Black In White America

Jo Ann Hardesty

[Editor's note: Today, we welcome Jo Ann Bowman to our cast of contributors. Jo Ann is a former state representative and is now the executive director for Oregon Action. Welcome to BlueOregon, Jo Ann!]

I had to travel to Seattle this weekend and this is how it went.

-took a cab from Lloyd Center to the train station; it cost $7 but it should have cost me less than $5, when challenged said she was trying to avoid construction. I live next door to the steel bridge, no construction.

-as i approach the ticket counter at the train station the clerk announced, "This line is only for business class", as if I had lost my ability to read before approaching him and couldn't possibly be in the right line.

-as I placed my carry on bags on top of my assign seat, I noticed the horrified look from a middle-aged white business man when he saw me approach, To my horror I was assigned to the seat next to him but choose a seat just in front of him instead, his audible sigh of relief convinced me I had made the right choice.

-waited patiently in line at my "Three Star" hotel while the desk clerk provided detail information on places to eat, sights to see and other amenities available for travelers; when it was my turn, she tossed the key and when I asked about a map she threw that across the counter as well, with no additional information.

-bought a take out dinner at a nice waterfront restaurant, got my food back to the hotel and it was too burnt to eat.

Many of my friends will read the above and chalk it up to just poor service. That was not the problem. In each case there was a white person seeking the same service. In each case the outcome was different. In each case the white american got what was expected from their money. Imagine this experience 100's of times a day.

Sometimes you react, sometimes not.

Just another day of being Black in White America

Comments

  • backbeat (unverified)
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    Thanks so much for your post.

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    Yes, it's too bad this kind of stuff still happens.

    We've gotten the same thing on multiple occasions - I'm white and my husband is Asian. On a few occasions I was getting good service, but then my husband and daughter would come straggling along (they hate waiting in lines and will often go walk around outside or whatever). Suddenly things go from fine to frosty.

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)
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    ... or being a Latino, Arabian, poor, Muslim, olive-skinned, long-haired, Jewish, marijuana user, ex-convict, smoker, homosexual, liberal, vegetarian, Persian, atheist, French...

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    Service, in my estimation, will be like this for quite some time. Why? Simple. All those "hard working white Americans" as Hillary Clinton puts it. Not all, by any means, but many disproportionately stupid, uneducated, racists. Why else do you think they're stuck in such low end jobs?

    You want nice treatment? Go to a silicon valley company valley company, like mine.

    It sucks, obviously. But just remember, Jo Ann, they're not worth it.

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    Welcome, Jo Ann!

    This past Thursday I was at a community meeting. I saw a gentleman that I had seen at least 5 times in the past and spoken to on the phone twice. He asked me if I was the librarian at the North Portland library. A lovely woman, but 25 years older than me, six inches taller, long braids and did I mention 25 years older? I just smiled and another librarian said, "don't you love those days when you just have to swallow it and smile?" PS: we are both black.

    Cheers!

  • Becky Gladstone (unverified)
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    Jo Ann, I've seen it too, no denying it. I'm sorry to hear it, again, and again. Whenever I can, I vote with my wallet, and say so. Some places just don't need my money! I wish when traveling alone, my treatment would be the same as suited white guys'. Let's keep working on it. And nice tips - the shock effect is fun and the staff deserve it, hotel room staff too. Becky G

  • ws (unverified)
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    Jo Ann, when you react to the kind of people met in the examples you mention, how do they respond? Do you find that your usual manner of responding in those situations gets them to understand and have second thoughts about having responded the way they did?

    I don't doubt the truth of the examples you cite. Many people enjoy being petty and malicious, especially when there is considerable public acceptance involved in doing so when directed towards certain targets. It would be hard to dispute the idea that blacks in the U.S. are one of the easier targets for that sort of thing.

    As previous commenter's have noted, other types of people get something on the order of this kind of treatment too, for their own distinguishing characteristics. In my own experience, learning how to read these people and skillfully respond to them in an effective way seems to be the best. I've been woefully bad at that myself, and have gotten run over and over repeatedly because of that. I hope I'm starting to some kind of grip on it.

    Good luck, and hope your future sees a lessening of the incidents you describe.

  • Fred Stewart (unverified)
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    Crap like this rarely happens to me. When it does, I usually ignore it and move on.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Jo Ann Bowman:

    took a cab from Lloyd Center to the train station; it cost $7 but it should have cost me less than $5

    Bob T:

    Isn't $7.00 the minimum by law (taxi cartel created and protected by government)? Anyway, better deals could be available if we re-allowed individual, owner-operator taxi services (jitneys, so to speak) not chained down by the stupid minimum requirements that exist under the guise of "protecting the consumer".

    Detroit has them (they are illegal but tolerated, but should be legalized so that insurance and other issues can be dealt with). For those who will claim that if we allow this we'll see taxi drivers raping passengers all day long, quit drinking the Kool-Aid.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Tom in L.A. (unverified)
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    Yes, Jo Ann, and when I tell people my last name, which is Italian, people of all backgrounds often say to me, "Who do you know in the Mafia?" And when I say that I write movies for adults, people of all backgrounds often say to me, "Oh, you mean porno?" And when I say that I'm originally from New York City, people of all backgrounds often say to me, "So you must be, like, really rude, right?" And when I say on this very website that I live in L.A., one person leaves a seven-word post concluding that this is why I'm "hip and clueless." So there are apparently a lot of shallow, not terribly bright, or at the very least extremely presumptuous people out there and they come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Who do you think you're kidding by pretending it only happens to you because of the color of your skin?

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    And, to some extent politicians seeking votes in November will feel obliged to pander to these racists and bigots just as they do with the Likud and Kadima party supporters. We might climb another rung in the ladder in November, but the promised land is still a long way off - just like peace in Iraq.

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    I usually find the whole hierarchy of oppression thing to be a waste of time, but the idea that stereotypes about folks living in LA or misunderstandings about the types of movies being written is at all analogous to the historical, violent and deeply embedded pattern of racism makes me, to say the least, cringe tremendously.

    Welcome to BlueOregon, Jo Ann. I have long appreciated your leadership role in county administration, the Coalition for a Livable Future and Oregon Action, and very much look forward to more of your posts. I'm happy your voice is getting heard.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Bodden: And, to some extent politicians seeking votes in November will feel obliged to pander to these racists and bigots just as they do with the Likud and Kadima party supporters.

    Mr. Bodden uses some nice coded language of his own (referring to two of the many Israeli political parties)to allude to the so-called Jewish vote. Good job. nice example, Mr. Bodden.

    As for the original posting by Ms. Bowman, thank you thank you. It helps to be reminded of this sort of obnoxious stuff.

    I had several experiences similar to Ms. Bowman's train-seating experience in Japan, except there it involved the Japanese seat neighbors getting up and moving. Friends of mine who have lived and travelled in Japan have had comparable experiences. We're all Caucasians. Racist reactions seem to be, sadly, distributed across many cultures. But practically speaking, there's absolutely nothing I can do about the situation in Japan, while I can do something about the situation in the US. Examining my own silly prejudices is where I try to start.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)
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    Former state Rep. JoAnn Bowman (D-Portland) says going to see a mixed-race candidate “is an easy way for so-called progressives to feel like they are doing something positive.” Bowman, who’s undecided but leaning toward Edwards, says blacks are by no means united behind Obama, who mostly draws “suburban white folks.” --Willlamette Week

    I'm gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whities I see,

    I'm gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whities I see.

    When I kill all the whities I see, then whitey he won't bother me,

    I'm gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whities I see.

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    I have no idea what point Pat is trying to make, but - for everyone else - it's a Saturday Night Live reference from the 1970s.

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    Ms. Bowman has so fully embraced victimhood the even bad take-out becomes evidence of racism directed her way. For someone hell-bent on finding bigotry in even in the most innocent of daily interactions they will undoubtedly find it.

    Unfortunately there is always a willing audience to hear these views and lend them credibility.

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    Buckman Res,

    Just a reminder about the last paragraph...

    "In each case there was a white person seeking the same service. In each case the outcome was different. In each case the white american got what was expected from their money. Imagine this experience 100's of times a day."

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Ms Bowman, I am sorry for your unfortunate set of circumstances. However, I fail to see where these events as described could only be due to racism.

  • MCT (unverified)
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    JoAnn, I am so sorry you've had to suffer these insults. And I cannot imagine what it must be like to live it every day, though I have often tried. Of course as a woman I have experienced biases and sexual harrassment, and as an immigrant child in southerm IL, we were subjected to the sting of xenophobia. They wanted to put me in a speech impediment class to cure my British accent. And now as I near the age of 57, there is a new prejudice that sort of snuck up on me. The one that comes with age, where one becomes invisible to younger sections of the population. (Looking back I see that I was guilty of this denegration in my youth, to a degree.) And of course there is the growing trend to judge people by their visible economic standing....beware the person in shabby clothes driving the beat up car.

    Is it human nature to vilify genetic and/or social differences and use them as reasons to ostrasize and insult? Do we see this behavior in the animal kingdom? Can we possibly survive as a species in a crowded world if we cannot use our superior brain power to overcome our prejudices? How can we celebrate diversity if we cannot achieve tolerance and respect?

