I’m Still Not Black

broken-chainLast week, black actress Danièle Watts was detained as a possible prostitute for making out with her white husband in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. They were in their Mercedes with the door open.  A resident alerted the police that there was a prostitute having sex with a man in car on the street.

When the police arrived, Watts refused to provide her identification, as she believed she had done nothing illegal. The police then cuffed her and questioned her, before releasing her, stating that there is no record of the incident, as no crime was committed.

Here are three different accountings of the story, one from Business Insider, one from The Root, and one from Global Grind.

Watts talked about the times her father came home “frustrated or humiliated by the cops when he had done nothing wrong.”

In my post from a few weeks ago, I’m Not Black, I suggested that whites had an opportunity to open dialogue by seeking to understand, generally, what it is like to be black in America. With that in mind, I have questions:

Would anyone have called the police if Watts were white?

Would she have been taken for a prostitute if she were white?

Would the police had even asked for ID or questioned the couple’s relationship were she white?

Was there an actual crime committed, meaning, were her civil rights violated?

Please know that I am not seeking to be incendiary, but rather to gain perspective. I can only imagine the outrage and potential shame she experienced. Her response is gracious and strong, regardless.

What do you think?




FOX Colored Glasses

Scary News“Army Officer Denied Entry to Michigan High School While Wearing Uniform”

“School Security Guard to Army Officer: You Can’t Come In While Wearing Your Uniform”

“Under Fire – School Won’t Let Army Officer Wear Uniform”

These are three titles/subtitles from the same story on foxnewsinsider.com. I first became aware of the story through a friend on FB. He was outraged at the violation of civil liberties. I respect my friend very much. He is an intelligent, gifted, hard working family man, and he has drawn the wrong conclusions from the story, just like FOX has.

The article states that “Lt. Col Sherwood Baker, had stopped at Rochester Adams High School in Rochester Hills during the day to clear up an issue with his daughter’s class schedule.” Upon attempting to enter the school, Baker was told that “he could not enter wearing the uniform because it could offend people.” He was given the option of coming back in street clothes, or calling the school. At that  point, Baker and his wife called the superintendent’s office from the parking lot, and a staff member let him in.

The superintendent was “appalled,” the principal expressed regret to the family, the district apologized  and made it clear that “[it] does not have a policy excluding individuals in uniform and will be working with administration and the firm that handles [its] security to make sure district policies are understood and communicated accurately.”  In an interview, Baker’s wife, Rachel Ferhadson, said, “I feel a lot better about it now than I did 24 hours ago. … They have taken steps to correct what happened.”

When I saw the headline, I was concerned but also skeptical.  It didn’t seem right to me.  After reading the article, I would sum it up this way. An Army Officer was initially, and incorrectly, denied entrance to his daughter’s school  because he was told by a security guard that the military uniform he was wearing may offend some people. Not accepting this as reasonable, the officer promptly informed the school superintendent of the situation, who immediately allowed the officer and his wife entrance to the school. The superintendent made the security company aware that the actions of the guard were inappropriate and did not reflect district policy. The story here seems to be that reasonable people, faced with an unreasonable challenge, engaged other reasonable people to reach a solution, which they swiftly did.

This is an encouraging story for anyone anywhere on the spectrum of reasonableness. Unfettered political correctness did not win the day. Blind patriotic outrage did not create a tempest. A man who serves our country and a man who serves our children got together and solved problem in a way that serves us all. Why can’t we see news this way? Why must we be goaded into offense, outrage and fear?

To be fair to my FB friend who originally posted the story, he did write that the problem was solved, but he began his post with outrage and ended it with the call to fire the security guard for abridging civil liberties. His premise and outrage obscured the real story line, one that showed how cooler heads prevailed in a potentially ugly situation.

It’s time for us to think critically when it comes to news, especially from sources that share our ideological leanings. Otherwise, we are being fed news and information like that which a mother bird feeds her baby chicks – predigested and easy to swallow. We need to feed ourselves, and draw reasonable, truly “fair and balanced” conclusions, with our tendency towards confirmation bias on the table at all times. It’s not wrong to read people and sources with whom we agree, but we must do so employing critical thinking, and we would do well to read people and sources with whom we disagree, in exactly the same way.

