Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll dares to ask: SO, EXACTLY WHO IS BIGOTED? She writes:

We’ve been lectured and hectored to believe that only white people can actually be “racist.” Which is nonsense on the face of it, but set that aside. Can everybody be at least bigoted?

In 1976 I was a typesetter. It was the year that Alex Haley’s Roots was published. Word went around in the typesetting profession that in the typeshop in New York where the book was published (Harcourt), that you could tell where it was in production – typesetting, layout, proofreading – by which groups of people were sobbing. I do not know the Census Bureau breakdown by race of those people at Harcourt in 1976, but a good guess would be that the overwhelming majority was white.

I read the book, of course. It spent months on the New York Times bestseller list, twenty-two weeks at #1. Though there followed much controversy about Haley’s claim that it was factual rather than historical fiction, it was one of the most powerful books I have ever read, utterly relentless in its depiction of the horrors of slavery. For the multiple-evening mini-series in 1977, 130 million Americans tuned in. The U.S. population in 1977 was 220 million, approximately 22 million of whom would have been black.

Let me digress one moment in order to make an important point. Many years ago, I read in the Religion section of the St. Paul paper an article about a black youth worker writing a version of the Bible that “would be more comprehensible to black youth.” I had never observed that black people had any trouble understanding the Bible. Most seemed to be devout Christians; in fact, ever notice that they are the only professional athletes allowed to pray in public without being mocked? The guy had a version of the Ten Commandments that included “Don’t steal from your homies” and “Don’t kill your homies.” I remember yelling outloud: “NO! That’s completely wrong and a massive disservice to your young charges!”

Morality does not mean you only refrain from hurting those closest to you, your “homies,” for Heaven’s Sake. It’s no feather in your cap to fail to steal from your friends and family. Though to be sure when you DO steal from every friend you’ve ever had – Madoff comes to mind – you have crossed some special moral Rubicon. To be civilized, moral, one must learn to refrain from hurting, indeed to identify with, what the leftists insist on calling “the other.”

And that is what happened with Roots. Millions of white people identified with, sympathized with, FELT for Kunta Kinte and the generations of his family, not out of guilt for something we didn’t do, but out of common humanity. When his daughter, Kizzy, was sold away from him, our hearts were broken. The story continued through her. In vain did I look ahead for what happened to Kunta Kinte. We never hear a single word of Kizzy’s parents again, because she didn’t.

Now fast forward nearly 20 years to Oakland, California. On Martin Luther King Day 1994, a science teacher took a group of about 70 students, mostly black, to see Schindler’s List. In an early scene, when a Jewish woman is murdered by the Nazis, a group of about 10 youths laughed it up. The projectionist actually turned off the film and made them leave. And, oh my, what a tsunami of crap rolled forth, not apologies but apologists.

A school spokesperson said they were just inured to violence because of their own neighborhoods. Many angrily asserted that the teens should have been taken to a black movie. At no time did any adult explain to the students why it had been wrong or why blacks do not have a copyright on suffering. We have coined the phrase the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” To say to young black men, “You are utterly unable to empathize with The Other’s suffering. But you get a pass. We expect nothing better from you,” is as racist as it gets. A “teachable moment” squandered.

A remarkable personal observation on a much lighter note: (Lighter even than slavery and the Holocaust? Surely not!) Go to any ballpark in America. Little white kids will be wearing sports paraphernalia with the names of whichever star is cool at the time: Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter. I have been to hundreds of baseball games and have only seen a black kid wearing a jersey of a white player ONCE. It was so rare, I made a note of it. A little black boy with a white mother had on a Joe Mauer shirt when Mauer was at his peak. (Sadly, today it may be a scrub-rag…)

You can talk all day about “role models,” “black pride,” yadayadayada. But the simple truth is that those white kids – genetically racist according to their President – just see a great player without regard to color and are able to identify with him to the point that they want to wear clothing with his name on it. Jews in Brooklyn went wild for Jackie Robinson. Black kids are obviously being raised to see only color. It is sad and will be the death of our great nation if it doesn’t get turned around. I do not blame the children; I blame the culture, in part the tragic legacy of very real past discrimination, but also two, going on three, whole generations of blind devotion to Identity over Unity.

Oh, and, of course, since Hollywood is out of ideas, Roots is being re-filmed. This time, I read, with NO kind or positive white people in it. That should help “Unity.” Think I’ll pass.

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