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Race and Racism: Why is it STILL too Hot to Handle?



Yesterday’s GEM debate was a hot one, heck I even said it was leading into the piece. It was about a man in Texas who, after questioning whether white men are the majority anymore, formed a group and plans to give five scholarships to men who are at least one quarter Caucasian. I posted it on the site, tweeted it and placed it on my Facebook “Like” Page. Those of you who follow this site know we present big ideas, spiky debate (remember this one?) and have more opinions than hot wings in Buffalo. But I am open-minded and will welcome and publish other opinions, even when they differ from my own.

So after I put up yesterday’s debate I went to my “Like” page on Facebook where this message was waiting for me.

Rhonda (last name withheld) Wow. Racism again. I thought that by ignoring your obvious racist comments and remarks, I could enjoy the writings you put out there that are funny, intelligent, and resemble me quite much. However, you seem to forget that there are numerous organization that are strictly for black Americans. I don’t see you pointing fingers in their direction. It’s become obvious that you have a problem with white people. Sadly, I’m going to take you off my Facebook. I’ll miss the non-racist writings I’ve come to love. 🙁

Clearly Rhonda was someone who’s only been circling the periphery of Good Enough Mother because if she had been around here for more than a minute she would know how completely asinine her comments were. No, I don’t hate white people; truthfully all people rankle me, regardless of color. But it did occur to me that I skipped over something that she was very quick to glom on to and frankly is illustrative of the race issue in this country. Rhonda could not understand why I would ask the question of whether there should be a scholarship for white men only when there are all sorts of monies, organizations and schools for people of color that I failed to point out. In her mind that made me a racist. My mistake was in assuming that she, or anyone else for that matter, knew the genesis of those organizations.

Take, for example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities the first one of which was founded more than two decades after the end of slavery. Until the U. S. Supreme Court struck down Brown v. Board of Education, they were one of the few avenues for people of color to pursue higher education.  By the way, people of all races can attend HBCUs and recently the all-male Morehouse College had its first white valedictorian in the school’s history.

The United Negro College Fund, a philanthropic organization, was set up to provide scholarship money for students, primarily African American, wishing to go to college. Though the term Negro is in the title, it offers scholarships to people of all races.

I recently wrote about Essence Magazine, a publication that celebrates women of color, and its hiring of a white fashion editor. Whether you believe that is good or bad, the fact remains; Essence magazine, like Ebony and Jet grew out of a desire to present positive images of people of color to the mainstream where they were not seen with any sort of frequency before.

Those are but a few examples of organizations that my former fan Rhonda was no doubt talking about. But what I find absolutely fascinating is how people react to hot button issues like race.  Instead of questioning, probing, maybe even taking the time to lay out a well-constructed argument in support of her position, Rhonda took the easy way out.  She called names, made false accusations, got pissed and hit “delete”. Then she closed the door and retreated back to a world where her views would remain intact and never to be challenged.  But for every Rhonda there is an Ollievette, who left this comment on my page:

Ollievette: Race is always a heated topic, particularly for those that will never understand the plight of the disenfranchised. I enjoy all of your writings, particularly those that cause everyone to look outside of their particular boxes!

That is precisely what we try to do here, present issues in a way that make people think. Ollievette is right; race a prickly issue, racism still exists and contrary to what some believe, 50 years of federally mandated civil rights and a black man in The White House does not make it disappear. The way to do that is to have open dialogue. Rhonda’s false assumption is that talking about race in this way makes you a racist. No it doesn’t; it makes you curious. We have to ask questions in a respectful way, be open to opinions that differ from our own and be adult about it. That means conversations don’t degenerate into name calling when someone gets mad.  Just my humble opinion and I reserve the right to course correct when presented with data that cause me to see things in a different way.

What about you; how do you feel about any of this? Scholarships for special groups? What do you think it will it take for racial issues to be adequately dealt with in this country or will they always be an issue?



  1. Kolleen

    March 3, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Man, I am white and you are nice to me. I didn’t know you didn’t like me. 🙂

    I can’t believe I missed the article yesterday. Going to read it now then head back over here.

