I am a privileged white man, so I am supposed to tread carefully here, but I am willing to blunder over many topics, so here goes.
When I was a kid, during the era of civil rights protests, people were beaten, humiliated, terrorized, tortured, and killed for working for equality for blacks, or just being black. The foes were both vigilante and official. Racism was both the law in much of the country, and socially acceptable in even more of the country.
Things have changed.
This morning on NPR there was a story on The Race Card Project, capturing this complex subject in 6-word snippets. (I guess a haiku is too long.) The part of the story I really liked was the highlighted example:
Ask who I am, not what.
Genius. So simple, but oh, so subtle. On my way to work I tried to repeat it back to myself and I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze what I heard back into 6-words. Man, what wonderful use of language.
The woman who wrote those words was also eloquent when interviewed. She is of Korean descent and becomes weary of people she meets wanting to pin down that detail and then wanting to talk about kimchi, etc. (I hope I summarized that fairly.) I can see how that could become tiresome.
May I look at the fact that this is a well publicized story on Morning Edition to draw a conclusion about race in the USA? Friendly people being tiresome? My father was a dentist, he heard a lot of dentist jokes every day, it was tiresome. I am a nerd, it is perfectly acceptable to make disparaging remarks about nerds. My last name is Borg and for quite a few years I have had to be patient with tiresome comments about The Borg. My first name is Kent, and when Superman had a larger mindshare in the country, I had to be patient with references to Clark Kent. I am of Swedish descent, so I hear repeatedly about the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. And so on. Trivia.
I am a privileged white guy. If the key point in a big story on race blends easily in my petty list of woes, I draw a conclusion: We have come a long way to the good if it is race news that we have a “first world problem” like having to be patient with others being tiresome. How precious and touchy we are. And what good news it is if precious and touchy is where the action is on race. (Is it??)
Don’t get me wrong: I know there is still some really nasty racism in this country, there are still race crimes committed that are far worse than anything I have ever experienced. But it has gotten better. Much better. So much better that NPR is spending time illustrating that friendly, nice people can be tiresome.
© 2013 by Kent Borg