Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

I continue to be intrigued by this idea of post racialism and am still trying to figure out exactly what that looks like. Some people are afraid, and rightly so, that post-racialism means that we all will start to look and talk the same and that our identities will dissolve into a common, post-racial culture. Indeed, there are some who would rather not acknowledge people’s differences because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

For instance, at one time, it was popular to think of the United States as a melting pot. Some people smarter than I am have pointed out that with the melting pot ideal, America is a creamy homogenous fondue, whereas the reality is that we more like a gumbo with all kinds of ingredients thrown into the pot. That would be my idea of post racialism—a world society, not just in the US, where we, in combination and separately, making a delicious taste, united and equally appreciated as individuals who are part of the same mixture.

In the news lately, there have been some prominent stories that center on race. One involves celebrity chef Paula Deen’s admission to having used the “n” word. The other involves the murder trial of Robert Zimmerman and the use of the word “cracker’ by the slain victim, Trayvon Martin.

No way am I an apologist for Deen, but I suspect the world would come to a screeching halt if every white person who has used the word “nigger” either as a slur or in everyday conversation–and admitted it–were fired from their jobs. Some have said Deen is the poster child for racism in America today but what about the people she supposedly represents, which is the larger issue.

There’s an interesting article I came across that questions whether the words “nigger” and “cracker” are created equal. Are white people as offended being called cracker by a black person as black people are by a white person calling them nigger?

From my perspective, in certain situations, “nigger” is a blanket term to indiscriminately describe anyone of African American heritage, sort of a brutal personal affront to something as intimate as a person’s cell structure, a blind attack on our existence. On the other hand, in the black community, a “cracker” is understood to specifically describe a white person (traditionally from the South) who hates black people, who is likely to call them niggers, and who is gunning for you, literally and figuratively (ie, they have malice and want to do you harm). So interestingly enough, one term assumes inferiority and the other assumes an attitude of extreme bias.

Call me an optimist, but even though these words and concepts rear their heads, I still think we are at the point of transition where true post-racialism is possible. Most people get it. But destructive attitudes and behaviors are not going away unless we work out the vestiges of our past. There’s so much work to be done on this front but it all starts with our individual interactions with people, sharing and talking to each other, and learning from our different experiences. As I have said before and I hear others now saying it, too, the personal is the political.

What do you think?

*********************

Here’s Wynton Marsalis, a noted jazz musician who is equally respected for his work in classical music, talking about how he came to love a musical form that was outside of his culture.

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2013

Comments on: "Post-Racialism in a World of Niggers and Crackers" (39)

  1. Sweepy, I am so reblogging this! Very well said. I prefer a gumbo pot to a melting pot any day.

  2. Reblogged this on Susan Daniels Poetry and commented:
    From melting pot to gumbo pot, we are all in the same stew, bubbling at the same heat.

  3. Anonymous said:

    ‘There’s so much work to be done on this front but it all starts with our individual interactions with people, sharing and talking to each other, and learning from our different experiences.’ yes – that is an optimistic view – which we need to remain human and humane. At the same time, until power and money remain in predominantly with one ‘group’ – the voice of ‘others’ is not heard. Maybe speak softly and carry a big stick?

    • Hi, there! Racism is so worked into the very fabric of America, in particular, but also in countries around the world, it definitely has to be approached from all different angles, including politically and educationally. So I hear you about the imbalance of economic power. But how do we effect change, who is carrying the stick, and what or who do we beat with the stick?

      It seems to me that change happens not when one group alone wants it but when the vast majority see it as the right thing. Obama was not the first black person to run for President but the first one that all different demographic groups rallied around and voted for. Same thing is happening now for gay marriage; it doesn’t matter whether I’m black or not, gay or not, a woman or not, everyone should have equal rights.

