I try to steer clear of political issues on this site. I don’t consider this a political issue, so I would appreciate some restraint when it comes to approaching this from a “liberal” or “conservative” standpoint. It’s general thoughts on our country, race relations, and more generally the ability to change the way that things have been for generations.

Over the weekend leading up to July 4th, I took a brief trip back home to burn off some vacation time.

As odd as it sounds, one of the strangest things about my return from the south is black people. Deseret is not bereft of minorities generally or blacks in particular, but most minorities are either Hispanic or tribal and that is not as much the case down here.

Blacks are America’s most peculiar minority, which I guess makes sense because it is a legacy of the famous “peculiar institution” that brought them here. An overwhelming majority of blacks have been in the US for generations and those that are immigrants are vastly different from those that have been around. Unlike most immigrant groups in our history ranging from the Italians and Irish of yesteryear to the Mexicans and Asians of more recent, their upward mobility is, for a handful of reasons from all fronts, limited.

I liken it to two people that have known too much animosity for too long for things to ever truly be comfortable. There is a lot of talk from both outside and inside the black community that their current position is a result of their poor personal decisions and there is much truth to that. There is also a lot of talk from both inside and outside the black community about the persistent raw deal that they’ve gotten for at least 3/4 of their time here and it’s difficult to “start again” at a place that you’ve been.

I’ve read somewhere that one of the reasons that America is so optomistic is because it is young. Our history is bloody and brutish, but not on the broad scope of that of our more dour European contemporaries because we have not been around as long. Our concept of citizenship is not determined by bloodlines or geographic boundaries. Your citizenship is almost* the same whether you are born here or if you come somewhere else. As such, we have taken and assimilated different cultures better than most. Our immigrant pockets start disappearing after a couple of generations, while it looks like some of Europe’s may never do so.

Except, of course, the blacks and the tribes. Both are caught in a destructive cycle that people in all circles see but no one knows what can be done on a cultural level. I’m not sure there are any policy perscriptions that can do this for us. Nor am I sure that leaving it all up to individual choice — when social pressures so consistently run in the wrong direction — is a viable option, either.

Sometimes a relationship has worn on for so long that the more people try to “fix” it, the more tangled everything becomes. The welfare programs that were intended to help them all in the Great Society arguably did more harm than good. Whites telling blacks what the problems with black people are (their work ethic, their music, their language, etc) is also most unhelpful.

I have friendships that have turned like that, as well. We reached a point where no matter how much one of us tried to “repair” things, it only seemed to make things worse. Then, out of frustration, both stop trying. But when two people have to live together, it adds to stress rather than alleviates it.

I hope that America turns out better than those former friendships did.

(*- The exception being that immigrants cannot run for president. All the talk of flag-burning amendments aside, I figure this one is more likely than any other to become a Constitutional amendment.)

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13 Responses to Race Relations, Grudgery

  1. Barry says:

    By tribes, I’m assuming you mean Indians or Native Americans.

    Well, I’m sure you are but it’s interesting, I’ve never heard “tribes” used in the vernacular to represent them. Maybe it’s a regional thing.

    I had a recent cultural shock when we went to Ft Lauderdale – the Hispanic culture down there, of course, is very heavy and blacks a distant third. The profusion of Spanish was difficult to get accustom to.

  2. trumwill says:

    Growing up I called them “Indians” until I was told that the proper term was “Native Americans.” Then I moved out west where they all more-or-less call themselves by the politically incorrect Indian moniker. In my view, calling them Indians is too inspecific these days as Indians from India take a role of increasing importance in our daily lives. I think the CIA Worldbook calls them Amerindians, though this may also refer to Latinos.

    In any case, they don’t seem to view themselves as a group at all. I guess to them it’s like trying to lump the French and Spaniards together, seeing as how they are both European. They don’t (at least didn’t prior to the whole EU thing) view themselves in that context so much. So when thinking about them, I tend to refer to them generically as tribes and tribesmen, since they are more a group of groups than a singular group. I forget that I am one of the only people that actually do that, though.

    Florida is interesting. I think that Florida and Texas are the only two “southern” states where Hispanics outstrip blacks. In Florida in particular, though, most of the Hispanics are of Cuban rather than Mexican descent. From what I’ve been told, Miami’s non-Cuban relations with the Cubans are similar to non-LDS Deseretian relations with people from the Church. The Cubans are not like other Latin-American immigrants the same way that Mormons are not like other Christians. There is not a whole lot of trust between the groups.

    My guess is that the ethnic configuration of southern Florida is odd even to those of the southwest, whose minority population is also dominated by Hispanics rather than blacks (until you get to California, where Asian immigration plays a heavy role… but I think that’s more northern California).