    The answers to these questions are the root of our future.

    Good post JoAnn....we need your voice here.

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    Ms. Bowman, I'm also sorry to hear about this. I'm not sure I see you accusing the individuals of racism, but I can see how the pattern would be infuriating for you. Thanks for sharing your experience, and hopefully we can all help our society make some progress around this kind of stuff. And quickly.

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    Racism still exists? Even here in Oregon? I'm shocked!!

    People reacting to other people according to sterotypes? In 2008? I'm dumbfounded.

    We can even find racism alive and well here among the comments on Blue Oregon, if we look hard enough and try to provoke it out of people.

    Of course racism exists and people judge and act according to stereotypes. So what are we going to do about it?

    Why can't we all just get along?

    Maybe the first step is to try to get along. Be open to getting along, without any preconditions, or preconceived notions.

    Thanks for your post Jo Ann, and welcome.

  • MCT (unverified)
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    And I noticed a lot of folks here saying so what, I have experienced prejudice and rudeness. There should be no SO WHAT....none of it is okay. We CAN set ourselves higher standards in our dealings with our fellow humans.

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    Hey -- I have an idea! Maybe we can get rid of racism by deriding the very real experiences of those who face it and insist that it must be THEIR problem, that they must just be making it up! If we don't listen to and confront the realities of it, it will probably go away!

    La La La, I don't hear anything, la la la.

    Is it gone yet?

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    We probably need to be reminded of this, not on the basis of Jo Ann being black but on the basis of unthinking irresponsible reactions to something immaterial. I'm not sorry about it, I had nothing to do with it, I'm offended that it happens - regardless of what year it is or what race, etc is involved.

    Let me ask this: When people of color or whatever see me - white, heavily tanned, bearded construction worker, obvious rough case - do you assume about me? Do you figure 'here comes the biggotry?' Here comes ignorance? Well so many of 'that' kind are...

    The point is that a lot more of us do this to each other than will admit it. Now I seldom get anything like the treatment Jo Ann mentions, but we need to look at ourselve regularly to see what we're about.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    Don't cabbies try to rip everyone off white or black? :)

    Thanks for the post Jo Ann!

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    One of the stupid remarks I made to someone in recent memory, and in retrospect obviously based on a stereotype, was this: Chatting for the first time with a male Chinese immigrant, mid-30s in age, lives in Beaverton, the subject turned to occupation, and I said something along the lines of "oh, you must be an engineer in high-tech somewhere." Nope....And afterwards I felt like a complete idiot. We all do this sort of stuff. The point is not playing a blame game or debating who is more oppressed than whom, but recognizing what we've done and trying not to repeat our mistakes.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)
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    Great post JoAnn. We of the white persuasion need to be reminded that the service some of us take for granted is not available to all in this country, or in other countries with a large non-white populace.

    I used to have this kind of treatment as a youngster growing up Jewish in an all Italian neighborhood. I kept wondering where my horns and tail were as the Italian merchants kept telling me they wouldn't serve me because I was a "jew boy" and a "Christ killer".

    Not quite the same as your experiences in a more diverse world, but I have some small sense of how you must feel.

    Best to Skip.

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    I look forward to watching Miss Bowman shake folks out of their comfort zones. This is an excellent start.

    No matter whether someone agrees or disagrees with this post, there are very few people who won't find themselves paying closer attention next time they are in line, or in any sort of customer service scenario. Learning about someone else's experiences always makes us more aware of our own.

    No matter what my own experiences have been, I absolutely know that it is not my right to deny what someone else's experiences have been. I have no doubt that Jo Ann has experienced all of the things she writes about, and that yes a great deal of it has to do with biases. I've witnessed it enough (and not as the target) to believe it. I've seen store clerks prepare to serve me before a person of color, although that person was very much ahead of me in line. I've had bus drivers give me longer times on transfers than on the woman of color in front of me. I've seen passengers on the bus move seats in order to avoid sitting with someone of color, by moving to sit with someone else, including me. As Jo Ann shares, sometimes I react and sometimes I don't. On their own, or before I set out to be more aware of my world, none of these things would neccessarily have stick out. But again, as Jo Ann mentions, having them happen over and over, day in and day out, is an entirely different experience.

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)
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    I would not be surprised if one or more of the cited incidents were racially motivated. The attitude of the businessman on the train seems particularly suspect. That is sad and unfortunate.

    I would also throw out there that my wife and I, two white folks, find ourselves frequently discussing how bad service is virtually everywhere we go. Good service seems to be the exception these days. By adding this, I do not intend to dismiss Jo Ann's experience, but it is definitely a factor out there.

  • Bridget (unverified)
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    I think we all do this to each other, making assumptions about people, based on experience. And I'm sorry that this happens. I don't like it when people don't recognize my humanity and I'm a middle-class white chick. And I'm not sure what to do about it, other than to recognize my own behavior, and help others with theirs. It would wear me down to experience racism on top of bad service. At the same time, when we expect folks to treat us badly, they do. So, how do we do this? How do we expect folks to treat us right, get let down, and expect it again?

  • Bridget (unverified)
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    I think we all do this to each other, making assumptions about people, based on experience. And I'm sorry that this happens. I don't like it when people don't recognize my humanity and I'm a middle-class white chick. And I'm not sure what to do about it, other than to recognize my own behavior, and help others with theirs. It would wear me down to experience racism on top of bad service. At the same time, when we expect folks to treat us badly, they do. So, how do we do this? How do we expect folks to treat us right, get let down, and expect it again?

  • randel (unverified)
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    Just be thankful you aren't a white person in Black America. A black person can walk thru Lake Oswego and maybe just get some bad customer service. A white person walking thru Compton would be killed.

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    randel: A white person walking thru Compton would be killed.

    More likely, asked if he was looking for a score - which is the reason why a lot of white people go to Compton. The vast majority of ghetto violence isn't directed against the customers, it's "black on black": rival gangs fighting over the territory needed to sell to white drug addict customers.

    That's the plain truth, randel. It's also true that you're racist, but maybe you can change that.

  • Robert (unverified)
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    Some of those incidents sound terrible, and I am truly sorry that you encountered such ignorance.

    However, I apologize, but your dinner was burned? If this is an example of the "100s of times a day" you experience racism, then I'm afraid you're looking too hard.

    Further, even if you lead a very active life, "100s of times a day" would still amount to almost every single social interaction of your day. I frankly have a difficult time believing that.

  • Mike (unverified)
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    I live in Japan and, as a previous commenter noted, it's quite common for Japanese people to not sit next to non-Japanese on trains, etc.

    I'm not sure if it's racism - I think they are often afraid they'll be forced to speak to the non-Japanese person in poor English.

    Saying that though, there are a lot of areas where foreigners in Japan are discriminated against. Housing is the most obvious one (it's not uncommon to see real estate ads proclaiming 'foreigners OK').

    Regarding Oregonians, it's conceivable (to me, anyway) that many of them may not be sure how to react because Oregon was - and still is - a very white state. Having grown up in Oregon, I can attest to my own awkwardness in the past. I like to think I have finally moved beyond it. being on the receiving end of it certainly gives one a sense of perspective, that's for sure.

    Anyway, I look forward to hearing more about your work at Oregon Action.

  • John Skelter (unverified)
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    Mrs Bowman - Part of the unity and healing Obama brings to the table includes Reparations, which is also supported by many other Black leaders. The healing begins with payment for transgressions and wounds inflicted and not fully healed. There are many blacks struggling in American right now and we are kept being told "The Check is in the Mail." Well we're tied of waiting.

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)
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    My oldest adopted son is Black. My wife and I are white. We adopted and to make a long story short, it was a package deal! Ended up with a mixed race family, and the learning began.

    My wife got comments in the grocery store, "My, you are not very selective are you?". You should have seen how that went! I'm quite sure the other woman was less than pleased with the result, let's just keep it there and call it good.

    Our kids have each had problems in school over race issues. Of course, being one family, we don't see color in the same way many do and it shows! I back them each time, sometimes wondering if our school administrators don't need a lesson or two in this department, when I see them just try to marginalize all parties so as to keep themselves clean in the conflict.

    (I know they know the right thing, but lack the strength to actually act on it, without serious prodding.)

    As my Black son grew older, I spent time exploring this, "You don't know what it means to be Black!" comment I got from him, fairly often. Well, I don't really, but I can say I know a lot more now than I did back then.

    What I have learned bothers me deeply. Like your post bothers me deeply.

    I've learned that many people, who say "African American" really don't know anybody that is Black and that if they did, they would understand how annoying that phrase is! What, are they White American then?

    (For a good laugh, try that sometime. It's fun!)

    I've learned that Black people share a sense of shared identity. IMHO, this is good and bad. The good is that they are not alone in this fight against ignorant, bigoted and racist Americans. The bad is all the stuff they do sometimes to show their Blackness, like it's some sort of marginalized club that you feel better if you are in, but everything still sucks anyway.

    (don't take that wrong. I'm talking about forced eubonics, sounding ignorant, acting ignorant and other such things and tying those to being Black, as if it matters somehow --it doesn't)

    I've learned that sometimes rich White people like young Black athletes because they might perform better because of their diminished socio-economic status. White kids spend too much time playing video games, while Black kids can't afford that stuff and live in rough neighborhoods, which increases their drive and physical ability to play sports.

