Sunday, March 27, 2016

Racism, prejudice, entitlement, and saying the wrong things

Simple Definition of RACISM
• : poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race
• : the belief that some races of people are better than others

Simple Definition of PREJUDICE
• : an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex, religion, etc.
• : a feeling of like or dislike for someone or something especially when it is not reasonable or logical

I certainly don't treat anyone poorly or commit acts of violence against them because of their race. I don't think one race (or my race) is better than others. And I do not have a feeling of dislike for anyone or any group, other than litterers, drug dealers (of the hard stuff; not marijuana), and murderers. But I can tell you that great disdain for those three groups is not based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. It is all about the actions of those people, and I certainly don't think it is unreasonable or illogical to feel that way about people who do disgusting things.

But, in light of the Wendy Bell WTAE firestorm (based on many comments), I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that I am not somewhat prejudiced or racist (whichever causes me to avoid questionable neighborhoods at night). In fact, I think many people are and may not realize it.

I am not talking about the hateful kind. The kind that causes, for example, a white person to say he would never date or befriend a black person. The kind that presumes if someone in the city was shot, that a black person must have done it. The kind that refuses to let any Muslims in the country because they are probably terrorists.

No, I am talking about the type where we as white people don't think before we speak and make assumptions. And, yes, I am generalizing here. And honestly I am confused by what exactly qualifies as racism or prejudice.

I don't know WTAE news anchor Wendy Bell personally. But the wording and descriptions she used in a recent (since deleted, but easily found) FB post could be construed as racist. I don't think she meant it in a negative way. I am pretty certain she was speaking her heart, as she seems to do in her posts. And the reason I say "construed" is because I just don't believe Wendy comes from a hateful place. That said, I was shocked by her wording. It was offensive and condescending to many and understandably so. You cannot and should not presume that whoever murdered those six people and shot three others can be described this way, as she did:

You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. I will tell you they live within 5 miles of Franklin Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard and have been hiding out since in a home likely much closer to that backyard patio than anyone thinks. They are young black men, likely teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested. They’ve made the circuit and nothing has scared them enough.

About the only thing you could presume, and I still would not, and she certainly should not say it, is that whoever murdered those people have committed other crimes. I am no expert on criminal behavior, but I am pretty sure a nice, law-abiding person just does not walk into a backyard cookout and shoot nine people, six of them dead, as his or her first crime. Just as it is highly unlikely (though not impossible) that someone sticks a needle full of heroin in her vein as an entry into drug use.

Yes, Wendy has freedom of speech, but a person in the media, particularly one whose FB "name" includes her TV station, should not say that. Maybe statistically it is likely that the two shooters are black. If one presumes that people tend to hang out with their own race, then it is more than likely that the shooters were black. (Again, I am generalizing and making presumptions). But she took it a bit too far, particularly breaking down the family dynamic. And to the people who said, "If the shooters turn out to be black thugs who have committed other crimes and have multiple half-siblings, then the anti-Wendy people better apologize." I disagree. And I don't even care that some black people, including some black clergy people, have stood up for her choice of wording. 

I know of four people who sold drugs and have gone to jail for it. All are white, two males and two females (two of the females dated one of the males; one of the females has since died from drugs). I don't presume all drug dealers are white just because that is pretty much all I know. It just stands to reason that I would not know too many black drug dealers since I know very few black people well. And I hope that is not a racist statement, but I am sure someone can find at least a hint of prejudice there. And I am saying from a place of just not knowing.

The other thing that Wendy said which might have even been more offensive (though not to me, but I think this comes back to my being white and not being stereotyped for my race) was her portrayal of the black teen who was working the restaurant where she and her family were. Again, I truly believe Wendy meant well in her post. She was trying to point out a positive example (and some people are so racist that they need this reminder) and to end her post on a more hopeful note.

But there is HOPE. And Joe and I caught a glimpse of it Saturday night. A young, African American teen hustling like nobody’s business at a restaurant we took the boys to over at the Southside Works. This child stacked heavy glass glasses 10 high and carried three teetering towers of them in one hand with plates piled high in the other. He wiped off the tables. Tended to the chairs. Got down on his hands and knees to pick up the scraps that had fallen to the floor. And he did all this with a rhythm and a step that gushed positivity. He moved like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s going to Make It. ...

It will be some time before I forget the smile that beamed across that young worker’s face — or the look in his eyes as we caught each other’s gaze. I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.

I can say that I needed people to show me what was wrong with that description. I am sorry I did not get it before, as I was focused on a positive story, but I get it now. "Hustling" and "rhythm" and "moved like a dancer" may not have been the best word choices given black stereotypes, and I can see where people may think the "down on his hands and knees" comment was emblematic of being a servant. And if I were a black mother, I would probably be upset that a white mother would presume my child was not made to feel special, that I needed a white person to do it. But as offensive and stereoptyipcal as those statements may have been, I just don't think they come from a place of hate. They were not appropriate, and she should have apologized for them, which she, more or less, did (many have argued that saying you are sorry if someone viewed what you wrote was racist is not an apology). 

But when does it end? What does she have to do? I have read horrible comments from people who have said hateful things about Wendy. She did not murder anyone. If you have read other posts of hers, I think you would see she is genuinely caring and open (perhaps too so, but I am like that) person. I know someone who is friends with her. I can go only on what she said, and I won't go into specifics, but it seems to confirm my opinion.