  2. martin bryant

    March 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Some people are scared of what they don’t know or what they feel other’s may think if they express their true beliefs. Racism will exist out of fear of equality and tradition. minority races are not “programmed” to be racist, however we are programmed to survive by any means which in most situations has us creating our own, or knocking down “steel” doors that have been put up in front of us. All minority entities NAACP, United Negro College fund etc. have been designed as a means of getting a fair chance at life…After all God created us in his image, which means we are all “equal”

    T.I.M.I.- Martin Bryant

  3. Smarty P. Jones

    March 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    We’ll never be mature enough to discuss racial issues because we still fall back to stereotypes and name-calling when we can’t get our point across. I say we because we are all human.

    The problem is a lot of folks grow up with prejudices out of tradition. Ask a modern day racist why he hates people of a certain race and if he’s honest with you and himself, it will be because that’s what he was taught. It’s sad really.

    It takes a lot of energy to hate people for any reason, let alone something they can’t help. Quite frankly, the scholarship question is now a moot point because Rhonda made it an issue of race.

    Scholarships will always discriminate whether it’s by race, gender, economic status or perceived intelligence. Honestly, I think this racial/racist argument is something we’ll have to live with and dare I say, ignore. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.

    The problem of the 20th century was the color line. The problem of the 21st century is the poverty line and that encompasses things like education, eating healthy food and substandard housing. And since we still haven’t solved the problem of the 20th century, it’s crept into the problem(s) of the 21st.

    How do we fix either? We don’t. It’s easier to point fingers and hurl insults calling each other racists and bigots. Fixing these problems requires actual work and we don’t want to do that because we’ve ALL become lazy.


  4. Tim E

    March 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    My personal opinion is that the topic of race is usually at the top of most non-white peoples. And for whites, they are split. It is also my opinion that it’s usually FEAR that keeps the white community from confronting the issues. The system of white privilege is, in the minds of some, the natural order. For example, some don’t want their children competing for slots in top law schools with a non-white student (he University of Michigan Law School ruling comes to mind). And others look at society, for example, an all-white Hollywood film set or a big city newsroom and never question why such blatant racial discrimination persists.

    So what it comes down to is the notion of equality and equal access take a back seat to personal and racial status. White people should realize that the system that we currently have enables white mediocrity. And the systematic oppression and exclusion of non-whites is tolerated.

  5. Kolleen

    March 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    The man you talked about yesterday has the right to use his money, however dumbly, as he wishes, but I agree he should have made sure the facts were correct. Obviously, he wanted to bring attention to himself. Also, keep in mind that having the right to do something doesn’t make it right.

    I wish we lived in a society where you do not need scholarships for special groups. We have to remember Brown v. Board of Education was only in 1954. Families directly and indirectly affected by that decision are still alive. Including those opposed to it. Feelings towards other people, other races are passed down from generation to generation.

    Some people are saying that Rene should not have written the article yesterday. The “who cares” attitude. The way racism will end is to call out these people. Keep history alive. Keep people in check. Let society know what is acceptable and what is not.

  6. DawnKA

    March 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I do support everyone’s right to create their own scholarships. I’m so happy that there are those for women, older students returning to school, etc. Now on to the topic — racism. It exists and has in my own opinion taken on new uprising since Mr. Obama had the nerve to think he should be President of the USA. I saw with my very own eyes the people who said they would leave the country should he be elected into office, crying that they want their America back, holding up signs of hatred, elected officials sending out racist emails (consider these same elected officials serve in states where there are people of other ethnic backgrounds), media personalities spewing their obvious hatred, need I continue……. Now coincidentally, these people mentioned happen to be white. How do they justify these actions? Why, they’re fighting mad at the state of the economy which they somehow ignored or managed to accept when Mr Bush et al. were in charge. Not speaking of all white people, my grandparents on both sides were half white. Many of us have the multi ethnic family tree. However, we must recognize that not everyone is open to understand that it exists, it is not their reality. Better yet, they would much prefer not to talk about it. It irritates them, it sounds as though we’re ungrateful whiners. After all, there is a man of color in the White House!!!!

  7. Ollievette

    March 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I read your post and I am honored! Yesterday’s message, as well as your commentary today, are pure GREATNESS (not just because you included my message)! I enjoy a good debate, particularly on race and we must be able to listen and learn from one another without running away in anger. Today’s post was quite educational and if one person learned something and stopped to think, your job is done!

  8. Rick

    March 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I think part of the problem is that whites may feel that there is little to gain and lots to lose for them to even engage in this topic. You can say that you will listen to opinions that differ from yours, but will everybody?