    (yes, I heard this crap more than once!)

    My son tells me many of his friends don't have parents at home. When I ask why, he says they can't afford to do that. He tells me that it's tough to do the right things, stand strong on drugs, not go hanging out on the streets, develop that chip on his shoulder, like the ones his friends have.

    He tells me it's tough to act White, and still be cool with his Black friends. We still have not figured that one out, but we are trying. His friends sometimes call him a Wigger, because he's sharing more than the "pure" Black culture they are. I don't know what to do with that, other than to just try to understand and focus on building him up to be a solid, good person. Isn't that Black enough? I don't know.

    Of course, I respond with can't we just be good Americans, trying to do the right things as much of the time as we are able? His answer, "yes, but you still don't understand what it means to be Black."

    Like I said, still trying to figure that out.

    I've learned that some Black people like being Black. Some like it because they are comfortable with who they are. Good on them. Many of us, no matter the race we are, never really get there. I think my Son is going to be one of these people. I need this to happen as much as he wants it to happen, so maybe we will get there!

    I've learned that being Black carries with it a lot of social pressure and fear. I think this is true for a lot of people, but as far as I can tell, it's somewhat more focused for Black people --at least these are the things my son and I have seen and talked about and have experienced.

    Fear and pressure slowly train us to fear who we are and reject that to become what others think we should be. It's a nasty box, and I think a lot of people try to put Black people into that box and they don't even know. This angers me and bothers me because it's subtle, making it a very, very difficult norm to correct.

    I've learned that Black people can be strong! My son is strong and loyal to his family and friends. He often commands respect and demonstrates leadership. We both worked hard to nurture these things and it shows.

    Of course, both his parents didn't work as many jobs as they could find to get through either.

    When I grew up, there were almost no Black people. I've learned this makes it hard to relate at first. Often, people will talk different, or look different! Sometimes you can't easily discriminate among faces, for example.

    These things build tension and from that fear and from that aversion and other nasty things. My family does not see these things, having grown up together in a diverse environment, it's all a non-issue.

    Of course, this cuts both ways too. The divides are still largely there, causing the problems they always cause.

    I've learned that it's perfectly ok for my Black son to spend the night at the rich white kids house to play ball, but not the reverse.

    I've learned that people present one way, then show themselves another way, "when they are alone, among friends.".

    I've learned that family is powerful. When my younger white son was two, he answered in response to a question about the differences between his hands and his older Black brothers hands: "They are bigger." Yeah, he's gonna be ok, for sure!

    I've learned that the State of Oregon doesn't think a family like ours can make it properly. We had to fight for our right to form and grow. Black kids are better off in Black strangers houses, rather than in houses where their half-brothers and sisters live. Been a long time, but I still think about that and wonder.

    I've learned that the police see Black people differently, no matter how much they say they don't. Walking while Black, Driving while Black, etc... This happens! I've seen it, and have had to figure out how to deal with my anger surrounding it. It shouldn't happen.

    That's what I know. I'm an ordinary White guy, but I've seen and have experienced some stuff and maybe have seen enough to feel just a small bit of the frustration you feel far more often than you should.

    I can tell you that there are plenty of people like me, who may not know it, grok it like you have to, but we try and we want it better, like you do. I also think there are more of us than those people who surrender to their fear, their unfamiliarity, their BIAS, and excuse it with whatever dogma seems to work for them. We don't speak up as often or as forcefully as we should and that's a problem. Maybe we fear we might just end up falling down somehow, somewhere, taking a risk we don't have to take.

    I've learned that deep down, many of my peers feel this, don't understand this and will work to avoid this, like it rubs off or something.

    Maybe Obama will make the grade! Perhaps that will help things, or maybe it will just shift things to another race, leaving them their problems until one of them proves themselves worthy of finally joining "everybody else".

    God, I hope not, but I fear maybe... We do seem to learn one very hard step at a time, often forgetting when it's easy to do so.

    My son will get to vote this year. It's his first vote ever, and he's extremely likely to be voting for the first Black President. When he was in grade school, we talked about "you can do anything you want to", and this came up! My daughters and older Black son said, "But not be President", and look where we are!

    A Woman and Black man running, both of whom would make fine Presidents!

    Maybe some of what you are feeling is perspective! We are considerably farther down the road today than we were long ago. Some places are better than others, of course, but where it's getting better, there is hope and from there we can find strength in our selves and from our families.

    I've learned one other thing too. People are powerful and they are interesting. I hadn't really noticed until all this stuff came up in my rather ordinary White life. Man! When you start to ask, "Why?" some of the answers shake you to your core, leaving you wondering just what the word "progress" really means.

    Have a great day tomorrow!

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Buckman Res:

    Ms. Bowman has so fully embraced victimhood the even bad take-out becomes evidence of racism directed her way. For someone hell-bent on finding bigotry in even in the most innocent of daily interactions they will undoubtedly find it.

    Kristin:

    Just a reminder about the last paragraph...

    "In each case there was a white person seeking the same service. In each case the outcome was different. In each case the white american got what was expected from their money. Imagine this experience 100's of times a day."

    Bob T:

    But wait! since Ms. Bowman didn't know her food was burnt ("got my food back to the hotel and it was too burnt to eat".), how did she know that all of the crackers who bought food from the same place didn't get burnt food? Did she stick around for a while? Did she know what hotels they were staying in so she could call them and ask if their take-out was burnt, too?

    Bob Tiernan

  • Rulial (unverified)
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    I'm sad to see some here belittle Jo Ann Bowman's experience.

    I'm really glad that, as a society, we've come to realize that racism is evil.

    However, because (almost) everyone agrees racism is evil, (almost) everyone's afraid to admit they are racist. And most people are, at least to some extent. It's the result of growing up in a culture saturated with racism. Even if someone isn't consciously racist, and they've accepted intellectually that racism is unacceptable, it's still possible to be quite unconsciously racist. Stuck in a cycle of denial, many people never come to terms with their own racism, and remain unable to take the first step to actually solving the problem.

    What's worse, because most people rarely experience racism and therefore don't really understand its full extent--and I include myself here--whenever someone points out that our society is still racist, many will refuse to listen and instead give you crap about how you're "embracing victimhood".

    We all have a lot of work to do.

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)
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    Perception is Reality.

    You know, there is no harm in expressing some of these things. Are you threatened some how? Resent the temptation to feel something for another persons experiences?

    Maybe it was just an unfortunate series of events. Happens to all of us. Wonder how many of us don't entertain thoughts like hers at those times?

    I absolutely know I have, and I'm not Black either, but I am very close to people who are. Know what? For them it's real. It's real because way to many elements of our culture and society make it real, and that's just real enough.

    The same thing happens to ugly people, fat people, old people, weak people and sick people. Discrimination is an ugly thing and sometimes when we need to talk about it, it feels like ugly things do. Ugly.

    That's what this is.

    Hearing some, "it's your problem" crap like your post was not the solution. Hearing, "Hey, I understand!" and "Maybe it will be better tomorrow?", or "How can I help?" are all things that can lead to solutions.

    Let's get right to the end game huh?

    You are saying then, she is playing this up. Playing it for what exactly? Take it out to the end for me, please. Let's hear where you think this is going.

    Do you believe there isn't discrimination because you found some minor flaw with her post here? That's the out you need to deny any of it is happening and that anybody claiming otherwise has some personal issue to work on?

    Maybe you do believe there is discrimination, but that this wasn't it. So what? Perhaps she feels it is, having felt it before.

    Again, where is the end game in breaking people down?

    If we all do it, we all then are broken and what then?

    Thought so.

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)
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    My post above directed at Bob, just to be clear.

    Rulial:

    "...because (almost) everyone agrees racism is evil, (almost) everyone's afraid to admit they are racist."

    ...

    "We all have a lot of work to do."

    Oh yeah big time. I totally remember figuring out that I was going to have to deal with race and culture issues. This goes right to the core of who we think we are -vs- who we really are, and that's scary stuff!

    The bad news is coming to that level of self-awareness is not easy. Excuses abound, and acceptance slips away at every turn. Some of us won't get there.

    The good news is that many of us will, and that's enough for progress. At least I think it is. Guess we shall see.

    The other really great news is that after the first time though this cycle, dealing with other things becomes a lot easier. It's ok to understand something like this about yourself. From there you can fix it.

    It's not ok to avoid this, nor is it ok to reach that understanding and then rationalize it. That's a lie --the worst kind of lie, a lie to yourself. Do these often enough and you become something else, something that's not really healthy, something that's not really you.

    For me, the real out was just knowing that it was an artifact of where I was and who I was with growing up. That meant I was not bad at all, I just got some bad advice!

    Of course, that requires the belief that we are all, deep down, good people wanting to do good things. YMMV.

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    Bob T:

    But wait! since Ms. Bowman didn't know her food was burnt ("got my food back to the hotel and it was too burnt to eat".), how did she know that all of the crackers who bought food from the same place didn't get burnt food? Did she stick around for a while? Did she know what hotels they were staying in so she could call them and ask if their take-out was burnt, too?

