April 23, 2010
As I’m sure you already know race is and always has been a hot button topic in our fair land. You are, by now, no stranger to this phenomenon. For the past two years (since 2008) there have been some that have been lauding the American “Post-Racial Era”. I hope that by the time you read this we have entered such a time—as a matter of fact I hope somebody, anybody, just one person has entered this era by the time you read this. I’m sure that we will by the year 2035 when I am 50 and your are 25.
Today, there are those that would like to believe that prejudice on the basis of race, most specifically the basis of African heritage (but any race will do), is a thing of the past. This is ignorance. It is even further ignorance for those who feel that even though they do not themselves harbor prejudice are not part of the racism that occurs. This is wrong on two counts: one, they are not exempt; two, the system is pervasive and apparent everywhere. It may be reasonable to state, however, that you are far less likely as a minority to be hosed on the street or to be attacked by police dogs.
Now race is a funny thing because even though it is the most readily identifiable part of your identity it is the one you have almost no control over. My whole life I have been white while in reality I am not. This is an easy mistake to make because I was raised Jewish and as Puerto Ricans go our family is pale due to our eventual Iberian roots. This paleness, coupled with the identification I have with the Jewish culture has allowed me to successfully navigate my life as an American as an unidentifiable white person—a disguise of hue and an almost “chameleonesq” feat.
To clarify: in reality Jews are not white people, not in the sense that one might think. Jews have always been separate, segregated, and different from whatever group they lived in proximity to. It was not until their assimilation in the United States had progressed well into the second and third generation during the 20th century that through business, education, and social migration did American Jewry start to be classified as white people—and this assimilation is tentative at best. American racism has always maintained the distinction of the Jew as the Christ-Killer, the Money Lender, The Conniver, The Schemer, and the Shylock.
My personal connection to Puerto Rico and my heritage there found does not extend much further than family spent holidays and that which emanates from festive kitchens. There is no one to blame for this—it was a simple matter of circumstance. My exposure to Puerto Rican heritage was somewhat weak sauce—though I must note my exposure to my family certainly was not. It is difficult to put a label on the disconnect, but most importantly it is safe to say that a large part of it is that I am neither Catholic nor am I Spanish speaking.
Navigating the meaning of being two has been a large part of my inner struggle in becoming a man actualizing himself in the world. I spent a great deal of time exploring the notion of being what I dubbed a “Shade of Grey” in my last two semesters of my undergrad studies. I explored myself through others who also were of more than one race or culture in America and I found that the confusing experience is not mine alone. While I was in the midst of this study your mother and I discovered that you were on your way to us from the…let’s say stork. Your mother is also of more than one heritage—as you know she was raised Jewish as well as I was and is somewhat disconnected from her mother’s Filipino heritage. The child we would create, you, would be of three.
What will race mean to you? At almost seven weeks old we can hardly tell. You look like my face on your mother’s shaped head—who knows what the hell that amounts to? We have absolutely no idea what race you will present as and, for the most part, we could give a flying fuck. You are our son and we love you despite your color (though I am glad you didn’t come out black—that’s a different issue altogether), shape, ability, intelligence, and choices you make. The only thing that concerns me is how it will affect you. I always identified first as a New Yorker, then as an American, then as a Jew, then as a mixed race person appearing white (the last one is a mouthful I know). Then again, you won’t have to deal with these issues. These are not the issues of someone living in a post-racial era.
We have now returned to my original contention. There is no post-racial era. People have their prejudices hard wired into them—tolerance of them varies from person to person, region to region, and so on. Despite the race of our President, the shades of our Academy Award winners, the plots of our favorite movies we all have our own feelings about race and people of certain races. We all fall prey to stereotyping and slurs.
This lack of post-racial era is, at least to me, evidenced in the severe backlash President Obama has been receiving from many quarters. There is a deep resentment and counter current to the initiatives of our current political administration. Some of them are well thought and, quite honestly, reasonable objections—many fear his healthcare reform is unsustainable, many feel taxpayer bailouts are misappropriation, many feel nuclear power and offshore drilling are dangerous. These are reasonable claims.
In respect to those claims there is a group of people who, granted have slowly faded into the background, called “Birthers”. These “Birthers” claim that the President was not born in the United States—even though the State of Hawaii has verified he was—and they claim that he is Muslim and not Christian—though they also often reference his pastor, Reverend Wright, in their rhetoric against him. The “Birther” movement is a walking contradiction of racism.
I say this, not because the President is black (and really half black—but his one drop of black blood makes him 100% black) but rather because of his name. Barack Hussein Obama is certainly not an analogue to John Fitzgerald Kennedy and given the country’s disillusionment with all things Islamic since the tragedy of 9/11 it is amazing he was elected at all. The “Birther” argument is rooted almost entirely in racism and fallacy. For example I have several times been presented with a link (http://web.archive.org/web/20040627142700/eastandard.net/headlines/news26060403.htm) that claims the President admitted to being Kenyan born. The site is a fabrication. While the newspaper it supposes to be taken from is real I challenge anybody to use that link to get news from any other day. You cannot. Some racist concocted the site and has distributed it throughout the internet. Those who want to believe the President has been elected illegally will not take a step further in checking out the site’s validity.
I have no doubt that a great many of these Birthers would not argue Colin Powell’s legality to be President, and have the utmost respect for that man. They cannot respect a man that the General endorsed however, because of his name. Instead of simply disagreeing with his politics in a normal manner the legitimacy of his right to serve is in question. This racism, which is an irrational mindset to begin with, starts to tilt at windmills and make ridiculous accusations. Maybe he’s a terrorist. Maybe he’s a communist. Who knows? No “Birther” will admit he is a liberal with an agenda they don’t want and a name they can’t trust—so they Photoshop pictures of the President with a turban on and call it legitimate protest.
Racism becomes apparent in many other debates in our country too, son. One that I find particularly confusing is racial profiling. I know that racial profiling occurs—it’s a fancy word for stereotyping. If there is a random bag check at the Subway station and 5 white men walk through and 5 black men walk through I have no doubt more black men then white men will be checked. I don’t need a statistic for that. The problem that bothers me is when a suspect fits a description accurately is it racial profiling? If you have a description for a black male between 25 and 30 driving a white sedan and you stop an innocent man fitting that description was it racial profiling? I don’t know.
When schools in underfunded urban areas fail and the government shuts them down for poor grades is it because the schools fail? Or is it because a system that is reliant on property tax to support its public schooling cannot sustain the amount of people that live in rent situations in large American cities? That this causes inner city schools to be underequipped for the amount of students they receive, the teachers to be underpaid for the over tally they must teach, and offer them no materials to get the job done? Why aren’t the tax dollars distributed in such a way as to make education equal for all children? I’m sure this won’t be a problem in the post-racial world you’ll live in Jeremy. I must sound like an old man screaming at the wind to you. Right?
That has to be the case. I am just an old man raging at ghosts that have long since been exorcized. In the far off year of 2035 when you are 25 and I am 50 we will be living in a post-racial America. Everyone will be treated equally and all the issues I’ve raised and more will be moot. They’ll be a joke, even. Americans will all be grey skinned, will worship the all mighty dollar, and will respect all races equally. Except of course for gays. We’ll never like them. Guess that’s something to work on next.
P.S. This week we had a big welcoming party for you. Over a hundred people came to welcome you to the world. You had a huge fart that your Mother and Grandma Bernie thought was hilarious and you visited me at work. Chewy tried to feed you a noodle and got upset when you didn’t want it. You took 7 ounces from a bottle in one feeding and you watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for the first time but Mommy turned it off before we could get to the end. She said it was boring. We know better!