I’m Not Racist: I Have White Friends

I’ve been a bit busy this past week and haven’t posted anything in a little while.  Let’s ease back into this blogging thing with a nice, simple topic.

Race in America.

Particularly, I’m interested in what I’ve witnessed throughout my travels through Un-Real America.  That’s right, I’m talking about cities, those places where only liberal, gay neo-marxists live.  I unfortunately can’t talk much about True Americans™ because I spend most of my time in places where 90% of the US population lives.  What could I possibly know about diversity?

(I did grow up in a fairly white-washed version of Midwest Suburbia, so I have had a taste of Real America, but it was a liberal-leaning University town that even William S. Burroughs came to call home, so how real could it truly have been?)

Despite having no credentials as one of God’s Chosen People (I mean American, not Jew), I’m still going to offer up my experience of racial diversity in America.

I’ve written before about my own racial make-up, so that gives you some idea of where I’m coming from.  While I’m technically a ‘half-breed’, no one who sees me would ever think so.  For all intents and purposes, I am just a white guy from Kansas.  I’ve got the whole ‘Master Race’ thing going on with my blond hair/blue eyes, and most people seem to think that my taste in music will be Heavy Metal or Nickleback.  I assure you, that isn’t even close (and frankly, I’m insulted).

This is really a post about the neighborhood I live in.  When I walk through my 99.99% black neighborhood in Nashville, I’m not seen as a half-Mexican.  I’m the white guy who is apparently lost.  I get looks, lots of them.  The only other white people I’ve seen in my neighborhood have been in cars driving swiftly away.  It’s not just black guys in white neighborhoods that are followed by suspicious stares.  I get the distinct feeling from the glances in my direction that people don’t know what to make of me.

I lived in West Philly 4 years ago, in a neighborhood that was also predominantly black, but there was already an encroachment of white college drop-outs and their shitty ‘art’ bands (that believed they were all amazing) in the area.  A begrudging mutual acceptance was already in play when I arrived.

Not the case here.  I live between Fisk/Meharry and TSU, two colleges that were built specifically to serve black students (you’ll notice I don’t say ‘African American’; I don’t feel the need, and besides, the term is inaccurate).  Anyone that claims we’re living in a “Post-Racial” America because of Obama’s election is probably reporting that news from behind 20-ft gates.

Racism still exists, but I don’t want to paint every racial division as racist.  There are two reasons why a person might want to stay among their own race and keep another race out.  The first is racism, plain and simple:  You don’t like another race, you don’t want to be near them.  The second reason is familiarity:  You like people of your own race (because they are familiar, comfortable), so you stay near them and don’t wander from that safety.  I think both reasons are pathetic excuses for avoiding another race (group, neighborhood, region, etc.), but only the first one is truly despicable.  Sticking to what you are familiar with is only natural, but it’s still lazy and it isn’t a way of living that I recommend.

It’s not just that familiarity is comforting, it’s also attractive.  We are attracted to that which we have been exposed to the most, which is why I find white women more sexually attractive than black women (generally; there are plenty of white women I don’t find attractive and plenty of black women I find very attractive).  Likewise, most of my black male friends have a specific type of female they find attractive, and surprise surprise, they tend to be black.  This isn’t racism, and nobody in their right mind would think it was.

I chalk up the strange looks from people in my neighborhood to unfamiliarity, not dislike or disgust. There might be some people in this neighborhood who genuinely hate white people and by extension, me, but I’m not looking over my shoulder for a lynch mob.  I’m happy to be a touch of unusual in an otherwise common world.

(I’m focusing on black/white racial relations because of the area I’m living in currently; this could easily be about a Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco or a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago, it doesn’t matter.)

Most of my closest friends in the past year were black (or Hispanic) and one of the common themes in conversation was their distaste for how certain other black people acted.  Now, this is well-trod territory, and Chris Rock famously commented on it:

Within every group is a subgroup that people within that group detest.  White people have them, too:  White Trash.  I guarantee you, that term originated with white people.  When Britney Spears is selling records, she’s a hot white chick (to some people; she’s an example of a white woman I do not find attractive), but when she’s fucking up her personal life, she’s a white trash hick.

This is why the idea of a Post-Racial America is meaningless.  No matter how well whites and blacks get along (and we get along pretty damn well compared to 40 years ago), our need to self-identify and differentiate the ‘Good’ ones from the ‘Bad’ ones within our own group will create divisions.  Divisions will always exist, and the more distinct those lines of division are, the more resilient they will be.  As long as we have skin color, Race will remain an exclusionary criteria, even if there is no ill-intention in the division.

You might think that my white appearance but Hispanic origins would reveal the meaninglessness of skin color as an identifier, but all it really proves is how important color is.  I am a completely different person in people’s minds because of how I look.  It’s a good argument for getting to know a person instead of merely jumping to easy conclusions, but that’s a pipe dream because our minds are constructed to do just that:  Make snap judgments based on obvious sensory cues.  If we hadn’t evolved that trait, we wouldn’t still be around to idiotically debate Intelligent Design (Spoiler: It’s just Creationism in a new shirt).

I have preconceived notions of black people.  And of Mexicans.  And Indians.  And White people, too.  We all do.  It isn’t a mark of racism, just of being human.  The question isn’t whether or not we have them, but whether or not we allow them to control our actions.  It’s meaningless how many black (or white, or red or yellow) friends you have (we’ve all heard the old canard, “I’m not racist, I have black friends”).  It’s about how you treat people who aren’t your friends.

And, now, really, this isn’t a discussion of race at all.  It’s a discussion of how we live, whether we have any place for the unfamiliar in our lives or if we’re content to stick with what we know.  I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong in the latter way of living, it’s just a question of what we want out of life.

It’s a question worth asking yourself, because I don’t foresee America getting any less diverse anytime soon.