Am I a racist or just not a race-relations activist?

 

I’ve wanted to approach a reflection on my experience for years, not so much Black and White race relations upon which I’ve commented numerous times, and on various aspects - more specifically how I should view my personal experiences with being physically attacked in the street, with one latino exception, by black men. In case a reader is not aware, I’m a descendent of north-western non-MENA europeans, all 4 of my quarters; a blue-eyed whitey handed the baton from any number of gaunt malcontents, opportunists and criminals from the ‘old world,’ who traipsed into the north amerikan continent to massacre or otherwise confine a previous population and to ‘build’ a country on the back of stolen and enslaved Africans. Let there be no confusion about what happened therein.

 

As a matter of accounting, and I do not view myself as a conspicuous or constant target; I’ve been beaten in the street in various ways a mere 3 or 4 times, faced with pending hostility a number of times further, but luckily not to the extent requiring hospitalization. In other words, no bigge I guess. But it bothers me anyway. When I encounter other more frequent moments in which there may be racial tension, I twist about it anew; the latest event merely involving grand theft. I suppose according to a John Wayne type, that makes me psychologically weak, that these events stay on my mind - but that doesn’t bother me at all.

 

At various times, usually directly after an incident of this nature, I’ve tried to figure out how I should think about these experiences. On an occasion or two, friends, mostly women, have almost told me that I shouldn’t think about it all, that is, race is not involved. I think I can understand this, at least I can try; though to think of the seemingly factual note in the events - that with or without reason, the people who attacked me or stole from me (in the instances when I saw the thefts) were all black or P.O.C. I guess we could conjecture that ‘things gone missing’ without my witness are at the hands of non-blacks. Fair enough, I guess, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say whatever (few) other theft incidents were by whites. Does this mean my witness makes all the difference and extracts my racist tendencies…? I don’t know, but that seems outside the scope for the moment.

 

I think prior to one conversation I had with a woman, I mostly thought of this as something I refer to as bearing the burden of my ancestors, and perhaps in my better moments, I additionally tried to understand how my mere presence, the places I have lived, the actions I have taken (meek as they may have been), the mere act of being anywhere, could be viewed as an imposition, a further push at the traditionally oppressed, a resented seizure of territory, of space, of air. Or maybe, it’s just obvious I’m a 150 pound featherweight. In any case, after my acquaintance reacted in astonishment when I told her I was reeling from being robbed by a young black man, and more importantly was wrestling with something I found myself (dare I say naturally) doing: Realizing that every single time I was beaten in the street, it was at the hands of a black man. Upon this woman’s commentary, it occurred to me that I might be clueless, misguided, off-base and a racist. I guess she told me as much. There are a few types I really don’t like to be: A victim, a clueless, a racist, no doubt among other things.

 

It might be worth mentioning here, that as I referred to myself one who somehow has skated under the radar, walked with a light touch, found myself rarely the target of scorn or attention of most sorts, the violence that has come to me in these instances (I believe I can say with confidence) didn’t follow any waving of my arms or lips in any way shape or form; but perhaps the soft shuffling of shoes on the sidewalk, at a gait neither brisk nor leisurely. In other words, I was hardly asking for trouble in some auditory or flamboyant way.

 

I am also familiar with class war. Clearly assault and theft are not reserved to conflicts between underclass blacks and ex-suburban white punks. But I’ve never had trouble understanding the motivations of the underclasses nor a notion of justice among the oppressed or the poor. I confess daily as to never have really lived in want, I have not suffered etc.; my friends know well this broken record I play. No stranger in the street knows my straights, but I think I can say fairly that I’m the anthesis of conspicuous consumer or a consumer at all; I am known as one going to extreme lengths to avoid buying anything. Maybe that makes me more of a competitor to the underclasses. If it weren’t for my (4) well-to-do parents and militant quest to derail capitalism in my personal life, I’d qualify as an underclassmen myself - I could likely make the case anyway. Regardless, most who may know something of me, or not, will suggest I look as if my clothes are acquired from a dumpster, my car from a wrecking yard. Really, I stayed in Paris in an old hospital squat once, with a young black graffiti kid from Spanish Harlem who looked at the (gifted) coat I was wearing and said: “Man, if somebody gave me that coat, I’d throw it away.” Anyway, my nearly lost point here is to say: One need remember that race in amerika is more complex, vis a vis race interface in urbanity. I don’t struggle to remember this.