    The fact of the matter is talking about race for whites is to enter a minefield. I recall 3 or 4 years ago a mayoral aide in DC was forced to resign (later rehired) for using the word “niggardly,” a perfectly acceptable English word that has absolutely nothing to do with race, is not an insult, but bears a resemblance to the “n” word. (You know, that word that only people of color are allowed to use, though nobody should ever). If a non-racist word used outside of the context of race can force a a guy to lose his job, why would any white person want to tread — even lightly — on the subject of race when even a misunderstanding can get him or her labeled a racist and cost him or her a career or friends?
    The fact of the matter is that minorities have to fight racism. And poor minorities have to fight racism and poverty. But poor whites have to fight poverty too, and I assure you they do not feel like they have a leg up on anybody (even if perhaps they do).
    But standing up for white people is to invite cries of racism, so why bother doing it? It’s a shame really, because as you suggest, racism only goes away with open dialogue. But until everyone can be safe in these discussions, don’t expect the people with less to gain and more to lose by having them to have them.
    As for the idea of scholarships, I think that if race can be considered as a requisite for a scholarship, then there’s nothing wrong with all races having access to “their own” scholarship. Being part of the majority doesn’t make being on the outside looking in any more appealing.
    Now, let’s see if this elicits civil discourse or if I’ll be called a racist. (Though nobody here even knows my race).

  9. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    @Ollievette: Thanks so much! And welcome to Good Enough Mother!!

  10. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    @Rick: I agree with you on several points of your post. You are right about poverty, it is crippling no matter who has to deal with it. You are “partially” right about the n-word, but since this is your first time commenting here, you are probably are unaware of my personal stance and the one I fight for which is that NO ONE, of ANY color should be using that word. There are many African Americans who feel that was as well. Now, I’m not sure what you mean by “standing up for whites” and would love to hear more of what that would entail. Can you elaborate?
    And finally, thank you for articulating your point about the scholarship, which as you can see, is a view shared by many on this site, some of whom are people of color. But I do think your comment was strong and valid without your last line, which makes it look like you’re itching for a fight. No one here is going to call you a racist, but the fact that you expect it enough to point it out again shows what a touchy topic this is. Thanks for weighing in.

  11. Rick

    March 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    @Rene: As you see I too think nobody should use the word, and I applaud people of any race creed and color who denounce language that puts anyone down.

    By standing up for whites I mean if a guy wants to offer a scholarship to people who are at least a quarter white it is fodder for blogs, whereas if there are scholarships for people who are at least a quarter black, it’s pretty much accepted.

    Perhaps “standing up for whites” was not quite the right phrase, but what I meant by it is that if, for example, a white person is anti-affirmative action because he or she thinks it is patently unfair that is in a way “standing up for whites” but that person is often dismissed out of hand as a racist.

    Lastly, I assure you I am not itching for a fight. In fact I considered long and hard whether to post what I did out of fear that it would start a fight. I don’t itch for one, but sadly, I kind of expect one. And yes, it is quite a touchy subject!

  12. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    @Rick: We agree on several points. Re: Colby Bohannon, the thing that stuck out to me most was his false assertion that white men were no longer the majority. As a woman of color it sounded to me like was he was fearful of that. This is not a rhetorical question but what if that were the case? Why was such an alarming prospect to him? Forget the fact that it is patently false and I poked fun at him for not even doing the basic research on an issue he felt so passionately about. On the scholarships, I agree; it’s his cash (or his supporters) then he should do with it what he wants or sees fit. Now here’s where things get less clear. Systematic racism is alive in this country and as I pointed out in the post, it is not made better by the short time federally mandated civil rights have been the law of the land. The government, through affirmative action, has tried to remedy some of that. For the record I am not a fan of Affirmative Action in it’s current form either. If a white person, “I am not a fan of Affirmative action and here’s why and here’s a better way” well, why would we not listen to that? But honestly what tends to happen is the firebrands yell about it without offering up any solution. The fact is there are people who end up in positions of power because they had the right connections and money, went to good schools, come from good, well connected families who end up in hiring positions and choose to hire only those who look, sound, believe as they do. That’s a problem.
    Re: Colby Bohannon being blog post fodder, I think one reason was because of his faulty thinking/reasoning and lack of research. The other is, frankly, it’s strikes so many people as odd that in a country where minorities have been historically disenfranchised, that he would try to make that claim using an argument that was not thought out.
    Lastly, why would you expect a fight? Why does a discussion, even on something as touchy as this, by educated people, have to turn into a fight? Yes, you’re right. Kinda sad.