The general public shapes the news cycle by engaging certain outlets like FOX, MSNBC, and others. Why not access news through NPR instead of MSNBC, or The American Conservative rather than FOX? If viewership and page visits equal advertising dollars, let’s help funnel Madmen cash to sources that are more intellectually rigorous, that speak with authority rather than yell with outrage, and that possess a self-awareness that allows for, and encourages, rigorous debate and productive dialogue.  Let’s have better conversations about the most important things.



What Does It Mean To Dialogue?

I Wanna Win with textIn one of my recent posts, I’m Not Black, I posited that the discussion of race relations between black and white in America could be furthered by whites seeking to understand the black experience. At one point, I used the term, “white privilege.” The term, for my purposes, was defined as the experience that most white people have, of neither defining themselves, nor being defined by society, according to their race. My conclusion was that a certain humility was required on the part of white people to begin the dialogue.

Responses to my post covered a broad spectrum, from encouraging agreement, to further dialogue, to skepticism, to angry disagreement. There were, however, no lukewarm responses. After sifting through my interactions with readers, I have drawn some conclusions:

  • Dialogue is hard
  • Nobody wants to go first
  • We want to win
  • There must be a third way

Dialogue Is Hard
My dictionary app defines dialogue as “a discussion between two or more people or groups, esp. one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.” Stated differently, dialogue is a two-way, equal conversation, where the parties are mutually focused on discovery and problem solving.

Nobody Wants To Go First
Vulnerability creates the possibility of dialogue. Without it, there will be no honesty, no mutuality, no real discussion. It requires an emotional gamble, a risk, that the one going first may be rebuffed or rejected. Going first “feels” like a position of weakness.

We Want To Win
Somewhere in the course of our lives, we developed the belief that we must be right to be valued. Mastery of knowledge, morality, or whatever the issue, provides us control and keeps us superior. I fully admit to embracing this approach along the course of my. Breaking free of it is like trying to throw out a glue covered piece of paper. Each time you pull it off with one hand, it sticks to the other.

So often, though, when we win, we actually lose, or worse, we measure victory by the wrong standards.  When was the last time that a political debate “winner” was measured by the fact that he or she spoke the most compelling truth to the most people? Never. Instead, they were judged on mastery of their material, how often and easily they rattled their opponents, and how much applause they received from the audience.

There Must Be A Third Way
Olga Khazan has written a concise and helpful piece for The Atlantic entitled, Four Words to Seem More Polite, which is really about empathy.

Empathy is considered by many psychologists to be essential to cooperation, problem solving, and to human functioning in general.  Researchers have described it as “social gluebinding people together and creating harmonious relationships.”

The goal of empathy is to understand the feelings of another. Too often, though, we think that if we are empathetic towards someone else regarding a particular topic or experience, we will be tacitly agreeing with their beliefs regarding it. With the issue of race, there appears to be a hesitance towards being empathetic, for fear of validating a view point with which we may disagree.

What’s left for us to do? If, as a white person, I stand with my arms folded defiantly, and say that I will not offer empathy to black people because they are solely responsible for how they think, their socio-economic plight, etc, I miss the point entirely. Someone who struggles simply wants to be understood. Until they are, they will not dialogue in any productive way.  If white people, in general, sought to understand what it is to live life constantly conscious of their race, it would start conversations that we never thought would happen, ones that seem so fleetingly impossible given Eric Garner and Ferguson, Mo.

Someone who I love and respect challenged me privately when I suggested, as I mentioned above, that white people exercise humility in going first in the race conversation. I used the example of Jesus, who left his place of privilege to walk in our world so that he could understand what it means, first hand, to be us. As I look at his example, I am convinced more than ever that he is the best model.

You don’t have to believe in Jesus to catch the power of he did. According to Christian teaching, Jesus left his place of glory in heaven to take on human form so that he could empathize with us. He knew that reconciliation could not take place until he identified with those for whom he sought it. As a white man, I have an opportunity to see through the eyes of my black brothers and sisters, and, in doing so, feel what they feel, to empathize with them. And when I do, and when I can articulate back to them my experience in such a way that reveals that I “get it,” then real reconciliation in my world can begin. Then, I will be more like Jesus than perhaps I have ever been.