      This topic is so huge. We can and should organize our efforts but I think sometimes people sit back and rely just on that, which is why change happen so slowly. I guess what I’m addressing here is that there are things the average person can do in their everyday lives, like be willing to talk, listen, and connect without assumption and preconceived ideas, expose themselves to other cultures, really getting to know each other, also being respectful of race in public and private, not just for show. It’s not everything but I think it’s important and the foundation of everything else we can do.

      Yikes, is this another blog post? :-) I really appreciate your comment.

  4. my world has been post-racial since I sat in my non-prejudiced parents’ lap – they taught me the deep essence of humanity

  5. Hi, I host a blog also on WP (From The Mind of Truthangel) and I honestly feel that if a white person calls me or any AA a N*gger; they might as well look in the mirror because to be one would indicate that IGNORANCE is a prime component.

    I’m a realist.

    No one is going to make me like someone or something that I just don’t care for.

    As a proud African American, I consider myself to be intelligent, fair, honorable and one who is understanding by nature. However, this in no way is an invitation for people who seem to think that I will give them a pass simply because I invite them to eat some of my barbeque.

    Respect is the key component of civility. Whites need to learn it moreso than Black people.

    • Hi, truthangel. Yeah everything within reason. I don’t believe in forcing anything and some people are just not open to dialogue. I think we all can benefit from learning to be respectful, though, not forgetting that we need to love and respect ourselves and each other within our own ethnic group. That definitely is another can or worms I plan to blog about in the future.

  6. As a child of the 1950s it was difficult, at times, to keep up with the proper, non-offensive “terminology” for African-Americans. First they were colored people, then Negroes, now AA with a whole lot of non-funny nicknames attached. But calling an AA person the “n” word, even if not done in an insulting manner (e.g. “Hey, a ni#*er family moved into that blue house down the street” — I’m a lily-white 57-year-old Northerner and yep, I’m sure I’ve said something like that) is obviously very offensive, as it is to call a person fat, retarded, towelhead, Hebe, faggot, or [down south at least] cracker. It scares me how badly we treat each other in this world…and those are just words, never mind actions. That being said, and I can say it because I’m a lily-white Northerner, poor old Paula Deen (as she weeps all the way to the bank) should be cut a break.

    P.S. I am nor really lily-white. My mom’s father was North African. But in my case, Norwegian and Scottish won out so you’d never know it to look at me.

    • I used to identify as AA but in recent years I reverted to preferring the term black, for reasons I won’t get into here. Casual use of racial epithets are indicative of a mindset, no matter who says them. Names and words definitely influence thought and thought translates to action. Think about how the use of language has changed in response to women’s rights (chairperson, flight attendant, Ms., etc). I doubt there are many black Americans who don’t have mixed blood somewhere down the line and we are all descended from the fossil Eve from Africa, right? Thanks for weighing in, Laurie.

  7. “Black” was always the term we used in explaining to my little nephews why some people are “different.” I’d never think of myself as prejudiced nor was I raised that way….and it’s lousy that anyone of any race, creed or color should be insulted, belittled or sneered at because of that. Racism and racial terms are so creative, why are we so programmed to use them in such a mean, non-creative manner? The subject, I realize, is so far down the list of everyday thoughts on my plate…but perhaps I should revisit it and my own mindsets, for all they might mean to anyone besides me!

  8. Hi there Sweepy. I know I’m way outside your demographics, heck, I even started a group called Association of Black Poets to continue the work of the Black Arts Movement.

    With that said, I do agree with you that I would prefer gumbo to a melting pot. I don’t see why I can’t be me in the skin I’m in and the metaphorical “you” can’t be you in the skin you’re in. We don’t have to be at odds. But I don’t want to become you anymore than I want you to become me but we should all be able to be at peace with each other.

    I sincerely don’t want “blackness” to disappear into some mythical “melting pot” any more than Native Americans to disappear or Scottish, or Hispanic/Latino or Asian. We should all be able to be who we are, embrace our differences while celebrating all we have in common.

    Still, if the choice is to be Black or be gray in this supposed melting pot, I’ll fight tooth and nail to remain Black.

