I just saw a politician engaging in ridiculous race-baiting and my first reaction was to angrily denounce her.
My anger was hot and my self-righteousness ran strong. I wanted to condemn her in strong language and make it clear that she’s the sort of person who continues to make race a serious issue in the country. (I’m not going to mention which extreme she was representing, because it doesn’t matter.)
But in the space of 60 seconds, I went from anger at her to frustration with myself. I’ve now stifled my instinct to angrily point out how wrong she is and how she’s using race in a divisive way — not because that would be inaccurate, but because paying so much attention to such divisive people is what gives them so much power.
Race is one of the ugliest problems we have in this country today, and I understand the frustrations and grievances of certain people on both sides of the black/white divide. (Adding Hispanics and the interests of smaller ethnic groups complicates the question even further.)
I understand why so many blacks are angry at the way they were historically treated. That’s not ancient history to many of them. It’s family history — things that happened to parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles — or maybe even things that have happened to them. Many black people have been treated in shameful and disrespectful ways, both by government and individuals, and it has left scars and mistrust of white people and of authority. I do understand why they feel that way.
On the other hand, I understand the frustration and anger of many whites who see black race hustlers gain power and use the rhetoric of race to destroy cities through taxation, abuse of power and pure neglect and incompetence. Many white people are angry at being blamed for things they had no part in, so they’re resentful of efforts of many people to make them feel guilt. They’re angry at continued efforts to set up official double standards of racial discrimination as an alleged remedy for racial discrimination.
There are plenty of grievances to go around — and it’s not always easy to understand someone on the other side. I’ll never know what it feels like to be a black male who is automatically deemed less trustworthy and as more of a safety threat. Yes, I understand the statistical reason for why some people feel this way, but it’s more of a cultural heuristic at this point. Blacks and whites don’t know what it feels like to grow up in the world of the other, to a large extent.
Although there is more racial closeness than there once was, the truth is that most whites and most blacks live in their own cultural bubbles. Even when we intellectually understand each other, it’s almost impossible to emotionally understand the other, even though some of us try.
But as long as we keep paying so much attention to the angry race-baiters on the other side, we just get more and more divided. When black people see an example of race-baiting white politicians, it’s easy for them to unconsciously believe that represents what white people believe. When white people see examples of race-baiting black politicians, it’s easy for them to unconsciously assume the same.
Before long, everything we see is confirmation of what we already believe. We see bad people on the “other side” as typical. We see bad people on “our own side” as aberrations, if we notice at all. And the racial gap gets wider and wider this way.
There has to be a better way, even if I don’t know what it is yet.
I don’t pretend to know how to fix racial problems. I only know that when we attack the extremist idiots on either side of this, we frequently perpetuate stereotypes of both — and we make those people stronger because those on their own side become even more sympathetic to them because they’re being attacked.
I’m angry and broken-hearted by the overall situation, not just one group or the other. Something has to change, but indulging in the need to angrily point out what somebody on one side or the other has done isn’t going to help. It’s just going to harden positions and make people feel even more separate.
Even if I can’t fix things — because I don’t know how — I don’t want to make things worse. So I’m not going to call out a ridiculous politician who was playing to her ignorant voters today. I’m not going to indulge in my instinct to be self-righteous.
I’d rather think about how people of good will on both sides can know each other better and I’d rather think about how we can marginalize the angry race-baiters on both sides. Attacking them because of their public statements simply makes them stronger.