    Bob Tiernan

    So, when a person describes an over-all experience of racism, instead of listening and learning, respecting the person's impressions, we should approach it from a lawyerly place, demanding proof -- perhaps Ms. Bowman should provide you with a signed affadavit before you'll believe her? What does it matter to you that every last detail is proven to you...why can you not simply listen, respect, and learn?

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    I'm sorry. It was obviously a difficult day. I don't doubt that many of the reported incidents occurred exactly as described. As gay men in Paso Robles CA my partner and I got to enjoy any number of the same sorts of insults (including having a Raley's checker in turn her back on us to talk to the one in the adjacent line about the band she'd heard the night before while we and the people behind us waited. She only turned back around when I literally ordered her to).

    I do, however, have a little trouble with the burnt food episode. The idea that the waiters in a "nice waterfront restaurant" would join in a conspiracy with the kitchen staff to burn the food of an African-American woman who wasn't even going to be sitting in their dining room is beyond my understanding. This despite that fact that I've been handed bagged food– in a ribs takeout place in a neighborhood in DC that white people rarely went to– that were so crusted in salt that no amount of scraping could salvage it. It could have been because I was obviously in the military in the late '60s but I kinda doubt it.

  • GreenFloyd (unverified)
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    Hello everyone, first time poster, longtime Portland resident here. I have been primarily active on taxing and regulating cannabis and ending the so-called “war on drugs.” I have been reading BlueOregon for a couple years and always learn something new about local politics and views when I do. Thank you…

    After reading Jo Ann Bowman’s account and these comments, I am surprised no one has made what I think is a crucial distinction. Namely, I mean the difference between these offensive, albeit isolated, events and the more harmful and widespread institutional racism most evident in our state and national legal systems, i.e. the Prison Industrial Complex.

    It seems to me there’s little anybody can do about another individual’s racism. Some people will defend their ignorance to the death. However, there is a lot we can do to reform our laws, social, and political priorities. That is, if we are really serious about fixing this obvious racial and economic divide between white and black, the haves and have-nots. To be honest, I don’t think most of us are really that serious about it. Please prove me wrong.

    I have been accused of wanting to create a community based on peace and love. I plead guilty as charged.

    Have a happy… GreenFloyd

  • mara (unverified)
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    Maya Wiley, from the Center for Social Inclusion, spoke last week at the Coalition for a Livable Future's Regional Livability Summit. For anyone who doesn't know her work or hasn't heard her speak, I highly recommend it.

    Wiley's work focuses on addressing the structural barriers to racial equality. For example, we can work toward health care reform, and it's very important. But at part of that we need to address the lack of health care in Black and Latino neighborhoods. If we don't address access to health care, health care reform isn't going to do as much as we think it is for those communities.

    In one of her talks, Wiley spoke about the need to discuss race and how we're talking about race even when we're not talking about it. She spoke of the Welfare Queen. No one said the welfare queen was Black, but the intent of using that frame was for everyone to picture a Black woman, scrubbing off the system. There's a story in today's Oregonian about a public housing complex at Humboldt Gardens. There was no reference to race, but race is in the story whether it's spoken or not.

    One other thing. Talking about race is hard, at least for me. It was hard to write this post, only made easier by discussing Wiley's views rather than directly speaking to my own. I'm a white woman, and can't know the experience of people of color in this county, this state, this city. I need to learn to talk about it. Jo Ann Bowman isn't responsible for teaching me, and neither is Karol Collymore, another African American woman and Blue Oregon contributor who writes about race. But through their words and their actions in our community, they are teaching, and I'm grateful.

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    A white person walking thru Compton would be killed.

    I visited a girlfriend's old neighborhood in Compton back in the early '80s when things were popping pretty good and I'm still alive 25 years later.

  • RuthAlice Anderson (unverified)
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    As a fellow white person, I cringe when I read the comments challenging JoAnn's experience or comparing the experience of being Italian, of all things, to being black in America. It reveals more about white neuroses and guilt about racism in American than anything else. We seem so guilt-ridden and shamed by racism that we deal with it by pretending it doesn't happen, by challenging people's experience or equating a few relatively benign ethnic stereotypes with the malignancy of racism.

    We would do so much better if we would just admit it, America is racist. We who grew up in America absorbed its culture and attitudes and must struggle with racism as a given. Admitting to the problem is the first step to combating it and the desperate lengths people go to avoid recognizing racism is self-defeating and unproductive. In the case of some of these posts, if it were not so destructive it would be funny. Honestly, stereotypes about screenwriters?

  • Becky (unverified)
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    I'm finding that the whispered racism I always knew was there is bursting back out into the open, even coming up in "polite" conversation. People who are dear to me have said the most shocking things. Honestly, I had no idea the pervasiveness of this problem until the last year. As Obama has edged closer to the White House, it seems people who have hidden their feelings for a long time are being pushed past the point where they can bite their tongues.

    However, I know that my kids and their generation are less racist than my generation, which is less racist than my parents' generation, and progress is being made. Yes, there are racist kids today, but more and more Americans harbor less and less of this awful poison, and I believe a time is coming when it will be different. I can only hope that by the time whites are done with it, they haven't so alienated the other races that they cannot be forgiven.

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    Having some knowledge of JoAnn Bowman in public life and on her KBOO radio show with Dave Mazza, I am reasonably sure that she understood some of the crap this post would generate in response, and decided to challenge us all to talk about this anyway. So I agree with Mara in the thanks she offers (also on her comments about Maya Wiley). The challenge to white people goes further, I think. It includes figuring out how to be good allies, when and where we can, and also not to leave the burden of raising and addressing the issues on black people, or Latinos, or Native Americans or Asian-Americans.

    One of the problems in talking about racism is raised by Rulial in saying "racism is evil." Most people don't think of themselves as evil, and don't think of their culture as evil, which makes it hard to look at racism at either the personal or societal level, for those who have the option to avoid it.

    Evil is a very all-or-nothing kind of word, and racism also tends to be in U.S. ideas, particularly as applied to persons. You're either racist or you're not, we tend to say and think. If you do something racist, that makes you a racist. And, like evil, there is a tendency to think of being racist or a racist as a sort of existential condition, as a permanent characteristic. These tendencies create strong incentives toward denial or minimization.

    JoAnn Bowman describes actions. Focusing on actions has a number of advantages for those of us who want to wrestle with these problems and fight against racism. It is much easier to change what I do than who or what I am. Not necessarily easy, but much easier. It is more comprehensible. It can be taken piece by piece, broken down into manageable parts. Likewise at the societal level, it is possible to examine and analyze actions and their patterns, or often inactions and their patterns, and to pursue policies to change them.

    Looking at actions and inactions is also a way to uncover our own unconscious or semi-conscious attitudes. Most of us don't want to be racist, don't set out to be, don't think of ourselves as being so, wouldn't want to think we are. Yet many of us believe racism persists, credit the kind of testimony Ms. Bowman has given us, and understand its cultural persistence as related to unconscious and semi-conscious psychology, in part. While it isn't possible to be entirely objective about oneself, stepping back to think about and describe our actions and inactions, and to ask critical questions about how they fit in the picture of racism is possible.

    On "perception is reality," well, it is and it isn't. We also have to face the reality of multiple perceptions. One aspect of that which has stood out for me in particular is the gap between intentions and effects. People who are concerned in some way about whether some of their actions are racist and anxious to deny it will tend to focus on intentions, and ignore effects. But intentions aren't the end of the question. The perception of lack of racist intent doesn't create a reality of lack of racist effect.

    There are also some very hard things in looking at social and cultural aspects that have to do with the dynamics and mutual construction of race and class in our society. On the one hand, disproportionate concentration of inequality along racial and ethnic lines has worked to minimize and distort understanding of class as an issue in U.S. society. On the other hand, focus purely on class-based approaches to social inequality on the left obscures the specific dynamics of race and ethnicity in the system.

    Much of the racial resentment we have seen mobilized in recent Democratic primaries reflects our poverty of thinking and language about those interactions.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Kristin:

    So, when a person describes an over-all experience of racism, instead of listening and learning, respecting the person's impressions, we should approach it from a lawyerly place, demanding proof -- perhaps Ms. Bowman should provide you with a signed affadavit before you'll believe her? What does it matter to you that every last detail is proven to you...why can you not simply listen, respect, and learn?

    Bob T:

    Note that I said nothing about almost all of the examples, the exceptions being the burnt food episode (for reasons stated by others as well), and also the cost of the cab ride ($7.00 might be a minimum charge for a ride of even a few blocks rather than a charge for non-white people--please check this out, someone).

    Interesting that most of you are quick to label someone as a racist for not accepting someone's story 100% even if that person may have believed all of it herself. Maybe I'm cynical to a point because of all of the B.S. spewed by people on multiple sides of a given issue. Are you always prepared to accept stories with no questions asked?
    Well, calling someone a racist is your way to end the discussion and declare a victory, I guess. It's so much easier. You don't know me. In fact, you probably don't know much of anything.

    I have an article in my files that's one of my favorites that I like to share with people. It's from the San Diego Law Review and is titled Licensing Laws: A Historical Example of the Use of Government Regulatory Power Against African-Americans. It points out many ways that the progressive-style managed economy, based on a fear of free enterprise, was abuse from the start, and you've probably never seen this one. Care to have a copy? I'd love to send you and anyone else a copy if requested (I'll have to stop after 50 copies, though).

