Monday, August 08, 2005

Studies in Black & White

Why is it that White people find it so easy to dismiss real consideration for people of color as deference to political correctness? Of course, it's a rhetorical question, as there is no real answer, just as Mrs. Miller, my 5th grade teacher, didn't have an answer for the question I posed, which was, "why did slavery exist if the Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal." Please don't misread my question as limiting the question of racism to Whites only. In the wake of the debate on the use of profiling, pro and con, in subway searches, we've heard from people of color, Muslim and not, who not only support the searches, but think they should take place in every station, and should be more thorough. My question is about broader considerations of race and ethnicity, considerations of difference in society.

A young Black man was attacked in the Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a mix of Jews, a few Italian families, and Caribbean immigrants. Walking home early Sunday morning, he was beaten by a half-dozen White men. Were it not for the intervention of a couple driving by, he would have been killed. In contrast, a human interest story in this morning's Metro, profiles 14-year-old Medina Parrilla, a young Black girl who recently represented the U.S. in the World Youth Championship Chess Tournament. Already, she being touted as the Bobby Fischer of the Bronx.

Would Medina Parrilla be as interesting if her ethnicity wasn't mentioned, just that she was one of only two Americans to place in the top 25 percentile, 24th out of 110 international competitors? Would Alex Moore have been the victim of a reprehensible attack by a pack of thugs? Will a term like "wilding" be coined to describe the behavior of these hoodlums, and Nicholas Minucci, the bat wielder accused in the recent Howard Beach incident? What about the attacks on Sikhs following 9/11?

When attacks woven with racist elements take place; e.g. racial epithets, targeting a group of people by the way they look, it's not a lack of "political correctness" that is upsetting, as if we should sum up the disgusting behavior of assailants as a case of boys-will-be-boys. Those of us who know all too well that we could have been in the victim's shoes aren't being sensitive. We're pissed off, and with reason. What is politically incorrect is shrugging off this stuff as simple. It isn't.

And because society hasn't yet become comfortable with the notion of difference as just a notion, there isn't anything simple.


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