I was watching a show on Comedy Central earlier this week in which they did a skit on Talking about Race.  A white reporter/moderator was put in a room with 5 Black Americans and a Black moderator/reporter went in a room with 5 White Americans.  They were supposed to talk about race.  The skit showed how much difference there is in perceptions between the two groups.  I thought it rather accurately reflected what I see happening these days.

A couple of hours later, I watched an MSNBC interview with Cuba Gooding, Jr. (1968) & Forest Whitaker (1961) about "The Butler."   Whitaker commented that what he took away from the movie was that not only blacks fought & died for civil rights, but whites as well.  The white moderator pointed out that 2 of the three civil rights workers killed in 1964 in Neshoba, MS were white. 

I know from personal experience that there were also whites working for civil rights in ways which threatened their physical lives less than their economic or social lives.  Kids told adults they didn't think racist jokes were funny or asked them not to use the N-word in front of them.  People who recommended a black for a job and found their own careers stalled for the "impertinence"  of it.  One can die socially, emotionally, professionally, economically as well as physically. Many whites stepped up to the plate and fought for civil rights.  Ironically, it was my perception that those with the most "white privilege" who did this that suffered the least.  I could be wrong, but that is how I saw it growing up in those times.

I don't know how much Whitaker actually remembers from their childhood about the conditions before the 1965 Civil Rights Act and the Watts riots. Gooding was born after all that and has no personal memories.  I do think many young Blacks think all white people my age are racists.  I think they need to open their minds and get more experience with whites my age.

Eugene Allen, upon whom the movie is based, was born about a year after my father, and he went to work in the White House about the time I was conceived.  I mention my father because he too was known as Gene. and because his perspective on racism largely shaped my own as I lived through the same times Eugene Allen did, but as a white child contemporary to his own children.

What I experienced after 1965 was the difficulty of integration, not just due to hostility from whites either.  When Blacks finally moved into my school district and enrolled at my school, everybody felt awkward. Some were hostile, yes.  My own experience in trying to make the brother/sister duo welcome were bumbling and met with what I can only describe as behavior making me feel that they distrusted my genuine desire to befriend them. What they didn't know was I was generally bumbling about getting to know people.   Terribly insecure I was.

What I wish I had had the sense to say is "Look, I'm not very good at meeting people for the first time.  I always think they aren't going to like me, and I'm kind of sensitive about it.  So I end up bumbling around."  The problem was that as a 16 year old who was afraid they weren't going to like me, I was too insecure to say that.  

As the years passed, I came to realize that Blacks were often NOT saying what they really thought to me.  No good relationship begins with a lack of honesty.  What I recognized -- or think I recognized -- is that sometimes this was because the individual I was trying to get to know was put off by some of the same behaviors or thoughts or allegiances that whites I met for the first time were -- lack of common interests, religion, hobbies, stage of life cycle.  Sometimes, though, it was distrust, often unjustified in my particular case, although more than justified on the basis of prior experiences with whites in general.  

Always, however, in promising Black relationships, I could get just so far into their lives, and then it fell apart.  Sometimes I knew why, as with the very bright young man in  my college classes who just did not understand that it was the fact he was married that put me off him sexually. I had wanted to be FRIENDS, colleagues, with him, not his lover.   When the end came, he slammed his napkin down on the table, hissed "I should have known.  What is it, you don't like the way I smell?"  I whispered to his retreating back "No, as a feminist, I don't want to hurt your wife."  Most often, however, as with married couples I met professionally, I never knew why, after a dinner at my house, and a dinner at theirs, both of which seemed to go well, it just ended.  Obviously, I took some wrong step, but I don't know what it was.  I always got the impression however, it was some cultural divide, or something I said that they considered racist but never bothered to explain.  Whether they told themselves I was like all the rest, or were afraid I'd be offended and get angry, I have always seen those events as taking the easier road, rather than hashing it out, like friends do.  After awhile, I quit trying.  

