Tagged ‘racism‘

Deep Thoughts in the Garden

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post.  You see, the post was going to be about gardening – about how some people are good gardeners because they can commit to consistent effort and other people are, well, like me.  But I write about what I’m thinking about and what I’m thinking about is race.

So.  Cultural competence.  Does it go both ways?  If I am the only white person in a training program or a job or a school, do people worry about dealing with me in a culturally competent way?  And if they did (worry, that is), what would that mean?  What would be done differently?  In what ways would people take my white origins into account and how would they, or would they, modify their language or behavior? Can a white person wonder if something is culturally competent for him or herself?  Does the concept have validity for a white person in an African American world, say?

Of course, the issue of cultural competence is very difficult, made more complex by institutional racism and the pervasiveness and persistence of white privilege.  Thinking historically, it would be nonsensical to assume that the need for cultural competence runs both ways for that very reason — the embeddedness of racism in American society.  But what about in in a day to day sense, in the sense of a white teenager, who because of a variety of factors, is plucked from her family in a white environment and placed in an African American home, school, and neighborhood? 

Is it safe to assume that this kid will be well-received and that any feelings of fear or apartness or differentness will be quickly abated by people’s kindness?  That’s what I’m hoping.  And that years from now when she recounts the experience she had living in the African American community, it will be with pride and fond memories.  I want to believe that she won’t feel judged or marginalized and that her entire cultural identity won’t be comprised of stereotypes about white people.

I don’t have any answers and I’m not judging anybody.  I’m just wondering, that’s all – mostly because I know this kid and really care about her, but also because I think it’s an interesting and challenging set of questions to ponder.

And the picture?  It’s the product of one of the two days a year that I garden.  Day one is when I go to Stein’s and buy a bunch of plants.  Day two is when I find the machete and clear out the garden on the side of our house which looks spectacular at the moment…..although I have notoriously low standards in this field of endeavor.

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Pants on the Ground

My son is trying to get some traction in his life/work/career.  He’s 23, Nicaraguan, and wants to be an actor.  He’s also kind of short which hasn’t helped his acting life but that’s beside the point.  Right now he’s working on a landscaping crew with 8 or 9 other guys, all African-American, most of whom come to work with their pants on the ground, just like in the song.  After a couple of days of being the only Hispanic guy, my son fell in with these guys as work friends.

A couple of weeks ago, he told me that the group was chastised by their supervisor because one of the ‘pants on the ground’ guys had talked to a white woman who worked in the office and scared her.  Turns out he’d said good morning and tried to strike up a conversation.  Nothing nasty.  Just guy – girl chat, or so he thought.

So, my son says, “Are you not supposed to say hello to people because it’ll scare them?”  Of course, right there, I’m thinking that it’s an interesting predicament he’s in — is he in solidarity with his crew or wanting to distance himself?  Is Mr. Theatre getting radicalized?

“They use the N word alot which just makes the white people more nervous.” And does it ever. The N word, the pants on the ground, scary rap lyrics, cool poses make the white people more nervous, for sure.

Pants on the ground – just the latest in a revolving door of reasons to not want to talk to young African American men.  The big pants make them scary?

So everyone tries to fix the ‘pants on the ground’ kids as if their pants signify a much bigger pathology.  My pants, therefore I am? 

I don’t buy it.  We aren’t our pants.

A guy in skinny jeans can be just as messed up as a guy in baggy pants or they both might be graduate students at UW-M.  Who the heck knows unless you talk to them?

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