[Greggs] No, Are You OK? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Greggs] No, Are You OK?

As some of you know, I've been a social worker in this great state for about eight years now. Just don't tell that to the men I date. They'd have a hard time figuring out how I've been working a real job with a master's since I was 15. (Hey, every woman has her secrets.)

Over the course of this career full of frustration and … frustration, I often spend large amounts of time with other people's children—broken children, burned children, sad children, ill children—but all beautiful children. Kids that make me smile with joy on bad hair days because their mother just got out of jail. Kids that make me cry when I realize that there is nothing in my life as significant as the fact that they choose to breathe every day.

During this career, I drive my multi-colored children to different places. One of the best moments of my life was a 15-year-old African American teenager hanging off my 23-year-old white arm and screaming "Mama" at me in the middle of Wal-Mart. I was bemused with the looks from the other shoppers. It just doesn't get much better than that. Because, hell, I've earned it. Not just for vaginal birth rights, but because the child believes that I treat her the way a "mother" would treat her.

I'll never get over this honor. It is one that means trust and love.

One thing this career has taught this little Delta girl is that what other people think about me is never as important as what I teach "my children." And that is always, and will always be, love. I say "my children" when I should probably say "our children." They are all our children. They are beautiful, smart and often confused children. But they are still Mississippi's legacy. Often forgotten, they refuse to let me forget them. They call me every week. They ask about their mamas and court dates. They wonder about the elusive "home," something the rest of us take for granted. But they still smile. Then they ask for McDonald's because they know I'm a pushover.

Last week I was required to transport two large African American teenage boys from one place in this state to another. I picked them up very early in the morning so we could bypass rush-hour traffic. Once we were loaded up, I turned the car due south after stopping at McDonald's and throwing four sausage biscuits at the boys. Nothing tames the horrible male teenage beast like sausage biscuits. It's my secret weapon.

After being fortified with saturated fats and Sprite, we headed down the highway. One boy was napping in the front seat while his brother sat in back. I was grateful for the quiet drive. As much as I love a defiant teen, I try not to listen to booty music at 7 a.m. If I do, I automatically start wishing for some gin and a pair of four-inch heels.

About halfway through the trip, I noticed a Chevy SUV following me closely. When it finally pulled alongside my little Jetta, I observed two older white men in the Chevy staring at my car

I automatically believed I had a flat tire. I guess I should have assumed that they were checking me out because I'm beautiful and blonde, but the tires come first. It wasn't until about three minutes later that I finally realized what concerned the guys. The Chevy pulled up beside the car on my side and one of the men mimed, "Are you OK?"

I was at a loss for words. "Am I OK?"

Well, no. I'm totally freaking out about this new job I have. One of my cats is sick and needs to go to the vet. The other one desperately needs his balls removed so he'll leave the couch pillows alone. I haven't been able to get my roots done in three months because I work 80 hours a week, and I probably need new back tires on the Jetta. I would also like some new boobs. How do you mime "tires" and "new boobs" to men in a totally different automobile while going 70 down the interstate?

Then, it hit me. They thought I was being kidnapped. I was a white woman in a car with two African American teens. They thought something was "wrong." They wanted to know if I was "OK." Like, I wasn't being raped. That kind of OK.

To those men I would ask, based upon your presumption of what was going on in my car, "Are you OK?" Are your ideas about the world "OK"? Is how you are judging me and the children in my car OK? These boys have been through hell and are living their lives the best they possibly can. Hopefully the worst thing that happened to them that day was a social worker waking them up at 6 a.m. to transport them to a doctor's appointment instead of a mother beating them or neglecting them. Other than those top two, there are probably a myriad of reasons they are not doing OK. And those reasons include your presumption of their commission of a felony.

Other than that, we are all doing pretty great. We're enjoying our sausage biscuits, and we're all really worried and wanted to know ... Are you OK?

Because we certainly thought you guys were not-OK dillholes for the remainder of the trip.

Ali Greggs is a columnist for the JFP. We welcome her back after a short hiatus to adjust to her latest 80-hour-a-week gig.

Previous Comments

ID
74219
Comment

Welcome back, Ali! And my gosh, what an article to come back with... Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-20T16:22:26-06:00
ID
74220
Comment

Agreed Tom. I almost missed her, too.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-20T16:31:43-06:00
ID
74221
Comment

Similarly Ali since I'm often up and down the highways, byways and in hotels with white female co-workers and interns from various law shools I wonder why no one has stopped and asked me whether those white women had kidnapped me and were trying to rob or sexually molest me. They either don't think I'm good enough to be kidnapped, molested, or would refuse or disaprove of the same. I ain't sho what it is! On one hand, I'd like to applaud the fellows for caring, and on another hand, I'd like to give them a good talking to. It was caring or concern, wasn't it? I accidentally addressed how the media has portrayed us in such bad fashion that many whites figure we have to be trying to harm a white person to be in their company, not to mention the white woman. And many don't figure it's merely few bad apples in the race, many figure we're all criminals or inferior in some way. Good luck in the new job. If you need us over here to go rough them up a little bit just say the word.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-20T16:54:33-06:00
ID
74222
Comment

Welcome back, Ali! I was wondering what had happened to you since you haven't written in a while. I hope all is going well for you in your new endeavor.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2006-12-20T17:35:01-06:00
ID
74223
Comment

Great article, Ali!

