To the Editor:
When advice columnist Andre Shakti (“Interracial Agonistes,” Baltimore OUTloud, March 1st, 2019) burns her hand on the stove, I bet she treats the injury with scalding water from the tea kettle. When a dog bites her right arm, she sticks her left in the lion’s cage at the zoo. Just saying, because when Shakti says she wants to fight racism, her answer is to dig in deep to racist stereotyping.
Reducing a person to a racial epithet is as good a definition of racism as any. Yet that’s just what she does to her hapless correspondent – a white man dating a black man.
Shakti tells him, “You will always be ‘that white guy’ simply by virtue of being white and male. No matter how progressive or well-intentioned we are as white people, we’ve been groomed to look down upon communities of color since birth.”
Does that describe reality for all time? Are white folks growing up with Barack Obama the first president they ever knew just the same as those raised in 1950s Montgomery?
Does it make any sense to talk about “communities of color”? What’s the “community of color” surrounding, say, members of the black misleadership class such as Colin Powell, whose lies to the UN led to a US invasion killing a million Iraqis? Or Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, who dutifully protected Wall Street fraudsters who keep places like Baltimore poor and jobless? When labor unions made their biggest gains a century ago, they were always fighting back against bosses who appealed to racial “solidarities” to divide and conquer workers.
Shakti goes on, “You can’t snap your fingers and erase that kind of insidious socialization, no matter how many partners of color you boast. Racist ideologies don’t just permeate how we see others; they’re wrapped up in our understanding of who we are. They bolster our egos and shape our personal narratives.”
Such absolute pronouncements give little credit to cultural fluidity. Look at New York University historian Martha Hodes’ work on interracial relations between white women and black men, which she documents were commonplace and met with tolerance in the South before the Civil War. It was the rise of Jim Crow afterwards that led to the deadly, concocted hysteria about black men and boys being “sexual predators” of white female purity.
When my Catholic father grew up in 1930s Brooklyn, a Jewish boy wandering into his neighborhood ran a big risk of getting beaten up – a Jewish friend of his was strung up on a tree and nearly strangled. You can bet that Jewish boys dished it out in turn. By the time I was growing up a generation later, whether you were Christian or Jewish was as irrelevant as your hair being wavy or straight.
I’m not calling for a melting pot where all our rainbow variety fades to gray, but it’s precisely by mingling and engaging – and maybe dating or falling in love – that we have a chance to bridge differences.
Opponents of getting along understand this even if Shakti does not. In 2014, Israeli right-wingers firebombed a Jerusalem school that avowedly co-educates Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. “There’s no co-existing with cancer,” they scrawled on a wall. The arsonists got it right, in a way: it’s by ordinary human contact, especially among the young, that prevents false broad-brush demonizations (or idealizations) from taking root. Shakti’s prescribed medicine – fetishizing and mystifying human variety – is the wrong one.