Thursday, February 15, 2007

stigma

i keep thinking i'll run out of things to blog about, and them *bam* something interesting and bloggable happens.

i was at work yesterday when a client that i had never worked with before or met in person called me. he was all upset about something that wasn't going right with his business. a co-worker asked me to deal with him and i said sure.

so, as we're talking, he started going off about 'some african american male' that he had dealt with previously over the phone (never met face-to-face). first of all, before i go there about this, why is it that people think they can say things over the phone that they'd never have the audacity to say to someone in person?

i didn't get upset, but i was irritated. obviously i can't say exactly what i felt to our clients. but it was weird that he just ass-u-me-d he was talking to "one of his own" and felt like i'd be on his side about dogging on the african american man. despite it all, i felt like i was looking into a one-way mirror where i could see him but he couldn't see me. so i asked how he knew the young man was black. he replied in a calloused way, almost like he wanted to hurt someone's feelings. "oh, you know, the mumbling and broken english slang, non-textbook english, [etc...]".

"excuse me, can i put you on hold for a moment?" i asked. i never came back to the phone. i was done. period. i know, that was unprofessional. but i didn't care.

the thing that really got to me was this: that it seems like the black people like myself who speak proper english, who are educated, middle class or wealthy, with good work ethic, non-gang members, can't seem to get away from the stigma. no matter how educated i get, will there ALWAYS be that stereotype? ALWAYS?

i don't dislike being black, but sometimes i feel like i'm tired of being linked with "those" african americans. i know i may get some backlash but pay attention to what i'm saying. i'm not ashamed of being black. i'm embarassed that there are rappers like ludacris and little john (and whatever other rappers that degrade women and curse and rap about s*x with ho*s) that just by being black i'm automatically associated with. it's like i can't escape it.

seems like only the uneducated and ignorant black people are the ones who are always representing the whole race of black people. i hate it because that's just not me. and back to the phone call i was telling you about. will black people ever get away from the substandard english stereotype? will the black people who don't like rap and have masters degrees and live well above the poverty line ever be the ones to represent the entire race rather than those who don't?

15 comments:

Kevin said...

Hi, Layla - It's coincidental you are blogging about the "black image" in the media and how it's always so one-sided. Last week I interviewed a filmmaker who made a documentary on the subject (it's called "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes" and it airs next Tuesday on Independent Lens). Like you, he was educated and accomplished, and never saw HIS "black experience" reflected in the media.

One thing that I asked him about was whether he thought it was even possible for intelligent, socially conscious black artists to succeed in corporate media today. It seemed to both of us like the only people who are "allowed" to succeed are the Li'l Jons and the Nellys and such.

Anyway, it's a really interesting movie, and it airs on PBS next Tuesday...check it out if you can.

And that person on the phone was an asshat. I hope you told your boss why you didn't deal with him, and that you received support.

coffy said...

the problem is that some Caucasian people only interact with Black people through the media and so they believe what they see. what i find interesting is that they don't internalize the images about themselves.

Anonymous said...

umm... shouldn't you be angry at the idiot guy on the other end of the phone and not at being lumped in w/ the black folks you mention?

The lumping in itself is wrong by people like that guy on the phone. How 'bout directing the frustration at him?

philly jay said...

I think what annoys me the most is that any random white person/s that acts like a complete jackass, is seem as an individual.They're not going to blame the behavior on his race like with black people sometimes(not all the time). And I kind of agree with the above anonymous.While I'm all for calling black or any race of individuals out for bad behavior, I'm not going to feel embarrassed for my race just because someone black acts like an idiot.

JD said...

What generally happens when someone like me (a black woman who speaks "standard English", is well-educated and middle-class) interacts with a racist white person, they just think of me as an exception. No matter how many educated, successful black people they encounter, they maintain their stereotypical opinions about the "race" as a whole. Stereotypes are incredibly strong, so it's easier to allow some people to be exceptions than to change an opinion.

