“Racist”: Loaded term an indictment of human relations – E-book Excerpt

A person who is called racist will reflexively feel attacked.  “Racist” is a very loaded word.

In North America and Europe’s increasingly diverse population composition, ‘racist’ these days seems to mean negative treatment or reaction to someone who is not from one’s identified racial grouping.

In the old days that was called racial discrimination or racial prejudice.

There is debate regarding the etymology of the term, despite the current connotation which allows for permutations such as ‘reverse racism”. The term is also conflated with antagonism against Diasporic Africans.

Fundamentally, ‘racism’ is a belief system that one racialized group is intrinsically superior to another. Those who subscribe to the belief and related practices are labeled racist.

Among Black people and White people there are distinct existential references to the term that are not surprisingly contrasting – as distinct as black and white, if you will.

So we can see that the term has come to mean different things to different people. One man’s racist is another man’s cultural defender.

When one of the defence attorneys for admitted killer George Zimmerman asked Rachel Jeantel to acknowledge as racist the slur murder victim Trayvon Martin used to describe the man following him on the night the unarmed teen was shot and killed, that attorney was relying on one particular interpretation of the term racist while Jeantel was relying on another.

Jeantel, 19, the last person to have a conversation with the unarmed teen – they were speaking by mobile phone – not long before Zimmerman shot and killed him, stated under questioning by Zimmerman’s defence attorney that Martin told her he was being followed by “a creepy ass cracka.”   In an attempt to draw a characterization of Martin – since the murder victim was apparently on trial – the attorney then asked Jeantel if she thought the description was “racist”. He asked Jeantel the question repeatedly and each time, in her own way, she repeated that she did not think the expression was racist.

So many people had a good ol’ time making fun of how Jeantel presented herself during questioning, but when she correctly stated from a Black worldview that the term Martin used was not racist, there was little recognition of that.

Yet, when Zimmerman’s attorney attempted to use the term, elements of ‘reverse racism’ were in play to allow him to manipulate it.

Here were all the key components: A Black female in a courtroom reluctantly having to bear witness for a young Black male, now long dead. She is questioned by a White male in a position of authority, freely playing on a term linked to strong emotions of superiority and animosity.

In this situation – not lacking in irony – the lawyer asks this Black female if she felt her now deceased friend was using a term that would support her friend’s belief in whose racial superiority and whose racial animosity? His own? The person following him?

Jeantel was absolutely correct that Martin’s expression was not racist. The fact that the attorney was able to get away with such a line of questioning, however, is racist.

The fact that so few can see that, tells us that we are so deep into the miasma of discrimination by one group against another that we are inside-out about what racism actually is anymore.

Racial animosity and discrimination sadly can and do occur among persons and groups of persons of differing racial identifications. But racism as it functions presents in who holds positions of power, has the most wealth, makes the decisions on education focus, housing and employment levels; on how daily news reports are framed; on the balance of power in systemic discrimination and systemic privileging; who gets sent to prison; and who faces the death penalty – whether in an electric chair or on the streets of America as sanctioned by laws grounded in racism.

Toronto writer and columnist Pat Watson is the author of In Through A Coloured Lens, now available at Amazon.com

AT EACH AGE, ITS OWN VIRTUES – E-book Excerpt

Hello Reading Community,

Here is another of the selected columns included in my debut publication, In Through A Coloured Lens, currently available at Amazon.com. As always, thank you for making time for these compositions.

Oct. 13, 2010

At Each Age, Its Own Virtues

 

Rushing to get somewhere last week in that stressed state we all recognize as a part of city life, there came a rhythmic chi-chip, chi-chip, chi-chip behind me along the sidewalk. Then, there she was, about eight years old, red jacket open to the wind, blue backpack not yet weighed down with the kind of responsibility that comes with the higher grades. And so endearing, with her two little afro puffs bouncing from side to side as she skipped along, making her way home, heading away from the nearby school. Skipping comes with being happy. And young.

Released from my stress by the sight of her little carefree self, without saying a word, I thanked her for reminding me of what it means to still be a child. For you know that if you saw someone five times her age chi-chipping along the sidewalk, knees bouncing up, arms swinging wildly in like manner you would wonder at his or her mental state. Jogging yes, but skipping? No.

It’s always a good idea to cover your milestones at the appropriate time; otherwise, the desire to engage in certain age-specific activities beyond the cutoff date will raise questions regarding mental or emotional well-being. Not only that, but not engaging in certain age-appropriate activities could in the end also mean a life not well lived.

On another day, in the subway, where so much of city life reveals itself, the clap-clap-clap coming from the hands of two little girls playing a familiar game reminded me of how strong oral tradition still is. Does anyone who every played a clapping game remember learning it from an adult? No classroom lesson ever passes ‘Miss Mary Mack-Mack-Mack’ from one generation of schoolgirls to the next, from one country to the next. Yet there they were in the after-school rush hour linking the present with the past, completely oblivious to any of that.

