As many of you know, I don’t post very often or, rather, hardly ever at all. But a discussion that some of us have been having about racism (and how it may effect election law) on a post that is about to fall off the front page made me want to relate a personal story or two.
I’m a white man married to a black woman. At some point after my wife and I became engaged, my father explained to me that learning about my engagement was one of the proudest moments of his life. And not because he was proud of me, mind you, but because he was proud of himself. In his mind, my engagement was proof that he had succeeded in raising a son who “doesn’t see color.”
I’ve always loved this about my father. It makes me immensely proud that I have a father who actively tried to instill that particular value in me. Not everyone I’ve known has been lucky enough to have such a father.
Now jump back a few years from the day that my father told me about his sense of pride. I was tending bar on Boylston Street in Boston and I was relating to my stepmother the story of how I had to call 911 to help break up a brawl that had erupted in the middle of an intersection as I was heading home from work. This wasn’t just a couple of kids swinging away at each other, this was something like six or eight people (men and women) dragging each other out of cars and kicking the hell out of each other. I really thought someone was going to be seriously, seriously hurt.
My stepmother was horrified by the story. And her reaction? She asked me what “color” the people were. I immediately called her out for asking such a question. Now, mind you, I wasn’t condemning her as a racist but rather trying to make her see that the question was racist. After all, how could it possibly matter what “color” the people were? She certianly never asked me what color people were when I related stories of human kindness to her.
My stepmother defended herself. She wasn’t being racist, she said, she was just trying to find out who was fighting. Were they college students? Or were they gang members? Now let me be fair to my stepmother and point out that my stepmother in no way thinks that all college students are white or that all gang members are black or hispanic. In fact my stepmother has the same values as my father who was so proud to have raised a son who “doesn’t see color.” And yet here she was using color as a shorthand for trying to figure out if these folks were drunken frat boys or scary hoodlums. Needless to say, her protestations just bothered me further and I continued to call her out. My father jumped in to defend her, offended that I was accusing his wife (who helped raise me since I was five, I mnight add) of racism and the discussion eventually wound down with neither side prevailing.
But this is where things get interesting. A couple of days later, my phone rang. It was my father. He was calling to appologize. He and my stepmother had been thinking about the discussion a lot and had come to realize that I was right to have called my stepmother out. The whole thing had bothered them so much that they had taken a good hard look inward and had to admit that they didn’t like what they saw.
Now I relate this story about my conversation with my stepmother (and father) not to make her look bad or me look good. I want to stress that my stepmother and father are in no way racist, at least not in the way that christopher would define it. But in the way that somervilletom would? Or in the way that I sometimes do when referring to myself? Well …
We all have parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of: subconsious thoughts and beliefs that are, unfortunately, part of who we are, though not who we aspire to be. When people hold up a mirror to these ideas, we recoil from them. We’re not the racists or sexists or misogynists or homophobes; it’s those other people. Look over there. Look at what they’re doing in Florida. Just get that damned mirror away from me!
And what goes for the individual goes equally for the body politic, as well. Massachusetts has more to be proud of than most states. But refusing to address, or in many cases even acknowledge, the isms still raising their ugly heads in our political system merely because they’re not as eggregious or overt as they are in some other states is, well, just wrong. And I’m calling us out on it. Myself included.