The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sergent Thomas, and the underbelly of America

On AOL today was a story about   Sgt. Jason Thomas, the mystery Marine who donned his uniform on 9/11 and went to the world trade center to help people.  A simple, inspiring story: he simply responded to his training and felt “My city is in danger” and went to help.  Period.  Wonderful.

And my stomach went cold, because he is black.  “I wonder,” I thought, if I went into the “post comments” section, how much racist ranting I will see. 

It was horrific, even worse than I expected.  I won't repeat what I saw--go to and look for yourself. 

Now, the standard wisdom is that this is some tiny, tiny percentage of people who have no where else to vent.  Possibly.  Actually, probably.  My thought is that there is about a 10% disconnect, and that that same percentage can probably be considered racist.  But active, venomous bigots?  I think you’d have to multiply that number by the percentage of the population who are real assholes.  What is that?  5%?  So…one half of one percent of the population are active, venomous bigoted assholes?  Maybe.  I don’t know how to measure it.

But…it does make great sense of world history (not just American history) to assume that some irreducible percentage of humanity sees the world through the “us-them” lens, and that skin color is the easiest, fastest differentiation. 

For most of us, we pick up bigotry from our parents or environment, and as time goes on, we make shifts.  I had some negative feelings about gays until I actually made a gay friend in High School.  I probably have some retro views about gender, but most of my friends and editors have been women, and I wouldn’t hesitate to vote a woman as President. 

But race?  I probably have a touch of REVERSE racism toward white people, something most black Americans struggle with.  The famous Thurgood Marshall experiment where little black girls preferred  white dolls has been replicated, and the preference for white skin and straight hair continues.  Note that there are virtually NO black actresses or models without straightened hair or weaves.

This is typical behavior for a dominated group.  Note that after WW2, Japanese girls began dyeing their hair blonde and having plastic surgery to round their eyes.  The conquered attempt to adapt protective coloration to resemble the conquered.

How could I not have perceptual confusion on this issue, when I was raised Episcopalian, and was shown countless millions of images of the most evolved, holy creature who had ever walked the Earth—a white man?  When the very structure of the language we speak is tilted toward “white” as good and “black” as bad and evil (truth be told, this isn’t, in my perspective, something specific to this culture.  A huge number of cultures around the world have similar patterns, and it relates to the fact that our senses are day-adapted.  The night, or “darkness,” literally was a time of danger, and therefore, evil.) 

So blacks often have a strange love-hate relationship in their attitudes toward whites, and absorb white attitudes toward them like butter picks up smells in a refrigerator.  It is incredibly painful and damages self-identity like nobody’s business.  I remember some psychologists who tested inner-city boys, and concluded that they had HEALTHIER egos on the average than their white counterparts. 

This, to me, is complete crap.  These same inner-city kids are, too damned often, incapable of believing they can rise from poverty through direct and sustained effort. Who believe they have to fight—or kill-- if someone looks at them the wrong way.  This is not health.  It is raving fear  of the nothingness within, fear that they ARE what the culture says they are.

What percentage of Americans hold the poisonous views of those who vomited up racism about Sgt. Thomas?  I don’t know.  I do know that if it is only 5%, if a chain of five people is required to approve your job or loan or housing or college application, you’ll run into one of those folks about 50% of the time.

And that’s enough to crush all but the hardiest spirits.

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