The internet’s been abuzz these last couple of days with the story of Karen Klein, a 68 year old bus monitor whose experience with taunting was videotaped and posted to facebook by one of her taunters — a middle schooler.
You can watch the video and read up on it here.
When I first took note of this incident and took to twitter with my thoughts, someone asked me “why didn’t they put a more intimidating monitor on the bus?” I surmised that at middle school age, kids still, generally, revere adults. So simply placing an adult on a bus typically solves any behavior problems because kids fear being reprimanded. However it appears that in this case the kids had come to learn that she wasn’t to be feared and so they attacked her.
But that still leaves the question of why. Surely not just because they could, right?
In a separate article, one of the taunters’ fathers is quoted as saying he was surprised to find out his son had treated another human this way and I got to thinking…
Kids in middle school, depending upon the grades that exist, can run in age anywhere from 10 – 14 years old. That means the youngest kids in the building were born in 2002 and the oldest kids were born in 1998. They have quite an interesting frame of reference for popularity.
Go with me on this…
Fame is just the grown up version of popularity and increasingly talent is less and less a factor in this grown up version of popularity. All you need is a memorable act, on youtube or twitter or maybe even a reality show to garner fame. These days fame is truly fleeting and it seems fewer and fewer people look to have it for the long run — just long enough to get money.
And if we trace this idea of fame that results from just one “by chance” act back to its more recent origins, I point to the year 2000. Maybe its because we survived Y2K or because we were in a new millennium or because boy bands had made a strong comeback, but something about that year made us look at things a lot differently. Take for example the series Survivor which crowned its first winner in the year 2000, Richard Hatch.
Now, Richard went on to achieve this new form of fame in part because of his underhanded way of winning, but also because of some other suspect things he involved himself in. However, the point remains that he came to our attention because of a reality show, not so much because he had any great talent.
Survivor was not the first reality show. I remember folks pointing out that MTV had been giving us The Real World since 1992 but none of those cast members had become break out stars and so while it would reason that perhaps something about Survivor (maybe its wider reach audience wise) or maybe something about Richard Hatch would explain his fame, I posit that no — we had just had some sort of shift in our social sensibilities and a new way to become famous made its debut.
Kids in middle school in 2012 grew up after the switch. This concept of being on tv but not being famous is foreign to them. Everyone who makes it on tv or gets over 500k hits on youtube or has more than 50k followers on twitter is famous. Translate that to their world and anyone who can put up something on facebook that gets 50 likes is popular…
And this brings us back to these kids on this bus who taunted a poor lady to tears. How could they? The video first came to people’s attention because it was posted on facebook. One of these boys thought so little of her and so much of what he had done that he posted this mess on a public social network and I bet he did it to achieve enough likes to be popular…
You see, peer pressure has always been a very real thing and we’ve all, no matter our age, experienced it and many of us probably gave in once or twice. These days the pressure to stand out and be seen and be recognized follows kids everywhere. It’s not enough to be recognized in the classroom, they need to be recognized on the field, at home and on the internet. They need the likes and the comments and the tags. And if in the grown up world it only takes a flash in the pan — a funny video or a funny tweet or whatever it is — then it shouldn’t take much more in their world.
And it doesn’t just follow kids. I remember the first video a now very popular vlogger did that got over 500k (maybe even over 1M) hits. I won’t link or tag or mention his name, but I’ll say this: he had done several videos prior, mostly just about his thoughts on things in his life and this particular video that went viral was in that same vein but with a lot more emotion and intensity. It was truly funny and truly entertaining. The video he posted right after, however, was this mixture of explanation and apology. He told his viewers that the video they’d seen wasn’t really his style. He talked about how he had just had a bad day and vented and while he meant what he said, expecting all of his videos to be that way would be a bad idea.
It didn’t take him long to realize that if the people wanted intense and emotional he had better figure out how to do it and he now regularly gets plenty of views, is a YouTube partner and like I said, is a very popular vlogger. He snapped for one video and remodeled everything about his presence on YouTube. Can we really not expect kids to modify their behavior for just one video to achieve their own version of fame?
Sure, some of these boys are probably just bad kids. They probably lack home training and are probably always taunting somebody but I bet you that one or two of them just wanted to be seen. They didn’t think about the monitor’s feelings because their eyes were on the prize. Fame… or popularity, as it were.
I love crime shows, especially crime docs like Forensic Files and Cold Case Files. Lately I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called Crime 360. In this reality show, cameras follow the investigation of homicides that are solved in part by using technology that allows crime techs to “freeze” a crime scene just as it is at the time of discovery for use later if detectives need to see the scene for some purpose after clean-up at the actual site has occurred.
