalyst of the conversation; the limelight tastes so sweet. Sometimes your words formulate the opinions of others. (I’m not too sure about that, but anyone who’s been in class knows to steer away from the individual who is adamant about the topic at hand unless you have an equally valid point and wish to defend it wholeheartedly.)

Well, just my luck. The seemingly homogeneous majority of my class (if not everyone – oh, the persecution) must think I am a racist. Arguing about the basis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s justification civil disobedience is a dangerous choice of action. If you don’t know what that concept is, realize that arguing against a venerated (black) man two days after his distinguished holiday is a sure shot for being put on the short list.

I could re-open the discussion, but my initial point I want to make about the debate is that regardless of what I said, I was somewhat shocked that people would take such a fundamental pillar of civil disobedience for granted. Yes, the idea came from the Great and Might MLK Jr. who made incredible strides for the civil rights movement. But hold up. King was arguing for breaking the law. This caught my attention. Whether any of the points I was trying to make about how history does not justify legal wrongs from the past were right or wrong, it was bothersome to see that people would take words from a prolific man at face value.

West Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia

This acceptance of history as the self-declared right is harmful, especially towards today’s racism. How? How is it that accepting MLK’s words at face value harmful? Well, for starters, no one was taking into account the historical context. Breaking the law is wrong. And I agree that King’s argument for when and how to break the law was right in the  1960s and was much needed. But when it was taken out of context and applied to other, non-historically-related contexts by some of my classmates, people began to realize that the justification for civil disobedience was not capable of being universally followed.

That being said, my argument is that this assumption that my classmates were initially making (or at least that’s what it seemed to me as I was standing alone apparently against MLK Jr.) cripples certain people’s views about today’s racism.

Is it nonexistent? No! Of course not! We’re not colorblind! Then how are we to ignore the 1 in every 15 black male who finds himself incarcerated? Why do we turn away from the idea that it’s difficult (for me) to find a middle-class African-American individual back home in the South while here, in Philadelphia, that’s been the way for awhile.

What I am trying to get at is that people like to say that they are 1) not racist, 2) not color blind, and 3) think they understand racism’s harms. (Writing this doesn’t say that I do-hence I am taking the class!) But I fear that if we talk about petty issues of affirmative action and employment issues and ignore the fact that certain socio-economic classes exist in certain areas, and not elsewhere, then we have yet to realize the harm we do to ourselves. We’re not talking about the same racism. The racism I see now, as of coming to Philadelphia, is that there is a gap between the prominent blacks and everyone else of color.  Those that are prominent lead the rally call to prove to those who think they care that blacks succeed in higher realms of employment consequently drowning out the unheard voices of the other socio-economic classes that are more likely to be subjected to discrimination. Especially in the realm of employment opportunities for those who work blue-collared jobs (and below,) no one wants to hear that there are still injustices that result from racial biases. (Facts, like the one above, do suggest that there is an issue at hand. Suggesting that there isn’t a problem is to be colorblind.)

In conclusion, even if my claims about life in Virginia seem exaggerated for effect (which could go unchecked since people seem to take things at face value,) my intent is that if one were to say that there is no racial tension, this will lead him to be passive and noneffective in his discussions or actions taken against racism. Another way of putting it is in closing your eyes, whatever you are shielding your eyes against still exists whether you accept it or not. So in nodding to MLK Jr.’s writings as the final solution that has still be enacted out by everyone is harmful. My classmates already proved that the circumstances of the 60s cannot be applied in every instance.

Thanks to my English course, I learned about an ancient philosopher named Boethius. “One of Boethius’s key ideas was that there is a great God who designs a far better plan for human beings than they could possibly design for themselves…according to Boethius, we should then not resist or fight against the troubles that come our way, but cheerfully accept the, trusting that in the end things will work out for the best.

So whether atrocities are committed against blacks (and other races, especially Hispanics) or not, are we to ignore the 1 in 15 and accept Boethius’s idea? It seems like quite a few of us do as we chide over Obama’s State of the Union Address…


11 Responses

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  1. I the struggle has been to figure out what steps needed to be taken following MLK’s message. I think historically, that next step has been wrong. I think the need for people to feel like they get along with people who look different from themselves is the driving force behind complacency. We want to feel good and consider everyone like us, differences are uncomfortable. Saying that one has a black friend should not imply that your friendship is based on similarities~to ignore the differences is a dishonor to your experiences and your friend’s.


    January 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    • I agree that complacency is a major factor. And that was sort of the underhand jab I was making when I grouped all Tri-state natives into the category of “unilateral student population.” (Hyperbole-obviously not everyone from that region is of the same mindset.) But still, I’d agree that differences still make people feel uncomfortable, maybe even more so now with that 1 in 15 statistic (as well as all the factors and consequences that are involved.) People of other races can’t help but sense this difference and I would restate my point in the essay by saying people of other races like complacency. The Boethius quote I used towards the end indirectly relates to this tendency to take the back seat (in order to feel good.)

      Thanks for the comment!

      Jack Viere

      January 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm

  2. OK, 1 in 15 Blacks ends up in prison. How is that racism? Are you trying to claim that they were wrongfully convicted and had not committed the crimes they tried for?

    There’s always that assumption when people talk about the Black incarceration rate and I can find little to support it. From what I can find, Blacks commit more crimes per capita than any other racial group and, perforce, get arrested and imprisoned more often.

