Dealing With It

The Old Guy Perspective, March 20, 2008

Obama says we should talk about race. He thinks that will help him. It won’t. Most of us have spent a lifetime absorbing the lesson that seeing what we see automatically makes us racist. Do you want to talk about it? Do you? Really?

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We’ve come to accept a lot of things, in fact. Although no one alive in America has ever owned a slave, we accept that we are all somehow guilty for slavery in the American past. We accept that in our lifetimes racial discrimination has become a routine official practice against those of us whose remote ancestors were not slaves. We accept that there are doctors and lawyers and police officers and firefighters whose credentials may not be completely up to snuff because of the top-secret compromises associated with affirmative action. We accept the popular—and tiresomely repeated stereotypes—that black people are more gifted at sports and dancing and music and sexuality, although there is no other arena in which it is fair to say that white or yellow people are better than black people. We accept the premise that there exists some kind of super black woman who is a naturally better mother, matriarch, empirical philosopher, and leader of men than 5,000 years of civilization has produced in other cultures through education, discipline, and morality. We accept that any fear we feel of young black men on the sidewalk is more a reflection of our own prejudice than the cold statistics of crime. We accept that it’s improper for us to object to obscene rap recordings, thug sports stars, flagrantly corrupt politicians, and hypocritical clergy if any of these happen to be black people. We accept that the first major inroads against the hallowed First Amendment began with a political correctness about matters of race that have since ballooned to a distortion of all human interactions. We accept that everything we disapprove of in black behavior is derived from our own lack of understanding about what they’ve been through.

But Obama has invited us to talk about race.

Okay. I’m accepting the invitation. He can regret it at his leisure.

I don’t hate black people. I can’t pretend to be color-blind because absolutely nothing in my culture will allow me to be. I admire Thomas Sowell, Duke Ellington, Roberto Clemente, Muhammed Ali, Alexandre Dumas, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Count Basie, Tiger Woods, and Bill Cosby. There are many others but that’s a sampling of the famous folks whose courage, genius, character, and achievements I would be proud if I could get anywhere in the vicinity of. The bald truth of the matter is that they’re better than I am, and it doesn’t arouse a flicker of racial feeling in me to acknowledge it. They have enriched and elevated my own experience of life.

On the other hand, I am sick to death of black people as a group. The truth. That is part of the conversation Obama is asking for, isn’t it? I live in an eastern state almost exactly on the fabled Mason-Dixon line. Every day I see young black males wearing tee shirts down to their knees—and jeans belted just above their knees. I’m an old guy. I want to smack them. All of them. They are egregious stereotypes. It’s impossible not to think the unthinkable N-Word when they roll up beside you at a stoplight in their trashed old Hondas with 19-inch spinner wheels and rap recordings that shake the foundations of the buildings. {snip}

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We can have this conversation now—should have this conversation now—because African-Americans are on the verge of the greatest setback they’ve experienced since the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. You see, you’ve just given life to the suspicion that black people in America are, and have long been, a fifth column—unanimously hating the very country that has afforded the highest standard of living ever achieved by black people in human history. We’re teetering at the edge of believing that you’re a secret society, a massive collection of sleeper cells just waiting for your chance to do serious harm to the rest of us. You’ve made it possible for us to believe that. Because you’re never outraged by what the worst black people do. Because you continue to make excuses for what should be inexcusable to everyone.

The path to equality is counter-intuitive. Admit and decry the failings of your community. Concede that a generation of single mothers has been a disaster. Let go of the fantasy that black mothers are some kind of infallible force of nature. Demand that your children spend more time reading and doing sums than farting around on the basketball court. Only about two thousand people in the whole country make a living by playing sports. The rest have to get real jobs. Do whatever it takes to make your preachers emphasize the value of being a good father instead of ranting from the pulpit about how all of life’s woes are the fault of rich old white men. Tip your white waitress. Stay at work after 5 o’clock. Allow your kids to find somebody to admire and emulate who isn’t black. (My two best friends in high school—white guys—fought like dogs about their conflicting candidates for best rightfielder in baseball: Clemente or Aaron.) Would it kill you if your kid fixated on Sandy Koufax, Mozart, or Shakespeare rather than Mays, Armstrong, or Jay-Z? Does being black really have to be a full-time job?

Here’s the biggest thing we “racists” notice. Every single immigrant group that ever came to America—including the Chinese who came as railroad slaves—has risen out of poverty and want to prosperity and respect. The Irish, the Italians, the Polish, the Jews, the Koreans, the Vietnamese. Every group but you. And you’re the only group we fought a war to free.

Sorry to break it to you, but Obama won’t be elected president. We were ready, but you clearly aren’t. Time to think about getting ready.

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