Over the course of 2 seasons, the show was filmed in Richmond, VA; Indianapolis, IN; Rochester, NY and Cleveland, OH. I’ve been watching for several days now, about an episode a day, and I quickly realized that approximately 90-95% of the victims were of color (mostly black) and with the exception of the episode I’m about to discuss, 100% of the perps were of color (mostly black). All of the victims have been male and young and “in that life” as well as the perps. To a certain degree I believe I’ve continued to watch this show just to see how many black men are killing other black men and how much of that a television show would air.
You have to wonder how many homicide investigations they filmed and how they chose to air the ones they chose to air. Two episodes I watched back-to-back were almost completely opposite in every way, except for the city they were filmed in; both were in Indianapolis.
In the first episode we come up on a homicide of a young black male. It appears that a shootout between two groups of people occurred and the victim was shot during that time. He managed to run to a back alley where he collapsed and died. The investigation went just as several others had gone: the lead investigator rounded up any possible witnesses and questioned them, came up with a list of suspects, and continued to use physical and forensic evidence to help him guide where he looked for more information until finally he was able to determine who shot the victim.
In the second episode, we come upon a double homicide of 2 older white males. Both are retired professionals and we learn (needlessly, I think) that they are gay (homophobia actually runs a bit rampant in this show, but that’s a topic for another post). Just like the prior episode and most of the others, the lead detective gathers witnesses and uses evidence to figure out where to go next in his search.
Both episodes end with the arrests of the suspect(s) but one takes a bit longer than the other to solve and I believe it has to do with race.
In the first episode a bystander is quickly brought downtown under serious suspicion of involvement. It is believed that because he was standing close to the victim’s body when investigators and police arrived on the scene that he may have had something to do with the shooting. The “person of interest,” a black male, gives a very plausible story that he and his friend (the victim) had been at a park earlier in the day. He says that he and his friend and some of his friend’s friends left the area about the same time, but in different directions. He says suddenly he hears shots and he takes of running. He returns when the fire ceases and finds his friend in the middle of a group of people, dead on the ground. The investigator is very suspicious of this story and reluctant to let the witness go, though he ultimately has to because he has no reason to hold him.
In the second episode, two men enter the victims’ home because one of them, a supposed close friend of the roommates, realizes he has not seen them in several weeks. This individual serves as an early witness who is also brought down to the station to give information to police. He, a white male, is not seen as a person of interest. He explains that he realized he hadn’t seen his friends in a few weeks and asked another neighbor to accompany him into the house. They found a back window that was half open and used it to enter the home where the witness discovered the bodies. He also adds that interestingly, a few days prior to this discovery, he got an anonymous message on his phone (it is never clarified whether this was voice or text) to retrieve one of the victims’ vans from a store parking lot. He explains further that the men never lent their vehicles to other people and so investigators assume that whoever took the van killed the men. They thank the witness and he is allowed to go.
I’m not a terribly suspicious person. In fact, I’m much more liable to believe someone than to not believe them if we don’t have any history or I don’t have any real tangible reason not to. I typically would just rather believe you than go through the trouble of suspecting you, but that second witness? Oh he sounded to me like he was lying from the word go. Everything just seemed so… planned. This half-open window, and especially this van! My mind was boggled as to why the investigators didn’t seem the least bit suspicious that this man got some random message on his phone to go retrieve a van that was a crucial piece of evidence! I mean who in their right mind wants to get away with a crime and directs someone to something that could convict them? I also wondered why no one asked the witness to produce the message so they could follow up.
Turns out that in the first case, the witness was telling the truth and had nothing at all to do with the shooting. However in the second case the witness who’s less-than-probably story we believed turned out not only to be involved, but to be the perpetrator. After a tip from another neighbor, the investigators determine he had a fairly intense rap sheet himself, including aggravated robbery. Because it took so long to unearth evidence that he had not been completely forthright and also had his own criminal past, he had time to leave the city and make it cross-country before they found him. I couldn’t help but ponder how differently that might have gone had he been a black man.
I’ve seen enough of these to tell you that police are generally suspicious people and with good reason. Several times I thought a witness was being truthful only to find that with just a few more pointed questions, their stories unraveled. But almost all of those witnesses have been black and they’ve had information on black suspects involved in black murders. I think it makes sense to wonder why a witness with questionable information wasn’t made a person of interest much sooner than in this case.
I’m not at all accusing the investigator of this “white” crime of racism. I surely don’t have enough evidence, having never seen him work a “black” case. He might just be a little inept in the investigating department, but I do think race is at least one piece of why one witness was questioned more harshly and much longer than another who turned out to be a suspect.
