Monday, October 8, 2012

Am I An Angry Black Man?

Angry Black Man - Riot Fest 2007
Last week I was discussing Affirmative Action with a friend and trying to help some people understand that racism happens to us in sometimes obvious ways but more often than not in subtle ways. It's often a subjective experience open to interpretation.  The concept of white privilege is lost on many. It's not just an economic advantage.  It's the ability to operate on a daily basis without concern for being treated differently in a myriad of ways due to the color of your skin.

On Thursday, I was in a class being trained as a poll worker.  There were approximately 50-60 people in the class. Normally I wouldn't notice how many were African-American.  But, due to events during the class, I made a mental note afterwards.  Two male and two females.  Just about the right percentage for Butler County Ohio where I live.  I took my seat in the class and after a few minutes one of the instructors brought over an African-American woman and said she was going to be my partner for the day.  We had to share equipment for training purposes.  So, no big deal.  I didn't think anything about it.

I am an experienced poll worker and I'm a bit of a computer geek- having sold hardware and software for 25 years and running my own internet business.  I helped several of the people in the class during some of the exercises and answered questions when they were asked by the instructors.  I pointed out that there was an error in their manual that could lead to confusion on election day if not corrected. I was told by one of the trainers that I should apply to be a technical rover on election day. 

Late in the day, they needed people to do a skit.  Frankly, I wasn't paying a lot of attention at that point, I was on my phone checking Facebook.  One of the trainers approached me and asked me to play a role in the skit.  There were four roles to be played, an "angel" voter (one in the right place with the right ID), a confused voter (one who needed to go to another precinct), a confused voter and an "angry" voter.  I was cast in the role of angry voter.  I was the voter whose precinct had been moved to another location.  I had gone to my old precinct and been re-directed to this one.

My partner (the African-American woman) looked at me and said "Why'd they pick you?  Is is because you're the black guy?" This is the problem.  Who knows?  They might have chosen me by chance. There were about 55 people in the class.  Maybe it was random. There was a little less than 2% chance I'd be chosen as the "angry" voter.  They might have picked me because I participated a lot in the class and they thought I'd be comfortable speaking in front of people. But, no one else in the skit had spoken up during class. 

I played my role I guess pretty well. Most of my blog readers and Facebook friends don't know this. But, I'm a pretty soft spoken guy.  I was worried about how well I'd be able to pull off an "angry voter" role because I'm also a terrible actor. When my turn came, the person playing the poll worker (one of the trainers) asked "How are you?  I see you have a receipt in your hand and were sent from another location"  I replied "Well, I'm not very happy.  I stood in line for 20 minutes at another location.  I voted there for 20 years.  Why do they have to change things?"  The worker replied "Well, I'm sorry about that, could you please give me your ID and we'll get you taken care of.". I said "I already showed my ID at the other place." She replied "Well, you'll need to show it again and we can get your taken care of."  At that point, the skit was ended, the instructors gave some comments on how it was handled and I returned to my seat.

After class, I was walking out and a woman approached me. She said "Good job in there."  My chest puffed up a bit.  Yeah,  I had found that problem in the manual.  I had gotten my exercises done before most of the other people.  People had said to me "I hope you're in my precinct on election day.".  The elderly couple next to me had relied on me to help them get their equipment set up.  I was happy someone had noticed. Then, she continued "Yeah, you really did a good job playing that angry voter.  I was really scared." 

So, there you have it.  Just a regular experience in my life.  Did I experience some sort of subtle racism or was it all in my head?  Was I cast in the role because of the color of my skin? Was it because I was vocal in class?  Was it just random chance? Did that woman think I was particularly scary just because I'm black?  I didn't raise my voice, I didn't cuss and I was playing a role- why was she scared?  The thing is that, as a black man, these are the things I end up thinking about at the end of a day like that.
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9 comments:

okiedragon said...

testing - have had hard time blogging into your site as of late

okiedragon said...

Yes - smiles. I am caucasion - I prefer pink with a farmers tan when I fill in info at the doctors. I lived in Great Britain - yrs ago - as a child and the English boys chased me and my brother, because we were American. My blue eyes and reddish brown hair made no difference to them - bigotry was alive and well. I learned to find bigotry a disgusting habit when based on looks alone. Doesn't mean I still don't find certain people less than appealing to be around and it has to do with what they think and how they push buttons or treat me. I hope one day that color won't make such a bad reaction to others. It is fear - so much fear instilled - like the boys in England - their parents probably had good cause to dislike some Americans but it translated to all. There is too much American aparteid - in my own town the black families live on a hill and the white families have an ugly name for it. Nods, yes even today. We eat breakfast out too - and when one of the older retired guys heard me brag on how many homes Habitat for Humanity built in Tulsa - 275 - he just chimed in with vile words thinking that these homes are not earned and paid for by the inhabitants - ignorance - fear - stupid humans who have no clue what they are saying. I hated the bigotry that was shown me - as a child. I hate the bigotry that still exists. And I love your blog. I've had a hard time trying to type and then seeing my note disappear - lol - I got it now - hugs.

brian said...

Hey, great to hear from you. Yeah, prejudice, whether based on skin color, nationality, hair color or anything else sucks.

The good thing about your experience as a child is it helps you understand how others feel when they're discriminated against no matter what the basis.

Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for sharing that experience Brian. It helps me to understand what you deal with a bit better. I hope one day our grandchildren will not have to deal with these kinds of issues.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

So, so angry, yes. ;-)

Brian, you and I think similarly in these situations. Having black friends who have experienced blatant public racism, I tend to wonder how much race comes into play in people's decisions. It's interesting that the woman who approached you said that she was scared during the role play. I've done some role play for training at work and it can get pretty intense.

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Steve Finnell said...

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Don said...

Let me give you my experience as an educator. If there are students in my class who are willingly to speak out, ask questions, participate, etc; I will usually ask them to participate in other things that the class might be scheduled to be engaged in. In other words, I take mental note of participating students and give them further opportunity to take part. There really are so few of this type student now. So I would like to think that is why you were chosen. Just my two cents.

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