Recently my three-part series titled Westside Story – 8 Themes published in The Suburban Times, evoked a thought-provoking response from one of my faithful readers who is also a very dear friend of mine. If you missed the series, click my LINKS below:
LINK: Westside Story – 8 Themes Part I
LINK: Westside Story – 8 Themes Part II
LINK: Westside story – 8 Themes Part III
My reader is unquestionably what I can describe as Highly. She is: Highly intelligent, Highly educated, and Highly committed to doing what is right for humanity. I respect her and her opinions you might say, Highly.
After my series was published, she shared her feeling with me that she did not like where I took my writing in Part II.
In Part II I started out with THEME #5, BLACK GENEROSITY IN THE MILD FORM. I described a Black male going back into the store to withdraw $200 from the cash machine to donate to our Food Bank, Nourish of Pierce County.
THEME #6, BLACK GENEROSITY IN THE WILD FORM came next. In this theme, I described a Black male going back into the store and performing an armed robbery at check stand #14 to raise a $200 donation for the Food Bank. Theme #6, admittedly included some elements of fiction and embellishment mixed with the true facts.
In my friend’s mind, describing the Black man committing an armed robbery reinforced the stereotype that Black men are armed robbers, which she considers racist. While she knows my mind and heart are not racist, she felt I might be guilty of being unwittingly racist.
I am not saying her view is wrong. If only one of us can be right and the other is wrong, I would have to say she is right, and I am wrong.
If both of us are right, then she is more right than I am right.
When I created the piece on scene, two things floated through my mind. #1. Is there a problem writing about a Black man doing an armed robbery? #2. The moment the Black man and I met behind the Food Bank truck I found it somewhat surreal, which caused my imagination to run wild. I thought at the time, cash machine or armed robbery, which may prove my friend’s point. In my defense, when I thought that, it was a joke and for me did not relate to his race.
If the Black stranger and I were in a movie, it could mean the Black man was going to use the cash machine, or more creatively and more entertainingly, as is typically the case in the movies it could mean the Black man was going to do an armed robbery to raise cash for charity.
I did not write that section because he was Black or because I felt racist. He was Black. That is a fact and I cannot change that. Instead of focussing on race, I focussed on what I considered to be the comedy potential.
Had the $200 donor been a race other than Black, such as White or Asian, I would have written my stab at robbery comedy just the same. The man’s race did not have anything to do with my decision. I thought the concept was funny, as did some of my readers.
My friend thought the concept was loaded and, therefore, racist.
My wife supported my friend, not by thinking I was racist, but by thinking the bit was unnecessary. My wife is a highly intelligent Norwegian. Being highly intelligent can elevate one above many forms of humor, including my humor. Intelligent individuals can easily conclude that certain attempts at humor are ridiculous or unnecessary.
Let’s build it up and flip it around. Imagine my being a BTO (Big Time Operator) movie producer. I am conducting auditions for a part in my upcoming movie called Food Bank Cash.
The role pays $1,000,000, plus the use of a private trailer house on location stocked with a variety of raw materials for concocting libations.
Two actors audition for the part. The first is a Black male who is a fabulous, well-known actor. He would be fantastic in the role. The second actor auditioning for the character is a White male who is a no-body unknown mediocre actor and would not do the part justice.
For my Highly friend, if I understand what she is saying, the choice is clear. I must choose the White male actor who can play the role of the armed robber, even though he will cause my movie to flop.
I cannot choose the Black male who can play the role of an armed robber and who will probably make my movie an overnight box office success because if I select the Black male, I will be reinforcing a stereotype that Black males are armed robbers.
It looks like our modern-day society and culture has painted me into a no-win corner.
If I select a Black male over a White male for my Westside Story or my imagined movie, I am reinforcing a negative Black stereotype that Blacks are robbers, which makes me a racist.
If I refuse to select the Black male because of his race and choose the White male instead to avoid reinforcing a negative Black stereotype that Blacks are robbers, I deny the best candidate the opportunity to be awarded the role. That makes me a racist.
Either way, it looks like I am a racist, even if I am not a racist.
For me, choosing an actor is not about race. It is about making my best choice for my audience based on criteria having nothing to do with race. My Westside Story was my effort to mix facts and fiction to provide entertainment and humor along with glorifying a Black male for his creative and generous $200 donation.
I could have made the donor white, thereby avoiding the specific racist problem we are exploring, but I would have been cheating Blacks out of a positive generous heart warming story about a Black male doing something grand and glorious. This would have been another form of racism with the net message that Blacks are never generous.
I understand my friend’s view, and I get it that others will agree with her. In fact I discussed the topic with another friend / reader. He supported the concept that many people do have the misconception that Blacks are robbers. That is pathetic. We should judge people based on their actual individual behavior, not by identifying which race they are a part of.
I obviously have a different perspective. When I see or come into contact with a Black, I do not think, robber.
The new question is can I do or avoid doing anything that will help me avoid being branded racist? It looks to me there is no escape from societies racist imprisonment, so I think I will just be me. I know what is in my mind and heart.
Ray R says
Joe, I have known you for almost 30 years and have never known you to be racist to any degree. What I found unusual in those articles was that you mentioned, multiple times, the race of the man. It seemed unnecessary. But since you did mention it, there must have been an important reason for doing so.
Mentioning his spouse’s ethnicity wasn’t necessary either…
All the self serving rationalization doesn’t make it right.
P Rose says
Of course he is racist, as is everyone else as racism is geneticly programmed in ALL of us. Our basic tribal and familial group survival is based on suspicion and distrust of ANYONE who is not like us. What we do in the modern era is control our ingrained reactions.
I admit I am blatantly racist, and initially distrust those different from me until they prove themselves trustworthy through their actions.
Travelling in other countries has shown me this, as I am the one who is different and suspect, even when I mean no harm.
JOE BOYLE IS NOT A RACIST! ENOUGH SAID.
j b says
Your question of “Am I racist?” is disingenuous. You should really retitle this article “I am not racist, and if I am actually racist, I’ve decided that I am OK with that”.
You say it all right here: “The new question is can I do or avoid doing anything that will help me avoid being branded racist? It looks to me there is no escape from societies racist imprisonment, so I think I will just be me. ”
First, why is your primary concern whether or not you are *branded* a racist? What about whether or not you actually *are* racist? – not in the overtly KKK sense of the word, which many of your friends have clarified, but in the patronizing way you speak about other peoples, as exemplified here:
“Imagine, a Black man giving $200 cash to a White man he did not know.”
That you are incredulous about this scenario says a lot about your biases.
So while you may genuinely chose to love other peoples, it seems that you still harbor deeply condescending attitudes about them. Perhaps this is a function of your age and you’re simply used to viewing yourself this way – in any case, it is clear you have a lot to learn about race issues and if you are half as serious as you claim to be about these things, I’d suggest doing less writing and more reading on that topic.
Secondly, this “it is a fact” defense is specious. I notice you failed to mention the shoe sizes of all the various people involved in your stories, nor the weather the day before, or the state of the dow jones industrial, yet if you had, those too would be “facts” – that something is true does not make it relevant. However, that you choose to mention these things, not just once but many many times through these stories, shows how central racial identity is to YOUR thinking. Be honest with yourself and your audience about what you are trying to say.
If you’re serious about receiving your friends input thoughtfully, I’d suggest you do more than some self-justification blog post about how you were right all along. Consider for a moment that she is actually correct, and that much of your worldview rests heavily on the stereotypes you grew up with.