Friday, February 8, 2013

Not all white people at Duke University are racist.

Carl, your comments about racism at Duke are correct but incomplete.  There are many Duke Students -- including White -- who fight the good fight, as does the vast majority of the administration.  As you often do, you paint with so broad a brush that it undermines your credibility as serious commentator.  In your anger and enthusiasm, you condemn many who are your active allies.  You'd be taken a lot more seriously if you could get past your inability to see your allies.  All of Duke is not racist, and no serious commentator would even imply they are.  You have the makings of being a powerful and credible voice, and I hope you will widen your narrow vision so you can fulfill your promise instead of so often shooting your credibility in the foot. I hate to see you continue to undermine your own good voice.  On the other hand, if you really think all of Duke or even most of it remains racist, then you need to do some fact checking. -David Ball

Those comments came from David Ball, a reader of my blog.  I hate to say it, but ole dude is right.  Part of learning to be sensitive to the opinions of others is being grown up enough to say you made a mistake.  Ball’s point is about making overgeneralizations.  It’s one of the points I press hard with this blog.  We should never make assumptions in a way that diminishes the worth of an entire group.

So, here it goes.  Not everyone at Duke University is a racist jerk.  The truth is most are great people engaged in the type of hard work that is moving our community toward being a loving, affirming, tolerant place.  Not everyone at Duke University is consumed with being entitled.  Yes, some come from affluent families with trust funds large enough to accommodate the needs of great, great, great grandchildren.  Not everyone eats with a silver fork, and some who do are capable of having conversation about more than where they went for vacation over the Christmas break.

For anyone to oversimplify is bad news.  It’s the stereotypes that eat at me, and often have me exploding like a packed volcano.  Trust me when I say no one gets tagged worse than black men.  Not all of us have three baby mamas, a long criminal record and rob people as a hobby.  Many of us have college degrees. 

Ball is right. I would crash his party if he made any reference that labeled an entire campus based on the actions of a few.  I hate to think what I would have said if someone asserted “all students at NCCU smoke marijuana.”  My first thought would be, so what.  That would be followed with, “no he didn’t”. From there I would have applied the traditional rhetoric – racism.

So, let me make this perfectly clear.  Some of my best friends are white.  I know, that sounds familiar.  It’s the common avowal white people give when slapped with the R label.  R is for racist for those who failed to catch up in time to get on the train.  But really, some of my best friends are white.

I’m not quite sure if that makes a difference, but I feel the need to state that given the assertion that I need to do my homework.  That statement made me feel like I failed the course on white sensitivity.  The contrary is true.  I’ve spent most of my life learning to exist in a world governed by the rules of powerful white men.  I’m not player hating on their position of power, but black folks, women and other minorities deserve medals for maneuvering around white male feelings.  You feel me?

My world is surrounded by people who learn and teach at Duke, and yes, I love them deeply.  Naomi Quinn, a professor emeritus in the anthropology department, is a member of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club I attend.  I call her mom.  I love her like a mother.  She loves me like a son.  Owen Flanagan, a professor in the philosophy department, is co-founder, with me, of the Bums Club.  It’s for those who meet at the Bean Traders and work while looking like we have nothing to do with our lives.  I call him brother.  I love him like a brother.  He calls me brother, and treats me like he means it (insert tears).

There’s Laura Lazarus, a Ph.D. student in the political science department.  She’s an old school feminist who gives me that black woman glare whenever I say something perceived as being sexist.  Her look slaps me like my mama’s hand back in the day when I got in trouble for reason I can’t remember.  I love Laura like a sister.  She loves me like a brother.

There are others I wish I could mention.  The good news is there are too many to list on this page.  It’s part of being connected to a diverse community.  Being community is hard work.  We can only make it when we have friends who yell at us when we step over that forbidden line.  When that happens, and it takes place often, wisdom involves getting your behind back on the other side of the line.

So, I hope to see David Ball at the Bums Club.  He’s welcome to meet me at the Breakfast Club if he desires.  Those are the places that make true community. Community is made one word at a time.  Sometimes you have to take back a few words, and on other occasions you have to add a few.

So, here’s to more than a few.

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