Posted by: joshjasper | June 20, 2013

Fear of the Black Man

I was 22 years old and enlisted in the Marine Corps when I first befriended a black man. I had no contact with minorities growing up in Farley, and very little while attending Kirkwood Community College after high school.  The only knowledge I had of the African-American community came from the media.  Back in the early 90’s, I remember reading articles about bricks being thrown through windows and crosses being burned in our community.  Rappers like Ice T were making millions of dollars from songs like “Cop Killer,” and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg were writing songs that, in retrospect, served as a warning for the uprising that was going to take place in South Los Angeles due to the failing race relations.

On April 29, 1992, four Los Angeles Police officers were acquitted of assaulting Rodney King.  Six days of looting, assault, arson, and murder followed, resulting in nearly one billion dollars worth of damage to the city.  As a white man living in Iowa, I had no idea why the black community was so enraged and why so much violence was occurring.  All I knew at the time was that I was afraid of black men and that I had prejudices that had never been challenged.

Years later, I lived in Los Angeles and became very close friends with Sean, an African-American man who was born and raised in Los Angeles.  I remember one day after work we were leaving Reseda and were heading to his house on the other side of the city.  At one point, a police officer got behind us and we thought we might be getting pulled over.  I didn’t think anything of it as I checked to make sure my seatbelt was on and began to joke with Sean that he was probably going to get a ticket for driving too slow  (he was notoriously a slow driver.)  What happened next left me speechless.  Sean turned to me and told me that if the police officer tried to pull him over, he was not going to stop until he got home and was parked in his driveway.  I knew he was serious and I could see the fear in his eyes.  I tried to reassure him that everything was going to be fine and that he wasn’t going to be pulled over, and that he certainly wasn’t going to be assaulted.  He simply told me that I didn’t understand.  He was right.  I had no idea and it’s taken me a long time to even get close to comprehending his reality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these experiences lately in light of the recent shootings that have taken place in our community.  I don’t know anything about what took place, but when I open up the newspaper and see picture after picture of young black men allegedly involved in these crimes, the same old feelings of fear and discrimination start to bubble up inside of me.  I then begin to wonder what impact this imagery is having on others, especially considering the fact that this might be the only exposure they have to the black community.  I think it’s fair to assume that inaccurate generalizations may be created or reinforced about the African-American community.  Over and over again, I hear comments being made or written about this violence with only one suggested remedy: “move all these people back to Chicago, Milwaukee, or wherever they came from.”These same individuals also tend to reflect back on a time in which our community was so much safer.  I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this era which people long to have again is also the same time in which fewer black men and women lived here.

Racism exists in every town and city throughout our great country.  If you don’t believe me, ask someone who is not white.  Ask them to tell you of a time in which they felt marginalized or discriminated against.  Clear your schedule and be prepared to really listen.  You are going to hear things that you don’t want to believe exist; things that may make you uncomfortable.  It’s critical that we have these conversations though.  We all have our own biases and for most of us, our white privilege has blinded us to a reality that is hard to accept.  We need to regularly challenge the stereotypes we may have about people, and be open to the fact that the fear we may have about others can cloud our judgement and limit our abilities to work together as a community on problems that have been here forever.

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Responses

  1. Living in Los Angeles and working at FCC opened my eyes to so many cultures, ideas, experiences that I had never had a chance to see while growing up in a predominantly white community. My life is so much richer and my mind and heart are so much more open to others now. However, now that I am back in Wisconsin, I struggle with knowing how to interact with people who have not been enriched by those experiences and who have lived very sheltered lives. I understand why they are the way they are but I can no longer accept their close-mindedness. And yet, these people are my family and friends. Daily, I look for ways to open their minds and hearts without them feeling that I am alienating, insulting or disrespecting them and their beliefs.

  2. Hi Teri,
    It’s good to hear from you! We did learn a lot at FCC, didn’t we? You definitely are not alienating them in any way. I think the best thing that you can do is to continue the conversation. I think back when I was younger, watching rap videos on MTV. Had people been really talking about the racial stereotypes that were being played out and how all of that is not real, it would have helped me understand a culture that I was not familiar with. Keep up the great work. I hope you and your family are well.

    Josh

  3. Josh
    I think you are right on. I could tell you stories of growing up hearing remarks and comments made in small town Galena that would embarrass me. How does this get changed?
    Kevin

  4. Thanks for sharing, Kevin. The most effective way we get this changed, is to start talking about it and challenging it. I too have heard thousands of racial slurs over the years, but unfortunately, have only challenged a few. We as a community need to do a better job of speaking out against this type of discrimination and hate. Keep up the great work on your end, and I’ll try and do the same.