    • Hey, AJ! I always appreciate your comments and we have touched on this subject together in the past. But somehow there seems to be a wedge and I don’t know why. Who is my demographic and why do you feel outside of it? You are human, right? If we must label, and some people insist on it, I am a black woman poet, regardless of whether I join the NAACP or any arts movement–or not. That’s my piece of the gumbo, simply. I don’t pose a threat to anyone else’s expression of who they are.

      • My apologies Sweepy, I meant no disrespect. When I said outside of your normal readership I meant judging by the comments this post, and others, have received. And I was agreeing with your original statement, I’d rather be gumbo as well.

        I was talking about the larger perception that we should all gleefully jump into the pot so we can melt together that some espouse, especially with Obama as president. That wasn’t directed at you, but at the idea that anyone in America should seek to be part of that melting pot and let their wonderful, amazing, incredible differences be swallowed up.

        No, we are not in opposition, I mainly agree with you. I was merely stating that I would rather be Black in America than be just an American.

      • Cool, AJ. At the core of this, I believe in the individual, as you do. I admire your conviction and applaud your efforts. Good luck with the Association of Black Poets group! :-)

  9. susanpjames said:

    Sweepy, I commend you for taking on this difficult subject and writing such a thoughtful but provocative piece.

    For me, coming from Mexico, it has been hard to understand racism in this country and especially post-racialism. When I lived in New York in the early sixties, my roommate worked for the NAACP, and many of our friends were “colored” as they used to say. When I returned in 2000 to live in California, I found a very different situation, with discrimination on both sides, and covert, instead of overt, racism with all its insidious, politically correct/incorrect names, words, and opinions. At first I didn’t think in terms of race until it was forced on me almost every day in the media or where I worked specifying white, black, Latino, Asian, African. How sweeping are these descriptions that lump together entire continents of different peoples according to their skin color? When filling out forms I check Latina rather than white.Both are true but don’t belong together according to the people who prepare the forms. I ask, for example, is President Obama black or half white or both or neither?

    This post-racialism has evolved into something divisive, derogatory, disgusting, and hurtful, and I don’t want to be part of it, yet I can’t avoid being drawn into this ongoing struggle in which prejudice and labeling lead the way.

    • This country literally was founded on racist concepts and being born in this country I bet many of us don’t realize how much race influences our every day interactions. Once again, it’s the labeling. Forms are not adequate to categorize the spectrum of humanity. If the President could say he is black, couldn’t he just as easily call himself white, not half white? Somehow, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I had a biracial friend and she vehemently chose not to deny either race and always filled in “other” instead of black or white. Another, like Obama, chose to identify with the race that most people would assume based on appearance alone.As always, thanks for your thoughtful comment, Pennie!

  10. Having never been called “Cracker” and not been called “honky” for close to 40 years, I’d probably be more surprised than upset were I to be called either.

    • Hi, Mark. Thanks so much for stopping by and weighing in on this topic. Fortunately, it’s been about the same amount of time since I was called the “n” word, but I must say it feels like being erased at knife point.

      • Which is why I can see a huge difference between the two. One is annoying, the other is dehumanizing.

  11. The post-racialism term and gumbo image are both new to me. I’ve heard of a tossed salad instead of a melting pot, but I’d like to have both gumbo and the salad for a clearer picture of mixed origins. The mixture makes being American very rich to me and helps me focus more on class and peace issues. I am white, 2nd generation German-Russian-Jewish by birth and a practicing Quaker. I’ve had lots of opportunity to confront my own racism, and have started writing about it though I find that still scary. There will be a fair amount in my novel that contains feminist theatre, performance, and storytelling–if I ever finish it–and there is a little in a poem or two, most recently “Sue and Susan” written yesterday. If there is post-racialism, this poem may demonstrate it, as a little real growth, language change and sense of PC. It doesn’t demonstrate real and true friendships that are outside the experience of the poem. Here in Philly, even recently, the N-word has been used in unfortunate contexts. When students have tested me with that word, they insist they pronounce and spell it differently and transform it the way certain lesbians have transformed the word dyke. When they test me with cracker/honky and other inventions, I have been able to ask for some history of terms or provide some. Oops, I used to–I am retired from teaching now. Thank you, Adriene, for opening this door to discussion.

