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Monday, October 19, 2009

Black like me

It's a worthwhile exercise for whites to occasionally imagine what it's like to be black. So imagine for a moment that you are a black with an IQ of, say, 120.

Most white people you meet probably assume you're stupid, even though you're smarter than the vast majority of them. Thanks to affirmative action, even a degree from a prestigious school won't help, because everybody just assumes you got in because of your race. Every time you meet a new white person, you must prove your intelligence. You're guilty (of being dumb) until proven innocent.

I don't blame whites for making the assumptions that they do, but if you're black, it's got to be wearying.

Every single white person you meet you wonders if you're dangerous. You must be friendly and soft-spoken in order to slowly earn their trust. Again, I don't blame whites for fearing blacks; but if you're black, constantly having to work to set people at ease must also be tiresome.

The police are more likely to be suspicious of you and stop you. Again, for the police not to be more suspicious of the group which commits the most crime per capita would be silly. But if you're the average law-abiding black, and you've personally done nothing to deserve this type of suspicion, it would be hard not to be resentful.

These days blacks rarely encounter overt hostility. Most whites are far too cowed for that. But because of that fear, most whites become much more guarded around blacks. So the racism blacks encounter these days is far more likely to be of the subtle variety -- the kind liberals exhibit. Whites who are overly friendly to black people in a way they would never be to other whites make black people uncomfortable.

Liberals also judge black behavior by a different (and lower) standard. Black people are aware of this -- and will sometimes take advantage of it -- but the implications are not lost on them. When less is expected of you, this is merely a different form of racism.

Liberals also have a tendency to use blacks to prove something about themselves, namely, that they're good, i.e., nonracist, people. This type of behavior makes blacks realize that whites often see them as a generic black person, rather than as an individual. (The fact that whites sometimes mistake one black for another doesn't help.)

If you're black, this kind of reception has to make you feel -- at some level -- like the unwanted guest at the party.

An example. My son recently took an African History class at his high school. There was one black kid in his class. Whenever the teacher -- a confirmed liberal -- didn't know something, he would ask the black kid, as if the fact that he was black meant that he would know something that took place in Africa hundreds of years ago. My son also said that whenever the teacher would defer to the black student this way, the student would just say he didn't know and look extremely uncomfortable.

Liberals may not be threatening, but they are effective at making blacks feel their sense of otherness.

Even prominent liberal white politicians who publicly decry racism never seem to want to actually live among blacks themselves. What do blacks make of this?

Blacks see other "liberation" movements who've taken their cue from blacks, for instance women and gays. These groups like to paint themselves as oppressed. And, at a certain level, they are. But they haven't suffered nearly as much from discrimination as blacks have. They've never been slaves, or even segregated. White women have always been taken care of, and white gays can just hide their sexuality. Blacks can never hide their race.

Blacks see young white men who adopt ghetto mannerisms and wonder, who do they think they're fooling? What do they think, that being black is an affectation? They can go back to being white any time they want.

Whites often get tired of slavery being used as a reason to demand special privileges, or an excuse for bad behavior (as do I). But imagine again, for a moment, that you are black. I remember thinking when I was eight years old that if I were black, the very thought that someone else owned my ancestors would make my blood boil. One person owning another person? You might have been someone's property? What right do they have? Yes, this happened a long time ago, and no one alive is guilty of it. But that has to be part of every black person's psyche.

If you're white, your life is not about your race. Given current sensibilities, you're pretty much colorless. Your life may be about your job, your hobbies, or your passions. Your race simply doesn't loom that large. But if you're black, your race permeates your daily existence in all sorts of insidious ways.

If you're black, every time another black miscreant hits the news, you wince a little, thinking, oh no, another black person making us look bad. When whites hear about a new white serial killer, for instance, they never think, oh no, he's making white people look bad. (Instead they often react with ghoulish fascination.)

At a certain level race relations are more strained now than ever. Fifty years ago whites weren't beset by a constant paranoia about being called racist. So they acted more natural. Maybe that naturalness incorporated some corrosive condescension, and that obviously wasn't good. But on a personal level, the current awkward dance that some whites do around blacks doesn't do anything for race relations either.

This blog is largely about pointing out the essential dishonesty of political correctness. But if you want to understand an issue, you have to look at it from both sides.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another interesting post John. We can't escape human programming and it must be very challenging to constantly deal with interactions with others constantly (at least initially) based on race. (As a much more trivial example, I have noticed (particularly when in the UK) that I am treated with much more respect and consideration, for example at a retail store, when dressed in suit and tie vs. jeans and T-shirt. Happily, in the US I often enjoy a positive reaction to my Brit accent (but not always!) - or is just my natural charm? ;) )

G

John Craig said...

Guy -- It's definitely your natural charm (and your skill at flattery, from what I've observed from your comments).