Posts tagged: Conversation on Race

The Big Black Guy

By , January 17, 2012 4:40 pm

Every now and then someone will tell me a story, when suddenly, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. They’ll say, “And then there was this big black guy.”

“Big and black??” I’ll say if I’m feeling cheeky. “Oh no.”

The story usually falls apart from there.

This isn’t to say there aren’t imposing and intimidating black men, as there are imposing and intimidating men of every race. Some rappers purposely strike an intimidating pose to show how tough and strong they are. That intimidation, though, also has to do with perception.

In a New York Times piece about white female rappers, Touré writes:

For many Americans, black male rappers are entrancing because they give off a sense of black masculine power — that sense of strength, ego and menace that derives from being part of the street — or because of the seductive display of black male cool.

In that passage, he writes as much about rappers as the public’s view of them: Menacing. Seductive.


The same is true for the person who tells the story with “the big black guy.” That description often says more about the storyteller than the person in the story.

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An Adult Conversation About “Nigger”

By , October 9, 2011 10:16 am

On Monday’s episode of “The View,” a conversation about “niggerhead” written on a stone on property leased by Gov. Rick Perry’s family turned into a discussion about “nigger,” “the n-word” and who should use which.

It’s hypocritical for African-Americans, like Sherri Sheppard, to say “nigger,” but think people of other races are barred from saying it under any circumstances. It doesn’t take into account the intent of the person using the word. Saying it recklessly or maliciously is very different from reporting a story as Barbara Walters was doing in the segment above.

Yes, it’s a very offensive word, but to have an honest and respectful conversation about the word “nigger,” you need to say it. Clarity is important when talking about race. Calling it the “n-word” isn’t protecting the delicate sensibilities of others. It’s immature. If you’re having a discussion with adults, use adult words.

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Journalists Who Put Themselves “Out There”

By , October 27, 2010 3:02 pm

Juan Williams joins the ranks of Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez who were fired or resigned from their respective news organizations for expressing their opinion. As you probably know, Williams was fired by NPR for his remarks on “The O’Reilly Factor” in which he expressed his feelings about seeing people in “Muslim garb” when he gets on a plane. “I get worried. I get nervous,” he said.

Here’s the entire interview.

Thomas, Nasr, Sanchez and Williams were let go for expressing personal opinions in informal settings or places where they were the interview subjects. Because they put themselves in positions where the public was looking for the them to offer insight, perspective and a bit of their personality, their opining put them in positions to get in trouble with their employers.

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Race, Class and Obama

By , September 2, 2010 5:50 pm

For anyone interested in racial and ethnic harmony, it’s been a crappy summer.

A quick recap: Arizona’s immigration law passed; the NAACP took on Tea Party racism, and the Tea Party came back in a bad way; Andrew Breitbart took on the NAACP and Shirley Sherrod making all parties involved look bad, including Barack Obama; 1/5 of Americans think Obama is a Muslim in spite of factual evidence to the contrary and none to support it; there’s the controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” that isn’t located in Ground Zero and is more of a community center than a mosque; and Dr. Laura used the word “nigger” 11 times to a black caller.

These moments and the lack of any progress on race show the country isn’t ready to engage and have an honest conversation about how race and ethnicity affect Americans. What’s worse is President Obama doesn’t appear ready to lead the country in this matter. This is a shame because he is the perfect person to do it.

First, he’s already done it before. In a 2008 speech responding to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright scandal, Obama spoke brilliantly about race:

I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams.

United States President Barack Obama makes a statement on the killings in the West Bank after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 1, 2010.  UPI/Ron Sachs/Pool Photo via Newscom

That’s what a lot of the racial and ethnic stories that captured our attention this summer are about (except, perhaps, the Dr. Laura rant): Someone different from me is getting something I’m not. These issues aren’t just about race. They’re about class, immigration and jobs, too. They’re about race and money.

Obama is the embodiment of an American who can and has crossed multiple racial and economic groups and this is the second reason he should be talking more about these problems. He is the son of a white American and black Kenyan. He grew up in a working-class family in Hawaii as well as some time in Indonesia. He attended two elite Ivy League schools in the East, and he was a community organizer in Chicago. His life is a range of race and class in America. It’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and spans different geographic regions and economic classes.
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Can We Talk?

By , January 20, 2010 12:32 am

Harry Reid’s “Negro” comment turned into a political crisis for the Senate Majority Leader. Before coverage of the earthquake in Haiti pushed the controversy from the news media’s attention, Republicans were calling for his resignation. They said it’s the same as when Trent Lott was forced to resign as Senate Majority Leader after speaking at a birthday celebration for then-Sen. Strom Thurmond. Lott said, “We wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years” if Thurmond – who ran on a segregationist ticket – was elected president in 1948. Sorry GOP. It’s not the same.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at Let Freedom Ring concert

Besides the political pressure on Reid to resign, his remarks also prompted talk about a national conversation on race. Professor Michael Eric Dyson said Reid’s remarks were a “teachable moment” for Barack Obama and the president needs to deal with the issue of race. Dyson added that Obama “runs from race like a black man runs from a cop.” That’s not an accurate analogy, nor is it particularly helpful when talking about race, but Obama would be an ideal choice begin a national conversation on race. Dr. Boyce Watkins, though, has a few reasons why Obama shouldn’t begin the conversation. One of which, alienating some white voters, Obama himself probably realizes.

It’s fitting that the issue of race comes up around the time we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday while at the same time looking back at Obama’s (historic, though disappointing to some) first year in office. While his ascendancy to the Oval Office is proof that America has come a long way regarding race, the national hissy-fit we just had over Harry Reid ungracefully speaking the truth is proof we have a long way to go. Former Al Gore Campaign Manager Donna Brazile said this about the Reid gaffe: “We don’t have a common language to discuss issues – especially issues like racism and the sensitivity around discussing race. And because of that, people often trip over themselves.”

Finding that common language would help start a national conversation on race. But what exactly is a “national conversation?” If the United States is going to make an effort to talk about race on both national and local levels, how would that actually happen? Logistically speaking, how would a conversation on a national scale work?

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