Author discusses ‘the Little Things’ about race

Bryan Wroten

While at a party in Manhattan in the fall of 2002, a woman asked Lena Williams what black people thought of the snipers in the Washington D.C. area.

“Well girlfriend, I just talked to all 30 million black people in America and we think they’ve been set up,” Williams said she told her friend.

Williams, author and New York Times sports reporter, spoke last night in the Kiva about how hostility between races can arise because of simple words and gestures.

Williams, who wrote It’s the Little Things: Everyday Interactions that Anger, Annoy and Divide the Races, told her audience that everyone is guilty of making assumptions based on a person’s skin color and the stereotypes associated with them. She said everyone has been put into the category of “those people.”

“If you live long enough, eventually one of the -isms will get you,” she said, referring to racism, homophobia and xenophobia, among others.

She said she is guilty of it herself. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she said she found herself doing to Arabs what whites had done to blacks.

To fight this, Williams said people need to put themselves in other people’s skin. She said she knows it’s easy to jump to conclusions as to why another person says or does something.

As an example, she brought up the subject of the “invisible black person.” She said this happens when a white person cuts in line or bumps into a black person and apologizes by saying “I didn’t see you there.” Living in New York City, she said she’s seen so many potential fights diffused through carefully chosen words. She called this an “acquired art.”

She told the story of how a white man treated a black man as invisible and then quickly apologized. She said he told the black man, “Charge it to my mind and not to my heart.”

“What can the person who has accused you say then?” she asked.

She said people can avoid such situations by being more conscious of what they say and do and realize how their words and actions could affect others. In contrast, people should also keep in mind that not everything is racially motivated. Sometimes, people just have brain farts, she said.

Following her speech, Williams called up four audience members and had them read and act out situations written on notecards she jokingly called “race cards.”

The subjects ranged from white people “acting black” to black people “acting white” to white people telling their black friends that when they look at them, they don’t see a color.

“You can’t look at someone without seeing a color,” she said. “You don’t have to take away a person’s vital characteristics or traits. Look beyond it.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].