Friday, April 03, 2009

Acting White: No Look Handshake and Other Secret Black Greetings

Black people never know if their invisibility has to do with an unwillingness of whites to see them or white people’s inability to see anyone, down their perceived totem pole. The only way for me to know this would be to secretly watch to see if they ignore their fellow whites similar to the way they ignore blacks. For the record, I believe when you are the top dog you are going to naturally have problems ‘seeing’ others, as they simply are not important to you and there is no penalty for your ignorance. This is the same mindset I summon on rare occasion when I have to run a gauntlet in Berkeley, the panhandling capital of California.

So this is where some people, President Obama as lead exception, score high. They see people that their station says should be invisible. Obama sees people very well, but especially black people, both before and after he won office. He reaches out in a myriad of ways, a nod, a handshake, a pat, a point, a wave, or a rare bump, and these people will forever remember that tingle of specialness because he gifted them with an instant of his mind share. “The leader of the free world thought about me for a split second. Yep, I’m special.”

Now I have certainly noticed that in countries where blacks are the majority these greetings diminish. This behavior would only insure that no one ever reach their destination on time. And perhaps this behavior with whites, where they are the majority, is more for expediency rather than subjugation – I’m sure this would be George Bush’s excuse. But as people wonder about all this black-on-black signaling, they should understand that it is a direct descendant of the memory of institutional hostility. In a sea of frowns, we seek out a smile.

Finally, contrast this with the hub-bub made when Michelle Obama touched the back of Queen Elizabeth AFTER the Queen extended her arm to Ms. Obama's back, at their meeting of the G-20 this week. You would have thought she popped the old lady's bra strap or something.

"No-one - including the ladies-in-waiting standing nearby - could believe their eyes. In 57 years, the Queen has never been seen to make that kind of gesture and it is certainly against all protocol to touch her.

'But she didn't seem to mind a bit and was smiling and joking throughout,' the eyewitness said", noted the Daily Mail media outlet.




Perhaps the Windsors will try a fist-bump in the privacy of their Buckingham Palace apartment, later.

James C. Collier

READ MOST RECENT POSTS AT ACTING WHITE...

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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been in a similarly hierarchal position, if not (obviously) with the same magnitude as Obama.

The truth is that it takes two to tango. I enthusiastically greeted the ostensible underclass (regardless of race) once I had established a certain degree of friendship, and they reciprocated. On a few occasions, there was an awkward moment when I thought we had established a certain repore, but I had apparently misjudged their feelings.

No one wants to extend their hand to find nothing on the other side. As such, it's not surprising that Obama is more comfortable extending his hand to black commoners than Bush was. Obama realizes that he is a symbol of liberation and achievement to these workers.

I understand that a lot of blacks see this as the highest authority finally recognizing their existence. But I see it as blacks (and other minorities) finally recognizing the importance of authority. It's sad but understandable that a lot of nonwhite people had to see a "person of color" in power before they recognized authority as more than a white-privilege-assured birthright.

What I fear is that the next President, should he be white (hopefully not an offensive idea in a majority-white country) will be seen as a racist if he doesn't manage to be as much of a racial unifier as Obama is.

As I said before, it takes two to tango. And as long as minorities harbor grudges against whites, it will be very difficult for any white official to engender empathy among nonwhites.

postpostracial said...

Perhaps the Windsors will try a fist-bump in the privacy of their Buckingham Palace apartment, later.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall to witness that...

Lauren said...

I'm a white person studying Af Am history. I come from Norwegian stock and we just are very reluctant to greet strangers. I have a lot of in-bred shyness and reticence around blacks and whites. And yes, in the Northern and Western places I've lived in, whites don't greet each other unless they are in places where this is expected (like church). And even then, church leaders have school us not to just talk to our friends, but greet strangers.

However, I don't enjoy this about myself and often seek out the eyes of people I pass to greet them with a smile. But if I can't catch their eye, I won't press. When I went to a black history conference recently, it was wonderful to be seen by people. When my new friends greeted people behind the security desk, they received enthusiastic greetings in response. And because it was the conference hotel, I could even receive such greetings when on my own and I said something to the various hotel workers first. (I should mention this hotel was in the South). But as soon as I returned to the north and tried to continue to greet blacks and whites on the streets or service workers anywhere, I could rarely catch anyone's eye. Regardless, I still smile at every black person I meet (young men in hip hop garb to older ladies in church dress and everyone in between). Most of the time I get very strange responses, but sometimes I get genuine smiles in response. I think of a joke after Obama was elected about "why are all the white people smiling at me now?"

