Monday, April 12, 2010

Everyday Racism by Annie S. Barnes

Any book dealing with racial issues is not easy to read. Sadly, issues of racism aren't something we can leave to the history books. It's very real and very current. Life would be better if that weren't the case, but since it is, we need to study racism in all its forms and learn how to combat it.

That's where a book like that by Ms. Barnes comes in. Rather than looking at racism as an issue of the past, she takes it into the daily life of Americans. Using a variety of real-life examples to bolster her arguments, Barnes shows how African Americans are still running into discrimination.

The stories are, quite honestly, brutal to read. It pains me to know that as a country, we often aren't any better than we were fifty years ago. There may not be segregated buses or schools, but the idea that I can get a separate check without thinking and a black person might not is horrible. Similarly, I don't have to worry about being followed at a store or held back from getting a job or being promoted.

We all know this happens, but I think everyone tends to treat it as a rare occurrence. When Denny's gets nailed for discrimination, it allows people to pretend that the issue is over. Unfortunately, that's not the case, not even close.

I know that I was offended when I was asked to join an all-white (I know because they didn't ask my black cross-street neighbors) neighborhood watch because the street was getting "crime ridden," which was blatant code. A security company tried the same thing with me. I hate the fact that this still happens, and I hate the fact that because I'm white, I'm supposed to go along with it. Further, I hate myself for not being firmer in my rejections.

That's exactly why we need a book like Everyday Racism. Barnes lays it out in page after page of very difficult reading. She uses examples from all classes and situations, so this is not a case of people discriminating because a person looks poor. Racism happens to affluent African Americans as well.

Barnes wrote the book knowing it would touch a nerve. That's the point. She doesn't even need to add much in the way of commentary--the stories do that for her. It's a chronicle more than an analysis. A fervent Christian, Barnes notes in her introduction that an awful lot of Christians don't practice very Christian actions towards minorities.

Each chapter also has a set of suggestions for both white and black people to deal with the racial issues presented. They're mostly about attitude and perceptions. None of them are earth-shattering, and most of them seem like no-brainers. Yet I bet you'd be surprised if you look around and realize just how often these little things don't happen.

If you don't want to have your perceptions challenged, then don't read Everyday Racism. I know that I came away from the book looking more closely at how I interact with people, both white and black. This book is designed as a place to start the conversation of racial relations. Anyone interested in doing so should definitely pick it up. Unfortunately, those who most need to read something like this probably won't.

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