 

I do waffle between thinking myself unfortunate for being struck or cheated and thinking “It’s the least I can do,” to be a punching bag and a mostly empty pocket for the oppressed. The kid who told me he had a gun and I best give him my money said to the police (that I felt guilty for calling): “I gotta go to jail for $5 ?!?” I knew him going to jail was not going to set him straight or help in the slightest; another (female) friend told me: “You’re not going to testify against him are you?” No, I wouldn’t. I naively and impulsively thought reporting the incident to the police might prod them mildly into patrolling the street more often. The Police say as much about reporting data. Yeah, what the fuck was I thinking.

 

When I think: Two black guys stole $2000 worth of tools out of my truck - firstly, it’s my fault for putting the tools there (which is true), secondly, plenty of white punks would’ve stolen that stuff if they happened upon it so there’s nothing racial about it, and further if there is anything to mention about the sheer statistical fact that every incident of violation either to my person or my property has been initialed by black men, I am being a racist, and anyway it amounts to my tiny contribution to reparations for slavery, a redistribution of wealth, I am to forgive trespasses that I may have created myself, and I am not in Syria or Afghanistan and generally speaking my life is great, so what the fuck am I complaining about?

 

And remember, these fuckheads didn’t know they were stealing from me, or an old white guy who owns real estate outright. They weren’t thinking about whether the owner was a blue-collar worker, a struggling illegal immigrant or a black man like them. They knew the shitty but popular ‘sport’ truck was likely not the usual choice for a brother from the hood, but I doubt they thought about it at all. Not 6 months before, a black man had been parking a rough Ford 250 on the block, and came up to me asking if I’d seen who stole it. In other words, there ain’t nothin’ racial about shitbags stealing stuff; where there’s a op there’s an op. And I say shitbags stealing - is that what I am? I’ve stolen all kinds of shit, I pretend it’s abandoned, or that it’s damaged junk anyway, or the store it’s in makes plenty of money, or the construction site developer has millions and won’t miss a level or a spool of wire. I could just relax, skip the accounting and say that karma governs the matter.

 

In a way, I have accepted this critique. I have not bettered myself, I have not worked significantly to aid black people, worse, I can’t even see what is at play here. But I’m not sure it’s that simple.

 

I want to talk frankly and honestly about being a racist. In some other realms or contexts I’ve had the preference that, for example, people who are bigoted, selfish, territorial assholes have (believe it or not) some sort of leg on which to stand IF they admit that’s what they are. They may be wrong or misguided or ridiculous or dangerous but at least they not (so much) hypocrites. There’s a difference between calling yourself a ’Compassionate Conservative’ or just a ‘Conservative.’ One is a contradiction and the other is just an asshole.

 

Let’s visit for a few lines, the nature of my relationships with black people. I think it’s fair to say that I don’t seek out friends or acquaintances based on some race quota. I certainly hope most would find that idea truly demented. If we speak of having a group of cohorts that track well racially the percentages of the greater population, some jaws should approach the floor. So without creating a ledger with the races of my social strata through my life, suffice it to say that I’ve had a handful of black friends and acquaintances, but I would guess less than 12%. But who’s counting. The point is, people wander around and bump into each other while conducting their lives in a city. How do you develop relationships? You strike up conversation and proposition with people which you may find saying things you find interesting, resonate, attractive, and so on, this is all obvious. I think it’s quite true that a significant number of white men that I have interacted with in various levels of (mental) depth were pretty much selfish, bitter jerks. It is also pretty clear that I’m a fair-weather friend that calls mostly when I want something. If it helps, no one calls anyone back these days anyway. It’s apt timing now that I’m old and I don’t work at friendships much anyway. But I digress.

 

Am I really talking about culture? Many have spoken with more eloquence or science about the blended borders of race, class and culture than I, but clearly amerika continues the ancient struggle for resources. We may want to pretend we have figured out a way for all peoples to succeed, however that is defined, and as we must remember the difficult fact James Burke reiterated: “Never before in history have so many lived so well.” the reality is that people still get fucked all the time, despite the existence of bandaids like insurance, public defenders, free clinics, or public outrage. Like the real estate lawyers say: “The party with the ability to indefinitely pay the lawyers, mostly gets what they want.” I bring this tangent because of the ongoing question as to whether douchebags and assholes transcend race, class or cultural artifice. Of course they do; these come in all stripes.