    Bob Tiernan

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    “So, when a person describes an over-all experience of racism...why can you not simply listen, respect, and learn?"

    It’s precisely because this is such an important issue that people must be challenged when they present personal anecdotes that do nothing but trivialize what real racism is.

    The incidents Ms. Bowman describes can be chalked up to typical poor service, someone having a bad day, or just the normal reaction any person would have when encountering someone with the Mt. Rushmore sized chip Ms. Bowman carries around on her shoulder.

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    Bob,

    Please provide the actual statement in which I called you a racist. And no, I don't accept stories with no questions asked, but I ask them in a respectful way, not a derisive way that denigrates the story teller.

    And to continue with your derision, you suggested that I don't know anything. I know enough not to trot out an example here and there as some sort of proof that I've arrived as a white person. I've not arrived...whenever I think that, aha, I'm here, I make a racist remark and I realize I still have a great deal to learn about the experiences of people of color as we all do. That's why I'm very happy to read Ms. Bowman's story and try to learn from it instead of picking it apart.

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)
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    "We also have to face the reality of multiple perceptions."

    Very true, and a solid point from you follows! You'll hear no disagreement from me.

    However, for the one suffering that perception, gaining the perspective necessary to see it for the artifact it may well be, requires conversation on a level where ideas and feelings can be exchanged, without taking either party down.

    If it becomes hostile, the potential for healthy perspective --of the kind that can handle poor perception, is greatly diminished.

    "Talking about race is HARD."

    Absolutely it is. Forming our family was very hard. Dealing with it harder still.

    Now it's fairly easy, go figure!

    I think it's hard because of fear. Fear of insulting another, when that's not the intent. Fear that maybe we are racist in some fashion. Maybe just fear of something tense and that maybe we don't have the personal energy required to see it through proper.

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    Personal experiences, in many ways, are at the core of racism, and are the farthest thing from trivial.

  • JHL (unverified)
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    Whatever you think of this story, I think perhaps we can agree that we've come a long way that we can have this discussion in civilized and rational terms. Ms. Bowman's story does bear repeating, if only to keep us all vigilant.

    A few years ago, I stopped at a hotel in Redding without a reservation. The desk clerk smiled and told me they had plenty of rooms available. As I was picking up my luggage, a minority couple walked in and asked for a room. The desk clerk fuddled around and seemed to have trouble finding a room. By then I was watching the proceedings with interest, prepared to cancel my own reservation. A room was eventually found, but there was no doubt in my mind that the clerk was not being forthcoming about how many available rooms there really were.

    This type of thing exists... and while I think that the rude cabbie or burnt take-out examples are hardly representative, it may behoove us all to ask this question of ourselves:

    How many hotels that I have slept in wouldn't have welcomed one or more of my very close friends or family members? (Or any type of service)

  • SMEdge (unverified)
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    Just a couple points I'd like to make - I take a cab several times a month and honestly, your final charge really depends on who you get. I had a guy miss my freeway exit and I still had to pay the extra charge. I ended up filing a complaint, but that does not mean I'll never get ripped off again. Also, bad service is rampant. I can't tell you how many times I've received minimal or no service at all by those in the service industry, and it could be because I've gone shopping without dressing nicely, I'm overweight, or I look young for my age. Going into a department store is a horrible experience; I love the way the staff at the make-up counters always do the body shift as if I can't notice that they've dismissed me without a word. Racism is still alive and well in this country, I agree, but bad service prospers.

  • RuthAlice Anderson (unverified)
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    Bob, Twice you have suggested there may be $7 minimum cab fee. This is false. I took a cab last week for just $4. I find it very interesting that you would pull something like this out of your hat in such desperation to minimize and discredit claims of racism. You didn't bother to check. You just had one basic drive, to discount and discredit Bowman's experience. It's rather revealing, isn't it.

    Buckman, I am glad to know you have the official definition of what is real racism - please share it with the rest of us so we can recognize what is and is not real racism. We should then get all the black people in America to check in with you, you can inform them whether they are experiencing "real racism" or not. You can be America's official authenticator of Black Experience. I assume you are white, since clearly only a white person can authenticate black experience.

    Everytime a black person dares to try to share black experience with whites - something they would only do in order to help us understand and a very generous act, it is just so saddening that such extraordinary effort is made to discredit and dismiss that experience. Equally disheartening are those who claim their experience as whatever is the equivalent - the oppression olympics. These are fundamentally dishonest responses - and the people offering them are worse than dishonest with us, they are dishonest with themselves.

    They cannot even see their own complicity and consent to racism. They cannot see how their actions perpetuate and encourage racism.

    It's this stuff that makes me understand why I hear so many people of color express a preference for the in your face bigots like Bull Connor. At least the out in the open bigots don't pretend their experience of racism is imaginary.

  • selenesmom (unverified)
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    Why is it so important to so many people to announce that burned take-out can happen to anyone, as though neither the author nor anyone else had considered this possibility, and then get in an argument about it? Sounds a little defensive, me thinks.

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    I just wanted to say, considering the the virulence of some of the comments here, that I quite respect Jo Ann for putting herself out there -- thanks for doing it.

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    As folks have noted, the question of whether experiences like the ones Jo Ann described are "intentionally" racist or not misses the point of the many ways in which circumstances that are identical on the surface can affect blacks and whites in very different ways. To give an example:

    Some years back I attended a conference in Georgia. Folks were flying in just on the tail of a hurricane, so many people were arriving quite late at the hotel. I and a couple of other (white) funders arrived at the same time as group of black activists from Mississippi.

    The (white) woman at the front desk checked in me & the other funders without incident, and then turned her attention to the Mississippi activists. Things seemed to be going fine, until she asked a friend of mine who was leading the MS delegation for their credit cards - at which point he broke out laughing. Taken aback, the clerk asked what was so funny about that. "Ma'am," he said, "they don't give black folk in Mississippi credit cards!"

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    I am amazed this thread has had this much attention. Joann had a bad day.....that is all. Nothing more, nothing less. Just because someone is rude to someone, does not mean they are racist or hold bigoted feelings.

    I hope no minors are reading this. We not need our young people saddled with this poor pity me crap.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    In Canada, it is usually being French in English Canada, or being Quebequios in Western Canada. Visiting my fiance in Central Alberta is an eye-opener when citizens of her small town come up against tourists who are either from Quebec, Ontario, The First Nations Reserve, and (believe it or not) Vancouver, BC.

    ..and sometimes. my accent gives me away in being "from the states". Banff was not so fun being labled in that way (and it upset my fiance - and she is a native Calgarian)

    It's everywhere, but in different forms. Jo Ann may have had a bad day, but those days are getting more and more common.

    It's not a poor pity me party - it is a real and emerging undercurrent that will raise it's head if we do not see it now.

    Thank you Jo Ann

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    It points out many ways that the progressive-style managed economy, based on a fear of free enterprise...

    Well, Bob, right there you've exposed a major flaw in your pamphlet's assertions. Not worth the paper it's printed on, I'd wager.

  • Tom in L.A. (unverified)
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    Kristin, if that's Ms. Teigen, once again I find you're not thinking on very deep or expansive levels. Regret to say the same for you, RuthAlice. Prejudice against "the other" goes to every issue, and it needs to be opposed everywhere. Despite having spent forty years working for the rights of African-American people, women, gay people, and others, and risking physical violence, arrest, and death in the process, it's hardly my place to, nor is it productive to, recognize any hierarchy of victimhood, much less support it. I could argue, for example, that people who are prejudiced against black people are merely prejudiced in a generalized way, whereas people who are prejudiced against Italians because of the Mafia are condemning them in a much more specific and directly persecutorial way. Similarly, in parts of the world in which there is no recognized freedom of expression (such as Iran, Cuba, or China, in which these kinds of Internet discussions would result in arrest or worse), slandering the intent or the effect of someone's creative work might be considered the highest crime. But not in America, in which poll after poll shows a high percentage of citizens don't even agree with what's in the Bill of Rights. So these issues can be framed any way you like, within reason. Jo Ann wrote to me privately and I responded to her privately. In that email, I outlined my view that confronting cruelty on all levels, as opposed to in a "My pain is bigger than your pain" fashion, brings out the most honest and generous impulses of all people who are capable of empathy. I elaborated that this is why all the empathic people I know have always supported affirmative action to at least some degree and often to a great degree. But I also told Jo Ann about the Latina who said to me, "Blacks got Brown vs. Board of Education, the civil rights movement, affirmative action, and a national holiday. We got s--t and blacks treated us worse than whites did even though we'd been here [in North America] longer than they were, so f--k them." So it all gets back to everyone's grievance and how we process and then act on it. If anyone wants to see my full email to Jo Ann, please email me privately and I'll be happy to forward it. P.S. on "stereotypes about screenwriters": Senator Obama's third self-proclaimed spiritual advisor is one Reverend James Meeks of Chicago, who has railed against "the Hollywood Jews" who are allegedly (in his view, if not in any objective reality) responsible for movies like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. (Christopher Hitchens, on SLATE). I'd like to hear where you think a statement like that scores out with respect to a hierarchy of grievances -- especially considering the history of blacklisting of artists in this country. (Paul Robeson, anyone?)