Lauren said...

I should say, too, that I can feel that my smile is strained at times, fearing rejection. I know that is no way to receive a genuine smile in response.

Anonymous said...

Smiling is an act of aggression and domination, coming from some faces. Sorry, Lauren. Hate it for you that your white face isn't immediately embraced. Smile at whites. You don't get a pass or keys because you are "studying" Af-Am history. That's like a scientist smiling at the mice in her lab....

Lauren said...

I know this. That's why my smile does come out odd at times. I try never to act to African Americans like they are somehow "subjects" or "mice" as you put it. And I do smile at whites. I wasn't complaining, just trying to explain my situation. If I get odd reactions, they feel fully justified.

Lauren said...

And I guess I was trying to explain that if Bush had acted like Obama, it would have come out as false and wouldn't have been accepted. Somehow, I think maybe Condolezza Rice would have been treated similarly. It is one of the wonderful things about Obama that he continues to greet African Americans like he would have before the presidency. I love the picture that starts out this blog.

I also love the picture of the Obamas with the queen. Because they have the right and ability to both interactions--the secret kind between blacks that goes back centuries, and the over-polite but trying really hard kind between whites and blacks. And both work.

Anonymous said...

"Smiling is an act of aggression and domination, coming from some faces."

When I hear that even smiling at someone is considered racist, I start to think that we'd be better off just avoiding black people altogether.

Some of you have such a huge chip on your shoulder that you're completely unfit for civil society. And then you wonder why people are wary of blacks...

GoldenAh said...

Lauren, I'm the same way. It's hard to smile at people, especially having grown up in an environment where it was rare, or there was street harassment on a daily basis.

Mr Obama has good manners. He's a genuine person, which is innate, and most likely comes from his family.

All this business about smiling and non-smiling is cultural. It also depends what part of the country, or world, one hails from. Not until I left NYC (or my block where we know everyone) did I find out strangers said, "Hello." And that's without regard to skin-color, ethnicity, or what-ever-label-fits.

People who do not want to interact with blacks need no excuses: just leave us alone. You will not be missed, because no one - frankly - gives a damn.

Lauren said...

GoldenAh, I totally agree about the regional differences. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the only woman on the March on Washington Committee writes in her autobiography about traveling from Minnesota (where she grew up) to rural Mississippi for her teaching position out of college around 1922. In addition to the shock of increased racism, Arnold Hedgeman was so surprised at the cultural differences among blacks. Strangers kept greeting her and she didn't know how to respond.

As to the last anonymous posting, I think the previous sentiment was what was behind the smile. If the intent is malicious or domineering, then yes, even a smile can be racist. I would analyze your own heart.

Anonymous said...

My point was that if my smile is going to be interpreted as racist, then society has completely broken down. If a white person smiling makes you uncomfortable, then you are the racist and you should get help.

And as for leaving you alone, I'd love to but the government won't allow it. Freedom of association died in the 60s. So I'm forced to deal with people every day who will take the smallest perceived slight (a smile, imagine!) and cry racism.

And we wonder why people are so unfriendly and even hostile in America today.

James C. Collier said...

Just a note: Duty officers are instructed to NOT engage dignitaries (even eye contact), so as not to obstruct the flow of their movement in any way. They jeopardize their post if they disobey. The exception is if the dignitary 'insist', in the case of an outstretched hand. Obama cleverly engages the officer but without changing his stride/cadence/eyes). He gets what he wants and poses no threat to the officer from his superiors as there was no provocation or hindrance. Very clever and smoothly executed by our POTUS.

M or M said...

i agree!
i saw obama speak in New Hampshire, i was one of 4 blacks, and he gave me a hug and touched my hands. all the others, he just gave them a hand shake. i also noticed that he made eye contacted with me while he was speaking in this elementary school auditorim. this was back in the primaries...

tnomeralc web design toys said...

This quote interests me- "Obama sees people very well". We have lots of these kinds of people here in my country but I wonder why people still don't believe they have what Obama has to win on elections.

Maybe it's not just "seeing people". Maybe it's all about seeing people with the heart and not the eyes. - tnomeralc web design -

Anonymous said...

He practically got down on his hands and knees when greeting the Saudi king. That was interesting ...

Anonymous said...

People like you are keeping racism alive.. at the latest Obama proved anyone can do anything.

For shame.