It is to be hoped that we all had our fair share of hours with Miss Mary Mack and the ‘salt-mustard-vinegar-pepper’ of the skipping rope at full speed. It was fun at recess time in elementary school and it is fun to be reminded. How would it be at this point to think of jumping rope as fun and not just something to do to keep our heart healthy, according to doctor’s orders?

A family member who is now in the university years recently lamented that she doesn’t enjoy getting mail as much as she used to when she was younger. Why? When very young people get mail, it usually means a birthday or Christmas card, or some other such joyous occasion. But past a certain age, the only things that come in the mail are bills to be paid. Or worse, reminders that bills are overdue.

Even so, who would turn back the clock if they could? Few indeed would trade experience for time. It’s enough on a nice fall afternoon to receive a little vicarious happiness from some young one skipping along on her own journey.

Faith, Belief, Spirituality are Life Rafts – E-book Excerpt

It would be hubristic to presume to have any greater notion of God or what G_d is than the next human, but I do know this about my own emotional existence: I need some Great Source in order to cope in this big, scary world.

So, do I believe in God? Frankly, the existence of G_d is not determined by my belief.

G_d either is or isn’t.

What my belief can do nevertheless is influence my relationship with the Unknown Unknown. What my belief will do is try to configure a relationship with the seemingly unknowable.

Yet I continue to look for evidence.

Because whatever conception they have dreamed up, or whatever conception they were given, usually at an early age, does not bear out in the dire ways many of our actions unfold here on Earth, some reject the existence of G_d

It is hard to reconcile the myth of a Loving, Benevolent God – a kind of Santa Claus – with all the cruelty that occurs minutely on this planet.

Then too, there’s the other extreme, a Punishing and Terrible God. Who wants to have that force to turn to in times of need?

My conclusion is that every time we define God, we lose sight of G_d. I amuse myself with the notion that G_d is just too big for us humans to see.

What I do experience when I make space to plug in my spiritual extension cord to the Perceived Energy during the course of each 24 hours is that my day is elevated, and sometimes occurrences materialize that are wonderful beyond my imagination. Or simply, I live through a day without descending into despair.

Somewhere in the Bible is the suggestion that we “seek the face of God.” It doesn’t say anything about finding. Sometimes, I can catch a glimpse.

My own experience of seeking G_d is that, paradoxically, I find my own self – I grow nearer to the truth of who I am. The answer to that question, by the way, is nearly as elusive as finding G_d.

“Everything and everyone is an experience and an expression of G_d.” This was a message that came one day from the subconscious. In response, I asked, “But what about Hitler?”

So please, take a look at the column I wrote that expands on this notion. It is one of the selected columns in my debut ebook, In Through A Coloured Lens.

Jan 20, 2005

After the Shock of the December 26, 2004 Tsunami Tragedy in South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Africa had worn off and reality took hold, some asked how could God make this happen?

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The reasoning goes that God being all-powerful could have stopped this from happening, therefore why didn’t He?

A friend suggested that perhaps the question is misleading; that in the first place, God didn’t make it happen. She said asking the question is like asking why God didn’t stop Hitler during World War II. Rather, that when such things as man-made or natural disaster occur here on Earth as they have since the beginning of time, we pause to become aware of acts of God in the midst of it.

We can focus solely on the evil that was Hitler, but shouldn’t we also keep in mind the countless acts of selflessness by the many who risked their own lives to save others? So too with the tragic loss of human life that came with that 2004 earthquake and resulting tsunamis, also came an outpouring of human kindness and compassion in response.

Some looking for evidence of God will see it there.

For many, it takes some effort to find a personal relationship with God, The Creator, The Great Mystery. We try in all earnestness to define God and yet ironically by trying to do that, we end up limiting the undeniable. We are told from childhood in our places of worship that God is kind, loving, forbearing, patient, vengeful, wrathful, terrible and so on. Then we are told that we must believe all of this. When life experiences do not match the things we have been told about God, some lose faith because the god we have been taught about does not live up to our expectations. We make our own god-idols and feel let down when they don’t do what we want.

Yet, somewhere in the Bible it suggests we ‘seek the face of God’. It doesn’t say find it. It is in the seeking that we find a personal relationship with the Great Mystery.

The older I become the more perplexing I find the consequences of human behavior. The small things we do individually in our millions lead collectively to amazing and sometimes disturbing results.

This is a world in which we experience the flip-side of everything, the better to appreciate them. That’s life. There is no day without night. And who can know joy unless they have truly felt sorrow? Or freedom without the loss of it.

