Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why it’s not enough to say ‘I’m not a racist’

While I was interviewing for a roommate about 30 years ago a Chinese student asked me, “What is your opinion of Asian people?” I told him in all honesty that I didn’t have one — nor could have I developed one since I knew, and still know to this day, very few Asians of any nationality and thus would be speaking out of utter ignorance.

I wish that were the rule for others.

I understand that a lot of people believe that race relations have supposedly worsened since Barack Obama became president in 2009. To a certain extent I agree with that — but not for the reasons some believe. Rather, I think that they resent that a worldview that they passionately oppose and wish to squelch now has a voice at the highest levels of political power.

That is to say, some say, “Can we not talk about race?” No, we cannot, at least not now.

For us African-Americans, the race issue is never far from us, although I personally don’t think about it much. When you consider that recent encounters with police that have left black males dead are seen generally from a prism of oppression by authority, you can thus understand the suspicion that we have.

But many choose not to understand. They say that if those folks simply had behaved properly they wouldn’t have gotten into trouble or even might still be alive.

The truth be told, they don’t really know if that’s truly the case — no, they really don’t. They don’t understand what it’s like to be stopped by cops for being in the “wrong” neighborhood. They also don’t understand what it’s like to be followed around a store by staff because of the assumption that you might steal something. They don’t understand what it’s like to be awarded a job or promotion on the suspicion of “affirmative action.”

Which is why rants that begin “I’m not a racist, but … ” get little traction from us.

And if you really, really desire racial harmony, it’s not possible to be passive about it. We need to talk and listen to each other, non-defensively, about each other’s perceptions, and not assume that the other person is whining. I also appreciate that many whites who aren’t affected directly are identifying with the “underdogs” — that will do more to combat racism than anything else.

When I was a child a group called Think recorded a song with the recurring refrain “Things get a little easier / Once you understand.” The song comprised a number of strained conversations between old and young where the people involved were merely talking past each other, and it ended when the cops called one man to inform him that his son died of a drug overdose, and the man began weeping. Perhaps he realized that his intransigence cost him his son.

Let’s try to avoid such situations.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Dathans in our midst

Many of you remember the character of Dathan, a “chief Hebrew overseer” played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie “The Ten Commandments.” One Egyptian official mentioned that he was “willing to sell [his] own mother” to remain in power, as he was assigned to find a prophesied deliverer among the Hebrews in order to keep them in bondage to the Egyptians. Of course he correctly identified Moses as such, and Moses ended up being banished.

And when Moses actually came back demanding the release of the Hebrews, guess who opposed him to the end? Dathan — even though he left with them during the Exodus.

I bring this up because folks are wondering why blacks aren’t rejoicing in the election of Tim Scott and Mia Love, the first black Republican U.S. Senator elected since Reconstruction and the first black Republican woman to get elected to the lower chamber of Congress respectively. They understand that the political right that runs the party and that both subscribe to today has always opposed their progress, so they really don’t care. Moreover, Love has said that, when she gets to Washington, she intends to undermine the Congressional Black Caucus.

Good luck with that, Mia.

One thing that shouldn’t need to, but apparently must, be said: The first African-American to achieve high office has always — always — been politically liberal. So by the time a black conservative gets anywhere the novelty has worn off. Moreover, when an African-American gets to such a lofty place it's assumed that things will change, that the halls of power will be more accessible to people of color.

So what does this have to do with Dathan? Well, consider that black conservatives often make a lot of noise about challenging the black establishment, which is probably how they get attention in the first place. But they prove ineffective because blacks don't put up with them for a second, not to mention that if they even try to engage other African-Americans they would be chewed up and spat out.

So what does the ascension of Love and Scott mean? Nothing, whether short- or long-term.