Friday, April 04, 2008

Everyone's a Little Bit Racist Sometimes

There's an interesting article in the Seattle Times this morning about how despite the fact that today's generation likes to think we're colorblind, race is still an issue in America.

Since moving to Seattle a year and a half ago, I've noticed a very strong vibe that goes something like "Racism? What's racism? We love diversity. Woo hoo! Go diversity!" In theory I like this, because I don't like racism and I do like diversity, but I think there's a point where both race and diversity can become fetishized.

When I was interviewing for a job during my first months in the area, I was asked about experiences I'd had working with people who were different from me. I told them a story about working with a girl whose personality was very different from mine, and how I learned to work with her despite that difference. "That's nice," they said, "but we meant something more along the lines of racial or cultural diversity."

"Oh," I said. "Well, the truth is I've been living and working in Utah for the past six years, and there isn't a whole lot of diversity in Utah."

"Perhaps age diversity?" they suggested hopefully.

So I told them about working with people who were old enough to be my parents, and how we overcame the generational divide, or some such nonsense.

And then I got home and remembered that in my then-current job I had a black coworker, two of Asian descent, and two gay guys (counting myself)--and that out of a total of maybe half a dozen employees. The thing is, it's not like the diversity among us produced any problems we needed to overcome, or for that matter that it made our work environment particularly rich and textured beyond the extent to which our differing personalities and idiosyncrasies did.

I didn't get the job.

I don't claim to be colorblind and I'm not sure that's really the goal, but I do try not to keep a mental scorecard of how many black friends I have, or how many lesbians. Because that would make them not my friends but my black friends or my lesbian friends. And that's dumb.

So I understand that it's important to recognize racism where it exists, and to address it frankly as such. Problems don't go away by pretending they're not there. But on the other hand, I understand why some people are kind of sick of all the emphasis placed on race and diversity and would rather just talk about people. If we'd start focusing on individuals rather than on groups, we'd have fewer instances like one referred to in the article above, where a man assumed his coworker had grown up in some gang-infested project simply because she was black.


Rebecca said...

Saturday: Read gay friend's blog - check.

Sunday: Chat with black girl at Starbucks.

I have overcome.

Mr. Fob said...

Respond to straight female friend's comment--check.

Samantha said...

I've always thought you were reverse-racist and chauvinistic, because you said I couldn't be a real FOB unless I was a tall, black man.

P.S. I'm still working on it. That's how much I want to be your friend...

Mr. Fob said...

I have to confess, Sam, the "black" and "man" parts were just to disguise the fact that I don't want any short people in Fob. Sorry. Add another six inches and you're in.

Samantha said...

Then--I suppose I must give up. Changing my race and gender were possible dreams, but the height thing...ah...woe is me...

Mr. Fob said...

There's always hope! Never give up! [Insert some other trite motivational phrase here]!

JB said...

So I took one of those tests and if this is how they judge whether or not you're racist. . . well it was a poorly designed test anyway. Although it did say I have no preference for either race, it was still very poorly designed.

First, they have pictures of black people and white people. The left says "white people" the right says "black people." You click the correct side each face goes on. Then, it says "good" on the left and "bad" on the right. You take good and bad words (eg. "Anger" and "Pleasure") and click the side they belong on. Then, they put "white people [\n] good" and you have to associate white faces and good words together and "black people [\n] bad" so you have to associate the black people and the bad words together.

Then, after they spend all this time making it super clear that the one thing is on the right and the other on the left, they switch it up. But only a little. Now, black people are on the left and white people on the right, but good and bad are in the same place. So, obviously people are going to mix them up a little! In the end they basically ask you if you're racist and they must decide from that, because I know I got some of the last pictures wrong. I hope that was just some weird fluke and not what people actually use to decide who they should hire!

Th. said...


You can't give a test like that and let people know what it's about beforehand. That skews things beyond repair. What a crappy test.

Mr. Fob said...

Let it be known that the Fobcave endorses no racism tests, even if they are linked to from articles that are linked to from the Fobcave.