getting along

2 posts

How to Not Be a Menace to Minorities While Drinking Your “Juice” in the Hood (or Anywhere Else)

It has happened to all of us.

You and your friend of another race/ethnicity/nationality etc. are having a good time then all of a sudden you say something, your friend looks at you like you are crazy and immediately excuses themselves and you don’t hear from them for a couple weeks. You’d apologize, except you have no idea what to apologize for and your friend would call you but every time they think of that last conversation they get so pissed off smoke literally rises from their scalp.

So would he.

Well, I’d like to help put out the fires of discord.

Here is my attempt to address some commonly made mistakes that, let’s face it, predominantly white, straight, male people make, that make minorities of all colors, shapes and sexual orientations (critical race theory has some close cousins in queer theory) want to unleash the Kraken.*

  • Assume all members of a minority of a group share the exact same experience. This is called “the danger of the single story.” There is just as much diversity in the Mexican, Black, Vietnamese, Iranian and Nigerian (STOP using the term “African” unless you are referring to the elephant) experience as there is in the White experience. Sure there are some safe assumptions. A Mexican person probably enjoys salsa and knows 39 different ways to eat a tortilla but just to be on the safe side, let each individual person tell you who they are, where they are from and if they in fact enjoy hip hop music. You wouldn’t assume that all white people like, oh say, tuna casserole would you?
  • Don’t talk or behave like the unique physical traits of certain races are the last, recently discovered dodo bird. There are more people with so-called African hair than blond hair in this world and yet, most people don’t walk up to blonds and stick their grubby hands in their hair and say, “OH! I’ve never touched this before! How INTERESTING!” Furthermore, a lot of non-white girls have prominent asses. Some of us enjoy our asses, some of us wish they would go away forever. A lot of us hate the bitchy intro to “I like big butts.”
    Hands. Off.

    A lot of us hate the entire song. It doesn’t make us want to dance, it makes us feel exposed and sexualized in a completely non-sexy way.  So, stop talking about our asses unless you are trying to get us into bed and then only do if the individual girl gives you the green light. In regards to black men, a lot of them, at least in the United States, are big, strapping guys. Why? It is not an accident of genetics. It is because when black people were imported to the Americas and bred as work animals, like most breeds of work animals, the smaller individuals tend not survive the harsh conditions and are actively bred out of existence. It’s not a coincidence and it’s not really funny to joke about while watching football with your token black friend.

  • Learn your history. Ignorance is not a defense. My senior year two fucking idiots showed up at a frat party painted black from head to to with orange markings and called themselves “savages.” Their defense was that they had never heard of “blackface.” We live in the 21st century. Get your ass on the internet learn about the racial/cultural taboos in your country/community and then don’t fucking do them.
  • Do not ever, Ever, EVER tell someone that they aren’t really or don’t act like <insert minority group here>. This sort of relates to the first point, but this particular tendency requires special attention. Do not ever claim to be the voice of legitimacy on what is and what is not “proper” behavior/dress/etc. of a particular group if you are not a member of that group (it is also problematic for members within that group to set legitimacy requirements, but that debate is for another day). It doesn’t matter how many <insert minority group here> friends you have, you do not have authority in this arena. Keep your mouth shut.
  • Scarlett is your Goofus. Don't be a Scarlett.

    Know your own privilege(s). Are you educated? Rich? Male? Straight? White? One or all of the above? Well there are some handy things called “privileges” that go along with those characteristics. Pay attention to your life and figure out what they are. If you haven’t read this piece by Peggy McIntosh it is a great primer. Becoming knowledgeable about your particular set of privileges will help you understand the structural deficits that others operate under. So, when your friend says that they’d like to leave a place that is making them feel uncomfortable or when your girlfriend says someone said something disrespectful to them, that may have sounded completely innocuous to you instead of possibly discounting their assertions or feelings by brushing them off or asking them to “ignore” it (as if that were possible) you can help make constructive steps to remedy the situation.

  • Keeping those privileges in mind, affirmative action is not reverse discrimination. Reverse discrimination, as it is used by reactionary, angry white people, doesn’t actually exist. What affirmative actions aim to do is even out the levels of privilege experienced by advantaged groups (think white, straight, male, financially solvent, educated) and disadvantaged groups (everyone else). Similarly, when disadvantaged groups make criticize or makes jokes about the advantaged group, while it may be inappropriate, in poor taste and offensive, it does not operate the same way as when the advantaged group makes fun of the disadvantaged group. Advantaged groups typically have the power or the state and media behind them, they can set the narrative for disadvantaged groups that can cause substantial penalties for those groups. Disadvantaged groups do not have the same power to shape the message surrounding the dominant group and almost certainly do not have the power or opportunities to enact wide-spread penalties as a result of that, possibly erroneous, message.
  • Do not make the mistake of asserting that because members within a minority group make certain jokes, use certain words or wear certain things that it is then ok for you to do, say, wear those things. It is not and it is an easy and fast way to end a friendship. Also, do not claim that when members of a specific group do, say wear those things, even if it’s intent is mockery, it is a hate crime/discriminatory. It is not. People within a group are allowed to poke fun at themselves/their group, sometimes it is the only way that they can hang on to even a semblance of sanity. See: Brian Moylan’s Dustin and Jayden.

