Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Racial Responsibility

Aloha all,

A Facebook friend recently posted an article asking whether people of color are held to a higher standard than whites whenever something bad goes down. Like when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna and news sources cited O.J. Simpson and Ike Turner, other black men known for violence against women.

"What about Jean Claude Van Damm?" someone asked. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't advocate any man hitting any woman (or anyone else for that matter), but it did seem odd that media lingered on violent colored folks, and not so much on others who have also done damage.

The FB article posed the question of whether people of color are more responsible for representing their communities as opposed to whites. That posting was so timely because just this weekend I had a conversation with a white friend that blew me away. I was telling him about a documentary I watched called Crips and Bloods: Made In America, and how I thought the filmmakers left out an important chunk of history. Although this film features incredible archival footage, the storytelling seems a little hurried. We go from blacks leaving the southern plantations to joining the industrial revolution in Los Angeles' aerospace companies encouraged by World War II. After flourishing in segregated neighborhoods, blacks start experiencing job layoffs, absentee fathers, drug-addicted mothers, and voila! gangbangers. Well, after a riot or two, that is. Okay, I thought. What's missing here?

Years ago, I heard the late playwright August Wilson speaking at a Seattle theater. A white woman in the audience asked him what he thought was the worst thing that had happened to the black community. An audible gasp was heard as Wilson replied, "Integration." The biracial Wilson (his father was a white German) then explained that during segregation, blacks were forced to rely on each other--buying from each other's stores, hiring each other for various services, and keeping it all in the 'hood, so to speak. But with integration opening up doors that were previously closed, blacks who were more educated and affluent began exploring the idea of moving into previously all-white neighborhoods. In time, the black communities they left behind became neglected ghettos. Middle-class homes morphed into government projects. Black businesses folded for the lack of demand. Drug dealers became the new entrepreneurs. Other races moved in with liquor stores and pawn shops. Black people in black communities grew impoverished--leading to alcoholism, drug addiction and that elusive missing male parent.

Watching Crips and Bloods, I remembered Wilson's harsh words and thought that's probably what happened in the Los Angeles' black neighborhoods where those gangs were born. I said as much to my white friend, and his response surprised me.

"They should've never left," he replied.

"What?" I answered. "Are you saying middle-income blacks should have never left their black neighborhoods? Would you say that to a white person? Would you say, white person, you are responsible for your entire race?"

My white friend admitted that he wouldn't, and realized his error at suggesting it. But his words echoed through my mind for several days afterward. Why did he automatically think people of color should be more responsible for their own kind? My friend is a loving and generous person with no outward sign of racism. Yet his words had slipped so easily from his lips. Was he an unwilling victim of institutionalized racism?

As usual, I have many questions and no answers. Of course, the greatest irony is that without integration, neither I nor August Wilson might have been born biracial.

I do encourage you to watch Crips and Bloods if you get the chance. Some of the interviews with ex-gang members will chill your blood, but hearing their stories will also give you a greater understanding of the domino effect of racism that allows poverty to turn into a lack of respect for life--anyone's.

Speaking of films, Your Hip Hapa is in the research phase of launching a distribution company for films by and about mixed-race people. Hollah at for more info.

I leave you with a pix of beautiful Santa Monica, above. Located only miles from some of the most gang-infested neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it's a city that some residents of those very 'hoods have never visited in their entire lives.

Your Hip Hapa,

1 comment:

Jessie said...

"Are you saying middle-income blacks should have never left their black neighborhoods? Would you say that to a white person? Would you say, white person, you are responsible for your entire race?"

This reminds me of something I read long ago. It might have been a news article or something I read in college. But it was about an influential black man (a scientist I think...) who earned way more than his neighbors, but refused to move his family out into the suburbs (where there were mostly whites). His reasoning? "I want to provide a good example for others." He felt that if he left, the younger black people in his community would no longer have an example of a successful black man and would not aspire to more.

At the time, I thought he was a pretty selfless man, and thought that if I ever became successful, I'd move into a mainly latino community (for my mom's sake and like that man, to provide an example for younger girls). But man, does it sound cocky. My brother have become more successful than I and have moved to the suburbs. I couldn't help but feel a bit resentful of their attitude towards the lower to middle-class neighborhoods that my friends and I lived in. It's not so bad, there might be more crime here...but They could set an example. Be good role models for the boys on my street.

But they're not intereeted. And I guess they would agree with your comment. Why should they feel responsible for other latinos? Why not move in with upper class people? They still managed to meet other successful latinas and ladies of color and marry them. It might not have happened if they had stayed.

But I dunno. I still feel a bit guilty for thinking that and that sucks, because like you told your friend, white people don't feel responsible for other white people. So why do I feel that way?