As should the false perceptions in the black community about white attitudes and behavior be brought in the open. Whether you believe Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton is hardly the point. They are expressing a perceived truth in the black community that begs to be addressed. But it is impossible as long as it is only their perception — true or false — that stands as the basis for discussion. White concerns and perceptions are irrelevant. We can’t discuss affirmative action or any other public policy affecting race for the same reason. Racial tolerance is a one-way street in America and will be as long as there is no recognition that for progress to be made, there must be an acknowledgement that false perceptions dominate on both sides of the divide.
We might start by stopping the constant generalizing about both races. We try to take people one at a time as they come at us, but don’t always succeed, of course. This doesn’t make you any more or less tolerant than the next fellow. But it’s far too easy to become trapped by stereotypes and wallow in generalities about this or that race or ethnicity. It’s part of the human condition, as is fear of “the other” and a propensity for everyone to live, work, love, and die around people who look like you. Try as we might — “raising consciousness”; exposing children to different races, lifestyles, and religions — it doesn’t matter. There is a genetic predisposition to avoid those who are different. And that includes all races, not just whites or blacks.
But my own experience has given me no reason to hate or fear black people. No black person has ever harmed me or mine. No black person has ever said an unkind word to me, nor have black people exhibited anything but courtesy and respect toward me. Of course, I watch TV and hear the voices of hate and separatism, as well as the cries of genuine despair, misery, and perceived oppression. But aside from getting angry at everybody, what’s to be done? It is here that the Serenity Prayer comes in handy:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
As individuals, we are told we can “make a difference.” I suppose that’s true to a certain extent. But as adults, we know the limitations of that cliche. I don’t apologize for being indifferent about race, because it’s not the same thing as being indifferent about racism. If there’s anything I can do beyond disapproval of open expressions of race hatred, I will. But I probably speak for a lot more white people than some might feel comfortable contemplating when I acknowledge that I believe these blow-ups about race have far more to do with power and politics than they do with racism or someone’s notion of “justice.” And ultimately, it is futile to think that will change.