Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Post Racial America

Yesterday, I bought some Crayola Sidewalk Paint at Target. I hate those damn plastic bags, so I eschewed it and walked out with just the toy in my hands. It occurred to me as I was strolling past the security guard and out to my car that if I didn't look like me, that guard probably would have asked me for a receipt.

This isn't, of course, a guarantee. But I really think he would have. As I said to my mother, I guess this is one of the benefits of being white in America.

Then I read this story. In a nutshell, Henry Louis Gates is this really famous (famous enough that I'd heard of him) middle-aged black professor. The door to his house is jammed and he's banging his shoulder against the door trying to loosen it. He manages to get into his house at which point the police show up, verify that he lives there and then arrest him anyway, for "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior."

There was a time when I would have read this and been one of those millions of Americans who, as they say at Pandagon, "think that this is just a black man screaming racism because he handled a situation poorly." But, honestly, it's hard for me to imagine a situation where my own door is jammed and I'm not exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior. The difference is, when the police show up at my house, they probably don't ask me for ID. And even if they do, I'll bet it's perfunctory. If they see a white lady in the house, they'll assume that I live here. I think this is the crux of the lie of "post racial America."

I've had this on my mind a lot, lately, having watched the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. We seem to have created this cultural discourse where "racist" means "cross burner" and nothing else. Thus, when you call someone out for racism, especially if you're a minority, then you're "playing the race card." It's a neat trick. It's how Pat Buchanan keeps getting booked on the teevee.

Racism comes in many forms and in many levels. None of it is right, but just because some of it is really obviously wrong, doesn't mean it's OK to ignore the insidious, culturally accepted kinds. I don't think Henry Louis Gates is wrong at all when he that this happened because he was a black man in America.