When the world experiences overwhelming disasters such as that December 26 tragedy, individually we have a keener appreciation of our own lives. We begin to find more precious what we ordinarily take for granted – homes and family members still with us. We see that we have everything we really need and so much more.

So instead of asking ‘how could God have made this happen?’ the question becomes, ‘what would God have me do now?’ The answer is clear from the actions of the many who give what they have to those in need.

If another such disaster were to occur tomorrow, God knows, people would find it within themselves to selflessly reach out and do whatever was needed to help each other yet again. Count on it.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE HISTORY LESSONS – E-book Excerpt

Feb. 21, 2011

It’s All About the History LessonsImage

Every time a person who is Black starts to develop a friendship with someone from another racial group there comes a time, of necessity, when that Black person has to become a walking encyclopedia of Black knowledge – historian, myth debunker and general Black culture sensitizer.

For this reason alone, the importance of Black History Month, or African Liberation Month, must be valued. A person of African heritage carrying that history with respect does proper justice to it, and thus will not endorse the unwelcome fictions about Black people.

One common cultural expectation of Black individuals – persons of colour – at on time or another is to be called upon as a representative of the entire race to correct some misperception or provide understanding. Yet, because there is so much misinformation permeating society about Black people, as a matter of leveling the field of information, and especially all those negative stereotypes, it becomes something of a duty to have the facts at the ready, because inevitably, your day will come (again and again), at which time you will have to present those facts to counter that world of misinformation.

Having respect for one’s community, in the same regard as one’s self, is a consideration some in this community overlook. Black History Month is a reminder to refocus with admiration on what our forebears have created as well as what they endured. It is a reminder that Black people ought not allow caricatures to define us. It is also a reminder that we each have an obligation to correct false impressions for our own good, but also for the good of all others who are unfortunately influenced by those negative stereotypes.

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‘Pants on the Ground’ and the Niqab – E-book Excerpt

April 5, 2010

‘Pants on the Ground’ and the Niqab

  Accompanied by some jaw-dropping break-dancing during an American Idol audition, one Larry Platt presented the judging panel with a catchy little ditty titled “Pants on the Ground”. Platt, a 62-year-old African American, was disqualified because the cut off age for contestants on the popular show is 28. Nonetheless, he left panel members including Randy Jackson and Mary K. Blige singing his memorable lyrics, and head panelist, Simon Cowell, predicted the song would be a hit. In fact, Platt’s audition, which took place in January 2010, has since been viewed by many millions on YouTube.

Here then is a sample of the lyrics: “Pants on the ground, Pants on the ground, Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground…Get your pants off the ground…”

The old saying is that ‘clothes make the man.’ That kind of idea may sound shallow when held up against Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream that people be judged by the content of their character. With pants belted below the buttocks and underwear exposed, unfortunately, the message many observers get is that the wearer – waddling along in an awkward gait dictated by the struggle with gravity to keep the pants at least above the knees – is headed nowhere in life. Whether we like it or not, most of us are – to a greater or lesser extent – influenced by appearances.

The message of ‘street cred’ that the prison-wear look was meant to signify has been lost over the decade since it was first popularized on the streets by the hip-hop generation. It has now been appropriated by culture tourists; kids who have no sense of prison culture but are looking for what’s ‘cool’ or ‘wicked’ or ‘ill’.

The last time this column ventured into commentary critical of men’s indifference to fashion, there was a bump up in response from the male sector in defense of their sartorial choices. But this is not just about fashion; it is about the societal and political affects that people choose, in particular, young people as they jostle with the mainstream and seek their own path, before they are inexorably absorbed into middle age norms.

Clothing always sends a message. In the run up to the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, the fashion police were out in their numbers to curb certain types of dress among the populace in anticipation of the hundreds of thousands who were to descend upon the city from the outside world. China felt it had to make a good impression.

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On the other hand, the Liberal government in Quebec decided to pass legislation that would disallow government funded services or employment to any woman who chose to cover herself in the niqab – a traditional head covering for women in Arab countries that allows only one’s eyes to be seen, largely considered in the West to be a symbol of female oppression. Moreover, it has been argued that banning the burka, which covers a woman’s body entirely, is one of the reasons Canadians soldiered in Afghanistan. Given the simmering social discomfort related to militant Islamists, the debate is ongoing.

What we wear is absolutely a non-spoken expression of how we identify ourselves, whether socially, religiously, or politically. It’s not so much that clothes make the man, but that clothes state whom the man wants you to know him to be. We need therefore to think carefully about choosing to draw the line on freedom of self-expression. If someone’s choice of dress is making us uncomfortable the response many not be, as New York Sen. Eric Adams did in his “Stop the Sag” billboard campaign, to seek to change the choices of others, but rather to examine why we find ourselves uncomfortable with another person’s personal choices. And, maybe it will require looking past outer coverings to a person’s character.

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