Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.
T. J. Holmes
I'm 5' 11" and 165 lbs. I don't know many people who would look at me and think I played professional football. But, would you believe, a man thought it was more plausible for me to be a professional football player than a college graduate with a successful career.
I haven't come in contact with a lot of blatant racism in my life. Yes, I've been called the N-word. To be honest, it never really upset me because as soon as that word comes out of someone's mouth, I'm pretty sure that I've won the argument. That person has just confirmed how ignorant they are.
I don't necessarily consider most people racist. I have, however, seen a lot of racial bias. What I mean by that is people don't hate me because of the color of my skin, but they simply don't see me as an equal. Some may say that by not seeing me as an equal, that's the very definition of racism. Rather, I believe people have so many misconceptions and preconceived notions about black people. They make assumptions based on the color of my skin.
One of the clearest examples of what I'm talking about is a simple incident at a car wash. I was a news anchor for three years at a station in the Bay Area in California. And when I lived there, I drove a big, white SUV. It had 22" chrome wheels, dark-tinted windows, and a few personalized touches. It was hot! I would always wash my truck myself at one of those car washes with the pressurized hoses where you spray your vehicle down yourself.
Of course, when I go wash my car, I don't necessarily look like a news anchor. I look like a guy who's washing his car. I wear sweats or shorts or jeans with holes, I wear tank tops or t-shirts, I might have on a bandanna or be wearing a baseball cap backwards.
One day a man came over to me as I was washing my truck and said, "Man, I just gotta know. What do you guys do to have nice cars like that?"
He was a nice enough guy and wasn't really nasty when he asked the question. He truly seemed puzzled about how a young, black man could be driving such a nice car. He went on to ask me if I played for the San Francisco 49ers. Again, I'm 5'11" and 165 lbs. No, I don't play for the 49ers.
The guy's first thought at seeing a young, black man in a nice car was not that I could have gotten it through education and hard work. That is what I mean by bias.
It didn't cross his mind that maybe this young, black man went to college on an academic, not athletic, scholarship.
If he couldn't imagine that then he couldn't imagine that maybe this young, black man graduated from college in four years with a degree.
If he couldn't imagine that, then he certainly couldn't imagine that maybe I used my college degree to start a successful career.
And, if he couldn't imagine that, he certainly couldn't imagine that maybe, just maybe this young, black man was making more money than him.
Just because people are stupid, doesn't make them racist. I wear glasses. Do you want to guess how many times I have been asked in the library to "help me find this book.." I wear glasses, so I must be a librarian, right? There are stupid people everywhere.
I toohad a similar situation and it had othing to do with my sensitivity. I attended a college in PA on an academic scholarship. And while i was of regular height and weight, and obviously did nothave an athletic build, when it came up in conversation that i was on scholarship, i was always asked "for football or basketball"? with out fail. Furthermore, my roommate, who was white and of a more athletic build and also a recipient of the scholarship was never asked which sport. Guess because he wore glasses! I never looked at those people as racist nor ignorant, but merely looking at the world in a way they have been conditioned to,not only by the media and goverment, but sadly, members of our own race.
I though that this was an excellent post. It's too bad that me, as a "Young White Man" in this country with the same features, I'm 6 feet tall, 156 pounds,have been successful at my career and do the same day to day things as everyone else, don't get the same questions. I myself have co-workers and friends of all different religious views, sexual orientations, and race, which are the things that I am least concerned with, the only thing that matters to me is that they are my friends and co-workers. All of them get the same respect. It is just a shame that this mentality that T.J speaks about still exists in a country like ours.
Poor guy..someone assumed he was just a professional football player out washing his fancy SUV. His commentary really choked me up..what in the world has our country come to. Sorry, that all I can type..I need to go regain my composer.
I left a comment earlier about being black on an academic scholarship and having many people assume it was an athletic one. I've seen many comments about TJ (and by extension me) being overly sensitive about it. I'd never take the comments too seriously, or get angry about them. I laughed them off. And I acknowledge that some could be truly non-biased honest mistakes. BUT, other black people almost never made the assumption. I can understand that people might see a fit person at college and assume his scholarship was athletic rather than academic. But if there were no kind of bias at play here wouldn't I have heard the comments from black people just as often?