What do you think? Am I off base? The interesting thing here is perception. As a person who is forced to pay attention to and think about how race works in our society, every day these things stand out to me a little more. I think one could cloak this in class instead of race as many are apt to do, I think others could out and out deny that race plays any part. Perhaps, some might say, the black witness was treated more harshly because of his own history. All of these theories, including mine, have an equal chance of being true but I stand behind what I’ve said. The black witness was treated much more skeptically than the white one and it had everything to do with the race of the two.
I was alerted to a disturbing news story today.
A young mother in Atlanta was recently convicted of vehicular homicide in the death of one of her young children. The twist here is that she was not in, let alone driving, the vehicle that was used in this homicide.
(Read the AJC report here)
The prosecutor in her case determined that because she chose to walk her children across the street directly from the bus stop where she was let off instead of walking over a half-mile down the road with hungry and tired little ones so that she might use the crosswalk there (and walk that half-mile back up), she deserves to be in jail for up to 36 months.
The man who hit her son, who admitted that he had been drinking, and was on painkillers and legally blind in one eye and has previous arrests for drunk driving, will most likely serve less time in jail than she will since his charge of vehicular homicide was dropped. This is the part where I call bullshiggity.
Ok, ok. Fine. You want to go by the letter of the law and charge this mother with some crime, ok. That’s crap, but fine. But you want to charge the woman NOT driving with vehicular homicide AND drop the charges of the man who was ACTUALLY driving down to a “hit and run” (because after he plowed into the family, injuring 2 and killing one, he drove off, as he did in 97 when a similar thing happened)? Oh come the eff on.
Meanwhile, Casey Anthony is somewhere writing her memoirs preparing to make some major dough off her life story because they couldn’t manage to figure out how to convict her of SOME crime related to the disappearance and death of her daughter. Does anyone else see a problem?
Many of the blogs I’ve read on this story highlight class and race as an issue. (Read one of them here) They are. I wanted to avoid mentioning them (though one is obvious) because I think some people immediately discount what you say as soon as you bring issues of class and especially race to the surface. But come on already. Raquel Nelson, an African-American single mother, was convicted by a jury of middle class whites who probably never have had to deal with the issues of public transportation with kids in tow. There’s no way that if you’ve EVER had to use public transportation, you’d want to convict this lady of vehicular homicide.
Back in 2010 I was in an accident where the car I was driving struck (but did not kill or seriously injure) another individual. He was ticketed for crossing the street where he should not have. I felt bad for him as the officer wrote him a ticket while he was being loaded into the ambulance. I had not been drinking, was not otherwise distracted and the accident was his fault — but he was also mentally handicapped and THAT was why he ran out into a dark street without looking to see my car coming down the road. I mention this to say I really do empathize with both sides of this story and while I think it disgusting that this man was on the road with all his many ailments, I still can understand that it can be frustrating when people dart out into the road in areas where you’re not expecting them to.
But even with all that out on the table you can’t make me understand why this mother should get 36 months in jail while the jerk who hit her and her kids, killing one of them, won’t. You can’t make me understand why a bus stop is located so far from a crosswalk. You just can’t make me understand why we’re ALWAYS kicking the little guy when he’s down.
While I was at home with my mom this weekend, I went out with some friends and we spent a portion of our evening outside of a popular bar people watching. At one point so much foolishness was going on that we didn’t know where to look first. One of my friends exclaimed, “y’all focused on the small details over there when it’s a catastrophe right here!”
Couldn’t be a better quote to sum up my feelings lately about our media coverage of events. American media is notorious for burying important things (catastrophe) under frivolous stuff (small details). Great example: back when Anna Nicole Smith died and our media went on and on and on and on for days about her death and the subsequent paternity tests and court dates, our government made some important changes to our immigration laws.
Wednesday of last week brought several — more than 10 — tornadoes through the Southeast region. These storms leveled neighborhoods and cities. Killed hundreds of people and left even more with nothing. Our media, however, decided to cover the Royal Wedding more than these devastating storms. After the wedding was over (and well after even British news quit covering it) we moved to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner
Now, I don’t mean to suggest by what I’m about to say that these recent storms were equal to the devastation of the tsunami in Japan, but it amazes me the way our media will cover foreign issues far more completely than the things that happen in our own country.
::sigh:: Maybe one day somebody’ll pay attention to what’s going on to the people in our country in a manner that matters. Maybe. I won’t hold my breath though.
I don’t usually cross-post between blogs, but this post bears re-posting
I guess since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we’ve become desensitized to lower levels of natural disasters in cities.
Or maybe we only care when it looks like you can make a sexy political story out of it.
Last weekend it began raining in Nashville, TN and it didn’t stop. More than 13 inches fell in 2 days. That’s about 30% of Nashville’s annual rain fall in 48 hours. The great city of Nashville sits on the banks of the Cumberland river and the river rose and flooded a lot of downtown Nashville.
Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to release water from 2 dams and this water flooded other areas of the already super-soaked city. There were 20+ deaths in Middle TN (which doesn’t only include Nashville), many families have lost everything as the vast majority didn’t have flood insurance. The city is reporting over $1 Billion in damage.
One might think the national media would have jumped on this. Another major natural disaster in a large city (Nashville has a larger population than Atlanta, and ranks as one of the biggest Southern cities) with almost no recognition from the outside world.
You’d be very wrong if you thought that. Sadly wrong, even.
I don’t expect national coverage to the extent that New Orleans recieved in 2005. For one, this flood wasn’t that big or wide-reaching and for two, there were many other things at play outside of a city being completely under water. I don’t want to get into a situation where we compare this to what happened in New Orleans in 2005, because for the most part they’re not comparable.
But the question remains — who’s going to Volunteer for the Volunteer state?
Ironically, apparently only the state itself. All the stories you hear now are about neighbors helping neighbors. Which is great. And the state is recieving federal funding. The President called the Governor and the both agreed his presence, with all that is required, would take away from the relief efforts, for now.
But where’s the national media coverage? Nashville could use the help of every state in the union, not just every city in the state.
On a larger note, I think the media ignores the South (except for Atlanta) all the time. I think that point has been proven in light of this.
If you go to CNN.com now and search Nashville, all sorts of videos will pop up. But those videos we distinctly remember of Anderson Cooper in New Orleans as the city flooded, CNN doesn’t have because they, like their other major outlet counterparts (and I don’t mean to make it look like only CNN ignored this for almost a week) didn’t pay much more than a footnotes’ worth of attention until now.
I’m sure someone will say, and rightfully so, they’re there now. Yes. They are (interviewing mostly country stars who have been effected — thank God for Kenny Chesney who pointed out that he will be able to replace things, while other families will not). Nashville will come back, it will be fine and that will happen regardless of whether or not major media outlets notice. I’m just put off by what it means when newsworthy things are happening and no one cares.
What happens to a person’s racial identity when they attend private school? How many black points do you lose when you jump the lane and decide to attend school with the rich white kids who’s parents own things larger than homes and cars? Depending upon who you ask, you might actually lose your soul or at least cease to be black.
Many parents want to get their kids out of failing public schools and into prestigious private schools because they worry their children won’t be able to get into good colleges and they in turn worry how that will effect their lives. Meanwhile, it seems the only thing other parents are worried about is how “black” (or not black) their child will seem if they are afforded the same opportunity.
In a recent issue of The Crisis (a magazine published by the NAACP) I found an article on black parents who are weighing the pros and cons of sending their children to private school. We’re introduced to a handful of families including a mother who makes an hour-long commute so that her child can attend a specific public school. She says,
“I think it was a hard-fought battle back in the 19th century when freed slaves were the first to demand free and public education to all people, and it was a long-fought battle to get those schools integrated. I thought it would just be like a snub to our ancestors.”
This same mother attended a private school herself and the article suggests that her poor experience with private school also influences her choice.
I attended a prestigious private school, myself. I begged my mom not to send me there and she promised me that if at the end of 2 years I still hated the school, she would allow me to re-enroll at my public school. After 2 weeks, I was in love with the school. I’ve had some amazing experiences and some of my closest friends I met there. I don’t begrudge a parent’s right to choose where their child is educated. What I do wonder about is letting one’s own experiences color their expectations for someone else. While I would love it if my child(ren) wanted to go to my high school alma mater I wouldn’t force them. In the same vein, I don’t think it’s fair for this mother to not allow her child to experience private schooling because she had a bad experience.
What really stands out to me, though, is the emphasis on the question about how a child deals with their blackness in a predominantly white setting. One family has a child prodigy and though they can’t afford to send their children to private school they also note that
the school’s lack of socio-economic diversity prompted them to question whether the institution’s values matched their own.
There’s also the couple who visited private schools searching for one to send their 3 children to who say some of their visits,
“also reinforced when I saw the Black students with ‘the look.’ It really looked like a part of their soul was missing. It’s a look I’ve seen, like, ‘I’m here, but I’m kind of not.’ I see that as a price to pay.”
There’s this idea floating around that being black in a predominantly white setting automatically means you lose some blackness. I know because I hear it in the way people ask questions about my time in private schooling (both high school and college). I can’t define blackness. Most people can’t define blackness. So if we can’t define it, at what point are we capable of determining someone is losing it?
I ran into my fair share of black students who obviously didn’t identify as “black” — not in a stereotypical way, not in a conventional way, not in any way. They avoided us so we avoided them. Many of them had, in fact, gone to private school — but then again, so had I so was the culprit really schooling?
