A post by Ta-Nehisi Coates – by far one of my favorite bloggers – on the culture of poverty got me thinking about people being charged as racists and their taking offense at that. It seems as if they truly don't consider themselves racists.
The problem is, I think, that even racists – OK, most of them anyway – don't dislike black people. They dislike black culture. They don't dislike a black guy who acts white, they dislike a black guy who acts black.
The racist dislikes Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or Cornell West not because they are dark, but because they act different from how the racist would act. The difference in color is not a problem, the difference in culture is.
That is pretty easy to say, now. To even see, now. But, for a long time I couldn't see it. I am sorry to admit that there was a time that I didn't like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or Cornell West. They just didn't see like my kind of people. Sure, they said the right things, but, somehow, it seemed off. All I could see was their culture, and I mistook that for who they were.
But, behind that veneer of a different culture, they are my kind of people.
In the 60's, every black person I came in contact with, acted white. Or, more accurately, they had a white persona that they wore when the interacted with me and – presumably – other white people. I remember several times when – watching a black person walking from a white group to a black group – I could actually see their body language change. It was like the son of an immigrant who speaks English at school and the marketplace and speaks Polish at home.
Somewhere between then and now, that changed. Cornell West, for example, acts culturally black everywhere and all the time. He is saying, This is who I am and I am proud of it. Michele Obama tells the world she is black with a fist bump to her husband on national television.*
For me it has gone from why do they have tp prove they are different to being fun. To hearing what Al Sharpton is saying rather than how he is saying it.
* and the racists went apoplectic.