The other day we were driving through town and saw a pick-up truck (there are probably more pick-ups than cars in our town – I drive one, too) with two giant confederate flags, one flying on each side of the bed. They were the length of the bed and taller than the truck. Why?! My heart sank. I hoped that there were no people of color in the vicinity to see it. Here’s the deal. I truly believe that many southerners equate Ol’ Dixie with “the south” – the good parts. Southern pride, y’all! Red beans and cornbread! Sweet tea, John Deere and my dawg! Chicken & dumplins! (I’m getting hungry) And my old shot-gun! Pow Pow! Oh sorry, did I spray you in the face with buckshot? Oops. Anyway, Yay!
But, of course, many of us equate the flag with the fight over slavery. And then there are those who are openly racist and fly it in defiance. I don’t know what this particular person’s intent was. Only God knows. Truly. It’s tempting to think, “I know what he meant.” But, no, we really don’t. We just think we do. The only brain I’m in is my own. And I’m not even there half the time.
There’s that term: openly racist. So many of us like to declare, “I’m not racist!” and we believe it because we cannot conceive of the notion that we are capable of such ig-nernce. I’d like to declare it, but it’s so cliché and fraught-filled, that I do not, and because it doesn’t matter how you try to defend that statement, the defending of it comes off as racist. It’s the perfect set-up for finger-pointers. You cannot win any debate that begins with the words, “I am not racist.” (Unless you can, and then, fine.)
Of course, we can argue all day about semantics – how to define racism. Maybe it’s like art, and we know it when we see it. But some people think everything is art and others can’t see art if it knocks ‘em in the head. So there you are. People of all races can be racist, and the victims of it at the same time. It flows freely in all directions depending on the neighborhood you’re in. And often, it’s not even neighborhood dependent. Kindness and hatred exist in people of all races – (duh, we know) – but we seem to forget this in our zeal to point fingers. Self-righteousness feels so good; it’s an adrenaline rush – a drug so easy to reach for when we feel powerless or fearful.
I’m reminded of a few mornings ago when I was in a drive-through line at a Starbucks in the next town over, a beautiful, shiny new black Chevy truck in front of me. Gorgeous, gleaming truck. (I’m fond of vehicles – trucks especially) Anyway, on the tailgate in bright red was a sticker with writing in white Arabic letters. Very attractive use of sticker – the black set it off beautifully. I couldn’t read it because I don’t read Arabic. But I recognized the beautiful script, because I also couldn’t read it when I visited Israel many years ago. You have the choppy-looking, masculine Hebrew and the beautiful, flowing Arabic, both aesthetically pleasing, neither of which I can read. Anyway, there was another sticker in his window also in Arabic.
Uh-oh. What does this mean? Two stickers – both in Arabic? In this little town? Batten down the hatches! Why no stickers written in English, the tongue of my motherland?! Wait. Where is my motherland? England? Hold the phone!! Aren’t they the ones who tried to taxation us without representationing us? And that’s not fair! So sayeth the Schoolhouse Rock. I reject them! and their English! (clearly) If America is my motherland, then my native language might oughta be Caddo, Comanche or Spanish, hmmm…oh crap. I need new bumper stickers, y’all.
Um anyway, back to the truck. Why do I care? It’s not my truck. I glanced up at his rear-view mirror to see who was driving. Yes, the driver fit the sticker. Yes, I let my mind go there. Why? Because we notice things that are unusual in our environment. I live in a pretty racially homogenous area. So I noticed. When I’m in other places, where the population is diverse, I don’t notice.
When we take the time, of course, we realize that there are people we don’t click with (at all!!) that share our racial heritage, and those with whom we do, even though our racial backgrounds couldn’t be further apart. Grouping people by race, intelligence, beauty, socioeconomic status, athleticism, politics and so on is so easy. And lazy.
We get mad at people who judge by race while we judge them by their race. It takes time, thought and effort to get to the bottom of this universal problem, and to recognize our own culpability in it. We have certain beliefs because we’re taught them, have been exposed to them repeatedly (via the media & Hollywood – easy targets – apologies) or they’ve been driven into us by fear. So what are we to do?
It seems that education and love might be some places we could start.
Judging by appearance is so cheap and easy. And so is judging people who judge. Maybe that’s why we do it. We’re a cheap and easy people. You don’t even have to buy us dinner first.