Aly Cat 121 said...

yeah I agree with jd above. and in answer to your question, ummm NOT! It's called "oppression" and he who controlls the masses, controlls everything.

Natalie said...

I am a black woman (technically biracial but I identify as black before people start questioning my photo) who works with low income youth. all to often I get this form the opposite side. I'll call one of my client's homes and someone will say "there's a white lady on the phone". Even within the race speaking properly automatically singles you out. I also agree that being educated and "speaking well" can make you appear as an exception to the rule. In college I often saw other black students trying to embrace a hood mentality to keep grounded. I was on a scholarship too but even with aid most of them probably weren't didn't go straight fro mthe hood to a 35k per yr school. It really bothered me that to embrace our culture we are expected by dominant culture to either be "hood" or "militant and educated".

Anonymous said...

That guy who was on the phone was a complete asshole and I would have hung up on him, as well.

Natalie, I agree with what you said. I can't stand that blacks who speak standard English and are not ghetto are not considered black enough. I find that just as hurtful as white prejudice. Actually, I find it more hurtful, in some ways, because it's coming from people of my own race--who should be more accepting.

-Lili

Anonymous said...

How can you all talk about not being stereotyped and wishing people would not judge all black people based on the "ignorant" among us, when the whole time you are stereotyping black people who you feel don't act the way you want them too?? I have a master's degree and I am a professional woman, and I LOVE ebonics. Do I know whom I should speak it to? Yes, of course. But do I think those who choose not to speak standard English are ghetto and dumb and embarrassing? Do I find the need to dismiss black woman who "speak loud" (maybe we speak loud 'cause no one ever listens to us) or roll their necks (man, if we could all act culturally white, everthing would be so perfect). What kind of classist, self-hating bull is that? Black English is lyrical and it makes sense. And those who have bothered to study dialect and language would know that we created this language as a means of speaking in our own way. For many of us, speaking Black English is a way of rejecting a system that has oppressed us and robbed us of our culture. Too many of you seem so PROUD that people think you are white when they hear you talk. I don't want to sound white. I would be ashamed if people did not know that I am a black woman when they hear my voice. When I am working, every word I speak is standard English, but I guarantee you, the tone in my voice, the way I say my words, people know I am a black woman. Why wouldn't I want them to know?

And one more thing. Why in the hell would Lil Jon and Ludacris make you embarrassed? Are white folks embarrassed by Kid Rock or K-Fed?
Rap music reflects American culture -- American culture is sexist and materialistic. Why do black folks think 'cause they are educated and got a little money that they now must feel so mortified about what some some of us do, but never apply that standard to white folks? Where are my down black folks in Portland? Those who are educated, but still have sense? Who are middle class, but don't need to so insecure in their blackness that they need to show how they are so much better than their po' black brothas and sistas? Man, Portland black folks need to travel and get a life.

D said...

Degrading women, flashy materialism, and getting one over on the system... those attitudes are not limited to African American males. Reggaeton has a big dose of it, and kids who watch tv are getting fed misogyny every day. White kids, too.

So if it makes you feel any better, it's a trend in the United States that larger and larger numbers of kids are treating hip-hop artists as role models - across racial and cultural lines. The good news is that growing up makes some people realize what misogyny is, and to move away from it.

When I was 19, I realized that some songs by Motley Crue degraded women, but I didn't realize that some songs by Guns 'n Roses did, also. It probably had to do with the fact that Guns 'n Roses was extremely popular among us young white people. We sang along by the millions without even realizing what we were singing.

But a lot of us drifted away from that, and eventually learned to read between the lines of a message. And when we hear the songs again ten years later can't believe we were ever so dumb.

Young people in general aren't the brightest at seeing nuances and subtleties and implications. But as in all generalizations, there are a lot of exceptions, hopefully your kids and my kids are some of those.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you should be embarrassed by rap music. It is one part of black culture. It is part of our creativity. Just because it is highly criticized by the white media doesn't make it wrong. They find a way to put a negative spin on everything we do. White people aren't embarrassed by their blue grass country music which talks about smashing mens cars and being a 'REDNECK' woman.

