Monday, January 16, 2006

Am I living the Dream?

I was sitting in church the Sunday before Martin Luther King's Birthday... yeah, that's right. My big black atheistic ass was in church. Why? Because why not? It ain't like I'm going to burst into flames and it makes my girlfriend happy and gives me an occasional chuckle and sometimes there's some really interesting topics discussed. And yes, there's a part of me that's actually hoping someone will say something that makes sense, hoping the preacher will come out with some irrefutable argument that will just prove his case once and for all. My own arguments have gone uncontested for too long and I'm itching for a real fight, a real knockdown drag out that will finally prove or disprove the whole God thing and settle the question forever. But since church is all about preaching to the converted, to the choir so to speak, things like reasons, evidence, and arguments tend to get taken for granted in favor of appeals to the emotions. This church has the annoying habit of promising every week that they will give irrefutable proof for whatever claim they are making that week and then failing to do so. That's not really why I'm there though anyway. I go because Christie needs it and so I support her. But even the unsupported emotional arguments tossed about in the church are sometimes pretty damned interesting. Like that Sunday two weeks ago when they were discussing Dr. Martin Luther King and his dream of equality.

"...A world where men are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I considered my life as I sat there next to my Caucasian woman, with my daughter who is of mixed race, next to my good friend Frank and his wife who are also white in a church filled with people of many races. I considered my job where I am the manager of a predominantly white staff. I considered how I walked into a sales office the other day to look at three hundred thousand dollar homes and the staff fell all over themselves to get my business, no cautious suspicious looks insinuating that I might not be able to afford it or that I might not be comfortable in this neighborhood. Every aspect of my life personally, professionally, and even spiritually is racially integrated. So I have to wonder... Am I living Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's dream?

Do we now live in a world where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? There are still pre-judgments made about people by the color of their skin. There are certainly assumptions made about me based on my size and color. The assumption that I must be a basketball or football player is of course much less offensive than the one that I must be a gun-toting gangsta who either sells or uses drugs. The assumption that I would be more likely to write rap lyrics than lyrical prose is perhaps less offensive than the assumption that I must live in the ghetto and want to rob and murder every white man I see and rape every white woman. True, these stereotypes exist and are perpetuated by the news and entertainment media. They are perpetuated by black people themselves who have found certain benefits in reinforcing these stereotypes, not the least of which is the money given to them by media conglomerates to go on radio, television, and the big screen and justify every racial slur ever launched against our people. Yet still, at no time in American history have Americans as a whole been more willing to amend their pre-judgments based on new information. "Wow, you're not a nigger after all!"

There have always been those who have believed that articulate, intelligent, respectful, well-mannered black people were some miraculous exception. I remembered as a child being singled out on many occasions as just such an exception. You know the,-- "Wow, he speaks so well. He's so well-mannered and articulate." As if they were expecting me to drag my knuckles on the ground and mumble and drool. I can remember actually being proud of being "The exception" until my Mom set me straight on what those who were singling me out where actually saying about the rest of my race. There are still people who think this way of course. You know, the people who say things like "Oh, when I say nigger I'm not talking about you. You're not like the rest of them." I just recently heard an acquaintance of mine, who is also a police officer, use that neo-racist standby "Well, there are niggers and there are black people." I corrected him. There are good people and there are bad people. Period. Just like there are racists and non-racists. To utilize a word that somehow categorizes an ignorant black person differently than you would an ignorant white person or an ignorant person of any race makes you a racist. It implies that the white kid who robs his neighbor's houses to support his meth habit is somehow in a different class than the black kid who robs to support a crack habit. We already have a word that identifies both classes of lowlifes-- criminals. There's no need to identify the white dude who gets drunk every night and beats the shit out of his wife differently than the black man who does the same. Still, the fact that I was sitting there having a conversation like that with a white police officer without any fear of being cracked over the head with a billyclub makes me closer to King's Dream than ever. Yet, the fact that had he been in uniform and I just some random unknown black guy walking down the street and we had had that conversation, I might have still wound up getting cracked over the head with a police baton means we ain't there yet. The fact that we were having that conversation at all means we ain't there yet.

But I made a statement that people are more willing these days to amend their pre-judgments. Let me explain what I meant by that. Although the first assumption of those who meet me is that I'm either just like the gangsta rappers they see on television or some famous athlete who received his education from an athletic scholarship or the recipient of an Affirmative Action program that allowed me to rise above those more talented than I based solely on the color of my skin, when most people actually get to know me and speak to me they tend to change their minds and see me for what I am. Some even apologize for their initial assumptions. In the old days most people held to their prejudices like blind faith, without evidence and against all contradictory evidence. There are still people like this, but they are getting fewer and they are less likely to voice their ignorant opinions. That is, less likely to do so outside of the internet. Anonymity gives every idiot brass balls.

It almost makes me want to cry when I think about having the "race" conversation with my daughter someday when one of her white friends slips up and says something derogatory about black people or one of her black friends makes a negative comment about white people or either race comes down on inter-racial relationships of which she is ofcource a product. It hurts me that in this day and age it is still an issue. Christie was reading a racist rant posted by some idiot troll over on Maurice Broaddus's messageboard a month or so ago about the "ignorant niggers" who didn't leave New Orleans when the hurricane was coming and how New Orleans would be so much better now that they were all displaced or dead. She broke out into tears.

"I'm not ready to put my daughter through this. Is this the type of idiots she's going to have to deal with? I don't know if I'm prepared to handle that."

I told her that I would prepare her. I would help her handle the race issues when they come up. Now that we have a daughter we can no longer be colorblind. We have to do that perilous balancing act of teaching our daughter to treat everybody the same regardless of their race while at the same time respecting and acknowledging cultural differences and teach her that some people will hate her because her daddy is black and her mommy is white. It fucking sucks. But I would not be doing my job as a parent if I didn't prepare both her and her mother for this. People can be vicious and hateful as evidenced by that racist coward on Maurice's Messageboard. There was nothing I could do about him though. So I let it slide. What was I going to do? Strangle him through the cathode ray tube?

"Is this what it's like for you? How do you get used to hatred like that?"

She didn't understand why I wasn't stomping around the room and punching the walls. The reason was simple. He was on a messageboard and so there was no real opportunity for physical retaliation and he was far too ignorant to educate or reason with. The twelve steppers have it right. Change the things you can and accept the things you can't and have the wisdom to know the difference. So I just let it roll off me. I've grown up with it. I've had a long time to grow my thick skin. She hopes that Isis never needs to grow one. I hope so too. But I'm realistic. For every ten people who tell us what a beautiful child we have there's two or three who scowl at us in disdain as if we've committed a mortal sin by falling in love and having a baby. We've come a long way, socially, politically, economically, and even me personally. I'm about as close to the dream as any poor kid from the ghettos of Philadelphia ever dreamt he could be. I have a good job, a good woman, two wonderful kids, a nice house, and two nice cars. I am respected in all three of my chosen areas of endeavor, the business world, the athletic world, and the literary world. I live in the most culturally, racially integrated time in American History. But as close as the dream may be to realization at this point it remains a fantasy. It's like losing weight. Those last few pounds are the hardest to shed.