Thursday, July 21, 2016

Race In The US

So, we're starting to have a public discussion about race in the US, finally. There may have been a lot of discussion of such things in places like academia, but I think we're seeing the first real public discussion of it all now, at this late date.

I'm white, and I was raised (born 1961) by liberals to believe that race doesn't make anybody better or worse than anybody else, but that didn't mean that I was immune to all of the nonsense all around me. For one thing, despite the liberal attitudes of my parents, I met very few non-white people before I was full-grown, and there's only so much you can understand about race in an environment as segregated as that.

In the mid-1980's I was hanging around with a friend of mine who happened to be black, and I said something, I don't remember exactly what I said, but I said some ignorant thing about some people getting some advantage because they weren't white, and my friend, who had never said a cross word to me before then, went off, and made some very angry and direct and edifying comments which I've never forgotten, about how every single day he envied people who had white skin like me, and how he was constantly made aware of being judged by his race, and often harassed by the police for no other reason. I'm actually not sure whether he and I were good friends after that or if he ceased to consider me to be a friend because of what I'd said, and I have no idea if he ever had any idea of how deep an impression he'd made on me by what he said. He had beautiful glowing bronze-colored skin, and I had a pink face full of pockmarks, and he envied me for my skin. From then on I listened and looked a lot more carefully when it came to race.

In 1992 I saw the riots in LA after the police who beat Rodney King were all acquitted of all charges. I couldn't believe that people could look at that video and not see that something very, very wrong was happening, but of course since then we've all seen video after video after video of police doing very wrong things and then seen them be acquitted. If we're not blind, we've come to understand just how stubbornly blind many people are.

In November 1994 I moved to NYC, and was not yet used to being around lots and lots of non-white people all at once, and once I accidentally took a wrong subway train, and I ended up on a platform with a sign that said Flatbush, a crowded platform, and it seemed like everyone else there was black. And I was scared. I lived through that experience, and looking back on it I feel that I was a bit silly for being afraid.

I had moved to NYC with hopes of a career in acting. One of the shows I very much wanted to be in was "NYPD Blue." I'll never forget meeting a very wonderful actress, how she told me she'd been a trill in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and I responded, "I bet you were!" and I'll never forget the moment when she informed me that almost all of the filming of "NYPD Blue" was done in LA. This was still a good decade before I was diagnosed with autism. Autism no doubt had a lot to do with how I flubbed things like my attempt at an acting career, and like a shot at a relationship with that actress, who seemed to really like me, amazingly. (It amazed a few other people too, not just me.)

But anyway, in NYC, for the first time, I spent a lot of time in places where I might be the only white person around, and gradually it dawned on me that I didn't have to be afraid. And like I said, I was raised by people who were very liberal on race issues. So that makes me think about how screwed up the mentality of people who were raised by racists might be.

And then gradually it dawned on me that non-whites in the US have a lot more reason to be afraid of white people than the other way around. Around the time I moved to NYC, the episode of "NYPD Blue" aired where Lt Fancy (black) took Det Sipowicz (white) to a soul food restaurant in a black neighborhood, at the end of a shift in which Sipowicz has behaved with some racial insensitivity toward a black man suspected of a crime, who turned out to be innocent. "NYPD Blue" was on the air for over a decade, and one of the threads of the show was how Sipowicz, with the patient help of a lot of people including Fancy, gradually became less racist. Anyway, in the soul food restaurant, Sipowicz is the only white person in the place, and Fancy says, You don't know how these people feel about you. Maybe some of them dislike you, just because of how you look, and you didn't do anything to them. Now imagine if people like this surrounded you all day every day and they all had badges and guns.

A moment from a fictional TV drama. It's not a brilliant original insight on my part. But maybe it's food for thought.

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