Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From The Diversity Files

I'm not a minority--at least not in the standard political definition. Let's just say that nothing I'm a minority in is likely to gain me any special protections.

But I try to be sensitive enough to realize that my perspective on race relations in America could use some expansion. It's just that (and perhaps this is wrong of me) I don't like having to take personal responsibility for the entire scope of American history.

I'm willing to take responsibility for whatever prejudices my parents may have passed along that I may not have questioned yet. I'm willing to accept that my nervousness about some people may run deeper than my own personal insecurity with any stranger, and with the lifestyles certain clothing choices communicate.

I try not to be prejudiced, but let's face it. We all make choices about people and our reactions to them based on appearance. And when people dress in a specific way because it advertises a specific lifestyle they can't really hold people responsible for judging them based on that. In short, if you're going to dress like a gang-banger or rapper, it's not unduly prejudiced of me to suspect that you're going to be angry with me for being white--and as a result be nervous about you or even try to avoid you.

It would be unduly prejudiced of me to be nervous about or seek to avoid a black person who dresses within the realm of socially acceptable norms. I believe that is the key. If someone chooses to dress or act in an intimidating manner they should not expect people to react positively or even neutrally to them. I have as much right to be nervous about someone dressed like a gang-banger as I do a white person with disheveled hair and clothing walking down the street muttering to themselves and gesticulating wildly. It's simply, like the old Far Side cartoon, nature's way of saying "Do not touch".

Anyway, what I started out to say is that I do appreciate efforts by minorities to politely give the rest of us insights as to what their world is like for them. One such example is an article by John McWhorter in Forbes. This article makes it clearer that blacks in America are not unified in how they see themselves, but just as it appears more and more whites are moving past their historical prejudices, so are blacks.

If Obama's election does nothing else than open the way for people to have polite, respectful conversations about race he will have done this country a great service. I look forward to the conversation. I have much to learn.

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