  • Tom in L.A. (unverified)
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    P.S. to RuthAlice only: I'll thank you not to characterize the assumption that I, on the basis of my last name and nothing more, am involved in a monstrous and sadistic criminal enterprise known for centuries as the Mafia as a "relatively benign ethnic stereotype." It certainly doesn't feel like any such thing to me, having seen actual evidence of the real Mafia while growing up in New York City. What's more, I doubt that you'd offer such a dismissal if I said, for example, that my last name was Arabic and people thus assumed I was a terrorist. I'll also thank you not to psychoanalyze me in absentia with respect to my views on racism or anything else. If I were to do that to you, I'd say that you sound like a "typical" (seemingly one of Barack Obama's favorite words) armchair liberal who's had little if any significant, real-life contact with black people or any other minority group, much less any experience fighting on their behalf, but who's nevertheless firmly convinced that America (I can't help but wonder how much of America outside of Oregon you've actually seen) is "racist." Am I right? Or am I merely insulting you in the same way that you just insulted me? Finally, why do you sound like you hold screenwriters in contempt? What prejudices of your own does this betray? Toward writers, artists, filmmakers, entertainers, and entrepreneurs? Toward the very people who post and comment on this website? And by extension, what use to anyone is anything you post if you don't respect others' right to express themselves, as screenwriters or in any other manner? What I cringe at is people who behave like the priests in Galileo's time, refusing to look through the telescope for fear that they might see truth.

  • Shona (unverified)
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    First I want to thank Doug and Ruth for their very eloquent and well-written posts on this issue. I am a relatively young (28 y/o) Black women who grew up thinking that our society has really progressed from the days of the Civil Rights Movement and I remember watching the old clips of Martin Luther King, Jr. and reading about Malcolm X and being thankful that I didn't live back then. However as I've gotten older; and moved from my local public school...to college...to professional life, I see, first-hand that there is still a lot of work to be done. And it's harder today...because now the vast majority of our American society is blind to it.

    I do not have children; but I have 4 younger sisters where the oldest is 19 (freshmen in college). I am SEVERELY worried about them. About their self-esteem; about the opportunities they'll have; about the ongoing battle they will face as adult Black women. I myself got people of all races pointing out that "you don't talk like a Black person". I got criticism for deciding to wear my hair in it's natural state. I've been brushed over and passed over countless times when attending an event on the merits of my title or accomplishments, but I don't "look" the part. I've had men proposition me and say "Oh I've always wanted to be with a Black woman." Are you serious? Do you go up to a 6' blonde and say something like that to her? I have conversations with people about current news topics and the comments are "Wow, you sure know a lot, don't you?". However if I were a White woman would I hear that? How about if I were an Asian woman? So yeah, I'm worried for my sisters...because unlike me, they are not the types to just swallow stuff and keep on going. They may say the wrong thing to the wrong person and it just shuts those doors for them. Then what do they have to turn to? The same base of the problems in the Black community where others have also gone out, gotten "a reality check" and decided that the American dream just isn't worth it. Black people are not blameless here. But you cannot say that we have not tried...gotten ridiculed for our efforts...and fell through the cracks as everyone else watches.

    Believe it or not, I am not a lamenter. I do not blame White American society for all that is wrong in the Black community. But to say that there are no problems there...that we are over reacting? Unbelievable. How simply in-humane can you really be?

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    Tom,

    Just because we see things differently does not mean that I turn to insulting you...please hold the patronization. For someone who is so put out of place by an insult (hip, clueless), you might take a moment before you do so to others...

  • Tom in L.A. (unverified)
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    I don't understand, Kristin. My second post here, the one that referred to RuthAlice's insulting me by way of psychoanalysis in absentia, was addressed "to RuthAlice only." In neither post did I say nor in any way remotely even imply that you were insulting me. If I were to mimic the style that I see demonstrated by a distressing number of people posting on this site, I'd speculate that your defense of yourself as to the question of insulting me when I leveled no such charge against you betrays some kind of unconscious guilt on your part. But that kind of entry gets us nowhere -- right, RuthAlice? And by the way, Kristin, I'm "put out of place" by insults not least because I've seen the folly of people who think that they can change society by insulting other people to their faces. And who think that when insulted, others won't insult back -- and even worse, hold grudges. For more on all that, you might talk to William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, whose tactics along these lines in the late '60s have made it much harder for anyone interested in working for social progress in America over these last forty years.

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)
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    @Shona

    My wife spells her name "Seana". That's kind of a fun play on the name. Hadn't run across your variation before. Cool.

    Thanks, BTW. It helps to get some of this stuff out on the table. The tension is subtle, but it builds and accumulates. This is bad.

    If anything, having regular discussions on race, and gender and disability BTW, relieve this tension in general. We may see some created, as we have seen here on this thread, but the net gain is greater than that.

    (at least I believe it is and my life experience has not yet told me otherwise, so I'm gonna go with that)

    This also helps with the blindness, that I agree is all too real and pervasive to be healthy. How can we ever progress past this crap, if there are so many taboos?

    (and there are --if you've not experienced them, your circle of close people is just too small)

    One interesting artifact of having to confront this, is the great reduction in taboos in our family. Today, we really talk about stuff. All kinds of stuff and I've come to realize that if we are not talking to our kids, or close others, then somebody else is!

    That somebody then gets mind share and with that comes their values, bias, beliefs, etc...

    This, in and of itself is not a bad thing. We need to have those experiences to compare, contrast and self-identify with.

    However, this also means it's important to speak, or we literally will be spoken for.

    As a naturally occurring human dynamic, this will self-correct and be something good for us. The problem we face today, and this is a problem that trancends race, is that groups --I'll call them issue groups, focus on this and attempt to exploit it for their own ends.

    That's less than honest and in my book, not ok.

    When we engage in advocacy surrounding issues like this, it needs to be real, honest and with the goal of making all our lives better, not just affirmation for whatever our particular bent may be.

    After reading this conversation over, I think some of the defensive reactions speak right to that affirmation. I also think, and will go out on a limb here, that the root of that comes from people who have defined themselves by their works, beliefs and possessions. This brings with it some level of investment that can be threatened and that threat is seen here. It also makes some kinds of healthy self-change difficult because the self is tied to real world things that may or may not be easily surrendered.

    At the end of the day, we are all equal beings, living here in this place, supposedly trying to get along and supposedly trying to make our lives better by working together.

    That's how I play it these days anyway.

    Following that through a bit leads directly to breaking people down having serious consequences for all of us that go beyond the minor crime of just feeling a bit better at the expense of another.

    I'm gonna put another bit out there for thought. I think it's perfectly ok for someone to be racist. (hear me out!) Sometimes this happens as a matter of simple ignorance. Perhaps we just don't have exposure, or have been lied to, or some other thing.

    This then is a natural artifact of our life, which was a part of what I tried to articulate above.

    The key is that ignorance can be fixed, if we have the personal strength to actually go and do that.

    This, by the way, is exactly how my early 20's went. I was exposed to Black people and experienced lots of things that made me uncomfortable. Rather than feed that, I chose to just explore it and ended up realizing how I got there and why.

    From there then, racism just kind of fell away, leaving me with just people. There are lots of different kinds of people and they are just people, nothing more, nothing less.

    Doing these kinds of things takes work however, and some of us won't do that work for whatever reason. That's not ok, because then we enter the realm of willful ignorance, and I characterize that as either selfish or stupid, or a combination of both.

    That's the bad kind of racist we need to work on. I strongly suspect much of the friction we suffer on these kinds of topics comes from people not really doing the work to even consider these kinds things.

    The key then, once this difference is understood, is that once somebody realizes where they are at, and that where they are at might be racist, the burden is on them to do some work to get past that. Ignoring that is a problem. Understanding that it's there and working on it, asking for help, etc... just isn't.

  • RuthAlice Anderson (unverified)
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    Well, as to psychoanalysis in absentia, I have to laugh at how far off you are, Tom in LA. I do not hold screenwriters in contempt, but I do have a fair amount of contempt for the idea that the inane question about whether they write porn is the equivalent of the evil of racism.

    Racism has resulted in lynchings, in the over-incarceration of black men, to medical experimentation, to slavery for Pete's sake. When you compare getting asked inane questions to anti-black racism as equivalent prejudices, I have every reason to think you are in la-la land and I don't mean Los Angeles.

    As to anti-Italian stereotyping and biases, yes, they exist. But there's a vast difference between stereotypes of ethnic groups and racism. Even 100 years ago when many people believed Italians were not white, Italians did not live in fear the way blacks did. There are not system campaigns to prevent Italians from voting. 25% of Italian male youth are not in prison.

    As to insults, you trivilize anti-black racism when you compare the inconvenience and annoyance of ethnic stereotypes and try to project some false equivalence on them. Moreover, you insult our intelligence and judgment. Does anyone here really believe that being asked if you write porn or being asked if you someone in the Mafia is equivalent to having people sigh in relief that you aren't sitting next to them, to being stopped by the police for driving where "you don't belong", to being dragged behind a truck until you are dead?