Maybe it was — who’s to say — but the end of it is that we shouldn’t automatically assume that sending a black child to a predominantly white environment will somehow strip them of their blackness. It’s like assuming that if your son spends a lot of time with girls, he will cease to be male (as some people do assume) or that if your wife spends a lot of time with single people she will cease to be married. None of these things are true.
This article is careful never to spell out these assumptions. There’s a constant reference to “diversity” which is a lot of hogwash if you ask me. My experience is that black folks have long been skeptical of other black folks who go to private school because, as the stereotype goes, we become stuffy and stuck up; we forget where we’re from; and we look down our noses at everyone. It’s funny how a stereotyped group can often become the stereotypers.
I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to send your child to a good school. Sometimes a good school is public and sometimes it’s private. I know all parents want what’s best for their kids but I would hope that stereotypes, presumptions and personal fears wouldn’t effect those wants.
Anyway… it’s hard to escape a predominantly white setting in America — it’s just the world we live in.
I’ve done a guest blog post over at Stuff White People Do. Check it out!
I don’t know if any of you frequent other blogs run by a white person that attempt to do what swpd attempts to do, but I don’t. I don’t because I haven’t found many. Any that I have run across are run by a PoC (or, at least, a person pretending to be a PoC). Blogs like these take on a whole different spin when they are run by a white person. However, I’ve also noticed that such places don’t tend to stick around very long.
When Macon developed a list of rules for commenters, the comment section, as usual, lit itself on fire. One comment in particular from Randy caught my eye. Randy said here:
how is this blog, this whole thing, not just yet another example of a WP being in charge of a space for and about PoCs? however deferential, reverent, polite, well-intentioned, well-informed macon d may be; it’s still a WHITE MAN’S place. because he owns it. he controls it. it’s HIS own weblog. and he-not any black person-can pull the plug whenever it suits him.
how can all you razor-sharp fanon’s out there have faild to confront and critique this (sic)? sorry folks, but it appears that we whites just can’t damn help ourselves from taking over, from dominating, from setting the terms, from RUNNING THE SHOW-however benignly.
you all are constantly in a blither about ambient white supremacy…yet you don’t see it RIGHT HERE.
I actually had been doing a lot of thinking about swpd and how the commenters interact on this blog. I appreciate the work macon puts into it, and Randy’s comment made me ponder other well-meaning, well-intended “spaces” (we’ll use “spaces” to refer to any place, online or real-world, where race relations is the primary topic) that don’t ever quite pan out. The most prevalent sort of spaces are blogs/websites that discuss interracial dating. Many such blog authors quickly find they spend more time defending their opinions than discussing anything of relevancy and ultimately shut down their blogs.
There seems to me to be a presumption white people make that they can singlehandedly change people’s minds, while never really being ready for pushback, and never being ready or prepared to create a space that offers PoCs and white people the opportunity to honestly and openly express their opinions.
It’s a shame this is the case, because as much as I wish that I, a black woman in America, could create a successful space, it would take a lot of work and a lot of passivity (that I’m not prepared to give) on my part.
Why, you ask? Because white people are scared to talk about race with PoCs. Some of that fear is understandable, while a lot of it is absurd. We can’t talk about or come up with ways to combat the problem without white people being honest and open, but above all else present, in the conversation. Unfortunately, the history in our country has led to a situation where more often than not, race conversations begun by PoCs in a PoC space do not attract white people who don’t already at least “get” the problem and will simply echo what we say (and never follow the echos with action).
One thing that was established early on at swpd is that white people are a necessary part of this conversation. In fact, commenter Jara said here:
The responsibility for improving race relations in the U.S., for example, falls on white people’s shoulders because they are the privileged group.
It’s become my opinion that we need more spaces created by white people where we can have these open and honest race conversations so that one day we make enough progress where who creates and controls the space doesn’t matter. Some of us may consider this a necessary evil, while others of us take it at face value and go. Either way, there aren’t a lot of white people who are ready to take the flack (some deserved, some not) they receive for attempting such a thing. Wonder what type of flack I’m talking about? Most swpd comment sections will show you.
Anyone who is a part of a real race conversation, especially with people from different perspectives, and actively searches for ways to lessen racism’s effects and to ultimately eradicate it altogether, is helping to blaze new trails. To do so via the internet with relative strangers is an area that has yet to be fully examined, and so it takes a lot of trial and error.
It’s easy to want to be a part of the solution, to feel like you do things that others might benefit from knowing about; it’s harder than it looks, however, to share those things about such a contentious topic. Too often well-meaning white people set out to help, but end up with their feelings hurt and their tails between their legs. I hope that as we all have a hand in writing the how-to book on handling race relations, more people step up and are willing to create more spaces for these conversations to happen.