 

I’m a racist if I have an inclination to look over my shoulder or think I should wait for a brother to pass on the sidewalk before I put my toolbox in the truck bed. It seems clear that I’m fearful that black men CAN be trouble, and like a Pavlovian dog or Skinner rat, I remember violence, and the skin color or cultural attributes of those who ‘brought’ me those experiences. Because any man can and does bring violence to the world, apparently the correct thinking is that my personal accounting should be discarded as rubbish smokescreen. I couldn’t have brought the violence upon myself; I was just walking down the street, preparing to go to a job. Or is that all I was doing? Black white or purple, my assailants were just men, no further attributes need be described.

 

 

 

At some point, a white person in amerika may ask himself: “What did I do to deserve the burden of (probably) the actions of my ancestors?” A significant number of people may not think about this at all. Personally, I think about this often, every time I meet a black person who shares my name, for example. Many also may not realize the depths of their privilege, that the advantages their skin and culture has brought them, perhaps even thinking they owe a special debt of gratitude to their ancestors for ‘blazing’ a path for them even if through Donner pass or the dust bowl. I know little of the attitudes or activities of my ancestors in amerika, but I have no issue with my own assumption that they were criminals, malcontents or religious nuts from England, Ireland and Germany. I certainly don’t think they deserved to live any more than anyone else; they moved like water in some direction or another with their self-interests in mind, just like any other animal.

 

But say they lived with the notion so ingrained, that slavery was thought of as normal as owning a horse or a plow or worse decided ‘owning’ people was a route to wealth generation when their fathers didn’t participate in this. Then this goes on until a certain number of slave rebellions and bleeding heart whites finally succeed in pushing society ever so slowly toward the outlaw of this brutal and insane abomination, such that ever so gradually the practice is banished, and the exploitation of black and brown peoples is forced to become more sophisticated. And at this point in history (we should hope I guess), that we are in some sort of incompetent mopping up period in which mostly the rules are straightened out. Except for the weirdest, but still just under the surface, the clinging by the bigots to bias grumble under a veil, to jerrymander and create voting restrictions and so on.

 

Let me be clear as mud about something, as if I haven’t been prior: There are sentiments among the whitey nervous types, those who have a concern about being cast out, run over by a potential mass of darker peoples, or at least worried to be a minority and have their historical dominance flattened or diminished. Through these fears they talk of ‘reverse’ discrimination, the logical system in something they refer to as ‘meritocracy’  and so on. I want it known that I think this is complete nonsense at best and justice at least. But though I would never wish to look upon these white people with sympathy, from the womb and perhaps for some few young years, we the descendants of slave holders and brutes of lighter skin are not brought to the world with bigotry in the heart. But more importantly then, mentioning that corruption is brought to the innocent in this life not before, the acknowledgment of such hardly excuses the poisonous training bigoted peoples may even unconsciously bring to their young. It is true that I do not want to carry the guilt I may find in my luggage, either packed by me, society or collective memory, with regard to my personal contribution to the continued oppression of people of ‘color.’

 

I think this ‘self-awareness,’ if that’s what I’m doing here, and the line of thought that I actually do little personally to perpetuate oppression can be associated with the racist insistence and denial that wants so to have a colorblind society; slavery has been abolished, affirmative action is now unnecessary, black people can go to Harvard, etc. This connection I insist to break off, because I think we can hold the two thoughts in our minds synchronous:

1) There continues to be a schizophrenic truth - we know the relationship between the celebration of diversity in human experience and when there are differences in experience and even ‘style’ there is a hurdle to clear without falling into the pit of xenophobia, and 2) If the marginally operative notion of free will suggests to us that people of any stripe are entitled to something called preferences, then more than ever: One must do what you will but do no harm, and sadly we lack dearly the capacity to see beyond our noses in so many cases and realms. But like those who want to believe problems of race are exaggerated, we have difficulty addressing narcissism when one thinks one is deserving and chosen. But there’s seemingly no end to feelings born of insecurity in the mind of man.

 

So I say, I walk down the street inclined to look over my shoulder, speaking of insecurity from which I think I am mostly divorced. The guys who have attacked me bodily no nothing of my sympathy for the oppressed; I can hardly hand them a treatise in the passion of a robbery over $5, explaining that I indeed know my privilege in amerika was born on the backs of slaves - despite my ancestor Peter Muth’s skills to manipulate silver, my father’s intelligence that lubricated his academic career in physics, neither of them committing anything of a heinous crime, at least that I know of. In other words, what’s to be done?

