The hometown of my youth, like so many small towns in the Northeast during the 1970’s, contained a handful of black families. A little black girl sat with me on the bus, and my only thought in regard to her color was noticing how her neck looked different from mine after we’d been sunburned.
“Good Times” gave me a look into ghetto life as I watched a decent, moral family struggling in a Chicago housing project. On the flip side, I watched “The Jeffersons” after they’d “moved on up to the east side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.” Most of the laughs came from the fact that they: a) had a hard time being accepted in their new world and b) made fun of white people.
My next introduction to black people on film was a harsh one. We were forced to watch “Roots” in school at a rather young age. The only naked people I’d seen on film prior to this were dead ones in WWII newsreels. Thus my introduction to seeing live, naked people was watching blacks in the jungle or on a slave ship. It was shocking; not just because they were being tortured or killed, but because in the big scheme of things, I now assumed all blacks had once been abused, naked people who had slid off ships. Worse yet, the implicit message being thrust upon our class was that we, as white people, were responsible for this. I was offended. Neither I nor my parents were even alive when all of that happened. I felt a twinge of bitterness for being forced to shoulder the blame for events I had no hand in; and accused of feelings I did not harbor.
When I was 18, I moved to a town with a substantial black population. I learned the hard way that they had their own side of town, as parking there to watch a softball game netted me four slashed tires simply because I was white. “But why does that matter?” I kept asking my friends.
Calling a taxi to go home from my job at the mall became a hassle. I found that black families would call every taxi service and take the first one that came, leaving the others hanging. At one point I became so frustrated trying to get home that I called a taxi and said, “I’m white and I will wait for your taxi.” It worked.
Another bad impression of black people came when I was an entertainer who interacted with shoppers at a local mall. Due to the demographics, shoppers were mostly white, so when I saw a black man and woman walking quickly through the crowd with particularly sour expressions and avoiding eye contact, it caught my attention. I purposely avoided them. I later learned they had just killed an entire (white) family of four. They were at the mall using the stolen credit cards of their murder victims.
Later, as the editor of the college newspaper, I was sitting alone in the cafeteria after-hours when I was approached by a large black man who kindly asked me to proofread his theme paper.
The theme of his paper centered on the fact that he was having a hard time controlling his anger; he was being bullied by another black man, the result of a longstanding feud between two families. I made grammar and punctuation suggestions, carefully avoiding discussing the content. He thanked me, and seemed like a genuinely nice guy. A month later he was arrested for premeditated murder after using a sawed-off shotgun to kill the man he’d written about. I actually kind of felt bad for him, wondering why his professor hadn’t identified the theme paper as a plea for help.
Last year, a blogger writing on whether blacks commit more crimes than whites, spoke of the “violent subculture theory.” He said:
This is the idea that some black communities, for some reason, have developed cultural values that are more tolerant of crime and violence.
Adding that it was a “mostly right-wing” view, he went on to call it “highly controversial,” when pitted against the “poverty breeds crime” argument.
It’s a generally accepted fact that a law-abiding white person walking into a mostly black neighborhood is at an increased risk of being victimized by harassment or vandalism, at the very least. It’s also safe to say that a law-abiding black person entering a mostly white community will be safer than he is in his own neighborhood.
When black ghetto culture became pervasive among young whites, I cringed. Until then, I had been able to avoid looking at men’s undershorts in public; men holding their crotches and spitting as they walked down the street listening to rap music. All of that was avoidable by staying away from the black section of town. Now, young white men were doing it walking down my street. They were playing that chanting, rhythmic music filled with vulgarity; they were idolizing black ghetto culture. They picked up the lingo, the hand gestures; they were passionately embracing a ghetto culture that many blacks were working hard to escape. Now they would never escape it; it was all around them. White culture fed into it and wanted more. They got it in spades too…drugs, rap sheets, violence, fashion imitating prison clothes, and gang slang.
So if blacks really want to have a “national discussion” on race; the truth isn’t going to be pretty. As far as I’m concerned, that “national discussion” has been beating a constant drum in my ears all the way from the fraudulent story of Kunta Kinte — to the culturally degrading influences of celebrities like Jay Z and Beyonce. (What a downward spiral for a culture that once gave us some of our best loved Christian hymns.)
There are many blacks who I admire and hold up as heroes: Thomas Sowell, Alan Keyes, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Col. Allen West, Dr. Ben Carson, and Star Parker among others. And, of course, I’ve had black friends in my life.
However, from my own view in suburbia, to the riots I see on national television, I admit I often have a hard time not lumping all blacks into a group that I blame for deteriorating American culture.
If this country had elected a black president that could have helped elevate the black community out of the depths of its fiscal and cultural demise — into the higher moral consciousness and economic affluence that is so deserves — we would have a healthier and happier society. We might even have had a better chance at staving off anarchy in our cities.
Every day I struggle to remain colorblind, despite personal experiences. But thanks to Obama, that struggle is getting harder.
One day, about a month ago, a black woman pulled up next to my car and yelled, “”F-ing white b-ch!” I ignored her and drove on.
Later that day, in a supermarket line, I was behind another black woman. Normally outgoing, I was about to ask her how she intended to use her panko bread crumbs. But as I turned my head, the cover of Time magazine blared: “Black lives matter.” (I couldn’t help thinking what a strong statement it would have been if Time had printed instead: “
Black Lives Matter.”)
In light of recent events, I found myself uncomfortable starting a conversation with this black stranger while surrounded by such controversial headlines. I wondered if she too might hate me because I was white. Pre-Obama, I would have only been thinking about bread crumbs.
Most of us, black and white, have worked to overcome prejudices we’ve built-up or encountered in our own lives. And we were doing a pretty damn good job of it before President Obama and his Department of Justice decided to exploit every real or perceived injustice in an attempt to incite a race war aimed at dividing our country.
Charles Manson was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, partly fueled by his obsession with starting a race war. It is lamentable that Barack Obama will not be held accountable for inciting violence underpinned by his black liberation theology — which is apparently just another demented interpretation of the Beatles’ “White Album.”
Susan D. Harris can be reached at www.susandharris.com