I See Changes
I don’t like national news. That’s a broad brush – I care plenty about the federal government’s activities and if there’s another coming banking crisis or something like that – but considering what makes national headlines, and (more importantly to me) what types of stories take over my Facebook feed, I don’t think it’s too broad.
One of those stories of the moment was the massive iCloud hack that resulted in all those celebrity naughty bits floating around the frayed edges of the ‘net. I was momentarily fascinated by the situation itself, but I was more than momentarily fascinated by two ideas. First, propagated by some very good and intelligent friends (who I think in this case are crazy), that viewing the photos amounted to sexual assault. Second, the irony (am I using this correctly?) many of the women who’s photos were leaked had built careers on being (in addition to attractive and talented) almost naked. Looking at the list of names, I can be pretty sure most of them have appeared in a magazine or on an album cover or in an ad staring sexily into the camera with their nipples artfully covered. Or some variation of that. And now everyone’s losing their minds (and calling it assault) because we were privy to a few extra millimeters of skin.
I shouldn’t need to say it, but I will: the hack was a gross invasion of privacy, and wrong. These women (were there any men?) rightfully feel violated. But that doesn’t make it sexual assault.
But mostly, I didn’t care. Enter a Thought Catalog post titled, “Who Actually Gives A Sh*t About Nude Celebrity Pics?” At some point I’ll bless you with the full depth of my opinion on the site itself, but this time it served only as the deliverer of some…substandard (aka “shitty”) writing and social philosophy that represents some broader frustrations.
Last month the author of that piece, Kovie Biakolo, apparently well-respected among TC contributors, posted contribution called “I See No Changes: Race And Racism In 2014“. I needed only look at the title to know exactly what was coming. I had just finished reading her thoughts on the leak, and, though I was mostly in agreement, I could sense a lack of perspective that would make what I was about to read completely unbearable. But I was bored.
The “article” was a mess. I’m not going to subject you to it, but the link is there, if you feel so inclined. I don’t have time, nor do I have the inclination to focus on all the things wrong with it. But it’s a signal – a representation – of things I read and hear on a regular basis…occasionally from some of those good and intelligent friends of mine, even. So I’m just going to focus on this bit:
But SOME things have got better, right?
Sure, relatively. But I do not hold the standard for equality by measuring it against the oppressions that a people previously survived. And in many ways, I find that racism rears its ugly head in a different way than it did in the past. In ways that are coded in “inner city” and “urban youth” rhetoric; in ways that suggest “colorblindness” is a worthy approach as if it is simply not a tool to ignore the collective past that positioned a collective people in a specific political, economic, and social situation. I tend to be vigilant about this term “progress” when the incarceration, education, and economic statistics, and even the bloody comments sections of any Internet article about race ever, appear to tell a different story than what the powers that be would have me believe. That truth is stranger than fiction, applies here too.
That this young woman – a successful, (presumably) humanities-educated, adjunct professor at DePaul – is so devoid of historical perspective is appalling. For her, “relatively” better isn’t really “better”. Were she, as an immigrant, ignorant of the racial history of the US, this might be understandable. But she prides herself on her understanding of American race issues from her perspective as an outsider. Well, allow me to provide some perspective as an insider.
My parents were fortunate, both growing up in urban Pennsylvania in the days before the civil rights movement. They’ve never talked much about the struggles of childhood an adolescence, but some things I know, and some things are general knowledge.
Something I’ve had passed down: My grandfather, the son of Virginia farmers, was an officer in the Air Force during World War II. Psych. He wasn’t allowed to be an officer. But his skills were sorely needed, so he was allowed to lead a group of men as some sort of special sergeant. That was a great victory for him, and one of countless tiny little steps in the right direction for race relations in the military. That was three generations ago.
My father, a grandson of Georgia sharecroppers, took a football scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh in 1962. Just 6 years earlier, Pitt running back Bobby Grier became the first African American to participate in the Sugar Bowl, against significant opposition. My mother, having grown up in the home of an almost-officer, was able to start college without a sport to pay the bills. She was an exception to the norm. Both existed from that moment forward in integrated (read: almost entirely white) environments. That was two generations ago.
I was more fortunate, growing up in an idyllic suburb of Pittsburgh on two acres with a pool. We were the first black family in the neighborhood and the second in the school district. I don’t know how “accepted” we were, because I was a child; what I do remember is running around with the other kids, neighbors patching me up when I went tumbling down a huge hill into some bushes, and plenty of potlucks, barbecues, and dinner parties throughout the neighborhood. That was a generation ago.
I was married a white woman from south Texas, whose maternal side had generational wealth and success to spare. On top of that, her father is the son of a trucker from South Oak Cliff. There were a few bumps and bruises along that road, but if nothing else, her family’s love for our children transcends any lingering prejudice.
But those are anecdotes, right?
Of course. Just one family’s experience. And I do not make arguments for anything by measuring it against a single thread of stories. So, alongside those anecdotes, a little historical timeline:
- During WWII, all armed forces were segregated. Black units were given white commanders. The Marines didn’t accept black enlistees.
- In 1962 James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, had to be protected by U.S. Marshals on his first day.
- In the 80s and 90s the legal hurdles had been cleared, but institutional practices like redlining and mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenses were common and barely registered as mainstream issues.
There are still problems today: socioeconomic and education disparities, insane drug policies, uneven sentencing, and situations like Dallas’ recently revealed HUD scandal. Am I suggesting we be satisfied for all time with what we have achieved to this point? No. But to suggest that there are no changes – that “progress” can only be measured by what’s changed in your own adulthood – is obnoxious.
It’s more offensive because each generation of my own family has made personal strides in advancing relations the best way we know how: by being so intelligent, so well prepared, and so able that we could not be ignored. Each generation of my blood, from farmers on both sides 3 generations ago, to my sister who did her residency at Stanford Medical Center (after attending Penn and Rice), have personally pushed relations forward. And now a newcomer has come to tell us how it’s no better than before? You are, quite simply, wrong.
And take a writing class. You’re embarrassing yourself.