Dec 3, 2011

On Racism

As a young, black male, the idea of racism is something that is both a real fear and brushed aside thought. I realize that the racism I have experienced (if any) is nothing compared to the social struggles and outright fights that generations before me have dealt with. I'm a product of a relatively accepting society. However, stereotypes are alive and well and from time to time I am acutely aware of when I come up against them. This puts me in an interesting place. On the one hand, I generally believe that people treat me fairly and are not racist. But I also feel that this belief makes me complacent and unable to distinguish "real" racism unless it is outrageously obvious.

Recently, some events have transpired that I think might be racist. However, I'm not sure if I'm being overly sensitive. This is where I need your help, dear readers. I want your opinions on these events to see if I'm justified in my qualification of them being racist. Here we go.

The "N-word-lipped" Situation
A friend of mine, who lives in NYC told me the following story. While hosting an open mic at a comedy club he stepped outside with another comic to get some fresh air. He and the comic he was with ran into a third comic who was outside finishing a cigarette. The comic with my friend asked the other comic if he could get the last few puffs from the butt. The smoking comic agreed, saying, "Just so you know, I N-word-lipped it." This took my friend, who is black, aback. Now, to be clear, the smoking comic, a white guy, did not say the n-word, but instead used the term "n-word." I know it's a little confusing. The question: Is what the smoking comic said racist? And going further, is this new use of "n-word" racist? My friend believes that "n-word" is the new term white people use as slang since they know the full word is off limits and I agree with him. I think the whole thing is racist and that comic needs to be told his behavior is unacceptable. I believe my friend intends to call him out at the next open mic and I fully support his actions. What do you think?

Ndamukong Suh is a Beast
Last week, the star defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions, Ndamukong (pronounced Na-dom-mu-kong) Suh,  was ejected from a Thanksgiving Day NFL game for stomping on Green Bay Packers offensive lineman, Evan Dietrich-Smith. If you missed it, check out the video below.

I bring this up because later in the week, while listening to sports talk radio here in the Dallas area, I heard one of the on-air personalities, a white guy, refer to Suh as "Donkey Kong" Suh. I admit Suh's first name is difficult to pronounce and even that Ndamukong has a similar sound to Donkey Kong, but don't let that obscure the issue. Since when has it been OK to to refer to black people as fictional primates? I think it's racist, am I on my own with this one? What do you think?

Why would you think that?
There have been some changes at one of my jobs, specifically, a new supervisor. One of the first things she did was talk to everyone about their work schedule and how many hours they usually worked in a week. When she talked to me about this, I told her my availability. After writing it down, she asked me if I had a second job. I told her I did. My new boss, a white lady, then asked me if I was available to work weekends, I told her I was not due to my third job. To that she responded, "What you got kids to take care of?" I looked at her with confusion and said, "if you mean student loans, then yes." She just nodded and moved on to the next thing she wanted to talk to me about. Was what she said to me racist? Just because I have multiple jobs she assumes I have children? Or, is it because I have multiple jobs and am a black male? This is the kind of stereotype I mean... So, again, what's your opinion? Am I off base or right on target?

These incidents are unrelated except for the possibility of racism that I've spotted in each of them. One could argue that these are things that are inconsequential on a larger scale, but I think that lowers the necessity of personal responsibility. I understand the need to pick my spots in terms of battles I can win, and these might not be winnable spots. However, I can't seem to let them go. Your thoughts?


  1. Hey Rick - it's interesting that you posted this, I was just talking to someone about when I take field trips with my students, the new racism is this weird stare/look that white people give. I myself am white, but I pick up on it. People would think that is ridiculous or me being oversensitive because it's just a look, nothing really outwardly tangible. As for feedback about your situations, the boss situation seems the trickiest to discern since three jobs is intense. I'd probably make a similar joke to any male, or ask them if they had a drug habit, just to be snarky.

  2. I notice a lot of people think it's acceptable to be slightly racist--even in the company of people they'd obviously offend--if they're "just joking": the comic situation, the NFL comment. The new boss thing might not have been racism-based, but it's still totally unprofessional of her, even as a joke. On a lighter note: I like the new blog design!

  3. Brilliant. Saying "n-word" is like typing sh*t. Everybody knows what you meant and it's still inappropriate. I'm just surprised that he actually said it to the guys' face. Plus its' doubly offensive because even if he had used a different word he still chose to use a blatant derogatory reference to a typically African-American physical characteristic

  4. Regarding the use of the "n-word," if you're going around saying "n-word" in place of the actual word but still using it like the actual word, then yes, that is racist. The phrase "n-word" is mainly just for discussions about the word itself without saying the word and not to be used as an expletive . Saying, "What up, my n-word?" may make you feel better, but does not absolve you of your personal responsibility in your word choice. Regarding the third situation, I would say that's ignorance in general. Maybe she said it because you're black, maybe not, but either way she clearly didn't think before she opened her mouth.