  13. Rick

    March 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    @Rene: I really know little about Bohannon so I can’t say that I speak for him. As a white male (there, I said it!) I have absolutely no fear of no longer being in the majority. I don’t know if he does or he does not fear it. But his statement could also be interpreted as “since we are no longer a majority, don’t we as a minority have a right to have our interests protected?” It’s a weak argument because of what you aptly point out,

    “people who end up in positions of power because they had the right connections and money, went to good schools, come from good, well connected families who end up in hiring positions and choose to hire only those who look, sound, believe as they do. That’s a problem.”

    I would say two things about this: there are plenty of white people who see affirmative action as punishing them for being white, and if white males no longer constitute a majority, isn’t this biased against a minority. (It’s a very flimsy argument, but people feel that)

    Secondly, though it is true that people end up in power because of connections, etc, not all white people have those connections, and so privilege and white should never been seen as synonymous just as underpriviliged and black should never be seen as synonymous.

    What I would truly like to see is an America that judges each and every person individually by their character, and secondly, I wish that we could find a way to be less culturally segregated. It would be great for all of us to be able to feel comfortable in everyone’s culture.

    I can’t post any more. My fingers hurt!

  14. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    @Rick: BINGO!! That is exactly what everyone needs/wants/desires and that is why Affirmative Action in its current form doesn’t work but it is all we have right now. Bottom line, the best PEOPLE for the job, whoever that is, should be hired, regardless of race, creed,color, sex and sexual orientation. Alas it is not that way, yet anyway but it is the goal to which we all aspire. Thanks for the engaging conversation!

  15. Ahead2thePast

    March 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I thought the article was well conceived and well written.

    Race relations in this country and others will continue to be a problem since we don’t want to talk about it in a healing manner. I can’t accept the fact that people will say, “I don’t see color.” I am offended by that because my color is me but not totally me.

    If this country truly believed that all men were created equal, there wouldn’t be a need for African American set-asides for colleges, scholarships, organizations, churches, etc.

    As far as whites being in the minority, that has been that way since the beginning of time and it still is. People of color will always be in greater number but that isn’t the point. The point is who controls access and sets policy for the masses. If you are in control, your numbers don’t matter obviouslyu and you can decide how resources are used and who you allow to use them.

    What interest is Rick looking out for when he has unspoken privileges that he takes for granted! Please…

  16. lena cole dennis

    March 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I don’t want to talk about the scholarship. I want to talk about Black and white relationships. As long as I don’t bring up race I have a great time with certain long time white friends. If a random white person neither of us knows says something I feel is racist towards me…my old friend immediately tells me they did not mean it. Yet, that same friend has known me the longest or was not privy to the encounter. How do you know what hurts my feelings and why?

    I dislike people who say I was fearful of starting something or saying something wrong when talking about race. If you think something is wrong before you say it ….don’t do it. Your negative attitude towards my response will surely be the highlight.

    I love white people who say whatever is on their minds at that time. I can respond, we exchange comments and we either agree or we go to our corners lick our little wounded feelings and remain in each others company because we genuinely like each others differences. Of course this goes for other folks of the same race, also.

    My last comment is why I like GEM and you Renee. Your page is the closest to race communications of the best kind ever. You have friends from forever, new friends and relatives. We say things and we read into things. Race talk is a human right that makes communications beautiful for all of us. Rene you are “A Good Man Charlie Brown!”

  17. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    @Lena: awwww, thanks so much! We have to be able to converse about it, to see it from the other side. I never thought about the fact that some white people would view affirmative action as punishment for being white because I have always been on the other end. My entire career I have been only one of a handful of people of color in my newsroom. There were many more white people, particularly in the ranks of upper management. It was not my imagination either and in more than one occasion in my career, I have had said managers get very tight and do off-campus things with those hires who looked, thought, believed as they did. I never viewed it as punishment for being black per se, but just the cost of, well, being black and in business.

    Anyway, thanks Lena for the VERY nice words and glad to have you here 🙂

  18. Auntie Lisa

    March 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks, Rene, for having the fortitude to post this.

    As a white person, I am usually very hesitant to say anything on this issue. For one thing, I feel unqualified, in a way, to comment on it. Maybe for the same reason men don’t generally go around commenting on childbirth. It’s the lack of ability to experience the other side of the equation. That may be WHY it’s such a hot issue still. It would seem that whites in general have a long way to go as far as listening to what non-whites have to say about racism.