There seems to be an assumption that if white folks would simply do as they’re told, everything would be fine. I see such sentiments expressed on this blog regularly; however, the fact is this is a learning experience for all of us. White people need to be ready to use the privilege they’ve enjoyed for hundreds of years to fix the problems it has created. I firmly believe that it is the job of the PoC community to point out the cracks, and that it’s the white community’s job to fill them in, even if that means losing things they’ve become accustomed to (I use a crude analogy, but I think simple and crude is better than complicated and palatable).
Randy made some valid points (that he later expounded upon). One of them is the irony that swpd may in fact be everything we all say we don’t want. A space like swpd isn’t perfect, but it is a good example of what I mean when I say the white people fix the cracks PoCs point out. In almost every post, there’s one commenter who trips the wire and the alarms start blaring, and someone lets them know that they are exemplifying exactly what shouldn’t be done. More white people need to be willing to “be that kid” (as I like to say). More white people need to be willing to take the criticism to not only learn from themselves, but also to teach others.
There are things PoCs should do, but this blog isn’t called “stuff people of color do.”
This morning it occurred to me that I may be developing a “you don’t know who I am” complex. It’s because of where I work. Many people here have that complex. I work with/around some of the most powerful people in America. Some of these people have the type of clout to get folks fired from jobs they’ve held for years, just because they want to. One swift e-mail from some of these people could put lots of money into your organization, or strip it all away. As a result, many people here have a “you don’t know who I am” complex. That is, small gaffes like mistaking them for someone of “lesser” importance can piss them off enough that they find it necessary to prove to you who they are by somehow negatively impacting whatever organization or group you represent. I’ve seen it happen.
It’s a complex born of an environment that thrives on clout, capital (of the non-tangible kind), and typically manifests itself worse among people who’ve never had power before. Power is and can be a very dangerous thing. I’ve heard many people, like the recently convicted former Mayor of Birmingham, AL, say that power is a dangerous drug. I hate the people around here who take their power for granted and too far and I’ve tried to be careful of developing this complex, but I see many of the seeds have been planted.
A few nights ago, I had an especially mentally stimulating conversation with a friend. She told me she was ashamed of herself for thoughts she had and assumptions she made with regards to a student she was tutoring. It’s worth noting that she and I have similar backgrounds. Both are black, female, and the only child of a single mother. We both graduated from private high schools and we both attended the same university. We are almost the same age (less than a year seperates us) and we have similar (not the same, but similar) interests as it relates to the types of ideallic things we do/wish to do. When she told me she wondered if the education we recieved at our elitist undergraduate institution had somehow lent itself to making it easier for us to have some of the same negative thoughts about low-income minorities as some of the ignorant individuals we dislike so greatly, it sort of struck a nerve with me.
I immediately thought of a post I read by a guest blogger on A Belle in Brooklyn. The title of the post was “Why The Talented Tenth is failing the black community” and written by Brandi, author of a blog titled Social Angst. I specifically remembered this portion (quoted here w/out permission, but be sure to check out both the post and her blog via the links provided):
The most pressing issue of Black America is the growing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Those who have access hoard it. And the talent of lower class individuals is being both unrecognized and unsolicited by the top tier of Black society. We are not meeting our obligation to nurture those who have less access. We are failing ourselves and it is starting at the top…
If you are not actively seeking out and pulling up the deserved, can you truly call yourself part of the Talented Tenth? Without commitment to the covenant aren’t you just simply elite? And, if you are simply elite, is your impact on Black American culture benefitting anyone other than you and your insular circle of friends?
I mentioned this post and specifically the general idea of the quoted portion to my friend. I highlighted how many of our friends in undergrad tutored low-income students for community service. I wondered, aloud, for how many was it about helping these students or looking good to and for various organizations. I also wondered how often we really paid attention to the students we tutored/mentored. How often did we try to bring out and foster their talents? How much time did we spend getting to know them and so what sort of impact did we actually have? Were these students truly any better because they knew us — were we truly fulfilling our purposes, or was it all self-serving? It’s sad to say, but true I think, that it was, for too many of us, self-serving and because of a superiority complex.
I talked about my own beginnings in community service; how I was drawn to it because it was amazing to me that I worked with students who were like me in every way. They were black, from single parent homes and my age (sometimes older) but that the lone thing that set me a part was the opportunity I had been given to attend a prestigious private school. I can still remember the moment it occurred to my 14 year old brain that there was almost nothing that seperated me from these students and yet they looked to me for help. I asked my friend, “what does it do us when we’re always the ones helping? How do we process that, ultimately? How do you not develop a superiority complex when people are always looking to you for help and in that, why would we ever really work to “actively seek out and pull up the deserved?”
