Monday, November 24, 2008

Racism in the Kansas City Area

With the recent election everyone has racism on the brain, much like I do since racism is one of my top 3 things about the world I dislike. I simply can't understand treating someone poorly based on skin tone anymore than I can understand treating someone poorly for having a vagina, like how I was raised. So this week (excepting Thursday when I'll take a break for Thanksgiving) I'm dedicating my posts to racism and specifically how it has and does affect the KC area. I'm going to start out by telling you my personal experience with it and go on to cover historical aspects. Then on Friday, I'll end out with a guest post by none other than Tony of Tony's Kansas City to give his unique perspective on the issue.

So... racism, you ready?

In my experience living in KC, there are some things I just know I can get away with as a white person that I wouldn't be able to if I weren't. While part of me feels relief about this, the other part is pissed off and irritated that not even our cops treat all people the same - which doesn't surprise me overall because most criminally convicted persons are not white.

But this isn't an overt thing. No one except for a few close friends have ever discussed it with me and to me it's just one more sign of the blatant yet ignored racism that flows through Kansas City. For instance, I didn't even realize just how racism my father was for YEARS because he can talk such a good game about equality and whatever, but when it comes right down to it, he is honestly terrified of black people and looks down on them.

I only realized this after something that happened to me when I was just about 12 years old or so. My little sister and I were playing out in the neighborhood as were a couple of boys slightly older than us, one white and one black. For some reason I can't remember, we got into a shouting match with them and they drove us off by throwing rocks at us.

We got home and my little sister must've told my parents about it, because I don't remember doing so. But after they found out my dad made me go with him to the only black family in the neighborhood and stand there as he reamed out this kid's mom. Nothing was done about the white kid who was also there and nothing was ever done about other neighborhood jerks so it was obvious to me that this reaction was clearly to the skin color and nothing else.

The next time racism really touched me was when I was attending Maple Woods Community College. I had a few black friends up there, one of whom invited several of us to a birthday party at her house. There was a dance floor set up in the basement and being a great lover of dancing, I immediately got out there and started shaking my booty with several of my friends. A black guy I didn't know started dancing with me and it had to be only a minute or so into dancing with me before he tried to stick both his hands down my pants and under my panties. I pushed him off immediately and had to deal with him and his friends calling me a racist all night and spreading shit about me around the room.

After that, racism hasn't really affected me too much here in KC, except as a continuing undercurrent of reactions I observe from people. Interactions on the street will show that tons of white people here are literally terrified to encounter a non-white in the downtown and midtown area. I am shocked and incredulous that to this day so many people react so strongly to a tiny freaking difference in genetic makeup. It boggles my mind and that's one reason I wanted to write this series.

I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this topic, so DON'T HOLD BACK! Unless you're a racist bastard and then I don't care what you think because you're wrong.

Related posts:
How Obama Gave Me My Pride Back
The Unapologetic Mexican
Babes in History and Fiction: part 3

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9 comments:

-Jenna- said...

Racism is prevalent everywhere, and sometimes people don't even realize that they themselves at times show racist actions.

A few semesters ago at MU-Columbia, I took a(n) (AWESOME) cultural competence class. One of the things I did for the class was just observed different situations and locations to see if racism was prevalent in employees, service workers, or just the general public. I was shocked by how much I saw.

It's definitely made me more aware of how I treat other people (Even though I've never considered myself racist), what conversations I participate in, what remarks are said that I challenge, and how my attitude affects other people.

Definitely looking forward to reading these this week!

JOCOeveryman said...

This is the first time I've visited your blog and I did so on Tony's request.

I think the subjects of racism, gender bias, sexual orientation bias are really interesting in discussions framed by people of our age. I think you provide some insightful thoughts on the subject that I enjoyed. I think you also make some assumptions as well based on your experiences that I might challenge as being apart of some baggage you carry...either right or wrong...you know?

Your example of you at the party and being violated is a great example. It sucks to be called a racist when you aren't doesn't it? It didn't make sense to you but it clearly made sense to them.

From reading your profile I think most people would think you and I would mix like oil and water but I really respect people who think differently than me if it is coherent and intelligent. You seem smart.

I'll check back on your blog.

Demosthenes said...

Anybody who says they're not a racist is a liar. You cannot grow up in this country without being subtly influenced by the chasm that exists between people of different ethnicities. It is the fear of "the OTHER." (A fear not-so-subtly played on by the recent GOP VP candidate, who kept repeating, "He's not like us.")

I've lived long enough, though, to witness positive changes -the election of Obama being the pinnacle. But we still have so far to go.

