I thought long and hard before committing these thoughts to paper – or the worldwide web as the case may be. I am an educated, middle class, white woman who has rarely been the target of racist comments or actions. I was called a wop by a “funny” friend when I first moved to London and, one morning, upon going to retrieve the paper outside my suburban home on the outskirts of “white bread” San Diego, I found human feces on my doorstep and two giant swastikas painted on my driveway. My heart skipped a beat and, for the first time, I felt what random and unjustified hatred feels like.
But, all things considered, I have been pretty immune from racial profiling, derogatory comments based on my skin and race or feeling threatened because of my ethnicity, all far too familiar experiences for most male black teenagers in this country, to the point that parents feel an obligation to instruct their children on how to react (or, rather, not) if randomly stopped by the police.
As a recent e-mail from a friend in Prince Albert, South Africa, reminded me, racism is alive and well. Prince Albert is a picturesque town of early Dutch settlers lodged in the Karoo desert, where, despite apartheid being eliminated in 1994, black people do not enjoy the same life standards as white folks do nor are they treated equally – paid a pittance to work in the flourishing hotels and restaurants, picked on for expecting work breaks, made to walk for miles if wanting to participate in town meetings and living well segregated in the not so nice part of town. But without going as far as South Africa, a country that is still finding its footing in bridging econonic inequality (for both blacks and white) and a political system that works, Orlando, FL, is an excellent reminder of where things stand here. Nearly 50 years since Jim Crow’s laws were abolished, with seeming integration having been achieved, a black teenager is gunned down while walking home to his baby step-brother, having left the house to purchase candy at a 7-11. The culprit, a neighbourhood watch patrolman, claimed self-defense and 46 days went by before he was even arrested and charged with manslaughter, after an intense media campaign. He shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place and, even assuming he is the upstanding citizen his family claims him to be, he no doubt fell prey to the threat of the “other”, and reacted before thinking.
We are all culpable of prejudice but nobody would ever admit to racism. Yet, the fear of the “other”, the one different from us, is alive and well, whether the “other” is the Jews of old whose misunderstood faith confined them to ghettoes all over Europe, enslaved blacks, Muslims labelled en masse as terrorists or undocumented immigrants just trying to get by.
Trying to fight the Second Amendment in this country is a no starter but hoping that some ways of thinking are confined to books and movies such as “The Help” is naive. What a sad state of affairs.