 

I suppose the majority of white amerikans do too little, hence my insistence that I am not enough of race-relations activist. How much of one should I be? Perhaps enough of one who finds he suddenly has no inclination to look over his shoulder.

 

It is also true that as I don’t care about rap music, I don’t care about Mozart. What other attributes of ‘black’ amerika could I care less about which have their compliments among white ‘culture?’ One might say: ‘Well that’s quite beside the point; standing in the parade with the placards announcing that black people deserve equal protection from the law rather than death at the hands of the law, is the ticket - no one cares if you’re too white to shake your flat white booty. Not all black people care about dancing I’m sure, but I just don’t care about such things one way or the other. Or is it racist to care not in the slightest about culture that doesn’t appeal? However, solidarity is what is needed, despite that the black kid with gun-shaped hand down his low-riding jeans can’t know you attended a George Floyd rally.

 

There’s no shortage of laziness; I want to say: But I write on a regular basis about all this - this is my contribution. My attackers knew nothing of my protest attendances or my blog posts on ‘life mattering’, black, white, purple or chartreuse.

 

I have an acquaintance in a rather rough man, who happens to be black, in my neighborhood, a recycler who is among the many underclassmen who shlep metals and plastics to the ‘Center’ around the corner. I see him grunt and mumble his thoughts, apparently to air them, presumably returning via his ears to the mind from whence they originate. I see him be conscientious and methodical in his practice; his is a professional, an entrepreneur and a sole-proprietor. He has come to recognize me, and I imagine he mildly appreciates the fact that I may seem to pass no judgment on him, his activities or his style; that I actually appreciate his discipline I hardly think he could imagine. When I have big chunks of aluminum machine part scrap I offer it to him, he may take it, feels no obligation to thank me for it. In a strange lineage I may have come about it from the exploitation of miners somewhere in the world, so fair is fair. The relationship, if one can call it that, is merely one of imagination. A day, in a stretch of tolerance, I offered him some rather low level weed trimmings, the kind we kids of the 70s used to smoke, but today it’s considered garbage. I felt a little guilty even offering it to him, and how condescending and presumptuous of me that he might even smoke weed, though I have witnessed his tobacco inhalations. He indeed took a look, perhaps just to verify he understood what I meant by ‘weed trimmings’ but then he declined the low level product, saying merely: “Nah, I’m good.” Some years prior, he saw me and thought to ask if I had a cigarette, and rather than simply shaking my head ‘no’ as I do with most who ask, I felt it reasonable to say: “No, I love smoking but I got out from under that particular problem.” something I might have thought explained it. Perhaps I hoped he could quit for that sake of his own health. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about, and when I clarified by expressing the sentiment with less crypt, he humorlessly said: “Good for you.” in a way just dripping with acrid and disdain; but he meant no disrespect.

 

Why do I mention this man? Does this prove my experience includes people of color and thereby suggests I am not a racist? What am I looking to say - that skipping whatever it is that I might do more of, to make a positive impact on amerikan race relations, is justified? Hardly. It’s merely an anecdote, suggesting that people interface in our daily lives, and it’s nothing much. Is there an obligation here born of ancestry and privilege, again, a department of reparations? Would I invite him in for a meal? Probably not, though I hardly think he would accept and I seldom do that with anyone. Is this because he is black, an underclassman, he talks to himself, never smiles and appears to be very troubled, if not now then in a former life that haunts? Again, at this point I’m so deep in my own solitary tweaking that befriending anyone, participating in any scene is low on my lists. But this is a duck-out.

 

Alas, I have not embraced black amerika, as I have not embraced white amerika, though its corpse has been the compost from which I grew; one doesn’t choose one’s mother. At this point, I may have strayed from the topic. A racism seems an internal rot, a cancer requiring intervention for those who notice in time, and find the discovery abhorrent. Apparently there may be those who are unapologetic; I would not want to be among them. But the question remains: Do I house it, and what tool to select for an exorcism? This rings of guilt, much like Lyndon Johnson lamenting about his thoughts at the bedside: ‘Every night when I go to bed I ask myself: Have I done everything within my power… (to rectify whatever situation,)’ and the ego-dependent answer is: 1) Probably, if one is confident and narcissistic, 2) Of course not, should one contain some degree of self-doubt. I doubt a calling card with these proclamations can be presented to any shade of thug in the street. Perhaps a folding chair, a pack of cigarettes, a half pint of whiskey to share would demonstrate better my commitment to time well spent. I’m afraid thugs are looking more for wallets than drinks with strangers.