How serious is this in itself? Not very. Like I said I usually laughed it off. But "little things" like this can add up. Why is assuming we are athletes and entertainers a problem? Because it can mean we are taken less seriously as doctors, lawyers, and CFOs. Does that truly hurt us? It's hard to quantify, but it can make us feel that we have to first get people to overcome their preconceptions before getting to work on climbing that ladder.
I dont understand these comments saying that TJ is being oversensitive... The way I see it, this is not a complaining article, he is simply pointing out a fact that there is racial bias, and he told this story as an example.
This is just like Baracks speech on absent fathers. Not once did that man single out black fathers, it was a speech on fathers who suck of every race.
I come from Europe where the problem of race discrimination is not as prominent as here in the US. I have several friends and colleagues that happen to have a different skin color, but I've never thought of them as different. What I see in them, first and foremost, is a human being, just like I am. I don't know if I necessarily agree with T.J. in regard of what happened to him at the car wash. I'm not sure it was racial bias, but of course I can't judge not having been there. Statistically, the number of African Americans that makes it all the way through college is significantly lower than the percentage of white people. Therefore it's human to think what the man at the car wash thought, that maybe T.J. was just one of the many that hadn't had a chance to have an education comparable to that of a white person. To be honest, many think the same way when it comes to people coming from Central America. How many times you hear people wondering whether they are here illegally ? Would that be racial bias ? Personally, I don't think so.
However, I feel that the divide between African Americans and whites still exists not only because of the people who stupidly refuse to see beyond a skin color, but also because part of the black community wants to distance itself from the white people, proudly pointing out that they are indeed different. This kind of mindset doesn't help. it will always be a reminder that many among us like to be different because of their skin. It also jeopardizes the effort of those on both sides that fight to bring an end to racism. Furthermore, so long as we keep recognizing and treating parts of the population as minorities, we'll also keep sending a message that we are not all equal.
As I wrote before, I like my "black" friends. They are great human beings with the same, if not with more, qualities than many white folks I know. As for T.J., I watch you religiously every day when I get up. You do a great job and make my day a better one. Keep up the good work !!
A few more thoughts.....
We'll never eliminate racial bias (or any other kind of bias) completely at the individual level. As a society we can legislate against bias of the State, including the individual who works for the State. Protest and negative press can impact businesses that exhibit bias. But the biased individuals who aren't abusing a position of power can't be fully eradicated.
Frankly, the USA espouses freedom of speech and thought. Those that wish to express their ignorance will always be able to do so. And there will always be some people with a bias.
Reduction in the number of individuals harboring bias (whether consciously or not) can only be reduced with attention and time. TJ's article will help some individuals open up and understand their biases. By "Time" in this sense we are probably talking about a generation or two.
This comment is to Jay, this is the problem in the world. The article was written to make a comment about the racism that still exist in the world. It is not about how much money he makes or his chrome wheels (boy did that go right over your head Jay). He was stating his story to make a point. It is people like you who perpetuate racism. Jay since it has to be broken down for you as simple as possible, T.J. is stating that ALL black people are not athletes, African Americans attend college to get an education just like everyone else. If a white guy was at the car wash washing a car exactly like T.J.'s car would anyone go up to him and ask the same question, probably not. The negative comments just proves what T.J. has written in this article. Instead of being critical of everything open your eyes to what is really going on in the world.
Slavery existed for 3000 years in many civilizations around the world. All races were enslaved.
A caring, enlightened population in the fledgling U.S.A. and Britian chose to discontinue the institiution less than 200 years ago. Race wasn't a consideration.
I can't name a country where descendents of slaves have achieved as much as they have in the USA.
It's easy to list the negatives that blacks experienced in the history of the USA. When we recognize and list the positives we'll see where progress has been made.
Finally, maybe the guy at the carwash was hoping to overcome his personal bias through idle conversation. Did he stumble in his attempt or did you stumble in your reply? Can society overcome the obstacle of racial bias without a risk of stumbling?
