We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways
I'm a Racist. When was the last time you heard someone say that? Personally, I can't recall ever hearing "I'm Gay and I'm a lacto-ovo-vegetarian and a Creationist and a Jew for Jesus and, oh yeah, I'm a racist too." People will admit to being all sorts of weird things but never to being a racist. And that's precisely what got me wondering.
Why is that such a No-No? Surely I can't be the only one who puts others into categories based on inherited traits. Yet people will go to any length to deny any hint of this on their part. Such an emotional response almost always reveals an unresolved conflict. Remember that TV evangelist who pontificated against prostitutes until he got caught with a few; or how about the former Drug Czar who is addicted to gambling; or how about the radio talk show host who rails against marijuana but buys pills in parking lots? The fact is, you can almost count on a shouted lie eventually being exposed as a silent truth. White, middle class America, it seems, is conflicted in any number of ways, but its irrational fear of ethnic prejudice appears to have reached epidemic proportions.
But let's begin at the beginning. Why do I say "irrational" fear of ethnic prejudice? It's because the tendency toward prejudging others is, in fact, a built-in survival mechanism. Human beings have inherited a distinct distrust and distaste for outsiders, and that can be a good thing. The clan of cavemen living on the other side of the valley might well be a bunch of cannibals, so why take a chance? And who's to deny that this same tendency toward snap judgments isn't an accepted part of modern life? From the singles in bars deciding whom to bed, to the managers in offices deciding whom to hire, the sixty-second image is alive and well. People just naturally and intuitively size each other up all the time.
And why would anyone want to pretend that there are no differences related to bloodlines? Eastern European Jews are more likely to be diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease than are Blacks who are more apt to suffer from sickle cell anemia. But to better appreciate the ridiculous extreme to which being in ethnic denial can lead, I'll give you a quick example. There's a manufacturing process that involves the use of a chemical that has been shown to adversely effect Latinos. Specifically, it causes contact dermatitis. So legally, here's the problem. If you discriminate and don't hire members of that group, they're going to sue. And if you do, you're knowingly putting them in harm's way, and guess what, they're going to sue. And speaking of suing, did you hear about the guy who took an auto rental agency to court after he got drunk and ran into a pole? His lawyer contended that because his client was Irish, the company should have known he'd be prone to a drinking disorder.
Sounds silly right?
Wrong! In fact, Asians frequently lack an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol - thus making them more susceptible to Oriental Flushing Syndrome. American Indians often have the same problem and this probably accounts for early prohibitions against selling fire water to the natives. I'm not saying that the bloke from Belfast should have collected billions from the auto rental agency, but hopefully you can see my point. Different groups can have different dispositions, and that's why ethnic jokes, despite their being politically incorrect, persist. They are often based on the same general tendencies that, generally speaking, make Labrador Retrievers better pets around kids than Pit Bulls.
Despite all this, a generation ago when political correctness was just getting started, Arthur Jenkins (a researcher) and Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve) were all but tarred and feathered for independently acknowledging the I.Q. difference between Blacks and Whites. This was a cause for much Sturm and Drang. So much so that, after Culture Fair testing failed to account for the phenomenon, the idea of the Intelligence Quotient itself was called into question. Even people who should have known better said that being able to score high on an I.Q. test was a meaningless knack; nothing more than an inborn proclivity for words and numbers, and certainly not nearly as admirable a talent as being able to put a ball through a hoop. Curiously, no one seemed to mind that Asians consistently score higher than Caucasians on those same tests. I guess it's because everybody knows they can't play basketball worth diddely-squat.
Then, a year ago, I came across an editorial in one of the leading weekly news-magazines that listed all the failed attempts at government initiatives designed to even-out scholastic performance. Everything from smaller classes to larger computers was tried, and of course, money was thrown at the problem from every direction. All to no avail. So the writer's conclusion was that, since nothing else seemed to work, the time had come to create different educational approaches for different ethnic groups. Jesus Christ on a cracker, what was that fellow thinking? America may be ranked 17th in academic achievement among industrialized nations, but at least we're not prejudiced. Just because young Arab males have blown up airplanes in the past, that's no reason to screen them more carefully in the future.
After better education, better housing is almost sure to follow as a surefire panacea for the differences Americans can't accept. Yes Sir! Just provide a place to learn and a place to live, and poverty will go away. Doesn't anyone ever pay attention? Half a century ago, massive urban projects were created to give people a decent place to live. It worked in much of Europe and most of Japan after the war. Cities reduced to rubble were rebuilt, things went back to normal, and prosperity returned. Here too, after modern apartment complexes were built, things went back to normal - and poverty returned. Why was that?
A book written at the time (Unheavenly City by Edward Banfield) suggested a hypothesis. Different people have a different sense of what looks right. A brand spanking new library looks so out of place that its windows must be broken and its walls covered with graffiti before it can meet the local standards. Many taxpayers have complained that flooded areas of New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt because the same waters are sure to return and once again devastate the place. No one says anything about blighted areas and the same people returning. Politicians and celebrities were down there lining up for photo ops of them sawing and hammering new houses for the poor. I wonder if Geraldo will revisit those same neighborhoods in a year to report on just how successful all that effort was?
Look At It This Way
Am I really a racist, or was I just trying to get your attention? I have to confess, I no longer know. It's gotten so crazy that Mark Furman, the Detective in the O.J. case, was taken to task for using the N word - the same word that Chris Rock uses all the time.
This reminds me of the old days when nobody was queer and nobody masturbated. And did you know that a Black guy was recently fired from his cushy government job for using the word niggardly? When Webster's can no longer be trusted, clearly this whole business has gone way beyond reason.
When I open my AOL main page, I see a listing for Black Voices. What do you suppose would happen if there were a listing for White Voices? And how come there's a Black Miss America but no one would dare suggest a White Miss America? I think of myself as a decent person who values individuals as individuals, but I can no longer, in good conscience, play this game. I'm in over my head, and truth be told - so are you!