When I hit the internet I generally become distracted and start reading things I never set out to read, while not reading a lot of the stuff I’d like to read. I set book marks on blog posts and articles I’ve opened in windows and don’t have the time to consume, collecting thousands of them over time. Many of them turn out to have better headlines and leads than the writing deserves, but I read a lot of really good stuff that deserves to be shared. The Old Road Apples Reader will be the vehicle for that sharing–expect it sporadically at first, until it either settles into a regular rhythm or until I get bored with it.
This issue’s selection:
On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014
W. Kamau Bell in Vanity Fair
Chuck’s comments: Over Thanksgiving I was talking to a few of my nephews from Virginia and North Carolina about race and culture–a discussion that began with my disgusted railing over the stubborn fetishism of some people, northern and southern alike, for the confederate battle flag, specifically a giant flag raised near Fredericksburg, Virginia on a fenced off lot along Interstate 95. Predictably, one of these fine young men raised the “southern culture” thing, which I countered with, “and that’s what you want as a symbol of your culture? You do know Nazi iconography is illegal in Germany.” He reminded me of the first amendment, but I just shrugged. “I didn’t say they couldn’t fly it. It’s better off we know what they stand for.” As for that giant flag, fenced in to ward off those who might destroy it, two words came to mind: flaming arrows.
The conversation then turned to my serious questions about Richmond, a city where I’ve visited by only briefly, and the the small, rural community in North Carolina where my other nephews live. Specifically: how did people get along? And by people I mean black people and white people. I’d come to this realization, I explained, “For all of my progressivism, I’m stuck with these preconceptions, especially when I find myself a racial minority in a certain situation: I get a little nervous, mostly because I expect to be disliked, distrusted. If I was black, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t like me. On principle–a bullshit bit of reasoning, but still….”
I tried to explain it, and it eventually came to me “I don’t trust my perspective,” I said. “Fear, guilt, paranoia, limited experience–it’s one thing to say “this is what I believe” but it’s quite another to shake off that baggage.”
That said, perhaps the heaviest baggage we carry today as a nation is the inability–and in many cases, the unwillingness–to talk freely and openly–and the way this lack of communication makes it impossible to understand different perspectives than our own. I often think of a small, jewish lesbian woman I know who confided in me once that her “worst moment” was a time when she was walking near the University of Pennsylvania after dark, watching a large, young black man, his face lost in the shadows, ambling towards her up the sidewalk. She related how every ounce of her wanted to cross the street, or run, but only a determined willful refusal to reveal her fear–and a very personal experience with bigotry in her own life- kept her walking, pretending not to watch the man’s every move right up to the point where, as they passed, he smiled and said, “Good evening, ma’am.”
As worst moments go, that’s not so awful, but it’s indicative of the feelings and fears and thoughts and preconceptions so many of us carry into our interactions.
It’s a luxury that I get to worry that some deeply buried racial awkwardness corrodes my perceptions. It is almost impossible for me to imagine, on the other hand, what it feels like knowing–knowing!–that one’s life could be forfeit on the basis of one minor misunderstanding, or one encounter with an adrenaline-soaked psychotic with a badge, a gun, and the utter surety that, whatever he does, there will be no consequences.
I found the referenced article to be illuminating.