My life as a black man in America
I thought I would devote this column to the issue of race in America from my perspective as a black man. What’s that you say? I am not a black man? What difference does that make? I have as much experience being a black man as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michael Reagan and Rush Limbaugh do. Remember when O’Reilly was describing his experience in a black restaurant in Harlem? He was astonished that the customers were using forks and being polite, instead of cursing and throwing knives. And he claims to understand something about black issues.
Of course I am not a black man. I am a white female. As a white female, I have had very few instances of being discriminated against, mostly by white men. My most vivid experience happened in 1967 at San Francisco State College. A fellow student asked to borrow my class notes because he had been absent during the previous class. He happened to be a young black man. We started talking and became friends, discussing all kinds of topics when we had a moment.
One day as we were sitting in the cafeteria talking, two young black women came into the room. They were a distance away, and my friend motioned for them to come join us. They started toward us, then stopped, turned around, and left. I asked my friend why they had left. He answered, “Because you are white.”
I remember thinking, “They don’t know me. They are judging me based on the color of my skin.” That didn’t make me mad. It made me realize how corrosive that kind of experience would be, day after day.
In high school, I read the book “Black Like Me” and felt a little bit what it was like to be in someone else’s skin. On TV, I saw white people screaming at the black teenagers who wanted to enroll in Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. I remembered the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, and wondered how it was possible for one group of people to hate another group of people so much.
Prominent black men still tell of being stopped for no reason. Attorney General Eric Holder relates how, as a federal prosecutor, he was stopped by a policeman as he was running down a street. All the officer saw was a black man running. This is not ancient history.
When I hear pontificators such as O’Reilly and Hannity dispense their wisdom on how black people should act and feel, it makes me wonder why they haven’t shown the same concern about white people. White supremacist groups have been proliferating exponentially since Obama’s election. Their literature is full of hate toward non-white people. This hate can all too easily erupt into action; just think of Timothy McVeigh or the Columbine killers.
Recently in Huntington Beach, Calif., white youths went on a rampage. They overturned Sani-Huts, threw bottles, and generally vandalized and rioted freely. Huntington Beach has been a center of skinhead activity since the early 1990s. Native Americans and black people have been attacked by these white youth. Cord Jefferson wrote a brilliant article about this on Gawker.com, July 29, 2013.
Why hasn’t the “white culture” stopped these activities? Why aren’t white leaders outraged about white-on-white crime? 84 percent of white murder victims were killed by another white person. Most mass murderers are white. Is this acceptable to white people? If not, why haven’t they eliminated these crimes?
If that sounds ridiculous, maybe the criticisms against the black community are just as ridiculous. Rather than work together on solutions to these issues, right-wingers seem to prefer to villainize the black community, claiming it doesn’t care about the causes of black crime or black economic problems. O’Reilly even called the civil rights movement an “industry” and a “hustle.”
The older I get, the more in awe I am at the courage of people such as Elizabeth Eckford and James Meredith, Vivian Jones and James Chaney, John Lewis and Jackie Robinson and Medgar Evers, all of whom stood against prejudice and evil, some of whom were killed for their courage. That’s not a “hustle.”
Maybe O’Reilly and Reagan and the rest need to be quiet and listen to people who have actually lived those experiences of being stopped or beaten or jailed just because of their color. Maybe they would actually learn something. Maybe they could then be part of the solution, instead of adding to the problem.
Jeanette Strong’s column appears every other Wednesday.