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We Shall Overcome… Our Own Ignorance

Racism exists. Let me say that right now. And unfortunately, it seems to be spreading like wildfire amongst a most unlikely group of people; black people.

I believe that racism is steadily coming to a halt in the traditional American sense… and by that I mean, black/white racism. But because of this new breed of terrorism against America, I’m noticing a disturbing trend. While Americans continue to move beyond the black/white racism that has long plagued us, many are transferring that cancer to other ethic groups. And the funny thing about it is that black people, who used to be the victims, now seem to be the perpetrators.

Case in Point #1: A few of my co-workers and I were standing around our cubicles chatting when a fellow employee of Middle Eastern decent came into our area. We all chatted a few minutes before he moved on. After he left, a white female co-worker made a silly comment, one that I do not recall verbatim, but ultimately relating the employee to terrorism. The rest of the group laughed, including a black male co-worker. I was horrified and disappointed. I tried to admonish them by saying the comment was inappropriate and unfair to our co-worker who has never given anyone a reason to doubt his intentions. They completely disregarded my attempt to shame them into discontinuing the conversation. It was like my lone voice of reason was overridden by a mob of stupidity. So I turned my back to them, put my ear buds in and refocused on my work. There was NO way I was going to be associated with that foolishness.

Later, I wondered how hard it must be for honest people of Middle Eastern descent living in America after the September 11 attacks. I also questioned why it is so easy for this magnitude of ignorance to rear its head after we've tried desperately to stamp it down. I think when it comes to racism fueled by fear, we Americans are especially hypocritical. Even though I didn’t say it, I wanted to ask my white female co-worker, “When Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people when he bombed the Alfred P. Murray Building in Oklahoma City, did you then begin to question every white man that you know? Did you go home and all of a sudden look at your husband suspiciously because he too is a white male? What about your estranged brother who always acted like he didn’t quite belong? Did you question whether he was laying out bombs throughout downtown Columbia?”

If Timothy McVeigh’s heinous actions did not make her question every white male she knows, why would the actions of a relatively small number of extremists, who happen to be of Middle Eastern descent, make her question a whole race of people? Talk about hypocrisy. And to the brotha who stood there skinning and grinning with the rest of the crew, I am especially disappointed in you. Twenty years ago, that conversation of solidarity would have been about you.

Case in Point #2: A few days after the failed Christmas day terrorist attack, I was chatting with a Nigerian friend. After I hung up the phone and turned my attention back to my friends at the table, one of my black female co-workers made a comment that disturbed me. She cautioned, “You better be careful with him.” Did I say that comment disturbed me, I meant it infuriated me. How dare she! After decades of white people holding every black person accountable for the sins and crimes of one or two, how can she invoke that same ignorance on another group of people? It hasn’t been very long since we’ve been judged on the content of our character instead of the color of our skin. Do Nigerians not deserve the same consideration?

When John Allen Muhammad spent days driving around with a young John Lee Malvo in the back of his trunk randomly killing people, did she go home and question her husband, who is also a black male? What about the man that her daughter dates? Did she caution her daughter to ‘be careful with him?’ Furthermore, since her nephew is a young black male like John Lee Malvo, should he automatically be considered a suspect of crimes? As a black woman over 50 years of age, I'm sure she has firsthand knowledge of someone close to her being racially profiled. How dare she impart that same judgment on someone else simply because of ethnicity? Lest she forget from whence she has come. We ain’t but two steps outside of segregation ourselves.

So, to my brothas and sistas who are so inclined to question every person of Middle Eastern or Nigerian descent because of the actions of a few, don’t forget where you come from. We are overcoming, but trust me; we haven’t come that far yet. Edit

3 comments

Well written Teowonna. It is not fair to steerotype people because of their skin color, religion, education or any other reason. I am also disturbed when I hear people doing this. It is even worse as a black male, know exactly where we came from and how we are always talking about profiling. Keep up the great work as you make others think about their actions. Be Blessed in this New Year! Delete Reply

Excellent post Teowonna. If you had asked those people about McVeigh and Muhammad & Malvo, I would have loved to see their faces and listen to them try to hem and haw their way out of answering your question.

Although the behavior of all three individuals you cited was inexcusable, the reaction by your black male co-worker troubled me the most. It was almost as if he was co-signing on the behavior of his white co-workers in order to be accepted into their circle. Delete Reply

Willie and Malcolm: Thanks for your feedback and I agree with you both that the black guy going along with the crowd was particularly disturbing... especially because he is so 'aware'. I guess that goes to show that the power of crowd. It takes a very strong person to do the right thing when the crowd is doing the wrong thing. If adults can't even stand up to peer pressure, how can we expect children to? Delete Reply

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