The Trayvon Martin case (and other factors) has ignited a national conversation about race and as I mentioned before on this site, I'm kind of shocked at how few white friends / family of mine think that racism still exists, or is still an impediment to the lives of black Americans. I thought this issue was just another Republican / Democratic divide issue, as if even admitting the existence of racism would undercut everything Republicans have spouted since Obama became president and -- well, I still think that's a huge huge part of it -- but there's also the non-subtle difference between growing up white, living in the suburbs, and having mostly white friends and therefore just not knowing, just not even comprehending the experience of living in America as a black person, or more specifically as a young black male. The Daily Show did a funny bit on this last week, where white reporter Sam Bee and black reporter Jessica Williams interviewed 5-person focus groups of the opposite race on the conversation around race. And although the bit has a little too much of Sam panicking / struggling to ask black people questions about race, the stunning part was the difference between the answers to the "how much progress have we made on racism" question -- the whites said we were at least 50% toward a racial-free society and really closer to 75%. The blacks were on the opposite spectrum, with one respondent saying 7% there -- "only because of Obama, he's the whole 7%". Which is pretty funny. Check out the bit at the end of this post but the point is -- and from the people I've talked to who are at least marginally sympathetic to the possibility -- the possibility -- that racism is still a major factor in American life, this has come up a lot -- whites and blacks have completely dissimilar experiences with the police, with interactions with strangers, with shopping at a mall, with just day-to-day living that white people like me cannot and will never understand. And knowing this, or accepting this mere possibility, should be all it takes for those of us human beings with empathy to say "hey, fuck, I sure don't know what it's like to be black in this country, so I'll trust them when they say it sucks and racism still exists." Because before we can even begin to think of potential solutions to this problem (if that is even possible) we have to first admit that a fucking problem exists. And for me, having black people universally agree that it's a problem, I kind of have to side with them on this one. I have no fucking clue what it's like to live in China and wouldn't begin to tell Chinese people that some major issue for them isn't really a big deal and they should just stop whining. Yet that's pretty much what every Republican, almost all of my white friends and family, and basically white society in general is saying about the black experience in America. Even though they know shit about it. Being white and all.
From my recent, personal experience, I currently live in what can be described as a luxury condo building in Hoboken, almost entirely occupied by white people, or at least non-blacks and non-Hispanic. A block or two away from my building are the "projects" of Hoboken, occupied almost entirely by non-white people, primarily blacks and Hispanics. We live right next to each other, and our worlds do not at all mix. But I have a black friend who has been to my apartment a few times since I've been here. And he is I would say the one and only young black male I've seen in my entire building since I've been here. So it's not at all surprising that on a few occasions, in the parking lot or on the elevator, if he gets out first or is seen first without me, I catch the look on my neighbors' faces before I come into view, and it's certainly not nonchalance or passing friendliness or whatever the look would be when they see me alone or with white friends. It's noticeable and it's palpable -- "why is there a black guy in my building?" My neighbors aren't racist as far as I know, they might not be prejudiced at all, but someone who did not "belong" in their building, at least at first passing glance, passed by them. Now imagine living your life where every single day in all kinds of occasions, you are judged, and not favorably, by the color of your skin. That would kind of suck, right? Now imagine living in that world and having white people tell you that racism doesn't exist. Yeah, that would piss me the fuck off too. And it does.