Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm a Racist, and You Are, Too

Please read this excellent article at The Root: But My Best Friend Is Black!

Amen, brother. There's a reason why I am not a professional writer--I can't put my thoughts as clearly as this man has and I never will be able to. He nails an important point that I've firmly believed for years: We are ALL Racist. You are. Yes, you. And you, too. And you, up there in Canada, and you, over there in Pennsylvania. You are, and what's more, there's no way you can NOT be Racist. It's built into the human condition, and there's nothing you can do about it.

As the author points out, a lot of people seem to think that "Racism" equates to "Member of the KKK", and so they shy away from this word, and of course, with good reason. Very few people in this world would actually join the KKK, or admit that they think black people have less value in this world than white people. Or, indeed, actually think that way at all. But that's not the ONLY way to be racist, and in fact, that's the most rare way.

Much more common: happening to notice there's three young black guys walking toward you on the street corner and using that moment to power-lock your car doors while you're sitting in a parking lot. (For the record: that's awful. You should be ashamed of yourself.) What's even worse: convincing yourself that the presence of the young men had nothing to do with it and that you just happened to remember to lock your doors at about that time. Now you're a racist AND you're lying to yourself. Or, also very common, having a playlist labeled "Black People Music". (I'm sure John Coltrane is tickled to find himself lumped in with Jay-Z.) An example from my own life: I'm often too friendly to young black women here at The Office. (All two of them.) I don't know these girls from Adam and there's no reason for me to give them bigger smiles in passing than anyone else. But I want to encourage their presence, and I worry that they feel ostracized due to their race, and noticing that is just as racist as locking a car door.

Sigh. The problem, like I said earlier, is that being racist is part of the human condition. Humans feel most comfortable with other humans who look exactly like them. I'm no anthropologist, but my own theory is that back when we were apes, recognizing a strange ape in a nest could be the difference between living and dying. "Stranger" usually meant "danger". (And indeed, the two words are almost identical in French.) And until a method arises in which we can see into a stranger's intentions, judging them as a potential threat relies on visual cues, and for some reason, the prevalent social method to avoid danger involves preconceived notions about the stranger's race. This sort of broad stereotyping may have been beneficial as apes, but as humans, it's just as inhibiting to our development as our old "prevent starvation" metabolisms that make it much easier to gain weight than to lose it. It's much, much too broad. A human of another color doesn't signify danger any more than a piece of cheesecake should be stored as fat in case we don't eat again for three days. The scary thing is, racial stereotyping will blind you to the other contextual cues you SHOULD be paying attention to, like: Possible Intoxication. State of clothing. Time of Day. Intentions of possible stranger. Are they on their phone? Are they listening to music? Do they have their keys in their hand because they're obviously walking to their car? They do? Then why are you locking your car door?

I can't, and you can't, get over being a racist all at once, and in fact we'll never chase away the tendency entirely. But shying away from the concept isn't the way to fix it. When a black person says, "That's racist, and here's why," it's our job to listen. Yeah, minorities disagree within themselves, much like how women disagree over what's sexist and what isn't. And yeah, some minority representatives are super-sensitive and thin-skinned and appear to be constantly offended, and that's annoying. But the beautiful thing about humans is, that person would be just as annoying if they were white.

Two more fascinating posts on race, both short reads, one involving Mad Men*.

Feminism's Problem With Race

Why "Mad Men" Is Afraid Of Race

*Which has the official Stuff White People Like stamp of approval.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Taking My Own Advice

I can't believe this was a whole year ago, but it was: Good Reasons for Going to Goodwill.

I had one of those days yesterday in which I ran around and did a bunch of errands, and not ALL of those errands worked out--more about my Motorcycle Saga later--but a surprising number did, especially given that most of those errands cropped up on a moment's notice. I completely failed in Bellevue, which blew. But I checked Google Traffic on my storm and noted that I-90 was moving fine, while 520 was completely stopped for five miles, so I went south on 405 to the I-90 bridge. This was way out of my way, but a worthwhile detour compared to sitting still in gridlock for an hour. And then since I happened to be down by I-90, at the last second I glanced back at my passenger, who was wagging his tail, and remembered a dog park located off Genessee and Ranier, so I quickly cut right and took Ranier Avenue South. I had trouble finding the park on my phone--note to self, Genessee only has one 'n'--but right as I remembered to look for the Tully's on the corner, I approached the turn I needed and swung into the right lane.

Cut to Titan leaping about happily at the dog park and me worshipping my phone, even though it can't auto-correct Genessee.

And THEN I remembered I had a Starbucks Treat Receipt in my wallet from the morning and I swung by a Starbucks, between Franklin High School and the new Mount Baker light rail station, checking out the light rail as I did so. I thought maybe I didn't need the extra calories of a smoothie NOR did I need to spend $2, even though it was such a savings, but then I went ahead, and I'm happy I did, as my nice slow pace reminded me that I was right by the Dearborn Street Goodwill and I had a bag of things to give away in my car.

And THEN while I was there, I remembered writing a post about how everyone should go to Goodwill occasionally, and I thought I'd drop in while I was there.

And then I learned it was 30% off all Linens.

Which was fortuitous since I have two twin mattress-box-sets sitting on my living room floor pretending to be a corner sofa right now, and they could pretend a lot easier if they were draped in something. I walked out with a pile of linens and throw pillows for thirty-three dollars. And the music at Goodwill is way better than the muzak at, say, Dania Home Furniture. I bopped along to Elvis as I stroked used, beautiful, peacock-blue taffeta and was surprised all over again at how much fun thrift store shopping can be.

The Hack Shares

Customer Service Story of the Day: After owning my Storm for less than a month, the touchscreen stopped working. I was scared to take it into Verizon for trouble-shooting. I was certain it wouldn't be covered under any kind of warranty, as I had bought it on eBay, but I thought if I was charming enough, they might give me a quick diagnostic test.

The downtown store at Westlake and Stewart was packed on a Saturday, and I sat for a long time, listening to some melodramatic man's very long phone conversation about his crazy social life, before I got a smiley young man who heard my complaint, looked at my phone, checked for water damage, and said, "Well, you're still under warranty. I'll just replace it."


"Sure!" I said brightly, giving him a big smile. "Thank you!"

He smiled back. "No problem! Isn't this a great phone? We all have them here." As he spoke, his manager pulled out his own Storm to make a quick call.

"I'm a big fan," I said, watching the minutes tick by as the smiley young man transferred all my data and microSD card. Any minute now, I kept thinking, he is going to actually look at my account, realize that I didn't buy this phone here, and bring this entire process to a halt. Never happened. I now have a brand new Storm for the price of a used one.

The best part is, the whole reason I upgraded in the first place is because my Voyager camera only worked occasionally. And of course, the day I went into Verizon to replace my Voyager, they were out of them, so they upgraded me to the enV3, so now I have a brand new enV3 sitting at home in the box.

Waiting to be sold on eBay, obviously.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'd Be Writing, But I Suck

Seriously, I keep starting posts and getting bored of myself. I'm a hack this month. Please move along.