Race, Grace, and Saving Face
So many times news stories enter our lives about some nasty act committed against someone. What was the motive? Race! Racism!
What does that matter? What should matter is not the kind of motive but the logic behind the action itself. And no, racial discrimination is not a real motive! Justifying hurting someone else because of race is nothing but the unwarranted act of someone who is insecure in their own mind and probably set on understanding an incomplete volume of information concerning liberty and morality.
In short, the justification of attacking someone else outside of the realm of your own self defense is typically done for one of two reasons alone. It is almost always an act of desperation created through extreme emotions, typically fear of the unknown-of the ‘what if’s’, or rooted in the concept of just wanting to see the world burn. And the latter is the more dangerous of the two by far.
At least the prior can be reasoned with. The prior, which typically includes the justification of racial discrimination, can be taught otherwise. I know it can be done. And I understand well the foundations of racism. I grew up in South Atlanta suburbs in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Specifically, I grew up in the city of Stone Mountain, Georgia. I’m what many would consider white. My best friend for the longest time was black. We didn’t know anything of racism. It never crossed our minds when we were in grade school.
In fact until he left high school, he never experienced racism first hand. But I did. His parents were a little bit better off than my parents. His parents managed their debt better than mine. His parents had utilized their educations a little better than mine. And maybe his parents had a little better luck. Whatever the case may be, his parents and my parents were generally good people.
So while his parents were able to afford to send his older sister, him, and his two younger brothers to a private high school, I went to a public high school after junior high together. We spent much of grade school together before he returned to being home schooled. Then we wound up together again in a private Catholic school for junior high. After that we parted ways for a bit. He went into a private high school while I went to a public high school. In fact I went to three different public high schools.
The first I attended for two years. On my first day of school I had two other students attempt to steal my supplies as I began putting them into my locker. They were both black and upper classmen. The first things out of their mouths were, “Hey, whitey, gimme dat calcalater. I need it fur my class t-day.”
That’s one hell of an impression to make on someone who is entering a new world. But the trouble didn’t stop there. For two years, in that school, I cowered behind books, teachers, and in any corner I could find. I hated those two years. Little encounters like that one took place nearly every day. Not every black person I met was like that. Remembering back it seems to be about a good quarter of them were like that. But to be fair, I had several black acquaintances that were really cool people and stood up for me on occasion. One ended up not being so cool and bashed me just as hard to avoid the ridicule for the aggressors.
They would be lost to me come my junior year in high school. The county redrew the attendance lines. I was no longer able to walk to school. Now I had to be bused to a newly built school if I couldn’t drive. For the first half of my junior year I rode the bus. Until a regular driver was able to be maintained my stop was last on the route.
I had a Rosa Park’s situation. Many days I was the only white student, the only white person, on that bus ride. It was for only about 20 minutes, but that’s an eternity when you’re being picked on and harassed. Most of the time none of the other students would let me sit up front with them, even if there was an open seat. It really was akin to Forrest Gump’s situation too! “You can’t sit here.” “Keep walking.” “I don’t want any trouble.”
Of course the reasons, the trouble, they were getting at was the crowd in the back of the bus; the troublemakers, the race baiters, and the bullies. Several were on the wrestling team. The rest, I had no idea what they did and didn’t care. All I knew is that I had to sit down quickly or get screamed at by the driver for holding up progress.
So I had my personal space violated. I had my feelings assaulted. I had my pride destroyed. I had my stuff stolen. I had my lunches taken from me. I had to put up with a lot of problems. And I had to listen to rap music that talked about killing people, hurting people, “nigger this” and “nigger that.” It was terrifying because I didn’t understand. But mostly I had to put up with how that group of six to ten high school boys treated me so personally.
I can almost remember their individual smells. How their fingers felt touching my face and grabbing my arms to impress upon me the point that they were superior to me. I can remember the feel of their clenched fists still in my gut and the impressions they left in my shoulders and back. And I remember their breath in my ears when they would tell me that I’m white trash and will be dead before the school year was over.