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    Tom,

    First...RuthAlice is so right. So totally right. As for me, "unconscious guilt?" Huh? No, I'm referring to your outstandingly patronizing and insulting way of referring to my opinions "Ms. Teigen, once again I find you're not thinking on very deep or expansive levels."

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    Does anyone here really believe that being asked if you write porn or being asked if you someone in the Mafia is equivalent to having people sigh in relief that you aren't sitting next to them, to being stopped by the police for driving where "you don't belong", to being dragged behind a truck until you are dead?

    Are you seriously saying something as horrific as being dragged behind a truck till dead and something as trivial as having someone sigh in relief that you’re not sitting next to them are both examples of racism?!

    Do you understand just how offensive that comparison is? Do you understand how absurd it makes you sound?

  • Michael (unverified)
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    Several things - and I am obviously joining this thread very late in the game:

    1. systemic racism, sexism, etc. exists in this society - and it's what we grow up with.

    2. if you are white and male, there is a natural propensity to become defensive when "others" (paranthetical only because others are, in fact, the majority) describe their experiences in a way that seems foreign to you. if you are white and male, one thing that might help is the realization that it is not your fault that you grew up in a system that is racist and sexist. you are not responsible for the sins of slavery, etc. but please do not deny that the aftershocks are very present to this day.

    3. while it is not your fault, I would argue you have (a) the ability and (b) the obligation to educate yourself about the society in which you were raised and to understand the privilege and power that comes with your position. If you do educate yourself, then you'd realize the connections between reflection and action (see writing of Paolo Freire), in other words the need for praxis.

    4. this means there is a requirement to act in any way you are able to work for a more socially just society. this can take many forms since the ability of one group (black, women, gays, lesbians, people with disabilities) to realize rights is and ought to be seen as a benefit to all.

    5. since discrimination occurs often (as the initial posting showed) we may find ourselves in different positions vis-a-vis that discrimination. we can be the targets of discrimination, we can be allies to the person who has been the targeted, we can be by-standers or we can perpetrate discrimination. these roles are fluid: just because someone has experienced racism, for example, it does not mean that they are victims only. somewhere I remember seeing an admittedly simplified equation that instititionalized discrimination = prejudice + power (over). Given how our society has evolved, white people are more able to exercise discrimination b/c as a group we/they have power over minority groups who have less power.

    moreover, identity is fluid. how I think of myself will be determined, in part, by my surroundings. how I treat others will be determined, in part, by my surroundings. in a black neighborhood, black men may exercise their power and be abusive toward black women. for example.

    1. talking about things is difficult. admitting that it is difficult takes courage and is a good first step. admitting that you don't have all the answers is another good step. because it is difficult, tone and look matter a lot. because it is difficult, it is better to ask questions - and let the person in front of you share their experience. and to accept as valid the experience that person has lived through.

    2. a common mistake is that the belief that you or I have a monopoly on reality. Failing to understand that my reality is just one version of reality is how/why conflict arises.

    3. it seems like we get in a trap of competing "-isms". someone writes, "this is my experience of racism." and others write, "oh yeah? this is my experience of homophobia." while there are many varying degrees (yes, a lynching is different than bad service, buckman res, and I don't think anyone suggested that they were similar), there is clearly a need and desire for both conversations to be heard. and we can and should have both conversations.

    4. I used to work for the international criminal tribunal for yugoslavia, for the office of the prosecutor. I remember clearly one occasion where I was pressing someone about the existence of (and her knowledge of) detention/torture camps. finally the witness admitted it. and then her next sentence was, "the other side, they also had camps." and she was right, of course. they did. But that ought not afford her ethnic group the ability to kill and torture those of other ethnicities. and she didn't understand that. while that is an extreme example, I believe the same dynamic unfortunately is played out far too often here.

    I think I have gone on enough. be well.

    Michael

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)
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    Ahh, legal people. They number stuff, and tend to put the elements together in nice, neat, rational groups.

    Good post. There is some considerable food for thought there.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Bob T:

    It points out many ways that the progressive-style managed economy, based on a fear of free enterprise...

    Darrel Plant:

    Well, Bob, right there you've exposed a major flaw in your pamphlet's assertions. Not worth the paper it's printed on, I'd wager.

    Bob T:

    And what "flaw" would that be? Maybe you're right -- it's not based on fear of free enterprise but on a desire to control (that's okay -- conservatives are that way, too).

    Bob Tiernan

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Kristin:

    That's why I'm very happy to read Ms. Bowman's story and try to learn from it instead of picking it apart

    Bob T:

    Sure--learn from it. But look into it. There are still a lot of ignorant people in the world, and I expressed no skepticism about those parts of the story about personal contact with possible bigots (hotel clerk, government employee at Union Station etc), although the burnt food part may be a stretch (as others pointed out) and the cab ride as well, maybe (although Ms. Bowman may have perceived everything as she related it--things were going that way.

    Bob Tiernan

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Ruth Alice Anderson:

    Bob, Twice you have suggested there may be $7 minimum cab fee. This is false. I took a cab last week for just $4.

    Bob T:

    Read what I wrote again. I asked for someone to check into this for I wasn't sure if there was still a $7 minimum.

    Ruth Alice Anderson:

    I find it very interesting that you would pull something like this out of your hat in such desperation to minimize and discredit claims of racism.

    Bob T:

    Gosh, that sounded "desperate"? You are proving my point. I wish to look at each separate incident. The cab part may be a stretch (oh, from Lloyd Center? What was wrong with a free ride on MAX to the first stop after the Steel Bridge and a short walk to the station?), and the cabbie may have charged $7 for taking anyone to Union Station. The burnt food item was more of a stretch as better explained by someone else on this blog. Come on now. And if I was desperate, please show me my desperate attempts to explain the actions of the hotel clerk and the government employee at Union Station, and the passenger on the train. Give me a break. Why doesn't Ms. Bowman file a lawsuit against the hotel and Amtrak?

    Ruth Alice Anderson:

    You didn't bother to check.

    Bob T:

    Like I said, I asked others if they knew if this was still the case. Does that count? Show me where I said that there's definitely a $7 minimum?

    Ruth Alice Anderson:

    You just had one basic drive, to discount and discredit Bowman's experience. It's rather revealing, isn't it.

    Bob T:

    Oh yeah, I guess so. Point is that Ms. Bowman ran into several ignorant people and perhaps she should pursue something regarding the hotel clerk and the government employee in the Amtrak suit, but excuse me if I not prepared to accept the burnt food story as an example of racism in action. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. Someone else said it better, in fact.

    Bob Tiernan

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    Jo Ann -- FYI, since you're new here... The Bob Tiernan commenting on this thread is the libertarian from Gresham, not the conservative former state rep. from Lake Oswego.