I was burned out on “helping the kids” by the time I was 17. Between 2000 and 2004 I accrued well over 800 hours in community service; recieved the President’s Service Award more than once and had all types of plaques and accolades; however, I was totally over it all and for various reasons. One part of it was, quite frankly, I was developing a superiority complex.
Compared to high school, I did almost no community service in college. I wasn’t burned out anymore (even though that’s what I kept saying), but I still had remnants of the superiority complex. I had lost sight of why I had done community service; it wasn’t about the prestige it garnered, the plaques, the hours, the accolades, or how good it looked on my college application. It should have always been about the students I tutored and the connections we made. It’s hard to quantify what all was involved in the complex, but when you understand why you’re helping people it makes it harder to not help them. It’s when you think you’re “too good” for that or “too important” or “too busy” that it’s easy to avoid doing it.
As my friend and I continued talking we discussed a class we’d both taken in undergrad. The class discussed the plight of the low-income student in America (and included a “community service” initiative). Too often, we realized, “low-income” was connected with “black” or “minority.” Not only is that because for the most part that’s the case, but it’s also exactly what we were shown when went out into the community. My friend told me about a class she’s currently taking that seems to do the same thing. I expressed concern that not enough well-meaning professors give otherwise ignorant students the right tools.
Back to high school, my CS director required all new and returning tutors to participate in what eventually became a 2-day orientation discussion. She wanted to “prepare” these wealthy white kids for the stark reality of “life in the hood.” Unfortunately, it seemed more like an attempt to present the saddest “snapshot” she could. I remember sitting in the orientation my Senior year (I’d skipped it in the 2 years prior because I was a “site leader” and had ongoing commitments; I had to be there my Senior year as a “senior board member”) being utterly disgusted with how extreme her stories were. She claimed some of the kids were going hungry, some of the kids had no clothes, some of the kids were light years behind their peers in education; she made them sound like those starving African children you see on late-night tv. The truth was, these kids were not that different from us when we were that age. Sure, some of them lived in less than desired situations but not all of them. What her extreme representation of the situation did was to send these still-ignorant yet otherwise well-meaning wealthy white kids into a community that they didn’t understand and wouldn’t understand what with all the presupposed details. I found myself having to be frank with my tutors: “We expect nothing less than the best from these students. Their excuses are just that: excuses and we will not allow excuses to stop us from getting the best we can…”
My friend and I discovered how far left of center we’ve come. How we assume things about individuals who are just like us. She shared that she’d assumed that the student she was tutoring came from a single-parent home and that none of her older siblings had attended college. Neither assumption was true and as my friend considered why she’d thought those things, she realized there was no reason, except that for the past 2 years she’s been bombarded with all the facts that say low-income black children are from single parent homes and don’t go to college. This is despite the fact that we are both proof that those “facts” don’t apply across the board and we have plenty of friends and associates who also disprove those “facts.”
The strength of a superiority complex is astounding when considered, here. I hate when people assume they know everything about me based on the color of my skin; more often than not, they aren’t correct. How outrageous, then, is it for me to make assumptions about someone who is just like me? Ultimately, though, the blame doesn’t lie with our education. The blame lies with us. It’s almost comical how these complexes have taken hold and I hadn’t thought about it or noticed it. How do you become ignorant and not notice it?
Recently, black hair has become a hot topic in mainstream America thanks to Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair (and Oprah’s whole show devoted to the film).
This morning, I stumbled up on a video by documentary filmmaker Aron Ranen called Black Hair: The Korean Takeover In the 10 minute clip below, Aron introduces us to the methodical manner in which Koreans are literally taking over the black hair care industry.
In summary, despite the fact that African-Americans make up at least 90% of customers in the black hair care product industry, they only account for a small percentage of suppliers. Koreans on the west coast quickly began to realize that they held 80% of the market and so they could expand their businesses from shop owner to suppliers. They are slowly and methodically pushing out black-owned supply companies by claiming that there is no longer a demand for their products all the while duplicating the very same products in their own manufacturing companies and telling customers that the black-owned company products are not valuable and are cheap knockoffs of more high quality products (read: their products). One black-owned company, Kazuri, is highlighted.
It’s become a real problem and it’s highly concerning to me that yet again, our community is being taken advantaged of. I wonder how this happened. At what point did we close our eyes and allow Korean owned beauty supply stores to takeover? This is a problem on the west coast, for now but that will quickly change.
