As regular readers of Roger’s Rules know, I do not often read our former paper of record. The only time I tend to encounter the New York Times in propria persona is when I visit friends in Northwest Connecticut. Being an early riser, I motor down to a local emporium to collar the papers and the needful for breakfast. Since this happens only every few months, my view of the paper’s devolution is dramatized by a sort of time-lapse effect. If you were subjected to the paper day in and day out, I reckon you wouldn’t notice the degradation quite so vividly.
Consider “Young, Black, Male, and Stalked by Bias,” an op-ed by Brent Staples. Here’s how the piece opens:
The door to the subway train slides open, revealing three tall, young black men, crowding the entrance, with hooded sweatshirts pulled up over downward-turned faces; boxer shorts billowing out of over-large, low-slung jeans; and sneakers with the laces untied.
Your response to the look — and to this trio on the subway — depends in part on the context, like the time of day, but especially on how you feel about young, male blackness.
If it unsettles you — as it does many people — you never get beyond the first impression. But those of us who are not reflexively uncomfortable with blackness . . .
Got that? If you are unsettled by thuggish looking teenagers who happen to be black, you are racist. “Young black men,” says Staples, “know that in far too many settings they will be seen not as individuals, but as the ‘other,’ . . .” Here’s a piece of advice for Brent Staples: if you want to be treated with respect, dress and act in a way that invites it. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, yellow, or polka-dotted: if you dress in a minatory way, people—if they are sane—will regard you with suspicion.
“Society’s message to black boys,” continues Staples, is “ ‘we fear you and view you as dangerous.’ ” No: society’s message to black, white, and yellow boys is “if you act in a way that seems threatening, we will view you as threatening.”
Quoth Staples: “the toxic connotations that the culture has associated with blackness have been embedded in thought, language and social convention for hundreds of years.” Wrong again, Brent. The “toxic connotations” have to do with the toxic behavior of certain segments of the population. When Jesse Jackson hears footsteps behind him, looks around, and feels relieved when he sees the person behind him is white, it is not because he is racist but because the instinct for self-preservation has not been entirely bred out of him.