That Conversation About Race I’m Supposed To Have

Hello Mr. Black. I am white. I did not grow up rich. I was raised for most of my youth by my single mom. (You too?) We lived in northern Ohio and I graduated High School in the 60’s. I remember our principal saying at an assembly one day how proud he was of the way blacks and whites all got along there, and I wondered, why would it be any other way? Yes, I understood that there were issues in the deep south, but this was a little town on the shores of Lake Erie. I lived across the street from a black barber and his wife—nice folks and he cut my hair once or twice. So I never harbored any racial prejudice against blacks or anyone else. I thought it was great that there were all these different races in the world—makes it a more interesting place. I was not an activist, but I supported the civil rights movement, and thought that the Alabama governor blocking desegregation was nuts.

Back in those days, in the parts of the country practicing Jim Crow, you had reason to raise your voice in protest, Mr. Black. And I congratulate you on your success. Dr. King’s vision of a color-blind society was music to my ears because that was how I lived, how I grew up.

Then what happened? Far from being a color blind society, we are obsessed as a nation with race today, and it’s not healthy. Some of the blame has to lie with affirmative action policies which, oddly, attempted to fight the effects of racial discrimination by requiring us to discriminate based on race. How was that possibly going to end well—or end at all? Affirmative action naturally encourages racial separateness so that, rather than being color blind, we now uses population demographics as a tool to see who gets what. To see how many  black cops, or black students, or black coaches in sports, or black actors on TV, or black Presidents of the United States…is “enough.” (Just my opinion, but in the latter case, I think the answer is “one was plenty.”)

I get that there is historical unfairness involved here, and we needed to stop being unfair. But the plan to artificially help blacks catch up to where we think they would have been absent racism is problematic because we don’t really know where that would be. And now the thing has run amok, with people pretending to be minorities to gain advantages (e.g., that “black” activist who was actually white).

And if you are over represented in our prisons, Mr. Black, you say it must be because of racism, either in the criminal justice system, or in our educational system,  or society generally, or all these things to such an extent that blacks are forced to live in ghettos and join gangs and go to prison. If I suggest that maybe the reason for the high incarceration rate is, well, because you are committing more crimes, and racism is just an excuse,  you say I don’t see the problem because I’m white.

But were I to counter that you see racism that is not there because you are black, which of us would have the more compelling of those two racist arguments?  As I said, I was not blind to racism in the 1960s, so why would I be blind to it now? I would support Black Lives Matter today if I thought there was anything to it other than phony grievance grandstanding. On the other hand, there is a sort of political industry today that thrives on the racial divide, and is loath to see it disappear. And yes, they see racism that is not there. Or, they say they do.

Here’s the deal, Mr. Black. The pernicious effects of racism have long since been dealt with in this country. Without going through all the details and examples, I’ll just make the obvious point that the President of the United States is black. He was elected twice, and he got a lot of white votes to do that. Which is not to say racism has therefore  has been completely eradicated, but if you keep redefining it downward, I’m not sure how that will end for you. Probably like some germaphobe, afraid to touch anything, imagining the threat everywhere, even when unseen by the naked eye. You know, like saying it’s “systemic.” I think we just have to live with some of that. And when I say  “we,” I mean that I was the object of racism by the Latino family of a woman I was seeing a while back. They had a sign on their door when I came over, “No White Allowed.” They weren’t kidding. I broke up with her and met someone better. Problem solved.

So,  you have  wins and losses, you meet good people in this world and jerks. That’s life, my brother. Welcome to the human race. And if you are afraid of getting shot by the cops because you are black, you need to stay away from the Internet for a while. It’s really not that rough out there, and, incidentally, a lot of cops are black.  Just treat them like people who have a dangerous job, and let them know you appreciate what they do.

Good talk.


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