Thursday, September 22, 2016

Un-black like un-me.

I am so profoundly tired of the argument that goes, more or less,
'You whites have the luxury of not thinking about race. People see my race when they see me.'
OK, fine. So what? People see my brown hair (what remains of it) when they see me. People see that I'm 6-3, and within 5 minutes they probably know that I'm right-handed. That's how incidental, how inconsequential race should be (and can be, if we resolve to make it so). In fact, race should be less meaningful, as I'd guess there are tangible benefits to being tall and right-handed. 

My "black" friends, the fact that racist morons see your brown skin and associate that surface observation with all kinds of negative characteristics does not mean that you have to embrace that line of (non)thought, that bigotry, for yourself. Nor does it mean that you need to overcompensate the opposite way: "Black is beautiful" is every bit as wrong, and every bit as bad, for it too perpetuates the problem, the mythology. Black is not beautiful. White is not beautiful. They are merely shades on a spectrum. That's all we know for sure that they are, for now. 

And if blackness is a state of mind as well as a race, then it's still not innate: It's a set of attitudes and beliefs that are nurtured and reinforced from without, just as racism itself is a set of attitudes and beliefs. So in that case as well, race can be, should be, meaningless. If you feel black because of traditions and experiences (too often sad) that have been inculcated within you, then resolve not to pass those feelings on to your younger friends and children. For the love of God, do not do what Ta-Nehisi Coates did in writing Between the World and Me and dedicating it to his son, Samori. To my mind, passing along that kind of cynicism and, yes, racism borders on child abuse. It is every bit as loathsome as the white supremacist spiels W. Kamau Bell heard in an episode of his popular CNN show, United Shades of America. I shed tears along with the comedian as he listened. 

So needless. So stupid. Hating someone for being brown is as asinine as hating someone for being 5-foot-7. And loving someone for being brown is as asinine as loving someone for being 5-foot-7.

Someday science may give us information about characteristics that are indeed race-identified. Until that time there is no reason—none; zero—for us to perpetuate any of this. No reason for race to be more significant in our lives than height or hair color. And even after those prospective scientific revelations, such broad racial characteristics will tell us nothing about the individual white or black person standing in front of us. So please, let's throw this race nonsense into the dustbin of history, where it belongs. Please join me in that.

It won't be easy. There are major battles to be fought. We white folk in particular have a lot of work to do. But we all gotta begin somewhere, don't we? 
PS: I'm counting down the moments until someone tells me on Twitter, "Don't you tell me how to be black, you white m-f-er." It's what happens every time I try to start this dialog.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

Not enough time has gone by for this to happen...too many people's grandparents and great grandparents were slaves or slave owners and that means its influence is still very much alive in us - as opposed to the previous Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Persian empires who have wreaked havoc a long time ago..

PS - I'm just watching the last episode of The Wire ..and that world existed 15 years ago and not much may have changed since then. Its much too black and white there for us to see the grey middle ground.

Steve Salerno said...

I know these are tough issues and there are no push-button solutions. Simply declaring "we're all just people" ain't gonna cut it, especially since so many blacks feel they are owed for centuries of mistreatment--that we have a lot of making up to do before they call it square--and they have a case, of course. But this is also why I blame Obama for not doing the right thing. He went for personal glory ("the first black president!") rather than abdicating the role in the interest of national harmony. I don't think he could've fixed everything--that naive I'm not--but he could've moved us a long way off the dime, Londoner.