racism Archives - The Jose Vilson



Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that my boys and I wanted to have fun at an Irish pub, jamming to every rhyme and curse Shawn Carter could muster for three verses. It’s already 11pm and we got a few drinks flowing in our system, flirting with a few women of different skin tones, cracking jokes with the a bunch of random guys from the local university. The service was a little slow to get us our drinks, and messed up our drinks more than once, and

All of a sudden, we’ve got DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem” blaring out of the speakers. My boys and I do our usual bop, slurring the chorus when we turn around and see the rest of the bar singing along, too. The first verse drops and I’m just staring at everyone about to say “Niggas wanna try, niggas wanna lie! Then niggas wonder why, niggas wanna die!” A few of them relent after seeing my stare, but a few others keep jamming because one of my boys is riling them up.

I look at him like, “What are you doing?! This is MAD racist!” He’s like, “Well, it’s in the song, so there is that.”

Does it make it OK?

So fine. The DJ moves on to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” One of my boys gets to flirting with a group of women near the bar’s exit. They’re talking it up. Laughs exchange. Everyone’s jumping. My friend gets bumped by a group of muscle-headed frat boys who were jumping and staring directly at him talking to his new acquaintance. My friend takes exception, but my friends and I notice that the situation might escalate, so we pull him away. We all leave together, so we didn’t think there’d be problems.

“EVERYONE, COME OUT HERE!” I feel a bump from behind. It’s one of the frat boys from inside, wanting to start something. He’s like, “You don’t think I’ll beat your brains out? I’ll Rodney King this whole shit right here!” His boys crack up as the rest of the bar had come out to see the sparks fly. “You got your niggas and I got my niggas, too!” A few shoves get exchanged but before we started swinging, the cops came through. The frat boys stayed. Our group left.

After reading this incident, your initial instinct might be to sympathize with me because, whether you know me or not, calling a Black person, unprovoked, the n-word is problematic at best, racist at worst. After a few times reading this, though, the pushback usually comes in the form of questions, private messages, and other perspectives that blunt an initial reaction:

  • What if the provoker saw me and my friends yelling along with DMX with the n-word, so he thought it was OK? Why even use it, Jose?
  • You know the “Jump Around” song gets people riled up. The boys were just being boys and maybe it was a misunderstanding.
  • You probably aren’t a regular to that bar whereas those guys were. Why go to a bar where the owners and bartenders don’t know you like that?

This all sounds forgiving of the folks who otherwise provoked the situation.

I’m not sharing this simply because a combination of these things have happened in my life. I’m also sharing this because, as much as we are all complicit in some form to racial dynamics, it doesn’t deny either use of the n-word, especially the second time when the other guy didn’t even have to say the n-word to try and treat us like one. The truth could be hiding in plain sight, but we need everything to fit into a neat box, the way Donald Sterling’s does, or the University of California Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger.

For what, I’m not sure.

My experiences have made me see my own privilege in terms of dealing with sexism in educational institutions, and why we need to consciously work against trying to excuse it. It’s really easy to tell a woman that she needs to take personal responsibility, because personal responsibility only belongs to those least advantaged by a given relationship. It’s easy to disagree with a woman, then yell / type sexist nonsense at her because you feel there will be no repercussions.

It’s much harder to set rules about how the marginalized in a situation should behave instead of the (intentionally or otherwise) marginalizer should. That’s why, let’s say the same guy who tried to beat my brains in apologized the next morning or not, it’s not as simple as forgiving him. It’s about understanding the power dynamic that, should things have escalated, the odds were against me.

The dynamics of race and gender only get complicated when you’re on the marginalized end of both, as so many of my friends can tell you. When I’ve been called to task on issues of gender, I readily admit I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and apologize when appropriate. It’s a much better response than saying, “My heart’s in the right place! I’m popular so you have to believe me!” or “You’re wrong! I don’t have a sexist bone in my body!” Whereas, just understanding that, as a man, I consciously or unconsciously contribute to patriarchy (and associated oppression) and I have to be aware of my biases thus.

Also, note bene, even without having called the frat boy “white” or “racist,” people would double down on defending him against the latter label. As if I put the race card in the deck.


p.s. – Racism and sexism aren’t exactly the same in the way it plays out in our country, but there’s a lot of similarities, intertwined far too often …



Animal Farm

When Scott McLeod sent me this tweet, I said, “What?”

No way. I know this was written back in 2008, but it’s worth re-reading because of the recent conversations about race, and specifically, the Trayvon Martin proceedings. The way the conversations have gone, it’s almost as if many people (many of them conservative Whites) have a “race fatigue,” meaning they think we’ve achieved post-racism as we know it. People who argue this want to tell President Barack Obama to shut up about race already. No longer do we have to work within the confines of race dialogue, and, in their arguments, believe everyone falls in one of three categories:

  1. They hate everybody else, not just people from a specific race / class / gender.
  2. They don’t see color, just people a.k.a. color-blindness.
  3. They perpetuate race discussion by continually talking about it.