Anonymous said...

White people arent usually embarassed by redneck, car, all my x's are in texas sorts of songs, but they can choose whether to identify with it or not. There's an awknowledgement of a variety of white cultures. but too often white people whose majority of experiences with blacks is through media (I have NO idea what percentage of whites this is, but there are many) think that all black culture is the same.
I think this is what our girl is suffering from; her Portland self isn't very similar to the media portrayal. If she spoke in ebonics, it would be fake. And her upbringing is hers, and its legitimate, too. So these people come up to her, and think that they "know" her, like the jerk on the phone, and thats a weird feeling.
It takes exposure; young white folks who have only heard about "black people" as a unit, in history books and in media, and don't get a chance to meet all these different Types of people, are accidently ignorant, and many of them don't want to be-- a lot of the times when white people say these stupid things, its really just an attempt to display interest and an ill-suited way of trying to show common ground;

and the only way to fix it is to give them a chance to have
meaningul exchanges
of friendship and trust.

and like, desegregate housing, have more reflective media coverage and, less emphasis on mysogynistic sex roles, etc, etc, etc.
-Arielle

anjiebaby said...

Whenever you see anyone of any race acting up and feel just a slight bit embarassed, recite the mantra, "I don't know that fool!" to yourself in your head and be done with it.

You should only be worried if the person acting in a strange manner is in a group with you. Say for instance, your kids. In which case, you snatch them up (cause black women DON'T PLAY!!lol)

I travel and live abroad on occasion, and I find that I am more embarassed by what my fellow Americans do sometimes, because abroad I am seen as an "American" and not particularly an "African-American". A few examples of when I was embarassed:

Dick Cheney shot somebody
Hurricane Katrina
Pres. Bush mispronounces words
Random Americans studying abroad act like asshats
Britney Spears' latest antics


Your thoughts and blog are definitely interesting.

How do you think the racial/social climate in Portland will affect/is affecting your biracial kids?

Anonymous said...

Ha-ha. You put him on hold and never returned. That's hilarious, and I'm glad you did that. He deserved it.

What I hate about people like that is instead of I was on the phone with an idiot who happened to be black, it's completely about the fact that the person was black and somehow believing that those traits broken subpar english, etc. are exclusively black.

There are numbskulls to be found across racial lines. I too abhor "ghettoized" or however you wish to discribe them - ignorantly behaving blacks. But white people also have their share of ignorant folks, and trying to argue that away by saying, "yeah, but blacks have more" is irrelevant.

Blacks have been, and still are at disadvantage to whites. That's not an excuse, but a critical part of an explanation. Most whites have very little interaction with blacks, and that is another critical part of an explanation.

Until When you don’t know blacks as people, you can’t form more balanced and realistic views of them. Stereotypes will persist.

texasgryl said...

Cultural biases will always exist (and I tend to think of myself as an optimist). I appreciate the comment that was made about people not being culturally aware when it comes to communication. While we all maybe Americans and can relate to the idioms,jargon and slang associated with good old USA;Within our society are different cultures and within those cultures are co-cultures which most times have there own language (jargon,slang,idioms) African Americans are a race of people who identify with and are apart of multiple cultures (co-cultures) which makes for a very diverse group of people. I celebrate the fact that we are a peculiar people that people want to know more about but that does not excuse a persons ignorance. The information highway has been around way to long with a plethera of information separating fact from fiction. You can find out if something is a stereotype just as fast as you can find out what the word "ignorance" means. It's just that easy. So there really are no excuses to ignorance just an admission(?) of laziness. While the same can be said about other ethnic groups, there are none so stigmatized in so many ways as black people. As humans we suffer from the same stigma's as every disabled,gay/lesbian,female etc... does but for reasons I will never fully comprehend, when you add the color of one's skin to it (black skin that is)it truly does become a horse of a different color. I often wonder if the world became a mixed race of people would we see a change. Thinking out loud.