I am a young African American male and I see this kind of "racial bias" on a daily basis. I was wondering, with all the comments I have read....are we really having an honest conversation about race in America. Many who are not Black have said "you are being overly sensitive". For those who are Black, we continue to say "you don't know what it is like to be Black". I think I have a solution....we need to look at the history of America to truly understand why African-Americans feel the way we feel; why Asian-Americans feel the way they feel; Latino-Americans; Caucasian-Americans; all Americans. We seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the past which is "If you cannot understand my viewpoints, I am not going to TRY to understand yours". Let's try to listen instead of being outraged.
"There is a reason God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth....to Listen twice as much as we talk". Please use this quote when dealing with race relations to try and understand where someone from another ethnicity is coming from.
Ken I guess that makes you feel better to talk about all your successes and come down on someone else’s mistakes. If I were you I wouldn't be so high and mighty to judge others because you don't know what kind of mistakes you just might make in the future.
None of us are perfect so instead of putting down those even further than they already are how about extending a hand to lift them up.
Ken I guess that makes you feel better to talk about all your successes and come down on someone else’s mistakes. If I were you I wouldn't be so high and mighty to judge others because you don't know what kind of mistakes just might make in the future.
I like the article for its ability to spur discussion but ultimately I have to disagree with the author's conclusions.
Stereotyping is the process of using context clues to make assumptions and categorize people. This is NOT a evil or "racist" process. When I enter a room full of strangers I immediately am forced to make assumptions about those around me. The people in suits are likely business people, those in uniforms are likely low level employees, those in coveralls or Dickeys are likely the janitors. I am going to address those in business attire as "Sir or Madam" where as the guys in coveralls I'd be far less formal. When making small talk I might ask the suits about their alma mater whereas I'd talk to the janitor about sports. If you object to the category you fall into then you should change how you present yourself rather than expecting everyone else to change long-held often reinforced assumptions.
How does this apply to the car wash? If you don't want to be assumed to be a rapper or pro athlete, skip the rims and buy a sensible car. If I wanted to present the image of an educated successful professional I might ditch the "hot ride" and instead pick up a "classy automobile." If you look like a thug (clothes, car, race, and all) then don't be surprised when you are confused for being a thug. Black people, listen to Chris Rock: buy stocks not rims and quit harassing other blacks for being "too white" when all they are doing is trying to project an educated and professional image.
The flip side is that those who make initial assumptions that prove to be wrong must be willing to adjust your assumptions. My best example is when a guy meets the future in laws for the first time. You should be on your best behavior, dress well, dot your "i" and cross your "t." But eventually you will learn if you can call your future father in law "Bud" rather than Sir and if it is acceptable to tell a dirty joke. Use stereotypes to make intelligent assumptions and then adjust as you get to know the individual and how they are different than your assumptions. I'll change my assumptions about those with "hot rides" and 22's as soon as the MAJORITY of their owners have fully funded 401(k)s and 529s for their kids education first.
Just because I'm Black I don't have a chip on my shoulder. To many of us are too sensitive when it comes to interperting others comments.
What I know for sure is the violence we inflict on each other on a national level, and the lack of concern we have for our race (Black professionals, athletes and entertainers don't provide opportunities for the less fortunate). We seem to complain about everything that doesn't matter in the scheme of things. We want everyone to treat us better than we are willing to treat ourselves. I say we should stop complaining of racism, and descrimination about every little thing. What is appalling, our professionals complain more than the disadvantaged. If there was so much racism, how did they become successful? Herman
Does CNN think that with these articles they're going to change the mind of some racist white guy in Alabama and he's gonna go vote for Obama? The only way you're going to get that to happen is by changing his name on the ballot and put a G in front of his name so it reads GO BAMA!
People will always be prejudice about something, if we were all the same color than we'd dislike people with big noses or something equally silly.
I think it is extremely rude for anyone to tell Mr. Holmes that he is being "too sensative". How do you know that? Where you there? Did you get a feeling for that guy and what he said? Okay then.
Mr. Holmes is a journalist. You trust him to give you the news about the economy but you don't trust him when he's telling you about his personal experience. He's just making that up for...effect? I don't believe that's true. Mr. Holmes is an educated man with a great career. He does not need to impress anyone nor does he need to make up stories to pump himself up. In fact, I applude Mr. Holmes for having the courage to express (on such a public relm) a situation that had to be embarassing for him.