    And before you scream, “racist!” The only racial causal component that I think is involved in those statistics is that a much higher percentage of poor Blacks live in densely populated urban areas and, if you trace crime statistics on a per capita and economic basis, the corner of Poverty and Dense Population is the intersection with the highest crime rates.


    January 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    • The 1 in 15 point was to suggest that there is this concept of Blacks are more likely to face discrimination. I admit that I threw that statistic out there with little analysis or context, but if I am reading your comment correctly, I think you summarize my indirect point. The assumption you mention is not racist. Yet, there is this factor of race that plays into the statistics that show, like you have suggested, a lineage starting from the birth of a black individual that ends in jail.
      I hope that my point wouldn’t scream racist either. Facts are facts. So people should look to that instead of justifying their “blind-eye syndrome” by pointing to prominent individuals of race. This isn’t to discredit those individuals, and maybe this is where I was hoping the 1 in 15 would fit in, but what’s the ratio for every one prominent figure to those that are imprisoned? Instead of focusing too much on the person’s of prominence, at least speaking of the imprisoned would do them some little justice. Ignoring the facts is what I was suggesting as racism’s subtle pressure; if we don’t acknowledge the urgency of certain data, we are just playing the ignorance card. That’s not the traditional sense of racist, but racist none the less if you let the “black race” find themselves in jail.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Jack Viere

      January 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      • Let the “black race” find themselves in jail? That, sir, is the bright side of the coin of racism’s subtle pressure. As soon as we put ourselves in the position of allowing a group to succeed or fail instead of accepting that some of them will do each, we’re putting ourselves in the superior role.

        People in poor urban areas commit more crimes per capita than anyone else and they’re the victim of more crimes per capita than anyone. It’s not race; it’s circumstance of tribal feedback. Applying race to it at all, beyond noting that Blacks find themselves in that situation more often to-date, is largely meaningless and actually hampers discussion – though not in the course you’re taking for obvious reasons.


        January 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      • “People in poor urban areas commit more crimes…”
        I knew this was where you intended for the conversation to go.
        And at all costs, I was hoping to avoid this. The only reason why I set black people aside was that my Race and Racism course is only speaking of blacks. (I hope that that changes…if not, I’d be in the same boat with you.) But as far as the initial article went, I was just dealing with the idea of racial tensions existing between a white race and a black race.
        I wouldn’t know how to argue against your point that poor people of any race are subjected to the likelihood of crime. Facts, just like facts depicting the 1 in 15, suggest that it isn’t race the issue; socio-economic complexities are. This is a completely different topic than what I started with because I only intended to address the ways in which people find themselves dealing with racism (especially in the classroom setting; I got to experience that firsthand, thus, legitimizing my personal views to be an opinion.) Nevertheless, I agree that the race card can’t be waved in every instance there’s a problem. So maybe my issue was to use a random statistic that has led us to get onto this path of discussion.

        As to your first point, “the bright side of the coin:” if we are to meet the individual where they stand, that is, to empathize with them in their condition, regardless of race, we are able to help them instead of belittle or look sympathetically upon them. If your idea of letting people succeed or fail was maximized universally, where do you think that would leave this world? Or, where are we right now (since your idea of letting people sink or swim somewhat portrays today’s world.) The false illusion that derives from sympathy instead of empathy leads to the false sense of a superior role. I would even say that this misconception is just as harmful as the blind eye people turn to discussions revolving around racism.

        Jack Viere

        January 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      • OK.

        Keeping to the context of racism’s subtle pressure and this thread – “Let” is word of power transference, not empathy or collaboration. If we let the Blacks find themselves in jail implies that we have the power to unilaterally prevent it. Insofar as a power dynamic is concerned, letting signifies that we can forbid as well, and it inherently removes all responsibility from the lower-powered people to do other than please the greater-powered group.

        Racism’s subtle pressure indeed! The pressure to place oneself above another race or culture in order to prevent them from failing. White Man’s Burden anyone?


        January 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  3. Even if the statistic that 1 in 15 blacks are incarcerated seems arbitrary because of the fact that a large percentage lives in poor urban areas, I think that one of the points Jack is trying to make here is that as a result of subtle racism, blacks even today have less economic opportunities: less likely to be hired, and more likely to be fired. Yet, of course, I have no statistic to back this up — just a thought.


    January 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    • How much of that lessening of economic opportunities is based up culture instead of race though?

      I work with and have worked with many Blacks, but they don’t dress, groom, or speak “Black.” If they had, I assume that they wouldn’t have been hired because they wouldn’t have come across as being a good fit for the companies I’ve worked for and with.

      By way of disclosure though, I’m high-end IT and work mostly with governments and Global 1000 firms. It’s a merit-driven, rarefied atmosphere with few, if any allowances made for cultural sensitivities – of anyone.


      January 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      • I already stated that the thesis of this post was to analyze people’s internalization of racism, not racism itself.
        So you’re continuing down a path of solely racism, which is fine. But I think you’re having a one-side discussion now; I wasn’t intending for this to be a discussion board about our personal views of race. If anything, it was to question the perceptions of other’s (and ourselves) about how they deal with racism. Thanks for your initial comments.

        Jack Viere

        January 27, 2012 at 7:14 pm

  4. I find this very interesting! First of all, I liked the way you used the word “colorblind” in a different way was creative. And the shielding our analogy, which is very pertinent with society today. The Boethius quote really tied it all together because it really explains the almost hopelessness most Americans feel when it comes to changing social problems. Also, I was wondering if you could share more of your opinion of MLK jr. which I was a bit confused on.

    Kelly Sagastume

    January 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm

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