Author
Kacy
Date
2006-12-20T17:39:39-06:00
ID
74224
Comment

Oh honey. You poor, poor helpless and spotlessly virginal white woman. I can't believe that you managed a drive with the sexually uncontrollable black male. Of course the dillholes were concerned. They were afraid you'd see a big penis and be ruined forever. Just read an article on this. Will refind and post. Welcome back! I've missed the shit out of you. You do boobs; I'm doing eyelids. We'll recover together with tasty narcotics and get to work on that book. You have "sick" time right? I mean, big new boobs *is* sick, said by the chick who loves her new rack.

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-20T17:57:57-06:00
ID
74225
Comment

http://www.blackagenda.com/conferences/2002nbfc/wilderhamilton.htm Great stuff right there. Discusses the historical structure of that dynamic as black men were caracatured as sex-hungry soul-less predators to justify slavery and other things. Seems it's embedded in our culture. THAT'S NOT OKAY FOLKS!

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-20T18:00:03-06:00
ID
74226
Comment

...First hand look at what we're STILL dealing with. You can't even begin to understand what some black males go through unless you experinc something like she did... SAD TESTAMENT to where we're NOT in society!

Author
Kamikaze
Date
2006-12-20T19:04:44-06:00
ID
74227
Comment

I agree Kaze. My friend Quasi and I would sometimes hold hands in the mall just to be defiant. Now mind you, he was my dear, dear fried, but it was just too delicious to make the evil eyers crazy! I got pulled over in Rankin County once for an expired tag, didn't have proof of insurance or the DL I'd left in another purse at home. Batted my eyes, played the "poor me" and got sent home with a laugh and a warning. I know if I'd been a black man I'd have been booked that night and my name in all the papers on the docket the next day. I'm "getting it" more and more everyday. And having a son has opened my eyes to a LOT. The social pressure to be society's "man" and then his little conflicted heart. He has face to save, but a self who wants to be respectful of women and be non-violent. And HIS image has not been the source of propaganda that demasculates him that he might ingrain and feel is true and he needs to overcome.

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-20T19:12:54-06:00
ID
74228
Comment

Emily don't mess around and get yourself thrown out of the white race with that 4:57 comment. Don't worry though. There is enough of us progressive people of all races and sexes to lessen the fall. Better yet you just might open some eyes, lessen some crazy fears, and still be accepted by all.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-21T14:17:52-06:00
ID
74229
Comment

Ray, I'm quite aware of my class's expectations of me as a woman, and I adore mocking it. I think they've gotten used to it. Well, mostly. I think my people need more real time with other races, and not just with that token black friend. Teaching was a real eye-opener for me. Even if I only did the two year requirement. I do appreciate Banner being honest about that in an interview. I was NOT just holding out for my two years, but at the two year mark, I was wiped out. I think he underestimates how fresh teacher do try and are passionate about it, and he dismissed the burnout involved. But he was right on with that two years.

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-21T14:42:58-06:00
ID
74230
Comment

Ali: Good to have you back. In one way, you could say those guys were just being proactive, and checking out what looks like an unusual situation. They might have done the same if you were in a car with 2 huge white guys who look like they left their Harleys at the last truck stop. But then you have to ask, why is it so unusual? And that's the problem. Guys liekeTed Bundy got away with murder for precisely the opposite reason ... he played right INTO people's comfort zone. There has only been one time in my life when I was treated this suspiciously. I lived in Gainesville during the student murders in 1990. In those few days, the entire city was ULTRA paranoid, and EVERY man was eyed suspiciously. I remember college girls stopping and waiting for me to walk by, for fear of me sneaking up behind them. I felt like a jerk, even though I had done nothing wrong. I didn't blame them for their suspicion, but it made me feel rotten. So, given that experience, I know that it must be a miserable thing for a black man to feel that way all the time. And I'm sure many of you black guys do get that alot. I jut hope it begins to change, as sights like Ali driving down the road with 2 black kids become less and less rare.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-12-21T15:34:15-06:00
ID
74231
Comment

