Sunday, November 18, 2007

Acting White: Check the Trash

It was during the fall of 2005, and me damn near 50, that I stopped being embarrassed by the behavior of black people – my people. It is easy to beam pride when you hear jazz or R&B, witness a sporting event, or simply read about a black person distinguishing themselves in the positive. But what about all the negatives: drugs; violence; neglect; abuse; and general slacking? This flip side is the daily dose of the ‘what the hell is going on in the heads of black people?’ question.

Every ethnicity does things that embarrasses their group, but when your group is struggling the sting is greater. Even with what I know, I am regularly reminded, like today, how better it would be if every black person had the chance to feel free of the weighty burden of shameful group behaviors. For me the first step is not about stopping or admonishing the behavior, but rather understanding its origin.

Today I picked up my company’s two L.A.-based accountants at Oakland International, for a meeting. Due to traffic we took a surface short cut back to our offices, through the poorer Latino and black sections of the city. Ahead of us at a stop light a black man opened his car door and dumped an accumulation of trash onto the road. I have seen this behavior many times, but was still dumbfounded, as were my passengers, one white, one Asian.

As the stop light changed on the uncomfortable moment, I said, “Now that was interesting. What do you guys make of it? I figured I might capitalize on the odd moment and learn something new - but no such luck. Each of the accountants smartly remained mute. So I said, ‘well let me tell you what I think. I think that guy is about 40 years behind in his thinking and tossing trash into the streets is just one of many lagging behaviors probably holding him back’. They agreed and we all relaxed back into our ride.

Now this man’s failure to assimilate the ‘don’t be a litterbug’ behavior introduced 40 years ago might come from lagging assimilation or oppositional culture, but regardless, it is supported by below-average intelligence that itself went unchallenged by an education system that did not know what to do with him - a scenario repeated every school-day across this country.

For whatever the reason a group displays symptoms of lagging intelligence, internally or externally influenced, if it is ignored, or band-aided by excuses or arbitrary props, then we should expect the problems to get worse, as they have. This only makes sense. Yes, we can argue racism ‘until the cows come home’, but as Harvard Black Studies Prof. Henry Louis Gates contends, it does not come anywhere close to explaining the black condition.

We need to stop making excuses for the litterbugs. We need to keep looking for real questions and answers.

James C. Collier


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DJ Black Adam said...

Hello James:

You had written:

"For whatever the reason a group displays symptoms of lagging intelligence, internally or externally influenced, if it is ignored, or band-aided by excuses or arbitrary props, then we should expect the problems to get worse, as they have. This only makes sense. Yes, we can argue racism ‘until the cows come home’, but as Harvard Black Studies Prof. Henry Louis Gates contends, it does not come anywhere close to explaining the black condition."

I agree with you and the distinguished professor from Harvard to a degree, yet I would have to posit that the societal conditions that have resulted from the general acceptance of the scientific fiction of race in American society have at the least caused some serious agitating factors that have affected some of the negative social realities that are faced within the African American community.

I fully agree that we cannot allow or enable such negative actions and behavior in our collective community by excusing such because of the social reality of racism, however; we would be woefully ill advised to ignore that reality as we search for solutions to the current problems.

Personal responsibility and by default communal responsibility are tantamount in regard to coming up with solutions (and more importantly implementing solutions) however it is not an either or in contrast to the social reality of racism in America.

I'm just saying...

Anonymous said...

One day I was driving down the street with a couple of passengers (all of us African American). We stopped at a light in southeast D.C. and saw the family in front of us (also African American)throw an entire bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken bones and various empty crap their car window. I was completely outraged, but my passengers took it as further evidence that "I think I am white." When I argued with this assertion, they simply rolled their eyes and dismissed me as a weirdo who was unfortunate enough to be raised in Northern California and trained to think she was white. They explained that real black people struggling with real problems don't care about stupid stuff like litter.

Though I argued and lectured them about civic pride, I could not stop a little worm of doubt. I thiought maybe I am some sort of stupid, lightweight dilettante who has no sense of the realities of urban life.

