Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Racism: Victim Complicity?

Fifteen years ago, the following exchange took place on a Seattle loading dock:

“Occum fody braid, mon, occum fody braid.”

Startled by the voice as I banged across the dock plate with a handtruck bearing trays laden with snack pies, I turned to see a heavy-set black man, in his late fifties, standing on the ground next to my trailer, hands planted firmly against the dock. “I’m sorry,” I yelled, “I couldn’t hear what you said. Would you mind repeating . . ..”

“Ahsayd occum fody braid, mon, occum fody braid.”

“I don’t understand . . .”

“Yodeefer, sump’n? Ahsayd occum fody braid, debraid, debraid, mon, juzz gimdy braid.”

So far, I haven’t understood a word this man has said, but there’s enough communication going between us that I can understand that his initial mild arrogance is progressing through various phases of surliness to outright hostility. I sense that if I don’t do something to placate the man, this situation is going to devolve into a physical confrontation.

“Oh, well, why didn’t you say so. Actually, I’m not a Gai’s employee, so I’m not authorized to take any action on my own. Let me get the dock supervisor. I’m sure he’ll be glad to take care of everything for you.”

It wasn’t until later that I learned the man wanted to pick up a load of three-day-old bread for a local food bank.

Thus, we come to Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s article posted on AlterNet, today. Earl laments that black males are victimized by a 40% unemployment rate, citing racism as the cause. But how much of black unemployment can be attributed to racism, and how much of it is culture related?

In academia, in business, in the public spotlight, perception is everything. Ineptitude with language reflects negatively on one’s (perceived) level of intelligence.

Racism played no part in preventing Ken Boddie, Rhonda Shelby, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Marsha Thomason, Gabrielle Union, Dennis Haysbert and Halle Berry, all of whom are black (or, maybe, just lovely shades of brown), from achieving success. Character, talent, determination and perceived intelligence carried them every step of the way.

A white person meeting with a prospective employer for the first time doesn’t have any better chance of getting hired than a black person if he carries to that meeting a shitty attitude, bad manners, disrespect and a propensity to mumble unintelligibly. Most white people get it. Many black people don’t.

When people try to surpass inbred redneck Texas hillbillies in mangling the English language (as if such a thing were even possible), they can expect to be unemployed, as they rightly deserve to be.