I'm old enough to remember watching television - dumbstruck - as fire hoses and police dogs were turned on peaceful protesters. I was maybe 10 at the time, sitting with my dad and watching the news. I didn't understand what was happening.

My father just sat there, grim-faced. I remember him saying, over and over, 'this just isn't right.' He talked about the inequality behind the protests, and then told me, "I fought (in WWII) alongside Negro soldiers, and their blood was just as red as mine." (He always said he loved Harry Truman for desegregating the military.)

I credit him for my strong sense of justice.

But do I hold my purse a little tighter walking alone and coming up to a black man? As a (white)woman, am I just a little bit frightened? Do I assume things about people of color?

Sadly, yes. It comes on without thought, without logic. And I don't like it...

techengine said...

Hi May:

Thanks for having the guts to post and comment on this topic. Being an African American in Kansas City, I run into racism every day and it is even more prevalent since an African American is entering the White House. It is true that racism exist all over but Kansas City is at the top of the list. For years I have had to compete at a higher level than whites that were less qualified and had less education than I did because of the "good ole boy mentality". I have several friends who are successful in engineering and facilities management because they chose to leave Kansas City and never return except to visit family and friends. I go into interviews and the white men look at me like I just stole their lollipops! Over time, you begin to develop a sixth sense and can always notice when there is resentment. I commend you for your courage and will continue to support your views this week regarding this subject. I have friends from different cultures, races and religions and have always prided myself on being able to get along with anyone, but sometimes it is difficult. I have traveled to other parts of the country and I have found Kansas City to be one of the worst and the most ridiculous part is that most times the racism is hidden beneath bureaucratic nonsense and company tricks. Thanks for your courage and wisdom. You are truly a breath of fresh air.

A. Ward

orpheus001 said...

So, I'm going to play devil's advocate because, well, it's what I do.

I acknowledge that there is much racism in our country, far too much, in fact.

However, I believe that at least some of what is often attributed to racism in fact has nothing to do with the color of a person's skin and instead has everything to do with a difference of culture.

When I encounter an unknown person, regardless of the color of their skin, I notice things. They may dress differently than me and I might not recognize the symbols on their clothing - what do they mean? They may speak differently than me and have different mannerisms - what are they saying or thinking? A certain amount of such differences are good - I would certainly not want everyone to be the same as me because that would be a boring (and annoying) world. But when those differences are great then I cannot gauge what the person is thinking or what they will do or how they will react to what I say and do. I don't know if something I say will offend them and sometimes much of what they say and do offends me. The guy at the party dancing with you, May, might be an example of this. Was he just a scumbag or was it simply a cultural difference? Maybe the people in his social circles consider that acceptable and normal behavior. Either way, it was certainly offensive to you and rightly so.

Middle eastern cultures tend to stand very close when speaking, and this makes me uncomfortable. Many "manly" sports fans like to engage in unwanted physical contact with people they barely know - I don't want people I don't know smacking my ass thank you very much.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I agree that racism is certainly bad, but on the other hand I don't think that most people are racist but instead that they are simply wary of people whose culture is different from theirs, and rightly so - it is important to try to be diplomatic and if you say and do what you consider normal in front of someone very different from yourself you may start an arguyment or a fight or worse.

The problem is not being wary, the problem is when someone allows that wariness to turn into hate.

-Bryan

Xavier Onassis said...

I can't deny that racism is real and prevalent. I won't deny that I probably have some latent racism in me even though I think I don't and try to be self-aware enough to counter it when it rears its ugly head.

But I also think that, as with most things in life, you tend to find what you are looking for.

Some people are so hyper-alert for racism, they see it everywhere, all the time, in everybody. But if they applied Occam's Razor to their social interactions, they might find that there is a simpler explanation for what they observe.

Do you see me? said...

Not an easy topic and glad you are willing to put it out there. I think white privilege is really what you and some of the readers have encountered and experienced. Being able to make judgments about black people - is this one safe?, is this one dangerous?, is the culture different? - are all examples of white privilege where white people's expectations and norms are the default! Imagine if there was a completely different set of assumptions and you were judged based on them, but they made no sense to you. You don't have to because you have privilege. Great post and comments!

techengine said...

Orpheus001:

I could agree with you in certain circumstances that when your wariness turns to hate but you have to admit, the double standard for performance especially in the workplace is a problem. Continue to keep an open mind and hopefully others will think as you do. Thanks for the comment.

orpheus001 said...

techengine:

I agree - a double standard in any situation is always a problem whether it relates to race, gender or something else entirely. People should be judged on merit and action and little else, or not judged at all.