Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Open Dialog on Race: One Man's Contribution

I came of age in the early '70s in a pair of realms, football and jazz, that were heavily integrated, if not dominated by blacks. As one of my jazz cohorts once gibed to me on-stage, “My man, up here you're the nigger." (Decades later the spicy line would be voiced by Guy Torry to Edward Norton in that classic laundry-folding prison scene from American History X.) Yes, I'd imagine I've enjoyed my share of white privilege, although I can recall one excellent job that I'm fairly certain I lost due to academia's diversity-mania. But overall I think I grew up as free of actual prejudice—which is to say, consuming racial malice—as any white guy from New York's five boroughs. I'd venture I am freer of said malice than some of the black talking heads one sees each night on TV. 


As I cannot presume to speak for white America, I will not present what follows as a “white manifesto.” I will, however, tell you what this one white male in his seventh decade rejects (and in at least one case resents) about the tenor and substance of the canon from today's black leadership.

I reject the use of the term mass incarceration to sanitize the misdeeds of the roughly 290,000 blacks who are in state prisons not for being caught with a dime bag but for committing violent felonies. (Toggle to page 15 of linked material.) That includes some 68,000 murderers. (Page 16.) Federal prisons may be a separate story due to overzealous enforcement of drug laws, but still contain thousands of people who were incarcerated one at a time, not en "masse," because they are individually dangerous. To hear the activists tell it, our jails are full only because roving goon squads of cops like to barge into college libraries to waylay black students as they cram for their MCATs. That kind of politicized sugar-coating must cease.

Which is why I also reject being coerced by #BlackLivesMatter (working in tandem with sympathetic/spineless major media) to accept as martyrs young men like Mike Brown. Even the U.S. Department of Justice, despite pointed marching orders from the Obama administration, did not dispute that Brown committed an act of thuggery in a convenience store and then tried to wrestle a cop's gun away from him after some mid-street confrontation. Brown's death was as tragic as the loss of any young life, but it's not allegory or metaphor for a corrupt police establishment or an uncaring American public. Those to whom black lives truly matter would rail against the elevation of a Mike Brown to folk-hero status. (What kind of role model is that to uphold?) Even when Eric Garner was killed—a gross police overreaction if not a homicide, in my view—he was selling illegal cigarettes and then he mouthed off to the cops who called him on it. Regardless of your color, when a cop confronts you, stop what you're doing. Not every such encounter is a Rosa Parks moment. Don't escalate. Worry about sorting out any possible injustices later. That's precisely what a senior (black) police officer told W. Kamau Bell in a recent episode of the comic's highly original and eye-opening CNN show United Shades of America. The cop told Bell, more or less (these are my words, not his):

'A street corner in the middle of the night is not the place to take a stand for civil rights, especially if cops arrive with sirens blaring and appear to be under the impression that you just raped someone.' 
Similarly, I reject the widely promulgated notion that any and all transgressions by blacks are attributable to the irremovable stain of America's original sin, slavery. Even if there is some truth to the meme, it's unhelpful to undercut personal responsibility in black youths who are already straining to find their way in a (presumably) hostile society. Why make our kids feel trapped in some grim destiny or provide a ready-made alibi for all failure? (I find it frankly heartbreaking that current literary darling Ta-Nehisi Coates frames his nihilistic book, Between the World and Me, as a letter to his teenage son, Samori.)

I reject the idea that opposing today's black sociopolitical agenda is a form of racism. Having never owned slaves, I'm disinclined to be taxed in the name of reparations. Nor do I wish to see my children and grandchildren penalized by coy hiring imperatives that reduce to codified discrimination against non-minorities. Although affirmative action per se has fallen out of favor as both a phrase and a tactic, it is giving way to a stealthy corollary concept, disparate impact, that may be worse. This legal theory is invoked to micromanage outcomes when data suggest that a “protected class” is underrepresented in a given setting, even though the practices of that setting are “facially neutral”
that is, not discriminatory in any patent, intentional sense. Institutional redress and financial settlements may result. That strikes me as wholly unsupportable public policy; had it been applied in the jazz of my youth, there would've been an awful lot of white cats bringing suit. My thinking in this area does not justify antagonism from black America. Although some who oppose the black agenda are surely racists, such opposition is not ipso facto racism—no more than my distaste for Hillary Clinton is ipso facto misogyny or my general preference for foreign cars indicates some covert animus against Detroit.

Finally, I reject and resent the idea that I am obliged to abide obvious black racism. (Anyone of Caucasian persuasion who has attempted to wade into online discussions of race knows of what I speak.) Don't be disrespectful to me because you think my whiteness automatically disenfranchises me or makes me “part of the problem.” I agree to make no a priori racial assumptions about you if you agree to make none about me.

Dr. King would've asked—demanded—that much.


Jenny said...

This is brave, Steve. I don't know why others haven't posted in support of your experience. Could be everyone's too caught up in the social media meat wheel. I'm still tuned in and listening to you, though.

Anonymous said...

Jenny, I agree that it's brave but the people who really need to read this either won't read it or will dismiss it kneejerk as racism. As you imply Steve any white person, especially a white male who counters the black narrative in any respect is a racist by definition. As you've also implied elsewhere this is partly responsible for the Trump movement. People are fed up with being called racist simply for objecting to black racism!

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether or not you mean well, this is my first time on your site but this is without a doubt one of the most openly racist things I've read in a long time. You may think you're being reasonable but the anger and bigotry is there in every line. If this is the side of the dialog we're going to get from white people as you put it then there is no hope.

Jenny said...

Steve, you say "the people who really need to read this either won't read it or will dismiss it kneejerk as racism."

If so, then Anonymous needed to read it in order to casually dismiss it as indicative of "the side" — as if sides exist— of "white people" as if being white is the same as being on the other side.