The Thing About Race

I spent more time on The Facebook last week than I have in a while, mesmerized by a generally comforting stream of white faces — whom I’ve never seen post a picture with black faces — shouting noble truths and cursing our president. Interspersed were the usual close-up pictures of giant Aryan babies, a peculiar juxtaposition when bookended by posts of white outrage and guilt. I didn’t know whether to scold the parents for being oblivious to social context or admire them for the commitment to normalcy when the world seemed to be ending, like the orchestra playing on the Titanic.

So saddened by the events of Charlottesville, my wife said she wasn’t sure whether to bring kids into this world after all. Part of me wanted to seize this opportunity to secure a binding agreement, but I countered honestly. I think it’s as fine a time as any to live.

Watching Nazis and their stupid chants and torches deposited palpable negative emotions in my gut, which seemed to somehow elude a certain president and father of a Jewish daughter.

However, I don’t think America is being torn apart or at an inflection point. I don’t think our president ushered in the rise of a white nationalist era. I cherry-picked some backup from The Wall Street Journal and hate-crime-fighting SPLC indicating no statistically significant change.

This perception feels about right to me. Things appear to be more or less the same. There are bad days, but it’s not like President Obama presided over a golden age of race relations either.

Zooming out to a bigger timeline, I find it encouraging the civil rights demonstrators being swarmed and harassed by racist counter-protestors 50 years ago have essentially swapped positions.

Because we are so maddeningly tribal within our species, race has always been and continues to be this… thing. It’s interesting, frustrating, wonderfully and terribly complex.

Asians earned the distinction of model minority in America, and we thank you magnanimous white folks for the opportunity to serve within your framework in such high esteem. In my biased opinion though, there is no ethnic group people enjoy making fun of more than Asians.

Consider this masterpiece by Steve Harvey, a comedian I actually like and know can do better.

This is racist, too. The tone differs pleasantly from that of a neo-Nazi rally, and no one got run over by a car which is always a nice bonus. But something about the dismissive comfort in this scene, while talking about a man’s ability to attract a partner, which some might say is fundamental to his soul and identity, with a studio audience quietly laughing along, made it a bit sinister.

Maybe if the jokes were more clever coming from a longtime professional, I could write it off to lowbrow comedy. This was absolute garbage. I’m not sure you could pull that off talking about any other race without more backlash than Harvey got.

Listen Steve, I tried to bang as many white girls in my 20s as I could. Maybe I fell short of Wilt Chamberlain, but I filled out a full roster plus injured reserve. Then I flew too close to the sun and married one, and now I can’t keep up the good fight anymore.

For a 33-year-old with a beautiful wife, the Steve Harvey clip doesn’t cut very deep. But I don’t want some 12-year-old Asian boy getting bullied at school stumbling on it, just like I don’t want some 12-year-old black boy playing in a park in the shadow of a Robert E. Lee statue. (Am I being too black and white when I say Confederate monuments are the kind of thing museums were built for?)

I once stayed out past midnight and drove to Hollywood on a weeknight to support my Indian friend doing standup comedy, and one of her jokes was something about how she didn’t like Asian men because they’re scrawny and just “Eww.”

And then she moved on the next joke! Where was the punchline; what was the point? That was just plain mean. Most aspiring comedians wouldn’t dare put the preference so bluntly about blacks or Mexicans. If they said it about white men, a subtle strain of white privilege would be invoked. It’s so easy to take jokes and be self-deprecating from a position of power, just like it’s so easy to be generous when you’re rich.

I don’t want to get into that. I’m being a baby now and will stop. I only bring all this up to reiterate… race is a thing. It is ever-present in so many forms of varying concern, whether we have a black president or one so narcissistic he would rather appear bigoted than apologetic.

Again, I am confident white supremacism in America is not getting worse if you control for the effects of technology. It is easier to organize, disseminate and become visible. But maybe some overexposure is good, too. If Trump makes White Power feel empowered, I kind of don’t mind knowing who feels that way.

This might be another unfortunate case of my underestimating as I did during the election, but I just can’t shake this condescending mindset. If you’re a Nazi in 2017 America, can you possibly be crushing it in life?

I just can’t see the dude with the hot girlfriend or getting the D1 scholarship or starting the company or building a 401K or with more friends than he can count joining the Klan. I can plainly see that not all white supremacists are tattooed skinheads or hillbilly mouth breathers.

But still, succeeding at life offers three checks against extreme bigotry. 1) You don’t have time or energy to waste on it. 2) You have too much to lose. 3) Your experiences and relationships are too diverse for the construction of such flimsy philosophies.

Thus I subscribe to the opinion that white supremacists, dangerous as they can be, are not good enough at life as a whole for me to worry daily. They seem no more or less of a threat than radical Islamists or renegade black militants hunting down cops.

Our previous president strategically avoided using the term “radical Islamic terrorists,” endeavoring to keep the hate separate from the religion. Maybe our current president doesn’t like the term “white supremacists” for the same reason, but he will never get the benefit of the doubt there or anywhere.

Race is a thing. Pragmatically, the surest way to make it less of a thing is interracial relationships and friendships. We gain those over time, but there is probably an upper limit in the march to a universal race and harmony because humans naturally will find a way to unite and divide.

Race will always be a thing. Just because some things are jarring and get more attention doesn’t mean things are getting worse.

 

 

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