I think that those who discount someone's feelings is working only to make themselves feel better. Maybe instead of questioning why Mr. Holmes would tell such a story some of you should consider why you refuse to believe his experience.
To everyone on commenting that white people need to acknowledge that not everyone is equal, please show me where in the article that the author even indicates that he was asked this question by a white man. Never once does he say that the man at the car wash was white. What does making the assumption that he was white say about all of the individuals who posted on the forum?
I'd like to respond on several levels....
Did you gently correct this person's bad assumptions? If not why not? If you think the guy is oblivious point it out to him as nicely as possible.
His answer would probably something like: "I'm sorry, I meant no disrespect." Then he'd hang his head and walk away embarrassed. The guy would at least think about it later and possibly open his mind up.
People need to realize that our perceptions are tainted by past experiences, educations, and stereotypes. It isn't just a race thing either. You will be better and smarter at work and life in general if you realize your own perceptions can be tainted.
In life, work, etc. I've tried to look at issues from all sides. Giving the other guy and honest look at it from his point of view. TJ, while the guy who approached you didn't think about this from your point of view, I don't think you thought about his point of view either. Many posts in this thread have proposed alternate thoughts on his part. If you don't start looking at it from his possible points of view, don't expect the other guy to try and look at it from yours.
And uh, um, oh yeah. I grew up in nor cal. When the article mentioned the 49'ers I immediately thought you do look a little bit like Ronnie Lott. No disrespect intended. Frankly this should be flattering.
PS.... I'm 5' 7" (I outweigh you by 40 lbs though). 5' 11" is tall compared to me. Unless the guy has a trained eye to spot height and weight who knows what he perceives. If you were clothed as you described, I couldn't tell the difference between 5' 11' 165lbs. and 6' 2" and 220lbs.
I think for some white people, they believe that being white is the most valuable thing they could have in society...so for you as a person of color to have perceivably accomplished more than these "priveleged" people , you would need to be some sort of genetic freak or a "baller"...I have degrees from two top ten (academic) universities (one of which is a perennial basketball/lacrosse powerhouse). I am the average build, but when people found out I went to the latter institution, their first question was "Did you play any sports"....I always said, "no, I played Books"...Ironically enough, one of my old bosses went to the same institution but back in the 60's, was white,stood 5'6 and actually did play on on the basketball team...I doubt he was ever asked the same question...
TJ, I have to admit I can't envision a CNN anchor pushing an SUV with rims and tint (LOL), but I will say that I think CNN plays the color card well. They get people who are ambiguously ethnic, and they all are about the same hue. Suzanne Malveaux, Soledad O'Brien, yourself, Fredericka all look black, but look "ambiguously black" as if you all could change your names and pass for Latino or Native American Indian if need be. Heck, I will even throw Carolyn(?) Costello in the mix as she looks pretty ethnic herself – like Fredericka's fairer sister.
Anyway, TJ brush that dirt off your shoulder and roll with it...
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however no one can ignore the fact that this example of TJ’s story is true, whether you believe it or not.
Why is it that it’s always white versus black, white versus another color; one color versus another color? Does color really matter? Yes and No.
Would it help if everyone peeled of their skin? Then everyone would have the same color and no one use different skin tones as an excuse.
Racial problems have no boundaries; there is no guideline that says being racial means that it’s one colored person against another colored person.
I’m Asian, and am also racially biased against my own skin color. Just because my neighbors are Asian and have many nice cars I just automatically assume that they either deal, sell, or have a grow op. I do consider myself as ignorant. I am honest and not ashamed to admit.
Racism, racial bias, prejudices is still alive and well even in this day and age where society and cultures has evolved, perceptions have changed yet we are still stuck in this rut.
Do you know that Asian citizens are considered beneath their own ‘true’ citizens in Germany and Russia? Even if they were born and raised there: Asians, Blacks, and Middle-Easterners are still considered outsiders.
If a non-Asian looking person living or traveling in an Asian country is treated differently for better or worse, is that considered as racial bias?