To the last part of my title: Lately, I find myself worrying if my choice of words will offend someone. I think that is a big problem today: Someone is bound to be offended. I rewrote quite a bit of this post, for fear of offending someone. And if more than a few people came here, I am certain at least four things I said would be offensive to someone, even though that is not my intention. I am a kind, open-minded person. I don't try to incite hate or negativity as so many people seem to do (though as a Catholic, registered Republican, Penn State alum, I have experienced vitriol, indirectly and directly). And I guess that is why I find myself mostly defending Wendy.

When I was in college, before people had cell phones or email, I sent Christmas cards to all my close friends including someone who was Jewish. I was not that religious, so you can bet the card did not reference Jesus, but Christ is in Christmas, so...  Anyway, I still can remember my Jewish friend laying into me when we returned from winter break. I remember how belittled and embarrassed I felt. I don't recall how I reacted. But I never made that mistake again. I was just trying to include the friend, but it backfired.

Sometimes we, as humans, may have the best intentions, but due to ignorance, insensitivity, or lack of experience (on either party), things may not come off or out as we intended. 

I will try harder to put myself in others' positions, knowing I may not be able to successfully do so, mostly because I have not lived it. But I will also try to be more forgiving and understanding. Something I think many of us could benefit from.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

I'm glad that is over with!

This past Monday, I officially became (one of the things) I had wanted to for my last two car purchases: a Subaru Forester owner. :-)

I wish I could recall what made me want to own one, way back in 1999, just before I had bought my (used) Ford Explorer. At that time, I was down to a Honda CRV and a Subaru Forester, but the latter was going to be more expensive to insure, so I nixed it. Plus the Forester was boxy, so I don't know what the appeal was. In any event, the dealership I was dealing with did not have any CRVs in, and my lease was running out; then the Explorer presented itself. It was a good (large) car that served me well for many years. But then repairs started to pile up, and I started searching again. This time, I was down to, once again, a Subaru Forester, which was slightly less boxy, but still not "pretty," and a Hyundai Santa Fe and a Tucson. When Saturn offered 0% financing for 5 years for a Vue, I moved that car up from #5 to #1. It too served me well for many years.

My original plan was to keep the Vue for 10 years. But, as with my previous car, I was starting to put $$ into it, and the car was approaching 100k. And even though my mechanic found nothing wrong with my car when I had it inspected a few months ago, it continued to make noises. I figured the longer I waited, the less money I would get for my car, so I started to look, once again, at the Forester, which was now good looking! It is one of the safest cars, and the commercials get me every time.

So began a few weeks of intense searching for a used Forester, and along with it, much anxiety and stress, as I analyze (i.e., over-analyze) all purchases and often worry about money. Finding one with low mileage and a decent price was no easy task. I had nearly given up when I saw that the dealership (#1 Cochran) was offering 0% financing for 48 months on a new Forester or Legacy (the latter entered the race for that reason). Buying new was not appealing because of the depreciation factor, but considering how little Subarus seem to depreciate, I changed my tune. Plus, the last time I bought used, I had repairs before I finished making payments. (Lesson learned: Spread out your payments for no more than 3 years when you are buying used.)

I did more research, and I finally made it to the dealership last Saturday to test drive both models. I then had to decide between the two. The Legacy was a premium model (Heated seats! Heated side mirrors! Windshield wiper de-icer! Leather steering wheel!), so that tilted the odds in its favor, but I was not sure I could give up the height that comes with an SUV. But premium model! Then the hubs noticed the car was wider than the SUV. With my poor depth perception, I often struggled backing out of our garage, and scraped my mirrors more than once (my Vue was about an inch wider than the Explorer). Getting another car that was a 1/2" wider than my last one would not bode well for me. Once I realized the Forester was actually 1.5" less wide than the Vue, I knew my decision was made (though I was a little teary about giving up the "good stuff").

So, I told our no-pressure salesperson what I had decided, we talked about my trade-in, which was more than I expected, only thanks to a coupon that was missing fine print (which we had to fight for). The final price was slightly less than what suggested. (I very much appreciate the no-haggle policy: I think Cochran calls it "clear-cut pricing.") So I signed on the dotted line. Unfortunately, the dealership finance department was backed up, and I had to come back two days later to sign papers since I had some where to be. But they did let me keep the car in between, which was surprising to me (I think they felt bad that I had an appointment, and I was there 3 hours). The worrier that I am, I fretted that someone would steal my identity over the weekend and/or that my credit was not as stellar as I thought.

But when I came back in on Monday, much to my relief, all was in line. In fact, my lowest score was 838 and my highest was 870, which is all that and a bag of chips! So I am a Subaru owner! There are some things I need to get used to, including having to lock my doors and not having a leather steering wheel (never thought I would miss that). But I very much love having a backup camera and being able to talk on the phone via my car. But truly the best thing is feeling safe. Such an upgrade from a plastic car with only two airbags. 

Just don't tell Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey that I bought new (but buying for 4 years instead of 5 might buy me a little of their forgiveness). I'd like to think they would appreciate my good reasons for doing so. :-).