Thursday, October 31, 2013

Isn't it time to get real about racism


Is it possible that people are simply too easily offended these days? Haven’t we taken politically correct to a dangerous extreme?

When we start crying racism over Julianne Hough wearing dark makeup on her face as part of a Halloween costume portraying a character from a television show, haven’t we crossed a line? I refer to the outrage over Hough trying to make her Halloween costume authentic. How is her applying bronze-toned makeup any different the apparently acceptible practice of sunbathing or using a tanning bed to darken the skin?

I’ve heard black people who have complained say that why she did it didn’t matter. The fact that she did it makes her guilty of racism. I disagree.

Motive is key. There is no evidence to point out that Hough’s intention was to demean or demoralize. In fact, her intention was to flatter. She meant no harm. And, she is an actress. Portraying a character is what she does. She shouldn’t be chastized for doing what she so well. Personally, I’ve never seen the show “Orange is the New Black” nor do I know anything about the character Crazy Eyes, that Hough portrayed.

In total contrast, there was another Halloween costume was highlighted this week. It is one that actually deserved outrage and charges of racism. It was not only not politically incorrect, but it glorified hatred. The costume portrayed Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie with a simulated gunshot wound in the chest, accompanied by another guy that was supposed to be George Zimmerman, identified by a shirt that bore the words “Neighborhood Watch.”

There is absolutely no kind of excuse for such a hideous display.

There is no comparison between the two, in my view. I think there is a real danger in labeling both of these as “racism.”

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t our goal as a society to obliterate racism?

Interestingly, these two costumes evokes different reactions from white people and people of color. Based on the comments posted on social media, anything to do with black face, which is what has been charged in Hough’s costume, is very offensive to black people. White people don’t necessarily see it that way. Yet, I the other example, the Trayvon Martin costume which portrayed a murdered child evoked anger by both black and white audiences.

Interestingly the outrage was equal for both both blacks and whites. Yet, Hough’s costume with her darkened face elicited comments generally along racial lines.

Perhaps this illustrates a path to real correctness. Perhaps we all need to be more considerate of other people’s feelings. Perhaps we need to understand and recognize that actions can cause hurt feelings. Perhaps we also need to recognize that sometimes, even though we take something to heart, that it may not be intentional. Therefore, we need to all become more tolerant of one another. Isn’t it possible that tolerance is the prescription for stamping out racism and curing hateful behavior?

Racism is an ugly part of the history of this nation. It is outrageous to think that at one time, it was accepted for one person to be able to buy and sell or own another human being. The outrage isn’t unique to black people. From the first time I heard about slavery I found it to be appalling. While I have not experienced slavery, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it; it doesn’t mean I’m not empathetic to those who experienced it. I know what it is like to be bullied, teased, verbally abused, made to feel worthless, but I refuse to let that define me.

American history, which is fraught with ugly, hideous events, have served to teach us and to make us better in the long run. As much as we want to denounce the negative parts of our past, we can’t. They happened. We can only turn them on their heads and make them a positive.

If we want to learn how to deal with racism, we are fortunate to have one of the best examples among us. All his life, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, (D-GA) has already demonstrated over and over again how to turn racism and hatred on its head.

John Lewis spent his life as a Civil Rights advocate. He was victimized by some of the most bloody, ugly, hateful moments of this country’s history, yet he was also there to see the changes.

He was inspired by the hopeful words of the Rev. Martin Luther King and moved by actions of Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. Lewis was a young man when he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides. It was 1961, when he and a group of black activists rode interstate buses all through the south in an effort to desegregate public transportation. The south was as divided then as it had been 100 years before, during the Civil War.

English: This is a picture of SNCC leader John...
English: This is a picture of SNCC leader John Lewis and Jim Zwerg after being beaten during the Freedom Rides (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
During one of the rides, Lewis was beaten by a hateful man dressed in the white cape of the Ku Klux Klan—Elwin Wilson. Wilson had been involved in cross burnings and violence against black men, including Lewis. Yet in 2009, Wilson, moved by the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black President, wanted to make things right after carrying the guilt of his past for so many years. He wanted to apologize publicly to the man he had beaten bloody nearly 40 years earlier. 

What was the most remarkable about the meeting of the two men was not just the way Wilson turned around the racism that had embittered him years before, but the grace at which Lewis forgave him.

John Lewis is an example for all Americans. His turn-the-other-cheek attitude is, in my view, the right way to deal with racism. If we all follow his example, maybe one day we can retire the word and the hateful concept behind it.







Enhanced by Zemanta