A White Male's Take On MLK Day - And Response

Monday, January 21, 2008

As we observe another Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I would like to offer my perspective as a white male. I grew up in the Chattanooga and North Georgia area. I’ve read various stories and editorial letters concerning all types of racial issues over the past year. What I have noticed more often than not is quite a bit of denial from white people and what seems to be a disproportionate number of complaints from black people.

There are always two sides to every story. From my perspective it seems that white people never want to acknowledge the possibility that certain issues could be racially driven. It also seems that black people are ready to assume that certain issues are racially driven. While this may leave me open to criticism from my melanin-challenged brethren, I’m inclined to believe that black people have a right to feel the way they do about certain situations.

You see it all the time in the media. As a white person, I always see more black criminals on TV than white ones even though they are greatly outnumbered in our population. A black commentator once mentioned that black folks commit “silly” crimes whereas white people commit more difficult to solve crimes. This never made sense to me because crime is crime. There’s no need to add a racial bent to it, but it happens from all sides. Even in the Chattanoogan, editors feel the need to point out the skin color of the person committing the crime.

I once watched the news with a friend of mine. They were speaking about a theft of copper wiring from a business. My friend said, “I hope they’re not black.” Even though I was taken aback by the comment, I somehow understood what he meant. There are so many good black people in this town and this world, but the constant negative light from the media makes every black person look like a criminal. Is that right? Not in my world although it seems to be accepted by everyone these days.

In our local schools, all we hear about are racial disparities between schools like Howard and Ooltewah. We read about how students at Howard can’t get to school on time, but we rarely hear about the racial animosity that white students inflict on kids at Ooltewah and other majority white schools. We never hear about the kids who are taking care of business. I was shocked to see a positive story about the black kid who was rewarded by Judge Moon for being honest. I was shocked because white people like me have been conditioned to think that all black youths are thieves. It saddens me because I know there are so many other black children like the one praised by Judge Moon in our schools and in our communities.

As white people, we are admittedly quick to say that certain issues are not related to race. This is true in many cases. However, I think there is an undercurrent of guilt among us and we don’t want to publicly admit that we have certain prejudices against others. I have them and so do most other white people even though you’ll never get them to admit it. We have been conditioned to think a certain way about all segments of society. Sure we can all say that we have a black friend or whatever, but that doesn’t mean we understand how black people feel. We summarily dismiss race-related complaints because we are afraid to look at ourselves. We find it hard to believe that a black person didn’t get a job because of prejudice against them. We are quick to say that a man should be measured by his own merits, yet we choose the “safe” hire. More than anything else, I can say that I was afraid of the unknown and many white people are in the same boat as me.

I don’t hate black people at all, but because I didn’t grow up or socialize with them, there were things that I automatically assumed. I guess you could put me in the category of being ignorant. Although they can be sensational at times, I would dismiss the complaints brought for by the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world. I lived an existence where I thought black people had the same opportunities as I did to be successful. And while I still believe those opportunities exist for all; I realize that black people have to do a little extra sometimes. White people who read this may think I’m crazy, but I can see why black people have the protections that have in place.

I’m not a fan of quotas, but I understand their purpose. I don’t agree with it, but I see why affirmative action exists. Here’s a true story. I had a friend in human resources once tell me that she would rather hire someone named Susan than hire someone named Tasha. She mentioned that she feared a person with a black-sounding name would not fit in her company’s culture. After interviewing both candidates over the phone, my friend decided to make an offer over the phone to Susan. So imagine her surprise when Susan came in on the first day and she happened to be a black woman. My friend was shocked and remarked how articulate and non-ethnic Susan had sounded over the phone. It saddened me that her prejudice for black people was such, that she would actually try to deny a qualified person a job. Even more shocking was the fact that she later discovered the candidate named Tasha was white. It wasn’t until I heard this story did I realize how far we have to go both locally and in this country.

All of this has made me rethink a lot of things on this MLK day. Most people are glad just to have the day off, but I think we should all take the time to figure out just where we stand in today’s racial climate. I will be the first to admit that I’m not perfect, but I no longer feel comfortable dismissing the claims of racial intolerance. When someone says it’s not about color, I think twice. I don’t think me or any other white person can fully understand the situations that black people go through. But I also think we should at least try to foster more dialogue and support to help make things better. From my standpoint, I think a lot of white people want to understand and help black people, but we don’t feel comfortable doing so. I don’t know what the answer is. We are only a generation removed from Jim Crow, so we can’t expect things to get better overnight. But I truly believe that we can make progress over time. It’s my hope that my grandchildren will be able to live the dream that Rev. King envisioned so many years ago.

Mike Farrior Sr.
Fort Oglethorpe
mike_farrior@yahoo.com

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Mr. Farrior, thank you. Your observation and honesty should be applauded.

I'm out of town at the moment and was just checking in on local happenings when I came across your letter to the Chattanoogan. Your words are so insightful, honest, non-biased, true and straight from the heart.

Thank You!

Brenda Manghane~Washington

* * *


Thank You Mr. Farrior for you kind words and honesty. I can truthfully say that I totally agree with you.

As a young black man in this country I often find myself playing the victim of racial prejudice. More and more I attempt to go into every situation thinking logically, looking for the best and also preparing for the worst. I strive everyday to treat people as fair as I can simply because it’s the right thing to do. I do not like being discriminated against and I sure nobody else does either.

Thank you again. There is hope for the future.

J. A. Finch
Chattanooga
Jaye_05@yahoo.com

* * *

As to the black and white crimes, I would like to point out that my wife and I were driving through Highland Park a few years ago when we saw a man walking around completely naked.

When we called the police they actually asked if he was white or black. Just look for the naked man. There can't be too many of them.

Ben Briere
Carrollton, Tx.


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