Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Blog Against Racism Day
Reading over at Creek Running North, I found out that Dec 1 is Blog Against Racism Day. I didn't dare read what Chris Clarke had to say about that, because his writing is so exquisite that I'd never be so bold as to follow him on the same subject.
However, I see race as the defining element of American life, history, and politics, so I wanted to weigh in. I've hinted around about the subject, for instance here and here, but Chris has a way of coaxing a more open approach...
I'm a white guy.
I grew up in little all white towns, and even when we moved to a big city, I lived in an all white neighborhood and went to all white schools. In those days (the sixties, if you must know), that wasn't something you planned - it was simply the way things were, if you were white in Texas, or California, or Massachusetts, or most any place in the US.
I don't recall my father ever referring to race at all, but my mother taught us that every person is a flower of creation, empowered with Free Will to make the world better or worse, as he saw fit. In her cosmology, souls were issued bodies kind of like kids were issued cars at a carnival ride. Whether you got a duck, a bunny, or an elephant did not reflect at all on your worthiness, even if it affected your enjoyment of the ride, and your prestige among your peers. It wasn't a huge issue because, as I mentioned, it was mostly theoretical in our daily experience.
Of course my parents had not been brought up with this careful attention to an abstract equality of all races, and in retrospect, I see that some of the things my mother told me were not so much core beliefs as they were wishes. She, and many of her white contemporaries, were sick and tired of the open racism of their young adulthood, but they felt powerless to end its manifestation in their time. Many, many parents of white Baby Boomers believed that if they raised their children to ignore skin color, then maybe we would find a way to set things right. They were trying (and they tried very hard) to give this to us as a gift, but it was also a grave responsibility for which (despite all their best wishing) they left us desperately unprepared.
When I got to college, and actually lived with some black people, I discovered that wishes ain't horses, and life ain't a carnival ride. My intellectual appreciation of the value of bunnies and ducks didn't make me less an elephant. When I flunked out of college and went to work in restaurants, I got my first hard clue that not everybody even gets a ride.
I know how utterly vile this degree of ignorance sounds, but it was my parents' gift to me, and, they thought, to all mankind. I honor them for the purity of their intent, but I bring their American pathology of Race forward with me, as has every generation since the Original Sin of slavery in the Constitution.
Now I have kids, and my wife and I, echoing the good intentions of our parents, chose to live in a "diverse" neighborhood. I have to hand it to my parents and their good intentions - there are nice multiracial neighborhoods, with good schools and stable property values today.
And blah blah blah African American middle class woof woof woof.
Traveling from town to town is part of my work. It's all within the USA, but I go all over the place. Everywhere I go, my eyes see what my grandparents called "niggertown", but (with our pure intent) we have no honest word for it now. We're counting on our kids to make it right, because though we know it's just awful, we're powerless to change it.
We're powerless because we're going round and round in our big fat elephant. We pity the poor ducks, but the carnie working the ride has chosen his own lot.