In which we ignore context to excuse our own racist attitudes

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After receiving a good deal of positive feedback on my recent post about race, particularly from folks who struggle with the topic and typically feel unheard, I received the following message to which I will respond below.

Clearly you have never been victimized by black crime. You have never had your girlfriend  held up at gunpoint by two black teens who walked away saying,”That was easy.” Clearly you have never been  burglarized  or threatened by blacks who referred to it as` “Getting paid.”

You  are as racist as those blacks who commit those crimes because they see all whites as rich or deserving of getting beat up.

Unfortunately I could not respond to you directly as you did not leave a way for me to contact you. As such, I offer my response in the form of this blog post.

Let us ignore for the time being that Chiksika, the elder brother of Tecumseh, said of white people, “The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land.” We will ignore that he said this in response to what he and his tribe had seen of European settlers’ behaviors. Apropos to this conversation in particular, Chiksika said, “When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight it is called murder. When a white army battles Indians and wins it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre and bigger armies are raised.” Fortunately for the foolish, gullible consciences of white men, we have had the luxury of writing the history books. Otherwise we might have to face the fact that our arrival and consequent policies and brutality resulted resulted in the deaths and displacement of tens of millions indigenous peoples.

Let us ignore that the aforementioned atrocity is so undeniably terrible that I—true story—met an old white supremacist at a diner in North Dakota who revealed that he felt terribly about the plight of the American Indian. He was telling me of his son, who was serving time in federal prison for concocting a “Timothy McVeigh like plot,” and about his affiliations with white power groups. He then told me that he adheres to a similar spiritual mindset to those who lived on this land in the pre-Columbian era. “You might be surprised to hear it, but I have a great affinity for the American Indian,” he told me. “They never deserved what was brought unto them.”

Speaking of white supremacists, we will ignore for the time being the fact that the holocaust was carried out by Europeans obsessed with the purity of their whiteness, and that Nazis exterminated 11 million people. We will ignore that the corporate crime and theft that had laid working people of all backgrounds to ruin is typically carried out by organized criminals with white skin, all while those who are being stolen from are crossing streets to avoid someone because they associate the color of that person’s skin with a potential crime. This reminds of that brilliant car jacking scene from the Sopranos. The perpetrators are black and when they drive away with the car, the father yells, “Fucking niggers!” In the next scene it is revealed that it is the white crime boss Tony Soprano who is ultimately at the top of the ring responsible for the theft, and it is Soprano taking the lion’s share of the profit from said car jacking.

You can lazily interpret criminal behavior at face value, or you can take a minute and try to understand why it occurs before pinning responsibility for what has happened to you on those who look different.

But a lot of people do what you have done. It is an attitude Susan Smith was hoping would work in her favor when her babies went missing and she told the world that a black man had stolen them from her. This poor woman, white America thought, has been terrorized by a child-thieving black man when, as we would eventually find out, it was actually Smith who drove her children into a lake and watched as they drown. Speaking of murderers of children, let us ignore that it was Otis Toole, a white serial killer, who admitted to decapitating Adam Walsh, the son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, and speaking of serial killers, you will notice that the vast majority of mass murders and school shooters look more like you and me than they do the late Michael Brown.

We will ignore for now the dogs and the fire hoses and lynchings and slavery, of course, how could we forget to ignore the slavery? And the bombings of black churches and the murder of civil rights workers…

In other words, let us ignore context entirely when I admit that I have, indeed, had two violent, negative experiences with black people. The first was in 1995 when David King, who decided that he did not like me because I was a new kid in school, beat me senseless for no reason. “Mr. Enfanto,” he told a teacher of ours, “I am going to beat this kid today after school.” Enfanto responded, “As long as you beat him off of school property, do what you need to do.” And King did. I did not end up holding this against the whole of people who do not have white skin because, as it turns out, we white folks have a rather colorful history when it comes to acting like psychopaths.

A few years later, when I was 15, I watched a group of black kids beat two passersby nearly to death in Philadelphia. They might have actually killed them for all I know. I ran to a white police officer to tell him what I had just seen happen and he didn’t move. “Are you going to do something,” I asked. “Don’t worry about it,” he told me, and he continued to stand stoically. Again, though, I don’t find that occasion to be applicable to every black person I ever meet, just as I have not written off all whites in the face of the aforementioned ignored context, or for the fact that that white cop did nothing, or because I was once beaten severely by a group of white kids for absolutely no reason. And even though many of my exes had confessed to being sexually assaulted by someone, always a white person, and even though there have been two occasions in the past year in which my wife has been threatened with rape by white people—once by a group of guys in the Boston Common, which was an absolutely dehumanizing and terrifying experience—I don’t hold this against every white person I have run into since.

I am sorry that the things you described happened to you, if they did, in fact, happen to you and they are not rhetorical devices you are employing to make a cheap, racist point. I am not, however, sorry they happened because you were the victim of crime perpetrated by what you perceive as black rage, but simply because it happened, period. Regardless of the reason it occurs, violence is horrible. It is disorienting and it upends our sense of security. It temporarily, and sometimes permanently, destroys our centers of gravity. The point of my original piece was to suggest that with this being the case, the fact that police and agencies of state force represent a bigger threat of violence to populations based wholly on skin color is as much a part of what is being responded to in Ferguson as the death of Michael Brown. And none of this is to mention what one reader pointed out, which is that we must not forget the broader systematic racism in housing, education, voting rights. It is an ill that does not always manifest violently. These threats, as is the case with any threat to our countrymen, are threats to us all, and these are issues that must be confronted. That was my point.

To assume that whatever happened to you symbolized a larger act of aggression representative of an attitude or approach typical to an entire group of people based on their color is to make a sad and racist leap. If this is a leap you are willing to make, then where are you at on our own sometimes homicidal, sometimes genocidal, sometimes rape, power, and money obsessed pale brethren?

IMAGE CREDIT: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.