Thursday, December 01, 2005

6 Lbs. of Separation

Today is Blog Against Racism Day. Here's my contribution:

Racism is only skin deep. It doesn't go any deeper than that because it can't. Don't believe me? Look at the skin's structure here.

The human skin weighs about six pounds. We all have roughly the same amount, give or take a few ounces. Melanin, produced by melanocytes in the deepest part of the epidermis, is what colors everyone's skin, unless you have a skin pigmentation disorder, in which case color isn't an issue for you because you're an albino.

Take notes, there'll be a pop quiz on this later.

Any medical person can tell you that under that thin layer of pigmented cells we're all the same. Same major organs, same circulatory system, same skeletal structure, same tissues, same nerves, same everything. Reproductively speaking, we're either innies or outties, with the respective plumbing, but otherwise? No difference.

Skin is cool. It protects us from infections, helps regulate our body temperature, keeps things like our intestines from dragging around on the ground and, if the Clearisil works, gets us a decent date for Prom night. If it's sunburned, it hurts. If you cut it, we bleed, you guessed it, the same red blood.

So tell me, why does it matter what color this particular six pounds of us is? You wouldn't judge me by the color of my liver, or my uterus, or my brain tissue, would you? So why look at a person and only see six pounds of them? Why let the amount of melanin in that six pounds decide whether the owner gets a job, is good enough to date your best friend, or should have their new book shelved next to mine?

I don't care how anyone tries to justifies their racism. Treating a person in any way, shape or form with prejudice solely because their skin is darker or lighter or a different shade than yours is like saying the Christmas present isn't going to be as nice if you wrap the damn box in red paper instead of green. It's stupid.

It's also all that separates us. Six pounds.

I'll now direct your attention to two ladies who are far more eloquent than I will ever be, and who have written two of my favorite sledgehammers against racism: Dr. Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise, and author Octavia E. Butler's NPR Essay - UN Racism Conference.

(Thanks to Monica Jackson for the heads-up.)


  1. Anonymous7:25 AM

    My son was blissfully unaware of race until he was about 10. In school they started teaching about racism and civil rights and Rosa Parks. I felt sad that now he knew what racism was.

    "They wanted her to sit at the back of the bus, just because she was black!" he said, quivering with indignation.

    His race blindness was gone. Or so I thought. Just to be sure, I checked.

    "Were her parents black?"

    "I don't know, they didn't show a picture of her parents."

    So, he's learning about racism, but still doesn't know what race is :)

  2. I am fortunate, I think. I live in a city that is highly mixed, and where nobody even blinks at a mixed-race marriage any more.

    ToI raises an interesting point: if, for example, my children are unaware of racism because they are unaware that there is such a thing as race, should I tell them? If they don't think that dark-skinned people are different from light-skinned people, should we point it out to them?

  3. We live in a predominantly white area of a predominantly white town and my daughter is the only black person in her class.

    So her friends have always been white. This summer she went to stay with her father and he send her to an excellent (and expensive) Christian all black summer daycamp.

    When she returned, I asked her if she noticed any difference in the kids from the kids at school. "No, they're just the same," she said.
    "But the kids at camp were black," I said.
    "There were no different than the kids at school," she repeated.

    I was disappointed, because we'd point of getting her to an all-black summer camp to know some black kids.

    I thought about it and it clicked. Why should kids be different? Of course they weren't.

    I noticed that this year, (she's in third grade), is the first year she's commenting on her classmates treating her differently (being called nigger in anger, etc.). It's not bothering her much, she has plenty of white friends to take up for her, but she's perceiving a difference where she didn't before now.

    She is the only child in her class to make straight A's thus far, and she has no behavior problems. She is the only black child in the entire grade.

    I'm more alarmed at the parent's behavior during sleepovers etc., and how they are able to treat a black child differently without a blink.

    It's unbelievable to me, but I do have a couple of verified incidences (from other white parents or children) where a couple of parents did single my daughter out.

    So I have monitor her outside the home activities where white adults are present much more carefully now than I did previously.

  4. Anonymous4:56 PM

    PBW, I'm 15 and want to be a writer. I read your blog a lot. I'm confused though -- if I'm scared of black people in gangs but not other black people, is that being racist?

    Also, in our history book it talks about how freed slaves were so grateful for learning, for finally being able and allowed to read, that they vowed they would pass that love down to their descendants forever. But all the black people in gangs today don't seem to care about reading. Is that being racist, that I feel so mad at them for not appreciating reading and learning?

    I feel stupid and nervous posting this but I'm very confused. Thanks.

  5. Anonymous8:23 PM

    Anonymous, don't feel stupid or nervous about your comment. Talking about racism and the fears that cause racism is what we want to happen.

    There are a lot of definitions that go with the word "gang." Being afraid of gangs made up of blacks, whites, Latinos, or any other kind of kids who are violent, into drugs, guns, or otherwise pose a criminal threat to you and society doesn't make you a racist. It makes you a smart person. But being afraid of a group of kids who hang together just because they're all black, white, Latino, or other is racist.

    One thing black kids have learned from the time American schools were desegregated is that it's safer to stick with friends. I saw this happen myself; the few black kids who first came to my school in the early seventies when busing started got jumped in the hallways and bathrooms and pretty much anywhere angry white kids pumped full of prejudice by their parents could get at them. So when you see a group of black kids hanging together, they may not be a gang; they may just be practicing safety in numbers.

    History books are often written by and favor the majority, which in this country is still white people. To get another perspective, try reading some books written by African American authors about their heritage and culture. So many of their ancestors were brought to this country as captives and enslaved, abused and killed by whites, and many of their stories have been preserved and passed along. Personally I can't imagine many freed slaves vowing to do anything but stay away from the white people who did this to them.

    To avoid racism means putting aside your fear, and always treating other people -- no matter what color their skin is -- in the same way you'd like to be treated. It's not easy, but it's that simple. Imagine what a world we'd have if we could all do that.

  6. I agree with PBW totally as far as gatherings, but if you're talking about a real inner-city gang with signs, colors or auxiliary to the Crips or Bloods of others of that ilk, male or female it's best to avoid them for sure.

    Look at it this way, if I see a gang of folks with white sheets and pointy hats, or swastikas and shaved heads, my black rear does head the other way.

  7. Anonymous9:51 PM

    Thanks PBW and Monica. I never thought about the safety in numbers thing, which I see a lot of at school but they're not gangs. I'd noticed them but they pretty much keep to themselves, which I guess I'd do with white people if I went to a mostly black school.

    You guys said another thing I hadn't thought of -- anyone of any color can be in gangs. And any hard core inner city gang member scares me, I don't care what they look like on the outside.

    I think I'll go to the library and look some stuff up. I've never read anything historical by a black author.

    Thanks again. For this post, for caring, for everything. =)

  8. Anonymous...don't feel bad id you are afraid of people in gangs...I don't care what color they afraid, that's a smart way to be.

    I am black and grew up in Pennsylvania. There was a ggod sized black community in my town, but the high school that I went to was college-prep, so therefore there were only three other black students in the whole school of 3,500 besides me. I graduated in 1968, but I never knew racism until I moved to New York when I was 27.

    I was always invited everywhere and to all the parties. I missed being May queen one year by a dozen votes.

    It's pretty sad that today, forty years from my fifteenth birthday, it isn't any better, other than in most instances it is frowned on as politically incorrect to be overtly racist.

    My grandmother once told me, "If you were blind you would have to pick another way to express racism other than color."

  9. Anonymous10:35 AM

    Thank you Bonnie, it was so nice of you to respond! I like what your grandmother said. She sounds like a real smart lady.


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