It's good to know and read these stories but it also further fuels and divides people.
The fact that a complete stranger would have the nerve to ask another what they "did to get a nice car" baffles me. Why can't people just admire said material item instead of questioning the owner's buying ability? That's right up there with questioning a woman with obvious breast implants what she did for them or assuming her boyfriend/husband bought them for her. And please stop saying you're not a racist. Everyone has racial/prejudging tendencies all over the world. Some are more vocal about theirs, while others aren't in situations to realize it.
This series should've had an episode on the racial bias within the black race. I am a medium light complexioned black woman who has had more incidences with other blacks not accepting or prejudging me than the whites. I've been asked by another black coworker out of the blue (who never spoke to me for 2 years) if my hair was real (I get relaxers) or a weave! I've had many black women be shocked that I have no kids, and when I say I'm not married, they say it doesn't matter, that I shouldn't wait (I'm almost 40). Blacks and whites assume that one of my parents is white (I have Mom's coloring while Dad is dark skinned) and have accused me of lying when I describe my family as black. When blacks hear that I've dated white men, the common comment is, "Yeah, I figured you did. I'm not surprised." And I'm just as guilty of prejudging. Some I've assumed aren't trying harder to better themselves; either gave up long time ago or "the man is keeping us down" mentality. Once we talked, I realized how wrong I was! Some whites whose appearance made me think I was going to have some trouble brewing turned out to be the nicest people who had my back when others mistreated me!
BTW Tony Harris does midday news during the week on CNN. Headline News and CNN keep switching the shifts of the anchors often, so it's hard to keep up with who works when. Love them all!!
As I read the article I also remembered experiences of bias, however reading the responses from some Whites has caused me to respond. IF you look at the news most of the crimes violent crime you see are committed by Blacks however if you looked at the population the majority of Blacks are not in jail. They are not crimes. The majority of Blacks(however are do need more) try to care for there children. The majority of Blacks work every Day. this is not the image we see on television There is a need to have a real dialog about our relationships in America however it won't happen until we actullay start listening to each other.
I get where the article is coming from but it isn't just race people have issues with. For whatever reason if someone looks "different" from them they often will say or do something which might not be proper.
I happen to be a fat white guy. Yes, I say fat. It is only a word. Overweight...obese...whatever you want to call it. (Words can't hurt those who understand them!) I used to have pretty long hair. I was in Key West, FL on vacation and it happened to be while there was a motorcycle meet or whatever it is called. Well, a fat guy with long hair shows up somewhere and people automatically asked, "What kind of bike do you have?". Instead of worrying that I looked the part, I smiled and said, "I don't ride." Little did they know I was staying at a $500 a night condo on the ocean, flew in from NY first class to Miami and was driving a BMW convertible. And for those of you who say it was a one time problem. Think again. I have been put down, shut out, kicked out and cursed for being fat. On top of that, the long hair shut so many doors in my professional life that I lost count years ago.
Are there bias' in the world? Yes! But, only those who can get past them will endure. TJ is almost there. Good people are good people. Bad are bad.......ignorant are ignorant. Wake up each day knowing you are one of the good ones and your life will be much better.
On a side note...I cut my hair. When I told my mother she said, "You have a man's haircut now". Even my own mother dropped a little bomb! Now I have short hair and I bought a $50, 000 bike.....I'm still fat and I still don't ride! It's a piece of art!
Don't people realize how bad it sounds to say "You blacks...."?
Not all black people are the same nor or all white people the same (Thank God, because I wouldn't want people to judge me by some of the comments made here by some white people).
I am overwhelmed at the number of people here generalizing and telling "the blacks" they should get over it. Each race has good and bad and it's sad that we all judge minorities by the least common denominator. No culture or race is perfect...we all live our lives the best we can based on our upbringing,environment and personality.
Why not try thinking about what it would be like to be discriminated against over and over and see how "sensitive" you might be? Why not think about what it's like for those of that are white to be able to go through life with out having to question someone's motives all the time or have to worry about whether we are being over sensitive? It's all relative and if you haven't been there it's hard to judge.