Just a few weeks ago I was getting my hair done when my stylist’s supply representative came in for orders. They began having a conversation about what large black hair care supply stores were still black-owned. I was surprised to hear that major companies with names I recognize from my youth, like SoftSheen Carson, are no longer black-owned and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that they are now Korean owned.
As I watched the 10 minute clip from Aron’s 50-minute documentary I shook my head. I feel like this is yet one more example of the things that are going horribly wrong in our community. If there’s one industry where we should be the majority stakeholder, it’s in the business of manufacturing and supplying and selling our own hair care products, and yet we’ve sat by with our jokes and comments on the korean-owned stores and now they own the industry and have no shame in pushing out the little guys — us!
I encourage everyone to at least watch this 10-minute clip, if not purchase the whole DVD.
All this talk of Tyler Perry v. Spike Lee got me thinking…
A commenter on A Belle in Brooklyn’s post on this issue, Butterscotch Baby, said
With the cancellations of Everybody Hates Chris, Chocolate News, and possibly The Game, all I’m left with is Lincoln Heights.
I love Lincoln Heights and I’ve been watching it since it first premiered on ABCFamily. It’s a lesser known show on a niche market cable channel, but it’s a good one.
Lincoln Heights is a show about a family, the Suttons, who move back to “the Heights” when the father, Eddie, a police officer, decides he should live where he works. Lincoln Heights is not necessarily the safest community, but it is a community filled with people who remember when the neighborhood was safer and who want it to go back to that. We’re introduced to Eddie’s wife, Jenn who is a nurse and helps to open up a free-clinic in the neighborhood, their 3 kids, Cassandra (Cassie), Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Taylor (Tay) who are all wary of a move into a crime-filled neighborhood.
Now in it’s 4th season, we’ve seen a lot happen to the Suttons, including their house almost destroyed by an earthquake, kidnappings, fights and even a serious relationship between Cassie and her boyfriend Charles. The show isn’t different from many of the dramatic family-oriented shows we’re used to, except that the Suttons are a black family and Lincoln Heights, at the center of everything, is a black neighborhood.
I’m intrigued by a few things. Firstly, Lincoln Heights has been on air since 2006 and it’s still not getting a lot of play in the black community. That means the people watching it are white, which isn’t necessarily surprising since ABCFamily is a network oriented less towards the African-American demographic than the white demographic. Secondly, even in light of us losing shows like The Game, Everybody Hates Chris and Girlfriends black folks still aren’t discovering Lincoln Heights. Despite our claims that we’ve not seen a nuclear black family since the Cosbys, Lincoln Heights still isn’t getting any airtime in black households.
According to a report done by Media Reports the actual group that’s keeping LH on the air are teenagers. Most recent numbers show that ratings hover near or above 1% for the 12 – 17 demographic. In other words, about 30,000 12 – 17 year olds in the country watch Lincoln Heights. Typically reports on “who’s watching what” are done in terms of age. For the most part, advertisers concern themselves more with how old audiences are, than their race — which makes sense. Ford, for example, wouldn’t really want to advertise to a bunch of under-18 year olds who most likely can’t purchase a car, while Mattel might not be interested in advertising to an audience of over-20 when they’re pitching their new Barbies.
That being said, when we start talking about minority-starring shows, we can assume that their audiences, to a large degree, are a homogenous bunch, racially. LH stands out because they appeal to a teenage crowd, across the racial spectrum. A lot of kids see themselves in Cassie, Lizzie and Tay — even if those characters don’t look like them. Many fans absolutely love Cassie and Charles (Chassie as they’ve been named by the fans) together and are worried that the writers are going to break them up. Others identify with the way Lizzie is still trying to fit in in her new high school and others identify with Tay’s struggles as the baby boy.
What the writers have done with this show is amazing. The Cosby’s had crossover appeal because there was a certain level of race-neutralizing worked in. There wasn’t a terrible amount of discussions about their race, which worked. At that time, black folks were just happy to see them on television. Lincoln Heights has dealt with race repeatedly: Charles is white and, as we know, Cassie is black. Lizzie is dating a Hispanic guy and while we haven’t seen any issues for Lizzie and her boyfriend yet, Chassie started having problems almost immediately. For one year, Lizzie took an opportunity to go to a private school where she found it hard to make real friends because the kids either assumed she was there on a basketball scholarship and was stupid, or only wanted to be her friend because “black people are cool…” I felt like that storyline was so important — it’s a form of ignorance that is often overlooked.
I hope that more black households pick up on Lincoln Heights. It’s important that we support the shows that are doing what we want them to do so that we have more clout when we complain that there aren’t enough of those shows.
Check out some clips (or entire episodes) of Lincoln Heights on ABC Family’s website. But more importantly, WATCH IT. Mondays, 8pm EST, ABC Family.