  3. Webmaster says:

    I had a high school teacher who insisted that the proper term ought to be “Amerindians (brumph hrg)” as well.

    New Mexico, California, and Arizona join Texas and Florida in hispanics outstripping blacks, if I remember the latest statistics.

    Name changes get even more bizarre when tribes “find” their supposed ancestral names in a manner similar to Joseph Smith “finding” golden plates and a translating runestone, as what happened when the Winnebago tribe suddenly “discovered” their “real” name of Ho-Chunk just in time to make a major marketing push for their casinos.

    I think part of what makes blacks so bizarre is the manner in which they are overrepresented in many industries while claiming underrepresentation. In dramas and stage, for instance, they are roughly in proportion to the general population. In television and movies, you are more likely to find an all-black ensemble cast than an all-asian, all-hispanic, etc. cast and any predominant-white cast always gets to go under the scrutiny microscope if there aren’t minorities abounding.

    In the workplace, at least where I work, blacks are overrepresented – but I work in government, so you may draw some conclusions there. When I was in college, my classes probably had less than the statistical average of blacks, but since the majority in my classes were asians, I didn’t notice much.

    I guess you take your pick. Personally and from personal experiences, if someone black isn’t hung up on it, people around them likely won’t be either, but that holds true for any group. I know a few womens’ libbers I wouldn’t want to be around either for virtue of my Y chromosome.

  4. Will Truman says:

    I didn’t mention the southwestern states because I was referring to traditionally southern states. If you want to look westward, I’m almost positive that Nevada, Utah, and Idaho have higher Hispanic populations. Possibly every state west of the Dakotas, save Washington and Oregon.

    “Amerindian” is probably as good a descriptor as any, except to the extent that it may combine two distinct groups (Latinos, who get half their ancestry from American Indians, and the American Indians themselves). I’ll look more in to that. Indians and Native Americans don’t work, and no one knows what I’m talking about when I say “tribes” without having to at least think it through.

    Blacks may be “overrepresented”, but with some exceptions most of them are in places reserved for them. I can understand the desire to be a part of more mainstream entertainment. There is no more reason why “Living Single” shouldn’t have as much a following among whites as did “Friends” among non-whites, but that was not particularly the case. A similar sort of thing: conservative viewpoints may be amply expressed on Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, but that doesn’t negate their complaints about their near total absense from the New York Times and network nightly news programs.

    That is, of course, a lot more than most Hispanics and Asians have, though I expect that you’ll start seeing a lot more of the former soon.

    On the other hand, the advocacy groups can be their own worst enemy. A lot of networks feel (and not without merit) that they are forced between blacks that are decried as stereotypes and blacks that are decried as non-representative whitewashes. The only way out of that is to have casts that are almost entirely comprised of blacks so that they can run the gamut and are not expected to be representative of an entire race and culture.

    Of course, if you want to talk overrepresentation. Homosexuals and the Jewish represent something like 3-5% of the population and are represented considerably more often not only in programs and networks geared towards those audiences but also in the more mainstream entertainment venues that African-American leaders so crave.

  5. Webmaster says:

    On overrepresentation, Will, I’m not so sure about the Jewish, but hollywood being highly liberal, homosexuals and themes of gay rights do tend to pop up quite a but (but oddly enough, NOT on those shows that are almost entirely comprised of blacks).

    As for the problem of stereotype vs. “non-representative whitewash”, that’s an ongoing problem in the black community that I feel particularly hurts it. Black Republicans – even those who are Republican because they are highly principled – are often referred to by the “mainstream” black leaders as “uncle toms” and even “race traitors”. Larry Elder, an amazingly libertarian black radio host from South Central Los Angeles, gets much the same treatment – but what’s more amazing to me is that I listened to him for three years whenever I had to take a late-night drive, and never realized he was black, because he doesn’t put on an accent and never mentioned his race once on the air that I could hear.

    I can’t remember where I saw it, but I remember seeing a postmortem on a book I’d been waiting to see turn into a movie which died when the author pulled his support. The problem? Hollywood execs kept insisting on changing the characters. Apparently the sticking point was a character who was fat and lazy, and happened to be black. The hollywood execs insisted that the character had to either be fat and lazy (but white specifically), or fat and minority, or thin but lazy and minority, because otherwise they would be a “negative racial stereotype.” So he compromised and made the character white, and their response was “great, now you just need a black character…”

  6. Webmaster says:

    Secondary thought:

    There is no more reason why “Living Single” shouldn’t have as much a following among whites as did “Friends” among non-whites, but that was not particularly the case.

