Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Ways of White Folks. Langston Hughes.

So I had to read this book, The Ways of White Folks, by Langston Hughes, while in college in my Black Literature class. Very good short stories about black folks' interactions with white folks.

Opened up my eyes... seeing that I grew up sheltered/protected in an all black community in Detroit, where most of our interactions with white folks came at the hands of stories told by teachers, parents, grandparents and other elders, and neighbors. Or, when we crossed 8 Mile to go to one of the area malls, or to an academic competition with a suburban school. We always felt "less than" though I knew we weren't in the scheme of humanity.

But I found myself sitting in that Black Lit. class of majority white students, hearing class discussion, and feeling really REALLY mad... and also affirmed that some of the stories I heard from elders I could see playing out in the ways some of my white classmates attempted to dismiss the work as non-academic, or black students' observations as being stuck in the 60s and 70s. Interesting.

The other day, I participated in a diversity workshop with my students. It was fun to participate, rather than having to facilitate, for a change.

But I was totally struck with one observation by a black Latina who moved to California from Central America, who said she has NEVER faced discrimination, racism, sexism, or any other form of oppression.

Crickets.

Yes, she said NEVER.

Many of the students, most of whom were born in the mid-to-late 80s, had similar observations but were informed about many social issues "out there," even though most are people of color, women, and working class to low income.

Thought a lot about it. The facilitator helped them to see that indeed they had experienced some forms of discrimination, whether directly or indirectly, and that if one sees oneself as part of a greater diaspora, then indeed when one faces oppression, all face oppression.

But to many, discrimination (and other isms) comes in the form of cross burnings, car draggings, and fighting words. They have yet to learn the subtle ways folks use to keep people in their place.

Makes me wonder if our elders still share their stories that made us think and wonder and prepare ourselves, or if like some of us, will go into the world/workplace naive until that one person they thought was an ally, who they lunch with, joke with, spend out-of-work time with, turns out to be far from an ally?
fs

4 comments:

Karamale said...

living in latin america, it's amazing to see how pervasive discrimination is in societies here - to the point where the discriminated don't even feel discriminated against.

anyway, i need to check this book out.

thelastnoel said...

I know this is waaaaay off the topic, but Langston Hughes was really cute, yes? Anyway, I find it interesting when people say they've never faced oppression. Gloria Steinem said young women believe that. However, when they get older and see that they're passed over for jobs, then they start to think of feminism.

D-Place said...

Very good post. Until people open their eyes and ears the subtle discrimination will continue. A young indian guy I know who for lack of better words, speaks in shall I call it Hip-Hop venacular. Well one day he said nigga in front of me and I immediately instructed him that that was not acceptable. There are many ways that discrimination and racism his hidden. Don't let an opportunity pass to educate.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Mr. Smith,
That was an excellent post. I know my Hughes so I cannot help but be a little peeved at the criticism of the man. It is easy for some folks to dismiss Hughes because they don't want to face much of what he had to say, much of which remain relevant in the now.