  5. Josh,

    Why is it that racism only goes one way. It goes both, and racism is not only black and white, its black vs hispanic, hispanic vs asian, etc. There is a ton of racism in the US but it is not just white on black racism, it is also black on white racism. I guess the thing that strikes a nerve with me is the fact that you say my “white privilege” is blinding me. Not true. In todays society do you really think white privilege exists? Have you ever walked into an all black, hispanic or asian community and felt completely at ease? Being white today is like being a cancer, we can do no right in the minds of those who continue to try and spark controversy everyday. Where is the white privilege? I am sorry that I do not see it anymore. Now, you may want to call me racist, but I am not. I also do not have a blind eye to know that people are racist. But ALL people not just a certain race, but then where would the sensationalism be if we did not just blame one race?

    Next you talk about the people wanting to move black people back to “Chicago and Milwaukee” because of the increased crime. Did you research crime rates in that area? Is there a corralation? Maybe that is why these people in those communities are stating this. I am asking the question because I have not researched the crime statistics.

    I have been in both small and large communities. Could it be that people just do not adjust easily to things that are different from them. Lets look at the plight of the handicapped person. A person in a wheelchair is not overwhelmed with friendship when they go places, little kids stare, parents steer away from them. We are polite as a society but how many actually go out of there way to make that person feel comfortable. Now, would you not also call that racism or should we say the fear of getting to know someone different.

    All in all, a nice article, but I am getting tired of the one way street on racism. Does it exist? Yes. White people are not the only ones. People no matter what race fear or shy away from those who are different be it color of skin, ethnic background, religous belief and healthy(non handicapped). We are a melting pot of people, we are not perfect people but I believe that most, not all, strive to be. We are not a country like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, China..etc. were we are all one race, one political stand, one religion. Our differences are what makes us unique in the world. Our clash of cultures and beliefs. Our ability to speak freely, these differences makes us special. It does not make us perfect and right in all that we do. the majority try every day to do the right thing. We are getting better and we will continue to work to get better, but……we will never be perfect.

  6. I also was born and raised in iowa and have lived on chicago for 7 years. I am now a white minority living in Englewood. Theres problems everywhere. White people tend to kill their parents, brothers and sisters or walk into a place and randomly start shooting.

  7. I grew up in Galena also I was taught that everyone was equal. I believe that racism is ignorant…We are all Gods people and people need to get use to the different races. Color doesnt matter….Their is evil in everyone….

  8. Pay close attention:
    I’m sick of them walking the streets while I’m hard at work. I’m sick of them using my tax dollars to buy junk food. I’m sick of them with their souped-up cars and loud music driving around. I’m sick of seeing them try to intimidate me whenever I walk by. I’m sick of seeing them constantly spitting out children when they don’t have jobs or money to support them. I’m sick of seeing them litter the streets because they don’t care about my hometown. And I’m sick of them always looking for an easy way out: stealing, using the system, etc., while my tax dollars pay their way through life.
    The questions is, who am I talking about? White people? Black people? Hispanics? The truth is, I’m talking about all of them. I don’t like seeing anyone be a stain on the fabric of America. I don’t like when people take advantage of a system that’s in place to help them.
    I see just more lazy, dirtball white trash people as I do ‘black trash’ types.
    Everyone is mad about the gun violence taking place, and I am too. But what about the accountant or truck driver or farmer who is arrested for domestic violence? Where’s the outrage? Over 4,000 people die from domestic violence, but we don’t tell Fred the trucker or Earl the farmer to move out of Dubuque.
    I’m not sure what I’m trying to get at, but realize that bad people are bad people, white or black (or red or brown). Turning every argument into an ‘our race vs. their race’ is ignorant. It’s also been tried before, and it’s never succeeded. If the good people of Dubuque (of all colors, nationalities and religions) were to take a stand against violence we would make progress. If we only take a stand against a certain race, we’ll just go backwards.
    Hate breeds more hate.