I have to admit that when I read this article, I had to ask myself if any suspicious thoughts would have crossed my mind if I saw Ali riding with two huge black men and they did not appear to be on obviously friendly terms. I'm sure those suspicious thoughts would have crossed my mind. Maybe they would have even crossed Ali's mind, if she saw a friend in that particular situation. But that doesn't make it right. This is where (not to make every thread about every other thread) the personal prejudice:institutional racism distinction becomes important. The personal prejudice theory of racism tells us that anybody who thinks what those white guys thought is a bad person, and anyone who doesn't is a good person. That's not it at all, and I don't think that's what Ali meant at all. The problem is more that we live in a culture where whites DO think the way those white men thought. A good friend of mine--who happens to be a young woman of color--drove me home recently. As I was about to head out of the car, we exchanged the usual friendly physical affection. As I got out of the car, I noticed an elderly white neighbor standing in his front porch watching us while raking his front porch. Saw him the next day at the grocery store; usually he's happy to see me, but he didn't want to talk to me that day. Was he just in a hurry, or had I invaded his own comfort zone? I don't know. But if I did, the issue is not "I've got an evil neighbor." The issue is "We live in an evil society, and otherwise good people are getting swept up in this sort of thing." I think that's Ali's point. "Are you OK?" is one of the most humane, decent sentiments someone can express. If they were sincerely concerned about Ali's well-being, then to that extent, and only to that extent, what they were doing was noble. But they were also _participating in_ racism, which is evil to the core. Do you see the difference? The problem is not "Oh, these bad people, if only we could get rid of them Mississippi would be so much better." The problem is "Oh, these otherwise good people who are getting swept up in this very evil thing that is fundamental to what Mississippi is." It's comparable in many ways to the War on Terror. It's not enough to bomb the terrorists; there will only be more terrorists to replace them. We need to deal with the fundamental problems that create terrorists. And we need to deal with the fundamental problem of institutional racism. We can't do that by just making this about good people vs. bad people. We have to look at this disease that ALL white people suffer from and figure out how to treat the symptoms when they manifest themselves. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-21T16:12:22-06:00
ID
74232
Comment

institutional racism by white people is responsible for terrorism? uh huh.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-12-21T16:14:00-06:00
ID
74233
Comment

Kingfish, it's called a simile. Look it up. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-21T16:17:38-06:00
ID
74234
Comment

Just for you kingfish. And it's funny. YOU KNOW IT. http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/censored.shtml

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-12-21T16:34:37-06:00
ID
74235
Comment

What do you think, Kingfish?

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-21T16:49:40-06:00
ID
74236
Comment

pretty damn funny.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-12-21T16:57:44-06:00
ID
74237
Comment

It's comparable in many ways to the War on Terror. It's not enough to bomb the terrorists; there will only be more terrorists to replace them. We need to deal with the fundamental problems that create terrorists. And we need to deal with the fundamental problem of institutional racism. We can't do that by just making this about good people vs. bad people. We have to look at this disease that ALL white people suffer from and figure out how to treat the symptoms when they manifest themselves. Right. Back during Jim Crow, not every white person agreed with white supremacy. Many knew in their hearts what was right, but yet they didn't stand up and do anything about the problem. They were still guilty of racISM because they allowed and benefitted from a racIST system, even if they were nice to black people individually and taught their children to be. That doesn't mean it was simple—the White Citizens Council would target white people, too, but that still doesn't negate that they, at least by default, supported a racIST system. The same is true today for people who refuse to examine inequities in education and wealth-building opportunities, or who do not care tht the criminal justice system disparately punishes black people harsher for lesser crimes than it does white people. They may not *intend* to be racIST, but by not doing anything to change the system that benefits them, they are participating in racISM. Now, you say that to folks and they get all defensive, when the truth is, all you have to do to stop being racIST is stop being racIST. That is, open your mind, get educated and do what you can to support changing racIST systems. When we change the criminal justice system, for instance, and educate people that all the "thug" talk feeds a racIST, then attitudes like those of the men who pulled up beside Ali will be changed. These guys may well think that they are perfectly open-minded and non-racist—who knows?—but this is a perfect example of why there is so much systemic work to do. And the media—good God, talk about the most racist institution we have going right now. Sadly, much of that racISM is perpetuated by black people who go along with the sensationalism about crime and endorse mayors like Melton who got where he is by playing off white people's bigotry.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-12-21T17:00:14-06:00
ID
74238
Comment

Amen, Donna. I could whup John McWhorter azz everything I hear him open his mouth. Clearly, he's smart and learned, but I would trust my future with a known racist before I would follow him around the corner. I don't understnd that brother. He can't possibly love us, or want real equality. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for getting on black folks azzes about doing what we have to do and not making unnecessary excuses. He can often be heard on News and Notes.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-21T17:13:19-06:00
ID
74239
Comment