I am really glad you wrote this article. I still get pissed off when I see my people discarding their couches on the 295, or emptying their ashtrays onto the street. I know that no ethnic or racial group has a lock on littering, but I hate that whole "we have deeper problems to worry about than the pile of Pampers we just threw on your lawn."

Anonymous said...

excellent post. this is something that has been on my mind for a hot minute.

Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira, aka Ochyming said...

We need to stop making excuses for the litterbugs. We need to keep looking for real questions and answers.

That should be sticked on every child forehead.

... but, I think no one can/should be a “ mirror “ of his/her ‘‘ race ‘‘.
When we feel the need to prove a thing, we end up blinded.
Do you feel ashamed for the crime of invading a country [Iraq], bring it to its knees, for the reasons we all know [oil, puppetry]?

Khia! said...

Dear Blogger:
I can agree with your post to a degree however certain points stood out to me as I read on. First off: It struck me as odd that you felt the need to poll your white and asian car mates. I feel that the need to define ourselves against the ideals of the outside ( and opposite ) world is a measure of our own feelings of inferiority. Also were they to measure you by the actions of another of your own race, it would be a demonstration of their own racism. Perhaps they were uncomfortable with your question because it was an odd question.

Secondly: you said " we can cry racsim until the cows come home..." okay I get it. Racism is not a nursing blanket and people DO use it as a response to just about any roadblock or bump in the road and then don't do anything to clear that roadblock. But what ( if not racism) would you use to define the reasons why the level of ignorace and suffering of Blacks are many times greater than that of other races? Our mental deficiencies? Racism exists, to behave as though it doesn't and try to compete is only doing us ( Blacks) a disservice, also it leads us to cling to the inferiority complex that white have been instilling in us for centuries.

Lastly: Screw Henry Louis Gates. I had the misfortune of being forced to read Signifyiing Monkey and using it in my senior thesis, I had the greater misfortune of being one of the few in my class that understood what the hell he was saying. What I found was that he was using a lot of High Language to make commentary on Black culture that any jackass off of the street corner could make if so inclined. When I voiced my frustration and annoyance to my professors ( of varying races) I found they felt similarly. But they had to teach the book because it was a part of the curriculum, and also there is no other work of its kind. Hey...A Harvard education isnt' everything, My Brother

Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira, aka Ochyming said...


Yeah, sure you rocks.

I think most of the so called “black“ revolutionaries do trap themselves on this hole, that is explaining why. But doing it, its not more than trying to prove ones humanity [hell of a thing to try to prove], which uncover the feeling of inferiority.

For me, lacking the guts to want more, to fight for a better life mirror this inferiority complex. And I fear no one is digging about.

There would be always racism, and as getting rid of any stigma should be GOAL of any stigmatized, believing in ones inferiority is more damaging.

I believe only a careful parenting can HELP.
The reason why B. COSBY does matter.

GoldenAh said...

Nice blog.

I only feel guilty when I throw out my garbage. I wonder why packages are wrapped in a type of plastic that requires a jack hammer / blowtorch to open and last a million years. The oceans are swirling with enough garbage and choking eco-systems to death.

As for litter bugs and using race as an excuse: the problem I see is what will we say as Asians and Hispanics exceed us by population count and economic well being, etc?

I suspect - any day now! - the time is rapidly approaching where no one will care about racism against black people. They (the new immigrants) do not have the historical perspective of racism blacks have employed to prompt whites to change.

oronde ash said...

the litterbugs? i hope we don't lump them all up in one bag. there are many kinds of litterbugs. there's the kid throwing his coke can on the street, the family not cleaning up after their picnic, or the factory dumping sewage into our drinking water. let's teach the kid civic pride so that when his wife and kids have that family picnic they will clean up. but please, let's go after the polluting factories too. they're operating 24/7 and causing generational health and wellness issues for EVERYONE. yes, be responsible for what you know you can control, but fight the good fight against those who have always tried to pollute you... and never stop doing it 'til you feel clean.

Sleeperwithheavyeyes said...

As a reformed litterbug, I have to admit that it is a pretty ignorant thing to do. It is a cultural maladaptation that we should not excuse. It makes our neighborhoods look terrible and honestly its disrespectful to the people who live in the neighborhood. Finally, white people have very little to do with it, while some aspects of low cultural and self esteem could be traced to our nations history of racism, at some point you have to take responsibility for your own actions.