  9. Thank you Josh and all the others who have commented on this subject! I too have been struggling with these same issues. Reading these posts has helped me in my search to find a way to cope with the negative comments I have been hearing from people who are close to me. The unfortunate thing about white privilege Mr. Rouse is that we who are white never even know it exists; that is irony and danger of the situation.
    I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of the term “white privilege,” let alone begun to grasp the gravity and insidiousness of the concept until I began my studies in Sociology a few years ago; and I am well into my 40’s.
    I have learned so much from my fellow students, professors and people from all walks of life who I am lucky to call my friends.
    I whole-hearted welcome and encourage the diversity that has grown in Dubuque. We all need to get off the soap box about how Dubuque has “changed,” there have always been fights, murders, rapes, drugs, and people receiving benefits here; no one group of people holds the monopoly on deviance, depravity or need.
    My wish is for people to at least try to be open minded, to accept the fact that even though you may not realize it or understand it, white privilege does exist and that those who are not white are often judged by standards and morals created by those are.
    Let’s keep talking, and better yet, as Josh said let’s start listening….

  10. I don’t understand why racism is brought up in the conversation. If you shoot a gun in public, you need to go to jail. If you fight in public, you need to go to jail no matter who you are, or the color of your skin. I do not want my black or white nieces and nephews to grow up in unsafe places. About LA, what happened to Rodney King was horrible. The beating he took was appalling and undeserved when he was pulled over braking the law. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Another beating not mentioned in this post was Reginald Denny, a white man being beat while working his job during the LA Riots. Reginald Denny being beat, a brick slammed on his head, and the assailants celebrating as they kicked his face also makes me sick as well. There was a true hero there that day, the black man who stood up to his beaters and saved Reginald life in my opinion. I don’t understand why you would write seeing the black men on the front of the TH would bubble up old feelings of fear and discrimination. People of any race, if you’re arrested for a crime you should be in the paper. Let them have their day in court.

  11. I feel compelled to respond to Kevin’s comments about white privilege and the concept of reverse discrimination. Yes, if you are white, you have privileges not afforded those that are not white. White folks can be assured they can drive without being pulled over because of the color of their skin. White people are usually not followed around in stores, suspected of being thieves. Just because a white person feels uncomfortable among a group of non-whites doesn’t make that discrimination. In order for discrimination to really occur, one must have power. Look around- who has the power? White people do.
    I’ve lived places where there is a lot of diversity. In San Francisco, I did see competition for scarce resources between all colors and ethnicity. The continued cycles of poverty are complex and more than people just being lazy. These stereotypes persist despite the statistics that show that almost 85% of people on government assistance are off within 2 years. If everyone would show more compassion and be a part of the solution instead of feeding the fear, I believe we would all benefit.
    This type of racism makes me incredibly sad for Dubuque. I had hoped we would have risen above this and work together as a community. I still have that hope.

  12. Josh,

    Your post is quite interesting, but I think it misses a bigger point. Certainly racism exists as much today as it ever has (although the overt expression of racism has given way to political correctness—people are now more likely to be bigoted behind closed doors and/or among like-thinking cliques than in public).

    Racism, however, is only a subset of a much larger issue—Class.

    Like you, I grew up in a small, predominately white community—in Upstate New York. Although the town I grew up in had once been a prominent stop along the Underground Railroad, by the 1950’s it had lapsed into the traditional racism associated with the working class. Niggers, Dagos, Polacks, Jews and Micks were all fair game for differentiation—something Kris Kristofferson figured out when he wrote “Jesus Was A Capricorn”:
    Some folks ate the Whites who hate the Blacks who hate the Klan
    Most of us hate anything that we don’t understand

    ‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
    Prove they can be better than at any time they please
    Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on…

    Our backgrounds are similar in a couple of ways. You and I both possess the tool kits that represent the shortcuts to success—we are both tall, white, bright and male. We have one other similarity—our background with Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children. I was a corpsman who served with the 3rd Battalion/Third MARDIV in Vietnam in 1966-67. It was there that I first encountered people from vastly different cultures than me—namely, Black and Hispanic. The interesting thing about the Marine Corps was that it was what I would call an Equal Opportunity Harasser in that color of skin or ethnic background gained no favor from the senior NCOs. Everybody was treated equally shabbily.

    Consequently, for the most part, true equality existed among the marines, especially in the DMZ—much more so than in any other branches of the military. It was pretty simple: we were all in the same shit, and when you are all covered with the same shit, you all look alike, smell alike and act with common purpose.