    • I think its important we all confront our own attitudes about race. The use of the “n” word is also very intriguing to me, particularly how it is used in the black community. I have mixed feelings about it and I want to explore that in a future post. I always enjoy your thoughtful comments here, Susan, thanks. You may be retired from work but you still teach!

  12. You use the metaphor ‘gumbo’ and I use salad bowl, with the ingredients tossed together but all distinct, every one. This post reminded me of Thoreau’s words, one of my fav quotes, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root…” Though behavioral standards in society are a start, they never strike the root of the bigotry problem, which stems from the heart. Duality (us vs. them) is found across the board in every facet of culture, from politics to race to religion…

    • Hi, Debra! Thanks for sharing the Thoreau quote, it is quite apt. I think people behave and vote, etc, as their hearts dictate, and the way to the heart is through human interaction.

  13. Personally, I feel that post-racialism has become too devisive and derogatory these days. Not much of an historical significance remains, just a way for people to throw insult and slander each other.

  14. Growing up in Switzerland I was mostly confronted with anti-racialism in books and could not understand it. What I experienced though was the xenophobia (addressed at migrant workers) some people professed in the late 60es and which culminated in a public vote (55 % voted against it).
    I deeply believe in respecting all humans irrespective of race, religion or belief.

    • Thanks for your insights, Barbara. I grew up and live in an area where the population is greatly diverse ethnically. Many parts of the US are not diverse. Diversity has advantages but it doesn’t eliminate racism, unfortunately.

  15. This is very touchy but extremely (always) relevant, which in a way is truly unfortunate, right? The fact that we still need to talk about race means we have not reached ‘gumbo state’ yet. I do prefer that analogy better than ‘fondue’, because I agree that I love the differences. Let’s not kid ourselves. We will all always be different, but the key is to know that difference does not mean one is more ore less than the other. Difference does not have to lead to heirarchy or stratification. Difference should just mean we all have gifts to give to enhance this world and each other’s lives. We’ll get there. I’m positive we will, even if it’s not in my lifetime.

  16. I feel so naive in the fact that I had never heard of the terms cracker or post-racialism…

    I totally agree that it is possible though, and that we are making a lot of in-roads. One major thing that would help would be a change in the way things like these are reported – the media sensationalises so many things, and are the first to hop on the bandwagon to spread anti-whatever sentiment both directly and indirectly. This happens a lot in Australia, and consistently disgusts me, especially when I see my friends and partner effected via being taunted when walking down the street, or complained about because they where different clothes, etc. And yes, it was great that our PM officially said ‘sorry’ to the indigenous community, but in order to move forward, the larger population NEED to acknowledge (and/or be made aware) of the badness that was really done.

    We have come so far, but there is still such a long way to go.

    • Thank so much for your insightful comments, Janine. It’s interesting to me to hear about race relations in other countries. The media plays a huge role. I wonder if sensationalism reflects society’s values or if it’s simply a means to sell ad units, but it is clear that the media definitely influences public opinion. Yet if the public were to indicate that they’ve had enough, then the media would change their reporting tactics.

  17. You know what I find funny about race? When I hear the word I think of the other definition. To run. I feel like when we choose to degrade each other based on color, class and religion we are running away from who God created us to be. Race is very fitting in that context. I pray that we do become a post-racial society because we have progressed a lot over the years. As far as the C-word and the N-word, they both are lazy. I don’t like lazy words! Lol! I like strong words that get up and go to work. Like love, humanity and connectedness. Throw those lazy words in the trash. :-)

  18. The thing about a melting pot is all things sort of blend together and get lost. We’re more like the gumbo or great stew that compliments each other but still allows our flavor to shine through

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