The difficult discussions people don’t want to have

I started out intending to do a short piece on this ridiculous incident in Louisiana about college students who thought it was knee-slapping funny to roll in the mud and play blackface on video depicting the Jena 6.

As I typed this out (again another wee hours of the AM post), it occurred to me the there are some interesting parallels that can be drawn about our difficulties discussing race and in the case of ENDA, transgender issues. Read on and see if you can make the connection.

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White Louisiana students re-enact ‘Jena 6’ in blackface

From The Smoking Gun. The fact that these people thought it was hysterically funny to do this is all the evidence one needs to confirm that an honest discussion about the third rail topic of race is sorely needed.

http://www.courttv.com/tsg/jena6.swf

A group of white Louisiana college students dressed in blackface and reenacted the “Jena 6” assault while a friend snapped photos and videotaped the staged attack, images that were later posted to a participant's Facebook page. The photos, which you'll find on the following pages, were taken late last month on the bank of the Red River, where students from the University of Louisiana at Monroe giddily acted out the racial attack. The photos (and the short video clip at right) were posted to the Facebook page of Kristy Smith, a freshman nursing student. The album of images was entitled “The Jena 6 on the River.” In the video, three students with mud smeared across their bodies stomp on a fourth student, while two of the participants are heard to say, “Jena 6.” One man can also be heard saying, “Niggers put the noose on.”

The images were taken down, but not before other students snared the video. In subsequent Facebook postings, Smith said:

“We were just playin n the mud and it got out of hand. I promise i’m not racist. i have just as many black friends as i do white. And i love them to death,” she wrote. She added in a later message that her friends “were drinking” and things “got a lil out of hand.”

The Smoking Gun also points to similar racially charged images placed on Facebook by college students in Texas, Connecticut, and South Carolina.

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The bottom line is that the first order of business was for Smith to declare she’s not racist. That label is clearly radioactive to most people, so much so that they can simply cannot own the fact that they engaged in racist behavior. In their minds they rationalize away such incidents because a real racist burns a cross on someone’s lawn, or ties a black man to the back of a truck and drags him until his limbs fall off.

The matter isn’t helped when professional self-appointed Leaders of the Black CommunityTM (Jesse Jackson comes to mind first) tosses out the “racist” card way too often, explicitly because they know the label is radioactive.

Generally speaking, we can’t get very far if people cannot even admit that racism is still part of our culture, and that one can engage in negative race-based thinking or behavior without putting a Klan hood on. Look at Michael Richards. One of the striking things about his unhinged apology on Letterman last year, after appearing onstate at a comedy club and going on an unhinged rant because of black heckler in the audience was that he felt compelled to say he wasn’t racist.

“I’m not a racist. That’s what’s so insane about this,” Richards said, his tone becoming angry and frustrated as he defended himself.

How is this not racist:

“Shut up! Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a f—— fork up your a–…Throw his ass out. He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! A nigger, look, there’s a nigger!”

Those comments obviously indicate that Richards either must have been possessed by a racist demon or he was just “playing one” onstage that night, right?

The real problem is that Richards was more concerned about being labeled racist because contemporary society has deemed that label the sign of a fringe element, a social pariah.

Had he been more self-reflective he might have something more sane, such as “I realize that I am a product of a culture steeped in a toxic history regarding race, and my outburst — and the response to it — is a teachable moment. It’s important to think about how we feel about race and how our internal views about race play out in our daily lives. I intend to do so, because there was no excuse for what I said on stage.”

Instead, his advisers felt it was necessary for him to ring up Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to beg for mercy. That isn’t productive.

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This whole mess about ENDA, particularly the dialogue that has resulted in perceived anti-trans opinion to bubble up to the surface is quite similar to discussing race.

It appears some people are reluctant to publicly broach the subject of transfolk in LGBT movement and the effect on or strategy of the passage of anti-discrimination legislation lest they be labeled with the equally radioactive word “bigot.” Nothing shuts down the conversation or draws a line in the sand faster.

If people want to make the case that Ts shouldn’t be attached to LGB, then that’s a discussion that reveals a serious difference in opinion and philosophy about the definition of our movement. It needs to be aired out honestly and openly. It’s relevant to know how many hold this view and why. It’s the first step toward admitting a problem we all must face to move forward.

It’s one matter to make a case that the trans protections should be dropped from ENDA as a matter of strategy and pragmatism, it’s a completely different matter to hold the view that Ts aren’t really part of the movement at all and use the former as PC cover for belief in the latter.

Is this view due to lack of direct engagement with transfolk on the issue, a lack of education on the history of the movement, or is it because of some other factor that is worthy of open discussion that may inform those on the other side of the issue that may shed new light on the topic?

It really is identical to the problem our country has with race — we’ll never know if people aren’t willing to express their fears without getting their heads bitten off. By the same token, no rational discussion about sensitive topics can take place if that expression is not really about engaging tactfully or diplomatically, but unloading frustrations in a way that is hurtful and shuts down conversation. That’s what happens when people leave these discussions buried — they come out in all the wrong ways, resulting in flashpoints at the completely wrong time.

I don’t have a solution, of course, it’s a matter of observing human nature and how difficult we often make things for one another when we talk all around the real problem — the lack of ability to communicate effectively.

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