  • Tom in L.A. (unverified)
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    Well, RuthAlice and Kristin, I'll try to address your objections, though I must say you both sound more interested in venting rage than hearing what other people think. First of all to you, RuthAlice, with a nod here and there to Kristin, the most interesting thing in your post to me is the way it highlights our differing views of the word "insult." By insult, I mean direct and personal attacks on people, like, "I have every reason to think you are in la-la land." But you seem to be talking about insults, real or perceived, to your "intelligence and judgment," which is certainly a much more subjective thing and a much harder one to pin down than directly insulting someone in personal terms. To illustrate: I went to countless demonstrations for many different causes in the early '70s after Kent State, knowing full well that I could be shot to death. But me and a lot of the people I knew didn't even think for more than a few hours on the day of the Kent State shootings of not demonstrating further. We just assumed that we couldn't give in to brutality. Frankly, I don't know how much of that was foolishness or bravery, but I'm glad I did it. The paper I wrote on the Black Panther Party when I was in ninth grade was, I'd guess from the reaction to it at the time, at least as well-written and exhaustive as much material published on such subjects by much older people since then. (I recall that I got a very high grade for the paper and a very low grade for daring to write it, to put it all rather mildly.) Anyway, if I were to get on my high horse and look for less-than obvious insults (i.e. blatant name-calling), I'd say that anyone who didn't do what I did -- and it seems unlikely that you did, since in your posts you offer only very generalized statements about African-American history -- is "insulting my intelligence and judgment." But if I do that, there's no real dialogue, so I don't see the point of being that thin-skinned. It doesn't get any of us anywhere, to vaguely paraphrase Michelle Obama's remark about her kids. As I said before -- and which doesn't seem to be registering with either you or Kristin -- what I was trying to do was initiate a broader discussion of the idea of any kind of hierarchy of victimhood. I don't think I was out of line in bringing this point into the discussion, since more than a few other folks on this site commented (some quite crudely) on what seemed like Ms. Bowman's rather broad definition of evidence of racism. (I must admit, it did occur to me that racist broadsides against Ms. Bowman in the "100's per day" equals, like, what, at least 8 per hour?) No one in their right mind would deny that blacks in America suffered among the greatest injustices of any group in world history. (Sorry, scorekeepers, I can't bring myself to say "greatest" about any one group, knowing fully as I do the history of, say, Jewish people and Native Americans. At any rate, it's not a contest, or shouldn't be.) That's one of the reasons why me and the empathic people that I know have always supported affirmative action for African-Americans, another statement of mine that doesn't seem to have registered with you or Kristin. (And by the, what have YOU done to support affirmative action?) However, it's precisely the lionization of one group's grievances at the expense of another group that makes it harder to achieve progress on behalf of that first group or any other group. With all due respect to your quoting of statistics and history, RuthAlice, I will say that I've directly experienced much of the rise of the modern civil rights movement -- let's say, starting with the passage of the Civil Rights Act -- and what seems to be to a great extent its coming decline -- let's say, the reality that eight states this year have ballot initiatives that would outlaw "race-based" (I have to put that phrase in quotes, since science-minded people know that there's really only one human "race" despite differences in skin color) affirmative action. Don't believe me if you don't want to, but my experience is that overlyl focusing on one group's grievances at the expense of others is a very counter-productive policy, and I see quite a bit of evidence of that kind of thinking on this site. I doubt a truly empathic person would lecture me on how Italians lived in this country one hundred years ago, for instance -- unless she was herself Italian and, say, 120 years old. I suspect a truly empathic person might instead ask where I got the ideas and opinions I have on the subject -- such as, say, from talking as much as I could to my Italian grandparents and relatives to hear their testimony of what it was like to live in that time? And then researching the history of that experience that I wasn't taught in school? The more obvious example in this regard, of course, and which neither of you have responded to, either, was the view of that Latina I quoted as to her lack of sympathy for African-Americans based on the way she felt Latinos have historically been treated in this country (more accurately, on this continent) by blacks and whites alike. Even Obama himself, however much he's let me down by winking at racism in his own community when I have been fighting it without pause in mine, said, "I see myself as someone who gets people who are saying crazy things together in the same room." Pardon me if this sounds "patronizing," to use Kristin's word, but if you don't learn to do this; if you don't learn to respond first to people's point of view as formed by their experience; if you don't learn to respect that experience, no matter how much it doesn't mirror yours; you will never succeed in changing people's social and political views. You'll merely get mired in the kind of reflexive partisanship that, for example, now sees Democrats who hated Republicans for bringing Jesus into everything criticizing McCain because he's apparently more private about his religion than Obama and Clinton, both of whom keep talking about feeling the Holy Spirit. In other words, you'll get mired in the most banal and pointless historical gridlock. As a last word on this point of dismissing people's experience, RuthAlice, I don't understand why a writer's objection to someone assuming he writes pornography is merely "inane," as opposed to dangerous, to you. (Makes me wonder if you see what's dangerous about, say, Reverend Hagee's persecution of Pamela Anderson.) Maybe you're just not as much of a First Amendment person as I am, which never surprises me terribly much given what most Americans know about freedom of expression in other, even other liberalized, countries. I'd ask you to research two issues with respect to freedom of expression, the first largely with respect to this country and the second to the entire world. First, I'd suggest that you thoroughly investigate the history of the Hollywood Blacklist, the conditions that created it, how it was carried out, and the lingering misery that it caused. Once you've done so, I doubt you'll talk about freedom of expression quite the same way ever again. Second, and of rather more topical interest, I suggest you review the history of the conflict between Western democracies and certain factions of Islam since the death sentence that was handed down by Islamic clerics to Salman Rushdie in the late 1980s, right up to and including the present day that sees cartoonists and filmmakers being attacked and murdered. I will NEVER forget the moment when the first President Bush didn't have the courage to unambiguously condemn the fatwa against Rushdie but rather paid lip service to what he perceived were religious interests who, judging from what I've heard on right-wing talk radio since then, wouldn't have too much of a problem with religious leaders handing down death sentences to American writers, cf. Hagee. Here's an anecdote to illustrate how people who've had their right to express themselves infringed upon see the issue, if they're lucky enough to survive. When it became possible for Rushdie to actually be seen in public again, he had a talk with a Middle Eastern politician, I think it was, though it may have been a cleric. The Middle Eastern man told Rushdie that he was barking up the wrong tree re freedom of expression, that "Freedom of speech is not an issue in the Middle East." After all that he'd been through, Rushdie still had the strength and wisdom to say, "No, sir, freedom of speech is the whole ballgame." Your objection is a lot easier to address, Kristen, since it's so much shorter. Putting it simply, I don't get involved in right-wing talk radio-type insults on this or any other site, even though many of the people posting here sound eerily like right-wing talk radio listeners that I've heard. In other words, I don't want to start calling you stupid or names that mean stupid or anything else like that. When I wrote that I didn't think you were thinking on very deep or expansive levels, that was my honest belief and the most polite way that I could express it. "Prejudice against the other" is clearly the deeper issue here, but you seem to show not the slightest interest in that so far. And no understanding of how that issue colors all secondary and tertiary prejudices and injustices. I'm sorry if this kind of more psychoanalytical (and historical -- read Malcolm X's autobiography for more on that) analysis doesn't interest you, but I'm afraid I've found that the deepest truth occurs on that level. I would strongly suggest that you read some of Alice Miller's books, the same ones that I recommended to the guy who called me hip and clueless -- THE DRAMA OF THE GIFTED CHILD, FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, and THOU SHALT NOT BE AWARE for starters. Note: I can already hear you bristling, "How dare you tell me what to read, how outstandingly patronizing and insulting!" But I'd rather not merely insult you personally for having not read these books, even if I think they're obviously essential reading for anyone who even remotely pretends to be interested in the real dynamics of social change. (Given the impact that Miller's work has had since the late '70s, ignorance of her work today would be somewhat analogous to, say, ignorance of Freud in the early 1900s. And that hardly means that Miller has a lot of good things to say about Freud, as you'll see if you read her books.) Everyone's going to try to justify why they think what they think and change comes when minds are changed, not merely when steam is let off and choirs are preached to. In that sense, the metaphor of the priests in Galileo's time who refused to look through the telescope and see reality remains one of the most eternally timely ones for me. P.S. on the Galileo point: I offered to send my private email to Ms. Bowman, in which I spoke to her in greater depth and with greater nuance than I thought at the time I could on a website, to anyone who wanted to read it. No one, including you two, has asked for it so far. But on that score, I do also thank and congratulate Blue Oregon for printing long posts in their entirety.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    The few times I have listened to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, they have pushed the concept of imaginary victimhood supposedly suffered by members of minority groups, especially minorities likely to vote Democratic. This seems to be the current, more socially acceptable way to dislike people who are different.

    I know Jo Ann Bowman well enough to confidently state that she does not dislike white people and that she does not suffer paranoid persecution fantasies. How must it feel to experience such crappy treatment and then hear that it's all imaginary? It would piss me off, I can tell you.

    I've had people make Mafia comments about my Italian name, but it is a rare occurrence. Once while I was campaigning door-to-door, my Mediterranean appearance inspired a pale senior gentleman to suggest I was an Middle Eastern terrorist - once. If I had to put up with such behavior on a regular basis, I would be on angry dego.

  • Tom Hastings (unverified)
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    Jo Ann Bowman is one of the finest people I've ever met or worked with. She does not stress victimhood or self-pity; the assumption that this is what her column is about is in error, I believe. And to those who wonder how she can ascribe racism to each of these events: she doesn't. She simply ticks off her pattern of events in one day and I find it churlish that anyone can discount them by picking at them one-by-one. Yes, there is a background rate of bad service and poor treatment for every person, but her point is that the pattern is overwhelming for black Americans. As a white father of two African American sons, I will verify Jo Ann's account and I can also assure everyone that Jo Ann works well with everyone. She is gracious, so her account ought to be understood in that light.

  • B.Jamieson (unverified)
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    Jo Ann,

    Your posting, "Black in White America", is a sad reflection of the prejudices still harbored in our country. I am a Portland native, born and raised. I am disappointed, in 2008, of the realities of being "Black in White Portland".

    After high school, I left town, living in Europe for 5 years and New York City for 10. While prejudices are not absent there, it has become glaringly clear to me how difficult it must be to grow up black in Portland.

    Many in Portland, and throughout the state, are proud to be free, open-minded thinkers in "liberal Oregon". However, I find that many of my friends' and collegues' views on "race and prejudice" are not formed by experience, but by what's popular - "I live in Portland. I'm liberal. I'm not prejudiced." Their attitudes, actions, and reactions don't always reflect this "popular" ethos.

    This is a topic that I have thought about a great deal since returning to Portland in 2003. I cannot solve racism in America... nor should I try. I want to solve racism in my own home town.

    Think Globally, Act Locally... Yes, Portland, that means you too.

    I don't know what it's like to be black in Portland. I want to discuss it further. I need to understand. I can't make any progress until I do. I am not going to rest on my laurels and "be proud to be a liberal Oregonian".

    Do you have any suggestions? Thank you.

  • (Show?)

    B. Jamieson:

    Thank you for asking. I do have a few suggestions. You can join the Community Campaign to End Racial Profiling, a community effort to eliminate racial profiling from the practices of Portland Police.

    You can participate in the restorative listening sessions taking place in NE Portland Judith Lowery from the Office of Neighborhood Association is leading that effort.

    You can become a community observer at traffic stops (African Americans are 4 times more likely to be stopped & searched by Portland Police).

    You can volunteer with organizations working for racial justice. While none of my suggestions will eliminate racisim overnight, all will lead to a more aware and engage community.

    I appreciate your thoughtful post and hope these suggestions will get you thinking and acting to create a more just community.

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