Peonies, Frogs, and Wine

Sunday, November 04, 2007

O'Reilly's remark on race rates reflection

From The Muskegon Chronicle

Sunday, October 21, 2007

by Joyce M. Walker-Tyson

Columnist Clayton Hardiman was absolutely on target about Bill O'Reilly and his comments that dining in a black-owned restaurant was no different from dining in a white-owned eatery.

[To hear the audio clip of what was said, go here:

The ensuing racial brouhaha stemmed from the implication that O'Reilly's dining experience was positive because it seemed like a white experience. I honestly believe that O'Reilly was attempting to express a positive view of black culture. However, it never fails to confound me that well-meaning white folks think it a compliment to erase my race.

I worked with an Ole Miss alumna in Meridian, Miss., who, whenever we spoke to a black audience, made special note of the fact that she did not "see color at all." I finally asked her how she could profess to understand and appreciate cultural differences if she refused even to acknowledge those differences exist. I suggested that she denied seeing color because she wanted to make everything conform to her own notion of the ideal -- the "rightness of whiteness."

She called me a racist.

A former Italian-American colleague here in Muskegon once told me I didn't "seem black." When I asked him to explain why, he said it was because I was "smart, funny, pretty and hard-working." As our conversation continued, he admitted that none of the black people with whom he had business or personal relationships "seemed black." In fact, he didn't know any black people who "seemed black."


If the reality of personal experience is diametrically opposed to some artificial stereotype, why choose to discard the reality rather than the stereotype? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that the stereotype is flawed than that all your personal encounters are deviant?

I often do training sessions for various clients, including the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education. DTAE's most-requested workshop is "Racial Sensitivity: Things Big Mama Taught Me and Other Immutable Craziness." Discussion sub-topics included "Of course you're prejudiced -- and so am I" and "Don't sweat it -- it's just a hair thang."

The session encourages participants of all races to dig deep into their pasts to pinpoint where, when and from whom a particular racial "truth" became imbedded into his or her own reality. By the end of the 90-minute workshop, we're all laughing to the point of tears over the strange notions we have internalized from relatives, chance encounters on the playground and -- surprise! -- television.

One of my best friends, a public relations professional in Chicago, came to me in tears one day begging that I not end our friendship. Mary Frances had learned, while researching her family tree, that her ancestors in Georgia had owned slaves.

This brilliant and creative woman could not allow herself to imagine that her relatives had participated in something as abominable as slavery. I was dumbfounded at her reaction. My reality told me that all white folks in the south enthusiastically embraced slavery. Of course, we both were wrong. But those were the stereotypes that had become part of us.

She was upset, too, she said, because the discovery of her family's slave-holding history, forced her to think of me -- one of her best friends -- as black. Again, I was dumbfounded. Why would she have to forget I am black to love me?

I embrace the fact that she is Scotch-Irish. Her background brings to me a whole realm of experiences I otherwise might have missed. Without her, I would know considerably less about the Episcopal Church. Without her, I might never have known that I really like Irish folk music. She taught me how to bake scones and cook corned beef and cabbage. I taught her how to make ham hocks and collard greens. Thanks to our shared Southern roots, we both do outstanding cornbread. We both disdain "ditzy, helpless women."

My blackness was the first thing determined in my DNA. When my parents met each other, only one thing was absolutely certain: If ever the two of them produced heirs, the result would be black. No one knew if I would be tall or short, right-handed or left-handed, male or female -- but there was never any doubt I would be black.

How could anyone ever dismiss that? And why would anyone ever want to?

Joyce M. Walker-Tyson

Managing Principal

Diversity Communications

Associates, Inc.

Muskegon Heights

Graphic comes from the following website:

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At 10:17 PM, Blogger Rick said...

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Best Regards,



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