Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where To Begin: A Note On Race Relations, and Neon Green Hats

America is at peak jitteriness. The sound of a child's pop gun may ignite a carousel of panic and chaos that would make the Revelation of Saint John seem like a Webelo campfire singalong of If I Had a Hammer. Racial tensions are steaming, and too damn near a boil. If the scalding water jumps over the pot lip fourth degree burns may result.

I—each of us—step into public eminently cognizant that others are eminently cognizant of not only skin tones, but a history of racial injustice grievous and blunt, subtle and nuanced—despite Facebook status updates and Tweets that identify and define racism, or "reverse-racism," so crudely. Since 1619, the deepest think tanks still fumble with the most intricate dissection of the mechanisms of racism, and racial tension. Therefore, racism and racial tension endures.

By no means do I, especially as a result of this naïve essay, attempt to cool the burner. (Can the burner be cooled, anyway?) I lack the influence and scope, if not necessarily the resolve. But I've been irritated by a sentiment repeated too often by white folk either too shortsighted, or too pigheaded to spin the lazy susan of humanity and fathom what's on the other side.

Hey, men. What's it like to be pregnant? We men—I am, after all, a dude—couldn't describe the physical and mental traits of pregnancy, let alone the pain of childbirth. But I know that pregnancy is both joyous and arduous, at times. Women, my beautiful wife included, have said so. I don't disbelieve women. I don’t disbelieve my beautiful wife. I know childbirth is painful. I witnessed the strain on my wife's face as she delivered my son. I don't think she was faking. If I asked her if childbirth was painful, she'd said "yes, dummy." Imagine if I called her a liar?!

Yet, when black folk publically decry inherent disadvantages in a predominantly white America, too many white folk almost instinctually label them as delusional, or simply rabble-rousing for spectacle. (Author's note: I do not mean to insinuate that every black person recounts the same American experience.) Accounts of the modern black American experience are too often, by too many, jettisoned like junk mail into a star-spangled trash chute.

If I told my wife that the pain of childbirth was a mirage, or worse, that she feigned the pain to get the epidural, I'd deserve a hearty knee to the manhood. Any self-respecting man would leave me to writhe on the tiles rather than help me up. Why do so many white folk so confidently disregard black folk who assert a perpetual awareness of their race in daily life as a result of suffered biases, or prejudiced experiences? Why do so many whites regard the Black Lives Matter movement with suspicion? In short, why do so many white people off-handedly dismiss black people whenever a black person declares that their black American experience is different—less advantageous?   

Hey! Wanna' cannonball into a veritable cesspool of racist sentiment? Read the comments section after nearly every Fox News article, especially if the headline contains the word "Obama". The racism is anywhere between the "magic eye" racism (remember those "hidden" pictures that appeared when you stared long enough) to blunt, cold-cock with a ball-peen hammer on the skull racism. Seriously, the Fox News comments section reads like dialogue cut from the film American History X for being too sensitive.

Spoiler alert. I’m not black. In fact, I’m about as white as can be—nearly pale. But if a black fellow told me he believes his experience is different—more taxing with fewer advantages—I’m going taking him at his word. Why would I not? (Not to mention, facts and stats quantify this position.) What kind of an asshole would I be to reactively assume he's delusional, or a con artist? There's enough assholes in the world already, as they say.

I can’t possibly relate to, or comprehend, the black American experience. If you are white, neither can you. Neither you nor I can empathize. We can never. John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me, darkened his skin with sunlamp therapy, drugs, and creams to try to appreciate the American black experience, albeit in the deep south in 1959. Read his accounts. They’re exactly as you’d imagine.

That a black lady or gentleman is quickly discounted simply because of his or her assertion of bias underscores that there is a bias. (Go ahead, excuse the bias as subconscious. With tweezers I’ve plucked this bias out of its spider hole in the brain. You’re aware of this bias now.) You might as well be wearing a neon green mesh trucker that says Racist Prick if your knee-jerk sentiment is somewhere in the vicinity of “Shut up. You’re wrong even though I can’t possibly have any notion of the black experience in 21st century America,” or sitting somewhere down the pew from “Shut up. You’re lying to stoke racial tension and advance a black agenda.”

It might not be my place to say it but: To those in the neon green hats…Shut up. Shut the fuck up.

To initiate any meaningful dialogue meant to temper and improve race relations starts with the simple acceptance of the viewpoint of the other. Anything less locks the starting gate before the starting gun. Not only is the dialogue stalled, it can not start without a fundamental change in mindset. (Never underestimate the stubbornness of the neon green hat crowd to reconsider anything on the most fundamental level, let alone reconsider removing the peeling Rush Limbaugh Fathead wall decal from their man cave.) 

Childbirth is painful , and the average black American endures systematic struggleseither "magic eye" or ball-peen hammerthat the average white American does not. I believe you. The burner needs cooled before the boil. Now, let's talk.

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