The L.A. Times has an article about blacks worrying that people will think racism is dead just because Barack Obama was elected President.
Hakeem Holloway may be a classically trained musician who has played with orchestras around the world, but when he crosses an L.A. city street wearing his typical uniform of jeans and a hoodie, white women have been known to eye him, a black man, and clutch their purses more tightly to their sides.
Frank Gilliam, the dean of UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, sometimes flies first class. When he does, white passengers often ask Gilliam, who is black, if he’s a record producer — if they talk to him at all.
“If they talk to him at all.” So am I now a racist if I don’t talk to someone on a plane?
I can’t afford to pay for first class and I don’t like talking to people on planes. But the next time I’m flying coach, I’ll remember that Frank Gilliam may be up in first class, seething that nobody is talking to him. Maybe I’ll go try to talk to him myself — that is, until the stewardess tells me to go to the back of the plane where I belong.
Do people really “often” ask him if he’s a record producer? Often? Really?
And this guy who wears the hoodies around and watches white women to see how tightly they clutch their purses? I don’t know. Maybe it’s true that white women clutch their purses more tightly. But it’s maybe also true that he is looking very carefully for that sort of thing. I would think how tightly women are clutching their purses is sort of a tough thing to gauge. Do women clutch their purses when I’m around? I don’t know; I don’t look. Would they if I were wearing a hoodie with the hood up? I don’t know; I don’t own a hoodie.
But I do handle a lot of cases where people are robbed by folks in hoodies.
There’s plenty of racism in this country and we’d be fools to deny it. But as this article makes clear, there are also plenty of perceptions of racism that may go beyond the reality.
Holloway, a 31-year-old double bassist with a master’s in music performance from USC, says one problem for African Americans is that success often blinds people to color — in the wrong way.
“We have plenty of black comedians, actors, athletes,” Holloway said. “And plenty of time, everybody regards those people as not black. Michael Jordan? ‘He’s not black. He’s Michael Jordan.’ Barack Obama? ‘He’s not black. He’s Barack Obama.’ “
Again, I don’t know how many people actually think Michael Jordan or Barack Obama aren’t black. Maybe they’re just thinking of Jordan and Obama as people first, instead of as black people first. If so, I’m not so sure that’s the “wrong way” of being colorblind.
The rest of the article similarly accepts at face value every story or perception of racism.
The election of Barack Obama is indeed a transformative moment in some ways. It shows that a black person can achieve the highest office in the land — meaning that if you have enough merit and try hard enough, any person can succeed.
Of course, it’s not going to wipe away racism, which still exists in this country. What this article makes clear is that even if racism were wiped away, the perception of racism would remain — and the L.A. Times would be there to accept that perception uncritically.
If Frank Gilliam should be so unfortunate as to sit in coach some day, he might end up next to me. If he’s going to determine that I’m a racist because I’m more interested in the latest Michael Connelly book than in talking to him, then I can’t see how the election of Barack Obama is going to fix that.
P.S. Can you imagine the L.A. Times uncritically repeating conservatives’ subjective perceptions that the media is biased against them — without a word of skepticism? Neither can I. Why do subjective perceptions of racism merit such unquestioning treatment?