    Actually, there is a good reason – “Living Single” may not have started out as such, since it was actually on before Friends was, but it was one of those “only way out” casts, and (from the few times I saw it) the writers and actors/actresses spent more time making sure that the audience knew they were “authentic” blacks than they did writing a compelling, fun, entertaining show.

    Keep in mind I didn’t find Friends something to watch every week, but Friends on those times I did see it was funnier than Living Single.

    Living Single also suffered from (A) being played off timeslot-wise against the already-mega-popular Seinfeld (ouch) and (B) Fox cancelling and then re-starting it a couple times, which never happened to Friends.

    So, for my money, trying to compare Living Single to Friends and claim there’s a racial bias that caused it to fail… well, sorry. You only have to look at Cosby or Fresh Prince or Family Matters to see that that’s not always the case, and that solid writing and casting and consistency are bigger factors for the show than the race of the cast.

  7. Will Truman says:

    As far as stereotypes go, I was primarily referring to lifestyle and not personality/ideology.

    One example that comes to my mind is comic books. Humerously, most black superheroes fall in to one of two categories: scientists/brains and athletes/gangmembers. Either they want to bust stereotypes so they make the guy a scientist (Steel), or they slip in to stereotypes and he’s a former athlete (Black Lightning) or gang member (Luke Cage). One day the folks at DC Comics outdid themselves and had a former basketball player that became a scientist and then a superhero.

  8. Will Truman says:

    I disagree with your assessment of Living Single. One would have to be pretty narrow-minded to find that show too black-centric. It was on at a convenient time for me so I watched it pretty regularly. The shows that revolved around blackness were there, but very few and far between. Maybe that’s when you happened to tune in to LS. On the whole, I’d say that the characters were more complete than that of Friends.

    In any case, Living Single’s lack of success does not fall on the racism of the audience… that’s not what I was getting at. It’s that it was mismanaged and marketed to a select demographic in a way that Friends was not. In the eyes of the network, and to some extent the audience because it’s unavoidable in some respects black show is still a black show while a white show is just a TV show. It’s difficult for any of us to get out of that mindset — minorities included.

    Two of the three successful “black” shows you mention rose to prominance on the power of their stars that already had solid recognition among white audiences. The third, Family Matters, managed to fit itself into the mold of the old TGIF line-up that had a built-in audience. The success certainly had nothing to do with Family Matters actually being a good show. The network did handle it quite well, though.

    Anyhow, my main point was that with a couple of exceptions that you mention, most shows with black casts are marketed directly for black audiences or on “black networks” (WB/UPN). I can see how that would come across as insincere and half-hearted to the black population. In other words, I don’t see their beef with Hollywood as being wholly illegitimate.

  9. Webmaster says:

    As regards comic books: isn’t Spawn black?

  10. trumwill says:

    Before he got all burned up, Al Simmons was black. Had they left his body unmutated, that would have been an excellent counterexample. In fact, I think I recall thinking as much when I was watching the HBO cartoon. They really did a good job of not treating a black character as a Black Character.

  11. Webmaster says:

    As for shows marketed directly for black audiences or the “black networks” (and for a while, I will admit that during high school the standing joke was that WB stood for “we’re black” based on the number of just such shows they were pushing, while UPN was still struggling to find anything other than Star Trek to fill its lineup) I think the argument gets silly due to the advocacy groups.

    For example: advocacy group A complains about television show B, which has (too few / too stereotypical) black characters. Show is then altered to suit them. Previous viewers of show fail to appreciate the changes, because by their nature they happen haphazardly, and whos fails.

    Alternative? Some network produces a number of shows dedicated to trying to pull black audience. If they are successful, they still don’t pull the ratings that (for example) Seinfeld or something marketed more universally does.

    So why do those shows at all? Partly to avoid being sued, partly because a niche show, if made cheaply enough (hence all the all-black-cast sitcoms with very little to the production values, because all you need is a few stock sets and the occasional shoot in a city park or city building) can still make money. And the broadcast networks get an edge here, because demographically blacks are overrepresented in lower income groups and are therefore more likely to be watching broadcast rather than cable/satellite (meaning they have less choices when switching the channel).

  12. Webmaster says:

    There’s a Flash character I remember – named Chunk, I think, early Wally West Flash – who was one of the strangest “stereotype who breaks the stereotype” black characters I’ve ever seen.

  13. trumwill says:

    Nodnod, I mentioned that advocacy groups were often part of the problem — I just don’t see that as letting the networks off the hook on the matter. Good point about target demographics. I think at this point the conversation has drifted at least somewhat into zones of agreement.

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