Prejudice or politeness?

Some of the racial prejudice I’ve seen recently (and locally) is excused by social and behavioral differences. Many Black people in this area tend to be louder and more expressive physically than the White people here. It is very predominant downtown near where the buses let people off. It’s a little disconcerting – especially for someone like myself, who enjoys having quite a bit of personal space. Still, that behavior – while disrupting White social norms – is not threatening. It’s prejudice, IMHO, because of the pretty consistent White interpretation of that behavior as both “rude” and “dangerous”. It’s the “ZOMG THERE’S A BLACK MALE!” syndrome, just writ much, much larger and much, much more generally. In turn, this prejudice serves as a justification for White flight to bedroom communities – and the construction of sanitized “safe” versions copies of a downtown.

Ones that are conveniently away from bus routes, and are all private property. That way pesky poor people can be kept out.

No, seriously. One of my wife’s students did that as his “deviance project”. He dressed as a (stereotypical) homeless WHITE person, and went to “the Greene“. It’s exactly what I described above – a sanitized recreation of a downtown in a more affluent (and White) section of town. While in his “homeless” costume, he was asked to leave an establishment where he’d actually bought food. He got to hold a “Homeless, please help” sign for all of five minutes on the street before security escorted him away. He did not approach anyone, he did not actually *ask* for any donations – he just held a sign.

On the other hand, we went to COSI Columbus on the third of July. There were several groups there as well, all in matching t-shirts. They were predominantly Black students (daycare kids, I don’t know). While they were loud and exuberant – there were also a lot *rude* kids. Not “I talk louder than you” rude, but “pushing and cutting in line” rude. Coincidentally, Resist Racism apparently agrees that cutting line isn’t a cool thing… so I think that means it’s not just an artifact of White culture.

Only a small minority of the Black kids were rude – nor were only Black kids rude. But it did make me wonder where that line between general politeness and forced conformity lies. I’ve had several Black people (all happened to be men) tell me how they were called “oreos” for not behaving in a stereotypically “Black” fashion. Many of the behaviors they were criticized for are the ones the Black people downtown are criticized for *not* having.

Where, then, is that line between politeness and “acting White”? Is there a line? Does there need to be?

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One Comment

  1. Maura
    July 8, 2008

    I don’t know if we should really shame some folks of an ethnic upbringing that were socialized to think that quiet reserved manners are normal for being “stunned” and “fearful” when presented with other behavior. I was brought up little suzy manners so i’m unnerved by uncivil behavior, which means “you’re invading my experience.” Seriously, shut up during the movie. Museums are quiet unless they’re “community” museums, and both these examples are controlled areas that have behavior agreements, unlike the less rigid standards of say a park.

    I guess you could charge that there’s some “white flight” in Huntington as well, espcially to my neighborhood, but it’s not race. In fact, my neighbors are black. What’s happening here is that drugs from detroit, to cinci, to here are in the ghetto area which has spread to downtown and its dangerous and unpleasant, so you go where you are more at ease, and sometimes, like here, it’s more affordable.
    Public trans needs to notice this and cater to the public, which just might happen. Or, gasp we might return to pooling.

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