    It was after I got out of the service and began attending the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, that I began to be truly aware of the class differences in this country. At Baptist Hospital where I worked as a nursing assistant, my co-workers were largely Hispanic and African Americans who often worked two to three jobs to feed their families. From the start I realized that my tenure as a nurse’s aide was temporary while my co-workers were locked into those jobs permanently. Because of the GI Bill and my white skin, I would be moving up (I was already being given deferential treatment in my working hours); they had lives of wiping bottoms, cleaning up vomit and making beds to look forward to.
    At the University of Miami, I majored in history and learned a great deal about the things that we as Americans have done to our fellow human beings that fly in the face of our proudly proclaimed offers of equality and opportunity to all, things such as:
    • Original voting requirements and restrictions which required land ownership, white skin and a male gender. If those same rules were in effect today, only a little over 60 million people would qualify to vote.
    • Disruption and relocation of entire societies of native Americans under Andrew Jackson—the Trail of Tears, a heartless, shamefully racist movement of people that was done just because the powerful white folks wanted to
    • The sweatshop mentality of the early industrial moguls which culminated in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 in which 143 workers—locked in to their workplace so their productivity would be guaranteed—were unable to escape the flames and smoke and perished.
    • The thousands of African Americans and sympathetic whites who were shot, lynched, drowned or dragged behind trucks during the reign of Jim Crow and the fight we now call the Civil Rights movement.
    • The mass internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.
    • Continuing discrimination and sexual harassment of women and LGBT Americans.

    What do all these instances have in common?

    They all serve as a smokescreen for the real issue—Class.

    The United States of America is a country founded of, by and for the wealthy—make no mistake about that. Every month we see reports published which herald the widening disparity between the boss’ paycheck and the average worker’s. We constantly hear how much college tuition is rising; we are told that the next generation is expected to be the first in which its members are not expected to improve their lot in life as compared to their predecessors.

    The numbers are staggering, and staggeringly obvious. The rich ARE getting richer and everyone else is sliding downhill.

    How do the wealthy elite manage to pull this sham off?

    Hate, fear and complacency.

    I have noticed that during the past five years of economic uncertainty, the price of beer and flat screen televisions have remained steady (or, in the case if the TV’s, declined). Keep the masses fueled with beer, ball games, reality shows and (in the case of the Lottery) the thought of a single stroke attainment of fabulous wealth, and you can keep them under control.

    And, if the “little people” get uppity, you can always stir them up by bringing up issues around Gays, Blacks and Foreigners and they will never figure out that they themselves are being controlled by the very wealthy and are duped into supporting an extremely repressive agenda.

    Scary things—very scary things—are afoot that need to be addressed. In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michele Alexander points out that the penal system, which makes it virtually impossible for anyone convicted of a felony (including Marijuana convictions) to vote, has replaced traditional Jim Crow laws in repressing African Americans and other minorities (an article on the front page of the TH a few weeks ago pointed out that African Americans were ten times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in Dubuque).

    It was Rodney King who mouthed the most haunting (and possibly rhetorical) statement of our time when he asked, “why can’t we get along?”

    Truth is, we can—if we want to, but we have to be willing to take on the real offenders—those people whose greed would deprive other human beings of the right to live lives filled with peace, brotherhood and real opportunity.

    Racism, hatred and intolerance are symptoms; Greed is the disease.

  13. Rick:
    “The questions is, who am I talking about? White people? Black people? Hispanics? The truth is, I’m talking about all of them.”

    Ok, so you don’t like it when people behave badly. What’s your point? This is a blog post about racism and white privilege. You hate it when “they” do x, y, z. Yeah, I hate music blaring, being intimidated, and people having more kids than they can afford. Why bring this up in this context?
    Could it be these are stereotypical gripes about certain minority groups? I call bs on your claim that you aren’t referring to said minority groups, you’re talking about “all of them” including whites! Nice try.

  14. Thank you all for the comments. My intentions of writing this article was to start a conversation and each of you helped start just that.

    Fred-Your comment about class is right on. I taught a class at the University of Dubuque last year (Race Relations) and used Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow” as we required reading. Her book is eye opening to say the least!

    I completely agree with you about people being blinded from the reality that is in front of them regarding class differences.

    If anyone has the chance, check out Tim Wise’s work on race and class. (www.timwise.org)

    He makes some great points about class/race. Watch this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3Xe1kX7Wsc

    He talks about what took place in New Orleans during Katrina. Blows my mind about how poor white folks align with the elite white class, blaming black people for their problems. Seriously, watch the clip. Wait till you hear what the first law they implemented after the community started rebuilding…..


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