"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, January 19, 2015

Living the dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is almost over, and I meant to write something earlier, but there were so many words swirling around in my brain, it was hard to pull the right ones out of my mental ether and get them on the page. 

Every time MLK Day comes, we have a lot of discussions about race relations, and racism, and things-are-better, and no-they're-not, and then on Tuesday we go back to our lives and stop talking about anything. We kind of resent the talking that continues because, hey, MLK Day is over. Get back to work.

Here's what I think. Sometimes I think we're making strides against racism, and sometimes I think we'll never get there. As long as people are described as their physical being (as in, the African-American salesclerk, or the black astrophysicist or the Hispanic doctor), we will always call attention to race. As long as the media portrays mixed-race marriages as something different and special (as in, a "very special episode"), we will always call attention to race. As long as the cultural differences are pointed out between races instead of the similarities of being human beings (a quinceanera is just a party, get over it), we will always call attention to race.

As long as we call attention to race, we will not make strides against racism. 

I'm really only talking about the subtle racism that happens when you assume something about a group because they're not like you. Or the even worse racism, when you assume someone is less than you because they're not like you, as in "Wow, you did really well (for a black person)" or "I'm surprised you knew that (you're Pakistani)." 

Overt, hateful, Superior-Race believers (of any race) will never be converted. Call me pessimistic, but other than brain-washing techniques, I don't know how to give any of these people a reason to abandon their misguided beliefs.

I assume my husband has encountered racism. I don't ask him about it, and he doesn't bring up the subject. Why? Because our races don't define us. I've never encountered problems in public when I've been with my husband. Maybe it happened, but I didn't experience it. I don't look around the crowd, searching for disapproval. This is my optimistic side.

The only time I experience "profiling" is when we go into a store to shop. Sales clerks do rush over to Dale to see if they can help him. I know black people hate this. They know it comes from a fear that they will steal something. Before Dale came into my life, I practically had to strip naked and stand on the counter to get service. Now I throw Dale out as bait, then nab the sales clerk when they scurry over.

For me, that's a win.

Lately, my regret is that as a white mom, I didn't teach my mixed race son about being completely and overly submissive with the police. Having never feared the police, I never thought about teaching Marcus to be cautious, don't sass, don't pull your hands out of your jacket too quickly, do exactly as they say, don't resist, etc. As far as I know, he's never been pulled over. As far as I know, he's never been bullied or taunted for his ethnicity. 

If I looked at my family, I'd say race relations were getting better. But I'm no Pollyanna - at least I try not to be.

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