Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Today, in a FaceBook posting, someone made a statement that made me rock back on my heals and think hard about something.  It is a subject America has been struggling with since it's very founding, and before.

Racism.  Racial prejudice. Ethnic hatred, or however you wish to term it.

The statement went something like "us whiteys who aren't racist...", and something about it stuck in my craw, as we say in Texas.  It took me a bit to realize what it was, but once it did, it brought back an incident when I lived in Texas that truly did change the way I see other people and how our words - no matter how innocently we might see them - can hurt and wound others very deeply.

I was working at the FDA District office in the mail and file room, and there was an older black fellow that I knew from up in the lab I liked quite a bit.  He was always friendly, and we'd struck up somewhat of a gentle kidding around kind of relationship.

At one point, he came down to the file room, and said something I can't remember, kidding me, and I turned around, and in a kidding and jaunty kind of tone, said, "Hey, ni**er, how ya doin'?"

Instantly, his face turned ugly, and he growled at me in a furious tone of voice, "Don't EVER call me that again!"  And stalked away.

Apart from that being completely different from the reaction I'd expected, I was quite simply devastated.  I'd never thought I'd cause someone such hurt or ignite such anger, and I was just blown away once I realized what I'd done.

Fortunately, the man who oversaw the file room was not only black, but knew me, and the other fellow as well, and being also a minister, was able to (after I abjectly crawled virtually on hands and knees begging forgiveness) managed to help me to repair that relationship somewhat.

But it never was quite the same after that, and this is the first time I have ever mentioned it since that time.

But it illustrates exactly my point here.

Which is that once you've been introduced to an "education" that includes ethnic racism, you can NEVER quite wipe it out of your head.  You can become educated in a more enlightened point of view, you can meet, befriend and work with lots of people you were educated as a child to despise for their ethnicity, and you can very successfully train yourself to hide all that crap deep inside where it will never show its ugly face again.

But, try as you might, it will not ever go away completely, and for the rest of your life, you will fight it, inside.  You will hear that quiet little ugly voice say horribly nasty things, and you will cringe and dismiss it back to the garbage it came from, but the echo will still resonate silently in your head.

And you will keep on struggling to keep your ears from still hearing it.  You will successfully turn the snide little ugly thing back into the muck and replace it with a proper and more realistic reality, and over the years, that will get easier. The more you practice, the better you'll get at it, and the fewer chances that you'll let the wrong thing outta your yap and embarrass yourself.

But you have to be careful, or you'll say stupid things like "us whiteys who aren't racist".

Fact is, every human being on the planet is to a degree, racist, of one manner or another.  It may take the form of tribalism, or clanishness, or nationalism, but we all are infected with one form of it or another.  It is, as they say, fed to us in our mothers' milk.  We grow up exposed to it in the society around us, and we absorb it as we do lessons about the difference between cousins and aunts vs. the milkman.

It's just something we don't notice, until one day, we get our noses rubbed in it.  One day, you open your eyes and see how the other guy feels.

Which, really, is the key.  It's why racist attitudes are so ingrained in the South.

The different races live in enclaves, which, for whites, are usually, bigger, nicer and protected from the incursions of the "others" unless they have sanctioned business there, as, perhaps, a house maid or a gardener.

Places where they are rarely exposed to the other side as anything but servants.  As not humans.  Not being exposed to blacks as humans allows the old stereotypes to be engrained and not exposed as the racist bullshit they are.  Old hatreds can be allowed to fester.

On both sides.

Don't get me wrong.  America has come a long way, even if it is largely a thin veneer of legally protected rights and public behavior.

But, underneath, yeah, the old racism is alive and well, and the only way we'll ever get rid of it is to actually live side by side.  To be exposed to each other as human beings, with loves, hates, preferences and cultural differences.  To be forced to make public concessions to public behavior which allows us to interact with dignity and grace, even if we all will have that internal demon to fight every step of the way.

Because the real proof of civility and adulthood is the ability to win that internal battle, EVERY DAY.  To see clearly that racism, tribalism and such artificial divisions are no longer needed in civilized society and are the wrong way to see other human beings.  To be able to move forward into adulthood with dignity and resolve in defeating the demons of our childhood.

As they say, the first step towards solving a problem is to realize that there is one.

After that, it takes resolve, courage, and stamina.  Only the weak fail, only the mentally lazy trapped in the mesh of childhood trauma or propaganda fail to see what everybody else takes for granted.

Don't be weak.  Don't be lazy.  Fight your own internal battle, and strive to win!  Know yourself, understand where the ugly impulses come from, and fight to put them back into the muck they slid so stealthily from.

But above all, be aware.  Understand yourself, and understand others.  It really isn't so hard to do. 


albert hattem said...

i can understand completely and can feel the pain that you also endured,very insightful,thanks,albert

Steven Trisel said...

Absent the skin we all look the same. Too bad we have such a hard time removing our cultural spectacles that seem to focus on trivial surface features rather than our underlying shared humanity.