Jonne Austin said...

Hmmm really good post. It made me think. I have not encountered that here in Washington State but I have seen other types of littering.

I don't know if I agree that it is his lack of intelligence as his willingness and contentment with his own ignorance. If forced I am sure his brain may grasp it is wrong. At least I hope so. What I see is someone who has thus far failed to get with the times because ignorance is bliss.

Good one!

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and I think I am in love!

What I have come to realise is that Blacks do have ways to go in accepting that THEY also have the responsibility to take care of this planet. THEY are also among those who will inherit this earth. Until blacks realise that this is also their 'home' and their backyards then the change won't happen.

Whilst travelling in Jamaica on a minibus from Kingston to Mandeville a few years ago, I noticed that all along the route people in these buses would throw their rubbish (food containers/juice cartons etc) out the window. The front yards of those living along the roadside is an appalling mess, where some of this rubbish sometimes make it over the fences.
HERE, dear folks, it is not a race issue. It is nasty, irresponsible and ignorant behaviour.
It so happened that on one trip, a young man sitting opposite and facing me, slung his rubbish right out the window. I asked him if that was something he did all the time, he said yes, feeling no sense of shame. I asked him whether it was something he would do in his front yard, he answered no. By this time he had figured where it was going. I asked him to consider that the entire island was his yard, his front yard and please desist from this type of behaviour. His eyes lightened up, a faint and sheepish smile crossed his face. I could see that at least a seed was planted. Whether it would grow and bear fruits, I'll never know.

On one of my visits to Florida, I could tell by the state of some front yards that black folks lived there. I cannot fathom people who walk in and out of their houses with a lawn strewn with litter and it doesn't bother them in the least.

It is a lack of civic pride and civic pride is not 'white'!!!

Folks, people who can afford a huge bucket of KFC and drive around in a car stewing rubbish on the streets are just plain disgusting. It has nothing to do with 'other ISSUES' or whatever other social problems real or imagined which might exist or not. The solution for their 'lacking' would be to employ the Laws of Singapore in their country. That should set some straight.

I don't think the Japanese or Chinese see it as a 'race' based issue when their fellow citizens SPIT every and anywhere they please. The most disgusting habit I have ever seen. This behaviour is also one which the Singaporean Govt. and their Laws has taken steps to curb.

If we are going to be our brothers' keepers, then we shouldn't be afraid to admonish as well as educate them.

James C. Collier said...

Anon 7:27, I am glad you like the blog and I appreciate your comments as well. /JCC

ted ladue said...

I've seen this a lot here in Atlanta. From the guy at the liquor store throwing his dinner out the window onto the parking lot, to my front lawn, which is on a main walking route to the bus, being constantly strewn with trash. It baffles me.

my arm-chair psychiatrist take on it: Why care about a place that doesn't care about you? If you feel like you don't belong, or as an outcast in society because of race, why would you care about messing it up?

Golden Silence said...

I know littering is not solely done by Blacks, but it gets to me when I see Blacks littering.

I get frustrated with the kids who litter in DC. They just do it and don't care. I've approached these kids and made them pick up their litter, but they dismiss me with a "hawh?!" while pretending not to hear me. I could only reach out to one boy. I told him just because his family acted like they didn't have sense (they were hooting and hollering) didn't mean he had to behave like that. After two statements made to him, he picked up his litter.

I took matters in my own hands last summer and went around with plastic bags and a picker-upper to pick up the trash around my neighborhood. A mob of Black folk were waiting at the bus stop across the street. Instead of commending me for cleaning up the environment, they pointed at me, heckled and laughed. The group was composed of a middle-aged male security guard and a few older women who looked like they were going to church.

But for every stereotypical Black person who doesn't care about anything, there are the good people who stand out. While cleaning up the trash, a middle-aged Black male came up to me and told me how pleased he was to see people like me who care about the community. His voice may have been one good out of the many hecklers I dealt with, but his voice of kindness resonated over the idiots.