Correction. No I wouldn't trust my future to a racist. But I still don't like brothers who aren't apparently trying to help us.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-21T17:25:04-06:00
ID
74240
Comment

Ray, the part that is frustrating is when people think that preaching responsibility also means that you can't talk about causes and roots and all that jazz. How on earth could you teach someone to be more *responsible* without taking what got them to that place into consideration?!? It's like saying that we can stop racism by talking to individuals without actively fixing systemic racism that causes individuals to think like that (like we have going on the other thread now). That. makes. no. sense. And, most sadly, both of those arguments serve racism by shifting responsibility away from the very people who have imposed those problems on our society in the first place. The people who benefit the most from racism CANNOT be left off the hook if we can want to slay this monster. Responsibility, yes. Understanding causes, yes. Everyone coming together to change the effects of those causes, priceless. (And all that leading to better responsibility, duh.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-12-21T17:34:41-06:00
ID
74241
Comment

If I were a cartoonist, I'd draw this: (WHITE MAN walks into antique shop owned by BLACK WOMAN. Through a series of clumsy accidents, WHITE MAN manages to break nearly every breakable item in the store.) BLACK WOMAN: "You're going to have to pay for that, you know." WHITE MAN: "Why? You're the one with a store full of broken knick-knacks. Don't you have any sense of personal responsibility?" Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-21T18:31:44-06:00
ID
74242
Comment

Tom said: "The personal prejudice theory of racism tells us that anybody who thinks what those white guys thought is a bad person, and anyone who doesn't is a good person." I disagree. Our personal prejudices dictate that many people will think this, and that neither makes them bad or good. It just means that they are being informed by a racist enviroment. Surprised to hear me say that? I hope not. I never denied the racism existed. I just think that the most direct path to fixing it is to acknowledge that we do indeed have those feelings, and then start to ask why, and work forward from there. It hekps nothing to beat ourselves up for feeling that way, or to try by force of wil just to not have those reactions. The reactions will fade of themselves over time, as we make choices and take steps in our own lives to unlearn the racist indoctrination.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-12-21T21:35:58-06:00
ID
74243
Comment

And, I would add, the more people do this, the easier it will be to make the institutional changes that reinforce the indoctrination. Anyway, dead horse, severely beaten. I will try to refrain from commenting on this issue any more in either of these threads, as long as no one asks me a direct question. I think I'm monopolizing too much of these threads.

Author
GLB
Date
2006-12-21T22:41:21-06:00
ID
74244
Comment

I don't think you're monopolizing--I don't even disagree with the last three paragraphs of the post before this one, though I'm not entirely sure how you square it away with your previous posts on this subject. I'm a work in progress myself, GLB, so I'm not going to criticize another work in progress for being a work in progress. But if I can offer one word of advice, it's to pay more attention to the posts you're responding to on this topic, and to continue to participate, but not defensively. I am beginning to believe that the reason whites tend to freak out when racism comes up is because "racist" is a slam. I mean, there are racists and there are non-racists, as far as the vernacular is concerned, and racists are bad people, and non-racists are good people, so if your own racism gets pointed out, it means you must be a racist, i.e. one of the bad people. And nobody wants to be one of the bad people. But the truth of the matter is that every white person is fed and suckled on institutional racism, and we have to be aggressive in the way we deal with it. We can't afford to worry about "imposing" antiracism on whites when there are gross racial disparities in our economy, in our criminal justice system, in our democratic process, in our personal priorities. The era of antiracism as an "opportunity for personal growth" is over. Nobody congratulates me because I don't steal or defraud or murder, so there is no reason why I should be congratulated when I try to confront my own participation in the institutional racism apparatus. This is not about being good, or being better. This is about being part of an evil process, and learning how to reduce our participation in that process--with the understanding that we will never completely be free of it. If there is one way that you have monopolized the conversations, it's by making them conversations among white people about how white people should respond to racism, and the allowances that should be made for them, and how we can keep from imposing ourselves on them. But here again, we've spent 397 years looking out for the interests of whites as a group. The time for that is over. This is not going to be a conversation among whites. This is going to be a very hard conversation between and among people of multiple races who know who they are and are willing to look hard at their own flaws. So stop getting caught up in the meta- stuff--if you agree with us, fine, move on, no need for a disclaimer. If you don't agree with us, explicate exactly how. But if you back up and try to be a moderating influence (a very bad idea) and make these conversations about the language of whiteness, then you will have the net effect of segregating these conversations. I've seen it happen many times. One day maybe I'll even learn how to stop doing it myself. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-21T22:56:38-06:00
ID
74245
Comment

Glad to see you back, Ali. I appreciate the way you stood up for those young men. Obviously those guys in the other vehicle didn't know who they were foolin' with!

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-12-22T00:16:40-06:00

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