Real Talk About Race: Chapter Two
This week, let's make it a little less formal and touch on a few different topics that Pamela, one of my favorite bloggers, raised last week in the comments.
First, Pamela said she stresses at times when she observes (like in the news) a white person accused of committing a crime against a black victim.
She said that just like I worry that I'll be lumped in by the casual observer with every other young black man who commits a crime, she worries that people will automatically assume the white offender chose his victim based on their race and that it was a hate crime.
Is this a common fear among white people you know, or a common fear of yours if you're white? I'm just curious, 'cause I have a buddy who used the words "under siege" to describe how he felt when talking about this issue with black and some Latino colleagues and acquaintances. He says he sometimes feels like some black folks think race-based crime works in only one direction.
Pamela also mentioned that she gets bothered when the reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton "go on the defensive" over issues involving racial division.
Again, I'm curious about the average white person's take on this. I'm mainly curious, because I am certain there is a misconception among some white people about the reverends' relationship with working class/middle class/upper class black America. Ask the average black person who has a job and is handling his business if either of the reverends speak for him, and he's likely to tell you no. I think because we see them on TV a lot - at the invitation of these cable news channels, there is an assumption by white America that black folks fall in lock step behind those two. The reality here is the average black person doesn't put any more or less stock in what those two have to say than they do any politician.
On the other side of this coin, you see outspoken pundits like Pat Buchanan and the Rev. Pat Robertson on TV too. But I honestly don't know whether the average black person believes white people as a whole pledge allegiance to the likes of Robertson and other similar outspoken white religious bosses/businessmen who allegedly rouse rabble. I've never really heard it come up in conversation with other black folks.
Moving right along, Pamela also said she believed all crime - I believe she meant all violent crime - is hate crime.
I know what she means about that. And I tend to teeter on the fence. I know that for the purposes of law enforcement and prosecution, if you commit a crime against another person for a characteristic over which they have no control, like race, then there is a rider for additional charges that can be attached to you.
Generally speaking though, if you have so little regard for human life that you would kill, or assault, or rob someone else with a weapon, you're full of some form of hate, regardless what your victim looks like.
Maybe that's one of those first steps we take to finding a common ground: agreeing that all violent crime is hateful in nature, and barring some really, really, really convincing extenuating circumstances, should be treated the same across the board. And the "same" means identical punishments, and so on.
Or should there remain in place special, extra punishment for going after a person of a different race...because of their race?
So next topic is the documentary called Meeting David Wilson that MSNBC aired last week. Don't know if you saw it, but I thought it was eye-opening. It was about a young black man from Newark, NJ, who looks into his family tree and traces his ancestors to North Carolina. In the process he meets an older white man named David Wilson whose ancestors owned the younger man's ancestors. The documentary covers the research and how these men connected and slowly began to evolve into friends.
Take away all the social science and psychobabble, and I was moved by how the two men - the black David Wilson and the white David Wilson - built a cautious friendship. And speaking of psychobabble, NBC missed the boat on the town hall-type conversation about race that Brian Williams hosted after the documentary. The conversation was too lofty and too academic, and too - as my grandma would say - saditty.
On the stage they had a famous white newsie, a white author who's written apologetic books about slavery, a black poet-turned-reality show cast member-turned author-turned politician, a black professor, and a black woman who is the wife of a wealthy black man.
What they needed on that stage was a mixed panel of factory workers, office drones, etc. - middle Americans, everyday people. No eggheads. No famous people. No famous people's spouses. No people who like hearing themselves talk. Just regular people who, without reservation could have asked "why do white people...," and "why do black people...," and "why do Asian people..."
BTW, the moment I was dreading in the David Wilson documentary, the moment that was equivalent for me to the climactic point in a horror movie? It came when young, black David Wilson hypothetically asked older, white David Wilson how he'd react if the younger man requested reparations. The documentary is airing again on Saturday, April 19th, from 1 - 4 p.m. If you have time watch it to see how that part of the conversation went.