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.


bluzdude said…
I've followed this controversy from afar, and I only have one comment...

I may not have all the facts at hand, but Wendy's post reads like she's stating a fact. Do we know that she was assuming all those statements to be true, or does she, in fact, KNOW they are true after doing some investigation?

If she was speculating, I find that pretty offensive too. But if she knows those things to be true? To quote the great philosopher Cowher of Crafton, "It is what it is."
Facie said…
I don't think Wendy knows any more than the police, and probably less. The latter suggested/speculated (not sure which is the correct word) that there was some type of retaliation, but I don't think they ever said it was a black person of interest, so...

I think I struggle with the second part of her comments more. As I stated, I did not get the offense at first. And so many times, people complain that the media fails to show positive things, only the bad things people (usually blacks) do. So I thought Wendy was coming from that angle. Only she knows what is in her heart.
Anonymous said…
I feel so sad for people in the spotlight. I say dumb things (and probably racist sometimes, though unintended) a reasonable amount of the time. Being human means we're not perfect and we have opinions (heavens knows facebook/twitter tell us to have opinions about everything all the time!) Chances are you're going to mess up. Still, having an opinion about the makeup of someone who committed a crime isn't exactly the same thing as walking into a party and shooting up the place. The second comment is just over-the-top politically correct nonsense. Suddenly only blacks have rhythm or dance? I have a little blonde that would strongly agree.
chris h. said…
I think firing her was perfectly within WTAE's rights, but didn't really serve "the greater good." People who don't consider anything racist about what she said will just be more incensed about "political correctness" killing the country, and those who are happy she was fired will just continue to criticize her and bemoan the ignorance of all the people who support her. This was a teachable moment that was squandered. Wendy has a following and had a platform that could have been used to discuss racism/prejudice in all its forms (including the subtle "white privilege" kind she is accused of). I think if given a chance, she would have explained herself or expressed a stronger mea culpa or maybe even said "hey, I never considered it that way" or whatever.) Instead, there's just more anger and "digging in" on both sides of the issue. Nobody's mind was changed (on either side).
Facie said…
Thanks, Anonymous and Chris for your thoughts. I think it is important to talk about, rationally.

Anonymous: "having an opinion about the makeup of someone who committed a crime isn't exactly the same thing as walking into a party and shooting up the place" is part of my thinking. But having read so much now about this from so many people, many black, has made me realize that just because racism is not outrage hatred does not make it not racism. Me? I still would rather categorize. I am friends with a lot of people who think like that. But it is a little hard to be associate with people who are downright hateful and denigrating.

Chris: "This was a teachable moment that was squandered. Wendy has a following and had a platform that could have been used to discuss racism/prejudice in all its forms (including the subtle "white privilege" kind she is accused of). I think if given a chance, she would have explained herself or expressed a stronger mea culpa or maybe even said "hey, I never considered it that way" or whatever.)"

That is a moment (well, many moments) lost for sure.

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