    I am one who does listen to what others have to say about this. And I pay attention to any experiences I’ve had that may give me a small glimpse into what it’s like being on the other side of the equation, though there is no way I could ever fully experience that.

    Example: Where I live, Hispanics are easily the majority. I live in the USA, yet people look at me weird if I don’t speak Spanish back to them! Fortunately, I am self-employed. If I had to find a job around here, my lack of fluency in Spanish would do me in. You don’t even have to speak English. Just Spanish.

    Another example: I have experienced rejection and harsh words because of my Christian faith. I do realize this is different from being a minority because it was an eyes-open, conscious choice I made to become a Christian, rather than something I was born with. But it is permanent and I’m not going to back down about what I believe, even though I know there are those in the world who would even kill me because of it.

    I know it’s just a teeny-tiny sliver of the experience blacks have had in this country for so many years. But I’m paying attention to it and trying to learn and glean from my own small experiences.

    The one comment I feel I can make is that racism is an issue of the heart. You can put band-aids on it all day long, but God is the only one who can change hearts. It is only in submitting ourselves to God that we stand any chance of making real progress on this issue. The Golden Rule is from the Bible: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). See also: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

    And let me also say: in trying to be equal, let’s not lose all the GOOD diversity. If we didn’t have this, how boring and joy-killing it would be! I love the racial and ethnic and cultural differences all my friends bring to the table. 🙂

  19. Jana C

    March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Rene, this just makes me sad. After knowing you for all these years, it’s unfathomable to me that anyone would call you racist. You’ve always been a beautiful soul who accepts people for who they are. You’ve never tiptoed around any subject and race should be no different. My respect and love for you is because of your absolute willingness to talk about darn near anything, without expectations that others have to agree. This woman un-liking your page is certainly not your loss. She obviously wants to continue to live with her head buried in the dirt so let her. Just keep being you!

  20. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    @Jana, you’re sweet thanks honey. This person didn’t know me at all and whenever people react that way, it’s typically because a nerve has been touched. Whatever 🙂

  21. Margit

    March 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Love the comments and respectful banter. Thank you for pushing us out of our comfort zones, and making us think. Love, love, love your blog Rene!

  22. Rene Syler

    March 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    @Margit: awww thanks!!! Love that you love it 🙂

  23. Tineybean

    March 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    As a black female who attended private school, an Ivy league college, and got an MD-PhD all on merit scholarships, I have only this to add. The affirmative action scholarship or admissions quota debates usually overlook a very important fact, one that I observed firsthand. The largest group for whom slots are reserved are not athletes, or geniuses or even minorities; it’s LEGACIES. That’s right, the kids who parents, older siblings, grandparents and so on, attended the school before them. This practice seems fine on the surface (hey, why not throw a prior good customer a bone), but is also what has helped to keep minorities out of these same institutions, and assured generations of wealthy, white males that they would always have a place waiting for them. Indeed, many children of alumni automatically expect an acceptance letter, regardless of their academic performance, athletic ability, or even prior disciplinary action. THAT is why affirmative action is important to this day. Those legacy quotas will not go away any time soon (many of the alumni on various boards of trustees are counting on it to get their own children in) so affirmative action it is. I always marvel that people don’t discuss THIS preferential treatment when the topic of affirmative action arises. I guess certain quotas are more acceptable than others.
    And BTW, I love your blog, Renee. Keep making us look at ourselves and THINK!

  24. Pam R

    March 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    It’s a touchy subject that I hate to tred on. I come from a family that is mixed with whites and blacks. Some of the blacks in my family are racists and I never knew this until the “boundaries” were broken. It sadden me because when I saw people I never saw what color they were. Now obiviously I saw that they were “a color” but not in the sense that it would stop me from wanting to be in there company. I have felt though, that people have judged me because I am black and I have been followed around in stores and felt ackward in certain places. When these types of conversations come up it’s hard for some people to be real about what they think. I think that the ball still bounce in the courts of the majority and it’s easy when all the people around you look like you but when you have a couple of people who don’t it puts you in a situation that can turn out good or bad. Rene’ I haven’t me you personally (I would love to) but I follow this page a lot and not once have I seen you with racist views of any sort. Keep doing what you are doing because I gaurantee you are reaching more people than you are loosing.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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