This is a 2015 post that I decided to rerun because it somehow feels timely. I also ran the companion piece “On Being a Racist.” Lela
Pouring my coffee over her head occurred to me!
In case you don’t know, Starbuck’s has decided to instruct the rest of America on race relations in this country. In doing so, they’ve managed to lose my business for a while.
RACE WITH US!
It’s what was scribbled on the side of my husband’s coffee cup last night. It was also scrawled on the side of his friend PJ’s cup. We ran into PJ and Susan in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble. Susan and I talked quilting while PJ and Brad discussed how the early spring is messing up their snow machining. The guys got coffee and the gals got coffee. Susan is Athabaskan Indian. I’m part-American Indian (but white people don’t usually see it unless it’s pointed out or if I’m with someone for them to compare me to and see similarities). Brad is Irish-American, I think PJ is German-American – blond and his last name could be German (okay, I never thought to ask).
Susan and I had no such missive on the sides of our cups!
RACE WITH US?
It is not just white people in this country that need to have a conversation about racism. I’m a tribal member. Trust me. Reservation Indians are the most racist group I know personally. The Tanana Chiefs Conference just called for a 100-year plan that includes (in my opinion, but Susan agreed with me) some highly racially-oriented ideas. My black-nephew-in-law took the election of Barack Obama to start having a race conversation in which he has decided all “white” people are racists who need to be confronted about what he supposes is going on in our heads.
Kind of like Starbuck’s.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when a man might be judged by the content of his character not the color of his skin. I thought we were there when we elected Barack Obama. That would seem to have been a pretty clear indication that blacks at least were welcomed into the circles of power not just by the elites, but by the voters. Sadly, I was mistaken. This has been the most racially-divisive presidency since Richard Nixon.
These days having “white” skin immediately means you need to be educated about race relations by bigots with dark skin. Brad and PJ, two white men, need the conversation. Susan and I apparently do not. The message I got was that if you’re a person of color, you’re exempt from this race conversation. Or maybe it’s that if you’re hanging out with a person of color, you don’t need that conversation. If you are white and you have friends who are white then you clearly need the conversation. For the record, PJ and Brad are married to BIA-recognized tribal members and have children who are BIA-recognized tribal members.
So now you know why I wanted to pour my coffee over the barista’s head.
I resent the insinuation that if I am not of a certain racial group I must be a bigot. Until this conversation started coming up every other day, I personally hadn’t thought much about racial issues for a long long time. That’s right. I’m an American Indian who had not thought much about racism. Why? Because I don’t experience a lot of racism in my life. That may be because I don’t go looking for it. The world is full of rude people of every skin color. I don’t assume they are rude because they are racists. I assume they are rude because they are human. Maybe ignorance is bliss or maybe I only encounter racism when the person is truly being a racist, when I can’t avoid the reality.
Like when the Starbuck’s barista scribbles “Race with us” on the side of my husband’s coffee cup, but not on mine.
And, by the way, overt racists are (in my experience) almost always people of color. White people got it knocked out of them a long time ago. Maybe there are still racist thoughts kicking around in their heads that come out when they drink heavily, but for the most part they don’t say it and they don’t act on it. Reservation Indians and certain communities of black people, however ….
If we want to have this conversation, let’s invite everybody to the table. Let’s be honest about racism in America and admit that while white people have learned to keep their heads down and their mouths shut on the subject, people of color feel their skin color have been given a pass on their own racism.
RACE WITH US?