This article is aimed to incriminate white peoples' biased views against blacks, but isnt that in-turn being biased against whites? I am white, i can dance well, and blackgirls come to me and say i can dance good for a whiteboy. Do i cry about it? No, i take it as a compliment and move on. This is the same approach you should've taken TJ.
I am a 4'10" woman. I am college educated, held several professional jobs, etc. The entire time I was in school, I was picked on not always nicely, because I was short and well, fairly well-endowed and oh yea, blonde. There was no end to the jokes, implications, etc. It got old really fast. It can make you defensive. It appears that everyone who has blogged on here has experienced bias/racism. Yes it exists. Unfortunately, always will. Due to losing a professional position, I am now working with several multi-aged, multi-race individuals, tattooed, pierced, different sexuality, you name it, in a call center. For some reason, we all seem to get along. Trust me, there are so many different people in this department that it would be an easy pick for racism, sexism, you name it.. No one picks on me due to my heighth. I am flattered that they accept me as their friend, although, I am of an age that I could almost be a grandparent to some of the younger ones. I don't seem to have as many people make comments about my size anymore. Thank Goodness. But I deal with what I feel are ignorant people on the phone. I am amazed that many people make racist comments about something, not having any idea what I even look like. I have to answer the telephone and introduce myself with my first and last name. Nothing unusual about my name. An older man repeated my last name, and asked what kind of a name is THAT? I simply told him that it was my name. I regularly get people complaining having to push a particular button for English. Well, I have my own feelings on that. I simply tell them to not get me started. " And..... how can I help you with your account?" I live in a racially mixed neighborhood. I am comfortable with that. Yes, there are problems, differences, but I have never desired to be in a lily white neighborhood. I am not held to a standard here. If TJ wants to drive a car that would be featured on PIMP My Ride, or some other show, fine. I used to love that show. Who cares? I drive a foreign car, and people dog me out about that. It does not matter who you are, what you do, etc. Someone will find an issue with it. So, just have enough self-esteem to not care. Excellent comments pro and con. Good food for thought. :)
Appalling, I can't believe that happened to you here. Makes you think twice when people refer to those who live in San Francisco at cosmoplitan! We miss you TJ!
The fact that you were stereotyped as a pro athlete is no different than me being white and people saying "White men can't jump" yet I was a 7' high jumper in college. Be proud of who you are and throw it right back in their face when they think you aren't something that you are proud to be.
We MUST stop talking about the "white" race and the "black" race and instead talk about the "human" race. We need to ALL be one race trying to survive in trying times and unite as the "human" race. What happened it the past happened. We can't change that. But, we can learn from it.
I challenge the likes of Rev. Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton to STOP ensuring there is racial divide and instead working to unite everyone. We've gone through a phase in this country to gain equality, give blacks the same rights as whites. We've gone through those growing pains as a country and although we all know it's not yet equally balanced, it is TIME to move forward and unite as a "human" race and gain equality for everyone. When those Duke Lacrosse players were initially charged with raping that girl, Jackson and Sharpton couldn't get on an airplane fast enough to get there and ridicule those kids. Yet, when they were found to be innocent and this girl lied, WHERE were Jackson and Sharpton offering their apologies? They were NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. Why? Because they want to ensure the racial divide is alive and well.
I can't stand racism. It's not right, it's not fair, and it goes against who I am as a human being and my sole as a person. Yet I'm not the one who has to face "tougher" situations in life because of the color of my skin as I know blacks do. We need to figure out how to unite and push aside these "stereotypes" and let each of see each other for who we are. Life certainly would be boring if we all looked and acted the same. Could you imagine that? I love the fact we are all different, that we all act and look different. It's what makes it so great. We need to stop dividing and start uniting and I'd love to be part of that process.
Sincerely, a 48-year old white guy.
T.J. Thanks for the story. I am a 50+ black woman with two beautiful daughters and I am so proud of you. I hope we will look at the story not for the bias that America still throws at us, but for what we can help our black men to become. I am so concerned for our people and I hope everyone who work with young people will use this discussion as an opportunity to influence them for good. You are one of my favorite people on CNN. Thanks for walking talk for the blacks in America.
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