I learned my lesson in the previous school. Teachers and administrators don’t help. Telling my parents didn’t help either. Those things only made it worse. I had to take what was being dished out and find strength in myself somewhere. I turned to music and found a source of hope within me.
I knew those students at the front of the bus were not discriminating against me. They just didn’t want to attract the trouble from the back of the bus. It was easier to just let me be the target than them. And that is called apathy. It could have gotten me killed. I could have also turned out much worse off than I did.
Yet, instead of hating black people because of what so many did to me, I fought the urges to proclaim all black people as racists and haters and bad people. I knew well that my best friend wasn’t a bad person and by the time I got out of high school and into the adult world*, I found out that my suspicions were correct. (I also applied that thinking to my studies in history, particularly slavery in anti-bellum America. What an eye opener for me after high school history classes hated on old white Southerners.)
I found plenty of other people in the world who were dangerous and mean and vile. White people, black people, yellow people, red people, and olive people…you name it, I somehow found the mean versions of them all. But unlike those black students in the first two high schools I attended, none of the others who were just plain mean and racist towards me made their attacks as personal.
And that stuck with me. I was very cautious of blacks and still to this day I must fight knee-jerk emotional responses to encounters with black people who dress ‘gansta’ style, wear their pants hanging below their butts, mouths filled with golden teeth or grills, ‘bling’ hanging off every finger and around their necks, and who don’t speak clear English without slurring their words together in such a fashion that has become known as Ebonics. I don’t hate anyone. I don’t have a problem with black people at all.
The issue is that a relative handful of black people in my youth, during a time of tremendous emotional change and development in my life, attacked me without provocation based on power they believed they held over me because they could in order to profit with short term enjoyment at my distress.
I have every reason to not want to associate with such people. I have good reason to choose that path. They created and empowered a very strong stereotype into my subconscious. But unlike others who hate people for the color of their skin and based on such actions as I experienced, I figured out that each individual is responsible for his and her actions alone.
The motives behind their actions are about misguided emotions and concepts to empower themselves by means of ‘survival of the fittest’ without using the greatest tool they have to its fullest capacity… their minds. That’s the problem. It has everything to do with the way people are taught to empower themselves. Is it to profit without warrant, through coercive means, of another which limits in the future the availability of goods, services, and ideas? Or is it to profit off your own endeavors through voluntary interactions with others that promote good will and the desire to produce more on the chance of additional exchanging encounters for mutual benefit?
So unlike many, I didn’t succumb to the fear those black students in high school instilled so much of in me. I carried on and figured out that after I had my source of hope through music that I needed knowledge. I found it. I read and researched. By the time I was in my mid twenties, I had began researching that problem I faced but in regards to the nation as a whole, in regards to government.
It is precisely that struggle that got me thinking about the entire race issue; the thought which prompted this particular article and inspired me to write Liberty Defined.
So every time I witness the concept of racism or race being interjected into the actions of another as motive for doing anything I can’t help but to think of how short sighted or ignorant the speaker of such ideas is being. It doesn’t matter if it’s racial pride or racially motivated crimes against another. The fact of the matter is that by promoting the color of your skin, the ethnicity of your genes and heritage, as a reason for doing anything actually promotes a divide between individuals who do not think critically enough.
It’s okay to be proud of the individual actions of your forefathers. Individuals do things on their own merits and achieve things. But to lump people together based on things that they can no more change than you or I can currently stop the sun from existing is ridiculous. It divides people unfairly and unnecessarily.
Individual actions, individual achievements are what matter. Beyond that, things that are not in our control still allow us to exert control over how we interact with them. And that is what is important. Why people do what they do to, for, by, and with other people is just as important as why and how they do those things.
In essence, this is about understanding the ‘means to an end’ argument.
*I chose the use the phrase ‘adult world’ instead of real world as is common in my language circles because the world I was experiencing then was just as real as anything I would experience later in life. And that is a mistake so many parents make teaching their children. By saying “wait until you get into the real world” is a common phrase that translates to the recipient of such the idea that their struggles are not real or even worth the time to understand. That’s dangerous to a growing and learning mind with no foundation of thought to build upon yet.