I will say this.  Only once did a Black woman or man make the first move toward friendship.  It was a short friendship, but I think a sincere one, and it ended when I moved on to another job.  When I tried to reconnect, the reception was hostile.  I still admire the woman greatly, and I wish we were still friends, but I accept that it will not happen. I have learned a lot from her, and regret whatever I did to offend her.

I am sure, back there in my innocent optimism that the Civil Rights Act would bring an end to racism in my lifetime,  I hoped that by this time in my life, I would have good friends of all colors.  Today, I despair of it ever happening. 

In a chat room once, a Black woman said to me, after she learned I was a Hillary supporter in the primary and chewed me out as a racist and I tried to explain it was policies and personal characteristics, and yes, wanting a female President as badly as she wanted a Black President, "Oh yes, I am SURE you have Black friends, right?  Well, know this, no Black is really friends with a white. We laugh at you behind your back."  Really?  And *I* am the racist/bigot rejecting someone just because of the color of their skin?  I don't think so.  

I do hope the younger generations move past this crap.  Did I benefit from having white skin at some points in my life.  Probably.  Did I ask to be born white?  Or to have those privileges (some of which I really didn't have?)

So, here's an opening for conversation.  What the HELL am I supposed to do about having been born white?  What do I have to do to stop being seen as a racist?  What EXACTLY is it that is thought that I CAN do to end racism?  What are you assuming I think or feel toward you?  Do you think I automatically know what you will consider racist?  Do you never misunderstand what someone says and take it for something it's not?  Have you made sure you didn't do something offensive to me before you judge my distaste for you as racism? 

NEWSFLASH:  Plenty of whites don't like me, and I don't like a lot of whites.  There are also some I like ok, but I don't want to be buddies, and there are few that I just want to make vanish completely from my daily interactions.  I once changed dentists because the man yabbered political diatribe at me while he worked on my teeth.

Maybe, just maybe, it's not your skin, but your manner of talking to me, or what you want to talk to me about (sorry, evangelism makes me want to slap a person silly!  Especially if it denigrates women or hates gays), or your incessant ranting about your new baby that I have been hearing from parents all my life.  ASK AND TELL.  You might find out we can work through some of this stuff and there's no racism, or no intentional racism, at all.  I'm happy to admit I do not know all the offenses and will apologize if I commit one, once I understand why it's offensive.  There are also some Blacks who owe me an apology for assuming I am happily offending them and don't care if I do.  They should bother to ask if I knew what and why.  They might also be surprised to know how much time over the years I have spent reading, listening, learning and trying to understand so that I will not say something offensive.

The bottom line, for me, really IS this:  I do NOT care what color your skin is.  Get drunk, lose control over your anger in a bar, slam me up against a wall, and I WILL consider you an ASSHOLE (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and a sexist.  I don't give a damn about your race.  Just your behavior, given the situation.  Now was that bartender a racist?  I don't know.  I don't know if she threw other drunk, angry people out of that bar on a regular basis, night after night, or what the color of their skin was.  Gooding had no call to effect physical violence on a woman.   IT IS NO MORE ACCEPTABLE TO ME TO PHYSICALLY ASSAULT A WOMAN THAN TO LYNCH A BLACK GUY JUST BECAUSE (S)HE DOES NOT BEHAVE THE WAY YOU WANT HIM TO.  Think on that. 

I happen to think Cuba Gooding, Jr is a talented actor and I see just about every movie he is in.  I will see The Butler, not just because I admire Gooding's work, but Winfrey's, Whitaker's and others' in the cast. Italso promises to be exactly the kind of movie I love seeing. 

I also happen to think Gooding needs to address anger management, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere when he's drinking.  If I were in a bar (unlikely, it's been literally decades) and moved when he walked in and sat down near me, it's because his drinking and anger scare me.  I do admit that over the years I have developed little tolerance for being around people who are drunk, whether they are alcoholics or simply people who behave badly when drunk.  That's why it's unlikely I'd be in a bar.  It's also why I don't usually go to parties. Gooding might probably think I was a racist, wouldn't he?

So think about this, and about what's on my page Talking About Racism.  I would love to see some comments, especially if they are answers to my questions and not just attacking me or labelling me.  I want a dialogue, not a diatribe!


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