I like race. I like races. I like the variety of races in our school and in our country. It suits me. I like races for their differences, and because of those differences. Don’t get me wrong: I like the race I am, and even if I could change it I wouldn’t. I suspect not many would. I was born with my race and will die with it. I will try to be the best white man I can. I hope I will not die because of my race; that would be ironic and a shame. I hope no one dies because of their race.
I don’t like racism. At some point somebody had to think it up and persuade others that it existed and deserved a look. I wish that first thought had been DOA. I’m sure that racism produces racists. Racists produce all manner of trouble for races. When non-racists look around, they peer through a wide lens. When racists look around, they squint through a narrow lens. It detects someone different and sends an alert. This alert sets the racist mind whirling; emotions like distrust and anger and fear take the racist’s brain in their hands and give it a terrible shaking.
I’m not one of those people who goes around humming “It’s a small world after all” with a vapid smile on my face. I know each individual person is a little world with its own orbit, its own ecosystem, and even its own culture. To be a racist is to forfeit your individuality, to turn your will over to an impersonal idea or group: “Here, take me, mold me. Don’t confuse me with complex words like tolerance or acceptance or love, just give me labels and stereotypes.” This surrender may simplify your life, but also diminish it.
Story: A recent freezing morning, 5 a.m., walking dog in Virginia-Highland, no leash, he sticks close. Got my hoodie up. Cop cruiser eases past, he looks, eases on to the corner, turns in a parking lot, turns around, watches me coming. I take this in, he’s gonna bust me, leash law at 5 a.m. for God’s sake, OK, then it hits me. Gonna get stopped, frisked, no wallet with me—who am I? Why am I here? I take my hands out of my pockets, yeah, real slow. Raise them up, pull my hoodie off, he sees my face, he pulls out, drives on. Why?