I’ll address these backwards because the arguments only deserve a few lines.

#3: Talking about class doesn’t actually perpetuate the stratification of the poor and the rich. Our institutions do. Having conversations about class actually help others become well informed, organized around the issue, and feel empowered enough to talk to their representatives to work on that thing. Oh, and occupy Wall Street, but that’s another point altogether.

In the same way, race isn’t just in our minds. It’s at the heart of our Constitution, and our amendments, while helpful, don’t go far enough to create true equity for all. Our institutions are racially flawed, and that’s a huge issue.

#2: Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists kills this argument rather deftly. It’s a good read. More importantly, the research shows that, when you dig deeper into people whose attitudes sound like #2, you start to dig into behaviors that have been codified towards racism. This works in the form of privileges and perks that society affords Whites. Simple.

#1: By now, you should see that racism isn’t just discrimination, bigotry, or prejudice, three things that any race, class, or gender can be. None of these are racism. Racism works as a power element, a dynamic that exists in any country where the social construct determines that country’s favorite de juris or de facto.

Trayvon Martin’s “innocence” is irrelevant in this. Even if people can make the argument didn’t have anything to do with race – a stretch -, the implications for what happens shortly thereafter does. Racism isn’t going away until we can work towards true equity across all lines. We have to call the institutions that stand in the way of that, and dissuade the ignorance with nuanced dialogue.

Until then, Buchanan’s “silent majority” doesn’t need a voice. Buchanan is to Squealer as Silent Majority is to Napoleon, and for too many of us, these discussions turn us into an animal farm. Let’s Snowball this.


p.s. – I like how Pat thought Blacks were brought here, rather than enslaved.


Quvenzhané Wallis on the cover of Entertainment Magazine

Quvenzhané Wallis on the cover of Entertainment Magazine

I have a confession: I’ve never seen Beasts of the Southern Wild. As a relatively new parent, I don’t always have the time or the funds to make it out to the movies very often.

But that’s not the purpose for my essay because, when it comes out on Netflix, I know I have to watch. I, along with thousands of others, took issue with the Onion’s satirical tweet calling Quvenzhané a cunt. I “got” it. She’s such a sweet, little, innocent girl that the joke was made as a reflection of the speaker and not of Quvenzhané herself. In the context of the lukewarm Seth Farlene jokes at the Oscars and Django Unchained, this might have seemed innocuous to some.

It wasn’t. I found it disgusting.

In fact, I found it both sexist and racist, but for the purposes of this essay, I’ll speak to the race piece, especially for my fellow educators still in the sanitized bubbles of ed-tech and, now, anti-testing.

For a minute, it reminded me of A Time To Kill, where Matthew McConaughey’s character has to explain to a jury of his peers why Samuel Jackson’s character had to kill the man mainly responsible for raping his daughter. He does so by recreating the situation for the panel and ending with re-imagning the abused girl as white.

After that, the jury had no choice but to acquit. It was a perfect ending, and honestly, I smiled after having watched it for the fifth time in as many months.

Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if this also works to perpetuate the idea that the girl as “Black” is only three-fifths worth her humanity than the girl as “White.” The notion that a Black girl might deserve to get raped while a White girl should never get touched speaks volumes about where we were and where we are.

Fast forward to this conversation, with people still wondering why jokes like these still have people of color in an uproar. It’s not that people of color are humorless. If anything, we aren’t a monolith just like any other group of people, however you decide to group us.

It’s that we expect the same treatment as the next person when it comes to our humanity. We need to see the Qvenzhane Wallises, Leonard Coopers, Amandla Stenbergs, and Gabrielle Douglases of the world as well as other kids of color as fully human, fully worth your admiration, without prejudgment. Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration.

As the apology from The Onion came out, people wondered aloud whether this was racial at all, whether the joke had any merit in the race-o-meter. The people who did attempt at shutting down these conversations often forget that privilege is also the ability to call something not racist just because they said so. In the midst of all this, the joke doesn’t get made about child actors Dakota Fanning or Anna Paquin in their days. Maybe people don’t find jokes that aren’t actually about them very funny whereas jokes about Quenzhané are.

No amount of explaining away the race issue can take that away from people whose life experience has worked in similar fashion. Blessings to Ms. Wallis who looks strong on her own two feet. If we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.

Until then, I propose we delve deeply into our own understandings of the way we look at our kids, and see them for their entirety, and not the caricatures we’ve created for them.

Jose, who has had enough whitesplaining for the day …


Truth Said In Jest

February 19, 2008

Things to Keep In Mind When Attending a Movie / Play:1. Please turn off your cell phone when you come in the theater. I mean, as soon as. Especially if you know you have one of those annoying ringtones of some random celebrity telling you to pick up the phone. Morons who violate will tempt […]

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