I have something to say about blogging and issues and race. I’ve said it before and I’m going to keep on saying it. Not everyone is having the race conversation. Apparently, I missed a wonderful microblogging opportunity the other night to get involved in a conversation, and for that I’m deeply sorry as I was away traveling and was keeping to such a tight schedule that I couldn’t fit it in to what I was doing. That’s never the case for me, and I try not to miss very much where conversations on race are concerned. Indeed, I cannot miss it and feel that it’s such a huge social and complex issue that I don’t get to ignore. But two things have been happening in my feeds lately and race is one of them. The other is the sniping and seriously small conversations we have about people. I am, in this moment, reminded of a quote that is erroneously attributed to both Eleanor Roosevelt and Hyman G. Rickover: Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. There are several variations of this quote and each of them is wisely sage, but this is my favorite of those derivatives.
In many ways, I’m tired of mincing words online. It’s not a habitual practice in my daily speech so I know when I meet a new person the response to my boldness is that they didn’t know how strongly I felt about things until they met me. That is a standard practice for many bloggers, too. We don’t really know who we all are until we sit down with them and it’s probably the thing I hear most: I want to sit down with you and a cup of coffee and just talk. More often than not, writers are shy and enjoy the written word because it’s less confrontational than being in person and having to somehow “perform.”
Let me illustrate with something that encompasses both the issue of race and the characterization of boldness. Tuesday morning, while I was with bloggers at an event, I sat down to breakfast with a copy of the always-free-in-hotels USA Today newspaper. Someone asked me what the news was in hopes that I could give a summation of events, and I mentioned how irritated I was that Michael Vick was on the cover. “Why’s that?” I was asked. “Because, I know that USA Today has a policy to always include a person of color on the front page and I’m sick of them using Vick. Not that I don’t think that what he did was despicable, but because no matter what atonement he’s offered, it’s never going to be good enough. He’s a black male and he’ll always be displayed as villainous. It just pisses me off that they perpetuate it.” Granted, the story inside the newspaper was about his new book and a just-launched clothing line, but still. They pandered to the lowest common denominator with “dog fighting” in the headline.
I get it. I know how newspapers and media and SEO works. It can just be so damaging to people, though.
When I first wrote about Trayvon Martin here on Babble, I was grossly naive as to how many others would follow suit. I mean, we’re all parents who come to blogs looking for solidarity and community as people raising children and here was the story of a young teenage boy taken from his family in an act of violence that should have shocked us as a nation. Instead, it divided us and we debated his killer’s racial make-up devolved into hoodies and whether or not he should have cooperated with a strange man who had no authority in his life. Even when Trayvon’s killer was finally arrested I was blown away to hear, from people I know, that their response was Happy now? There wasn’t camaraderie amongst us, as a community of writers or as a national of parents or as a global society to want to see justice for this boy and his parents.
Even in all the months that have followed I have seen the discussions on race dwindle and the focus go right back to things that seem so small and unimportant to our world. I am often left out in conversations that point towards pop culture. Certainly, in my career choice, I have to pay some bit of attention to it so I know what my students are discussing, but I’m embarrassed by the rubbernecking, trash-tv-watching population of adults who elevate reality show participants (they aren’t “stars” or “celebrities”) to a prominent place in their everyday speech. Just this week I was asked a question that seems to come up frequently: Don’t you watch any of the Real Housewives shows or reality tv?
My answer isn’t just a one-word, No. Each time I explain that I work in the public school system with drama and volatility and violence and back-biting and that I don’t need to escape my reality and enjoy the futility of reality television. I work in a system where I am trying to teach students to aim higher and resolve conflicts meaningfully and produce useful results. Schools incorporate so much collaborative learning opportunities because that’s what creates successful adults in every job situation. When students tell me they don’t like working in a group with so-and-so I ask them if they think I like every person that I work with and they are astounded to learn that I don’t. Of course I don’t like everyone, but I find a way to do the job with them and search for our similarities and grounds on which we can successfully collude. Working against that is a society that celebrates those reality shows and that undermines the work I do in schools to facilitate the transition to adulthood.
Children know how to talk about the hard stuff. I hear them discussing race and why it’s still so hard for many people in our country to accept a black leader. They don’t mince words and will tell you in a heartbeat when they see injustice and racial inequality. “Where’s all our black teachers?” they’ve asked me on numerous occasions.
What I’m doing is watching what we discuss. Watching privileged adults choosing to spend time debating issues that I wasn’t even trying to sidestep because these things aren’t on my radar. I’m watching our blogging community surrender to hate sites and the erosion of important stuff like voter protection and access, the privatization of public schools, and race issues. Discussing people and events but not ideas isn’t going to get us anywhere.
Let’s be better than that. Let’s talk about really important things. Good, meaty social issues that are larger than ourselves.
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