I have a beef with the world of folks who still use the word “minority” to describe people like me. Most of them are White, a small minority are Black or Latino or Asian. Almost all of them are from Generation X or older generations. The final straw for me was the past week of listening to sports reporters talking about the NFL’s Rooney Rule, the one that requires teams with coaching vacancies to interview at least one “minority” candidate before making a final hiring decision. Although I think that there are many benefits to the Rooney Rule, I don’t think that calling one group of people Whites and everyone else minorities, especially if done continually, sets up the so-called others/non-Whites as outsiders, not the norm, people who need a handout from the dominant White folks who own the teams and control the hiring process.
I suppose that if the roles were reversed and we were calling all Whites “minorities” that there would be some gnashing of teeth on the part of White folk. Not necessarily. There is a power relationship issue that goes well beyond the numbers aspect of majority vs. minority. Financial, economic, social, military and cultural dominance that won’t depend on Whites continuing to be the majority of the nation’s population. This is something that folks who use this term without any regard to the diverse groups that they’ve lumped together don’t understand. For those people, White is normal, White is powerful, White is dominant. “Minorities” are the other, in constant need of help, have little regard for our nation’s cultural norms, deserve little in the way of educational, economic or other kinds of opportunities. Our individual and group identities are inconsequential and irrelevant, as they have little to do with the White world.
So Whites who use the term “minority” are racists, while the “minorities” who use the word are misinformed old farts, right? Absolutely not! I think that folks who use the term are lazy more than anything else. Even though the more appropriate term for people who aren’t White is “people of color” — and the term’s been around for at least three decades — many don’t know it or refuse to use it even if they do. “Minority” or “minorities” is one word, “people of color” or “persons of color” is three. It takes up too much space in a newspaper article and takes too much time to say those extra two words. Saying “people of color” sounds too politically correct, because it actually makes folks see in their minds’ eyes people who are Black, Latino and Asian in background. I would argue that this isn’t true, that using the term “minority” is the more sterile — and thus more politically-correct — term being used, but used in a casual and lazy way to describe 110 million people.
This is something that’s bothered me since the middle of my junior year in high school. The term “people of color” was in its infancy then, but I knew that I didn’t like being called a minority, as if someone White could call me anything they wanted without my input. It was bad enough that the powers that were at Mount Vernon High School could tell me what to wear, where to go, when I could read my Bible in school. But to also be called a “minority” as a lazy substitute for Black or something else I found insulting in ’85. These days, it remains lazy and insulting, and shows a disdain for the consideration for how those who are so-called minorities see and characterize themselves.
The same is true on the issue of the use of the term racism and race. Although I do see the issue of race involved in many issues that at first glance might seem to not involve race, that is hardly the same thing as saying that something is racist. There are folks who scream “racism” whenever a Black public figure finds themselves in hot water, and there are folks who scream “this isn’t about race!” to every claim of race or racism, which for them is the same thing. This happened again, this time with the emerging evidence that Washington Wizards scorer and flaky idiot Gilbert Arenas semi-threatened one of his teammates with supposedly unloaded guns in the locker room of the Verizon Center in DC. Folks have spent the past few days calling Arenas’ much-deserved vilification in the media “racist,” and commentators denying that any of this anything to do with race.
The folks who are calling the Arenas coverage “racist” are as idiotic as Arenas. To say that what Arenas has done is typical of what Blacks from our generation grew up with are dumb asses who couldn’t have an honest conversation about race if they were kneeling at the throne of Almighty God on Judgment Day. Those radio, TV and Internet commentators and bloggers whom say that this isn’t about race or culture are correct, of course, but they miss one point when they make that point. That is, that anyone who is of color and learns about another famous person of color who gets themselves in legal or media trouble experiences a cringing moment. These few examples of successful individuals of color, once they become public pariahs — like O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods or Gilbert Arenas — reflect badly on everyday people of color, especially Blacks. That is the backdrop to the moronic comments of folks defending Arenas against “racism.”
So, do things like the Arenas situation or the revealing of Woods’ recent affairs involve race? To say that it does means accusing Whites of racism, at least according to White mouthpieces. To say that it doesn’t completely discounts that feeling of weariness that Blacks and other folks of color experience when rich and public people who look like us screw up legally or otherwise. Perhaps the bigger point here is that Whites who refuse to understand the dynamics of race are so tied to the notion of individualism that they’re blinded to the realities of race, while folks of color are double-bond to their individual and group affiliations. Until those in the public arena can understand and articulate these tensions, we will continue to talk past each other as if one group is speaking Russian and the other is speaking Mandarin Chinese.
Comedian Chris Rock probably put it best in his Bringin’ The Pain concert in ’96. He said that “there are two kinds of Black people — there are ‘Black people,’ and there are ‘N____s’.” I’m not so crass as to use the N-word to describe the likes of Arenas or jailed Louisiana ex-congressman William Jefferson (the guy with $90,000 in cash payoffs in his freezer), nor so naive as to think that these imbeciles represent me and what I’m doing with my life. But I’m also not so tied to the White notion of individualism to think that no one White doesn’t equate the behaviors of prominent people of color with the millions of everyday people of color. Between the lumping together of peoples of color as “minorities” and the refusal to acknowledge that race (not racism) plays a role in our perceptions and perspectives on individuals’ words and deeds, our public world needs to get into the ’90s before the ’10s get here. Oh wait a minute — I guess I should revise to “before the ’20s get here!”