A question of race

This week’s Hump Day Hmm… is about race and the role it plays in our modern society.

Personally, I’ve lived, with the exception for the time that I was at college, in an almost all-white community. To us out here, one minority in the vicinity would be considered diversity. I remember back in 1998, I was having a discussion with a relative about diversity, and I made the remark “We’re getting more of them out by us now”. Without realizing it, I basically made it sound like I was regretting the fact that our corner of the world was becoming integrated. And I was rightly chastised for saying that.

Today, I don’t mind that the area becomes more integrated. Supposedly, we live in an area where the major city is a “minority-majority” city, with about 55% of people living there belonging to one minority group or another. It’s just a natural progression that, as they become more affluent, they would want to come out to my area for a number of reasons – a lower crime rate is one, but we also have slightly lower taxes out here. In fact, until the new store opened up, it wasn’t uncommon to have folks take the long drive out from the city to get to the Wal-Mart Supercenter located out in this area.

While I like to think that I’m not totally biased when it comes to race and ethnicity, I think there is a part of me that, because of where I was brought up, has some racist tendencies. It certainly shouldn’t be confused with someone who has no tolerance for other groups, or the Klan types who think that the only society that is right and proper is white society. What I experience are the little ticks that come from being insulated from other groups.

For example, while I was at the mall yesterday, I’d see groups of young black folks walking, and my natural tendency was to build in some distance between me and them. Naturally, they probably didn’t care if I was there or not, but I noticed them – they were keeping to themselves, yet I had some kind of instinctive reaction to put that distance in. I don’t know if that’s exactly racist or if it’s just a case of being aware of my surroundings and wanting to avoid making contact with people, but it’s an interesting reaction when you think about it in this manner.

On the other hand, I don’t think that there should be institutional thinking based on a person’s skin color or heritage. One story that was in the news last week was how the University of Wisconsin was going to change their admission guidelines. Everything sounded fine, including adding a provision about looking at a person’s socioeconomic background. Where the problem came in was the inclusion of a person’s “racial and ethnic heritage”. In other words, if you’re from a minority, you’re going to have a better chance of getting in than a potentially more-qualified person from the white community.

Personally, I think that is reverse discrimination. I think that programs such as affirmative action have led to many minorities thinking that they are entitled to almost anything even if they do not qualify for it. What the standard should be is equal access – if you’re in a competitive environment, like college admissions, or in the business world, it should be the qualifications you have which lead to you getting that position, not your race.

A great example of that, I think, is the internet. While there are definitely bloggers who are minorities who notice the “institutional” problems from people like marketers, it doesn’t matter to me what color a person is, provided they have good content. One thing that came to my mind when thinking about this idea is that a couple of my favorite blogs are from people with East Asian backgrounds. My favorite podcast is the mrbrown show, from Singapore where, from time to time, you will have some Cantonese spoken. I always enjoy listening to it because it’s fun and I get an insight into another culture far away from here. The other blog that I thought about was The Food Pornographer. TFP is an Aussie of Chinese descent, but I wouldn’t have ever known that if I hadn’t read the FAQ page, because I like reading her posts and always like looking at the food that’s available in her part of the world. That’s the kind of information that is interesting to learn, but it doesn’t change my opinion of them, if anything, it makes me respect them even more.

This is something that I think you’re going to see more of as the Arabic world starts to get involved in the internet, where great content will start to come out of different places and it will be the content of that person’s writing that comes to mind first, and not where they’re from. That is the great thing about the internet because here, there is no need to reveal your background, but for the most part you do because it is what you are, and there is no reason to hide it.

Are we a long way from solving the race problems in this country and in a lot of the world? Definitely, but hopefully the Internet is taking the role of the “great equalizer” for everyone – no matter your race, no matter your income – so hopefully we don’t have to have these discussions anymore and be a single nation of many faces.

7 thoughts on “A question of race

  1. The internet does seem to open doors for a better understanding of how much people have in common, regardless of background, location, and even beliefs. Do differences exist? Yes. Do they matter? Each person has to decide, I think.

    Good, thought-provoking post!

  2. Affirmative action is, I think, a good thing since it’s been shown time and again that not everyone has your understanding of race. It surprises people who aren’t racist that there are employers whose bias affects who gets hired. Yes things should be equal, but they’re not. And affirmative action does not give an unqualified minority a place where a qualified white person would be. It ensures that an equal number of qualified minorities get a fair chance. A misconception about AA is that it gives someone a job or a place in college based on their race. It actually gives them a place only if they’re qualified. (Or it’s supposed to. Whether or not this is how it’s actually done I don’t know.)


  3. But Cugat – race is not the only thing people are biased against. Weight is a major one – even more so because it is somehow OK to be biased against people based on weight! I read an article just yesterday about it.

    “Across the board, overweight people make 1 percent to 6 percent less than their thinner counterparts, and those in service professions earn fewer commissions and tips… In psychological experiments set up to resemble job interviews, the “bosses” consistently pick thin would be employees over fat ones with identical resumes. The psych lab mirrors the real world. Numerous studies show that overweight and obese people, particularly women, are less likely to score jobs for which they’re well qualified. And even if you’re thin, you can undercut your chances of getting a job merely by showing up at the interview with an overweight companion… “I had one guy tell me there was one kind of person he absolutely wasn’t going to hire–a fat girl. And the punch line is, this guy was overweight himself.”


  4. RaJ – I think that there are times when the differences matter, specifically when you’re looking at things like public behavior. For example, in the city, if a crime happens, generally the assumption is made that the perpetrator is of one race or another. Most of that is based in statistics that say that certain groups are more predisposed to commit crimes than others. Is that racist? I don’t think so – it’s just analyzing the information you have. If it appears to be racist, then maybe the perspective of the observer might be of interest. That use of the differences between groups of people goes a long way to show why the Internet can be the great equalizer; it doesn’t matter what color or creed you or, or how you look, if you are a good writer, or good photographer, or have some talent that is appreciated, people will come to your support, no matter any external factors.

    Cugat – Like Snos said, there are other biases than race that people do have. Sure, Affirmative action may take away some bias based on skin color and ethnicity, but there are a lot of other biases that someone could have, and still have a legitimate excuse for not giving a person a position. As far as AA working or not, there is something to be said if you’ve been denied a position to a minority, but I’ve never been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to speak to that.

    Snos – I agree that weight is a major thing that people have a bias against. I remember also hearing something a while back where someone who wasn’t the most attractive person went in for an interview, and wound up not getting the job in deference to someone who was, essentially, a promo girl.

    I’d love to read that whole article; you wouldn’t happen to have a link to it, would you?

    Thanks y’all 😉

  5. Sephy, this is great. Your honesty and openness about where you are from, who you are and how this affects how you think and speak is tremendous. You bring a lot of value to the table.

    Plus, you open up discussion about affirmative action, which is a big consideration. A sociology class I took in college lo these many many years ago tackled that topic for two straight weeks.

    I’m not sure about the question of obligation to reveal background. It’s complicated.

    Very thorough and thought-provoking post…thanks!!!

    Ravin’ Picture Maven

  6. Yes, there are many biases at work in society. I remember weight being an issue as well (didn’t Tyra do a show where she dressed as a fat person? Yes she did!)

    I know a woman who is very tall and beautiful and she insists that the world is a wonderful place full of polite and interesting people who are always eager to help.I have no doubt that if she looked a bit different this would change for her. Fortunately I’m hunky so things always work out the way they’re supposed to.

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