Whew! After all that, we need some Aretha to play us out.

As always, I look forward to any additional suggestions to the list or critiques.

*I realize that I am largely speaking to the choir here at one of the last bastions of internet sanity and intelligence.

Community = “Common Unity”

In any community, regardless of the size or location, there are multifarious challenges in relating which all of us – as individuals and collectively – face at one time or another. Regardless of the specific circumstances, the goal of any group is to find a way to coexist peacefully and interact with others in a way that is beneficial – or, at the very least, civil – to all involved. The very fabric of society as a whole depends on these fundamental principles.


In my experience, the communities that I have enjoyed living in the most, and have felt an integral part of the most – from tiny pueblos to huge cities – have always been diverse to some degree. Whether the diversification comes from racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, political and/or intellectual differences, I have found that locales that are more of a melting pot (on any of the aforementioned levels) encourage compatible coexistence, if not necessarily tolerance and explicit interactions.


It is human nature – and it always feels easier – to remain in one’s comfort zones. We are all far more instinctively and unconsciously inclined to seek to engage with and appreciate people who look, think, believe, pray (or not pray) and behave in similar ways to our own predilections. But by ensconcing ourselves in this insular familiarity and self-created sense of “security”, we may miss the opportunity to learn new things. New patterns of behavior and edifying ourselves beyond our normal scope are what consistently motivate us to become greater than the previous sum of our parts. It is in seeking to surpass our long-held understandings that we truly grow, both as individuals and as members of society as a whole.


If my Italian-American mother hadn’t been open-minded when she met my West-Indian father when they were both students at Brooklyn College, neither I nor my uniquely wonderful brothers would be here today. My mother’s open-mindedness transcended her strict cultural upbringing. At the time of my birth in 1968, my maternal grandfather was a bigot only slightly to the left of Archie Bunker. Almost immediately after my birth, he became my best friend and surrogate father, and in time, he completely overcame his inherited racist beliefs. None of this would have been possible if my mother hadn’t had the courage to follow her heart instead of societal and familial indoctrination.


Over the years, I have become quite aware that some people view my innate friendliness and compassion with guarded suspicion, as though I must be hiding something up my sleeve. (Many more people have regarded and appreciated me at face value.) I make an effort not to judge the skeptics who doubt my true nature, because I know what is my truth. In addition, it’s a hard world to navigate, and sometimes the psycho-emotional mine field of daily living wears people down to the point where it’s all they can do to get by.


The problem with getting caught in the rut of survival instincts is that it becomes all too easy to become cynical. If we view everything with suspicion, then eventually, our capacity for hope and optimism will erode. This is why I make an effort to be kind as much as is possible: because there is so much enmity in the world already. But seeing everything in terms of polarities – kindness and enmity, etc. – isn’t necessarily a solution, either. There are too many shades of grey in between the absolutes, and – to extend the metaphor – there are also myriad majestic palettes of remarkable combinations of colors (experiences).


My purpose in writing this article is to invite readers – many of whom I already consider to be my community, my “circle of friends” – to make a deliberately heightened effort to appreciate difference, diversity and a fuller spectrum of what it means to be human. I invite you to choose something that is unquestionably the greatest challenge for you – for me, it would be having compassion for the right-wingers who are trying to dismantle women’s reproductive freedoms – and try to see the situation through your (perceived) adversary’s eyes. I’m not recommending in any manner that you should seek to adopt their point of view or even condone it in any way. I’m merely suggesting that you endeavor to shine a light of compassion into the darkness of their hatred.


As human beings, we can either keep bickering over base, insignificant trifles, destroying the once-pristine environment and the exquisite animal kingdom in our materialistic, frenetic distracted hubris; or else we can make a dedicated effort to find common ground with each other, and share our highest productive intentions instead. Considering the exceptionally dire state this planet is in, we would all do well to remember the fundamental, incontrovertible truth: that we are all in this together: and either we will all survive and thrive as a whole, or ultimately, none of us will.


I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Rodney King:

“Can we get along? Can we… can we… can we all get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the old people and the kids?”