Sunday, September 26, 2010

But it's funny!

Last Sunday, after a busy weekend, I sat down to watch my latest Netflix morsel, a movie that I used to love and haven't seen for years -- Love at First Bite, with George Hamilton as Count Dracula. I wondered how it would hold up now that vampires are so in vogue. (Hamilton's Dracula was Edward almost 30 years before Twilight!) And it was funny, really funny, especially the scenes with Richard Benjamin, who totally stole the movie.

But this isn't a movie review blog, so I'll get to the point. As I was laughing, I was also squirming. The depictions of African Americans and Latinos in the movie were so stereotypically demeaning that I wondered how I'd never noticed them before. I won't go into detail here, but you can watch the movie if you want to see for yourself. Like I said, it was funny. And I know, I'm not the movie police. But it just didn't feel so good to laugh at those scenes any more.

Tatum says there are three states of being in terms of our relationship to racism. We're either actively racist, passively racist, or anti-racist. Most people I know are not actively racist. But being passively racist, that's another story. The passive racist doesn't use the N-word, doesn't act in any overtly racist ways, but doesn't say anything against racism, either. Laughing at those scenes in Love at First Bite, filmed in 1979, made me feel passively racist, and I didn't like the feeling very much.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So What is Racism?

One of the things I love about the fall semester is that I get to teach Multicultural Education to a group of brilliant seniors (that's in case any of them are reading this). We're discussing some interesting questions -- what is racism? Why are whites the only ones accused of being racist -- can't other people be racist, too?

Quoting David Wellman, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, defines racism as "a system of advantage based on race."* This definition positions racism as systemic, institutional, and structural, like the practice of redlining I mentioned in my last blog. It follows, according to Tatum, that while anyone can be prejudiced, only whites benefit from the racially based system of advantage that our country was founded on. So, by that definition, only whites can be racist.

Hard to swallow for us white folks, isn't it? Maybe Tatum's definition is too narrow; maybe she's splitting hairs. We all know that when we use the word "racist" we're talking about people AND systems. It does make you think, though, doesn't it?

*For more on this, check out Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, by Beverly Daniel Tatum.