There are very few things in life that you will ever hear me say you need to experience in order to have true knowledge and understanding of.
You do not need to have been in the military in order to have an informed opinion on policy and strategy. Granted, you don’t know what it’s like to take live fire while your brother-in-arms is dying next to you, but those two things are vastly different. All of us can, and should, have thoughts on how, where, and when our armed forces are deployed.
You do not need to have raised children in order to have an informed opinion on how children should be raised. Granted, you don’t know exactly what it’s like to be exhausted and unable to get your kid into bed at 8PM on a Tuesday, but those two things are vastly different. All of us have been children and all of us can, and should, have thoughts on how our future generations are being raised and formed, and how they effect our society.
Obviously, you don’t need to be a minority to have an informed opinion on racism. Basically, you’re either for it or against it. Granted, there is a gray area (pun intended) of what exactly constitutes racism, which almost no one (minorities included) can agree on, but in general, you either think we’re all equal humans, or you assign certain negative traits to certain (or all) races that aren’t yours. And to be crystal clear, yes, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and all of the rest can absolutely be racist. Claiming otherwise is ignorant and, quite candidly, racist.
Other than the asinine “Clark experiment,” used in the famous “Brown versus Education,” Supreme Court case of 1954, no one ever has believed that racism isn’t a learned and taught behavior. Clark claimed stupidly that kids were born racist and used dolls to “prove it.” It’s the most fundamentally flawed “scientific” study in the history of the world. Racism absolutely is taught and learned, and it is a vial, disgusting trait that will never be wiped from human kind, for we are all bigots, and racism is the easiest form of bigotry there is. Every single one of us has knee jerk reactions to some sort of person or behavior. I am a bigot of fatties. When I see an obese person, I immediately assign very negative traits to that individual such as laziness, lack of self-control, and low self-esteem. Others do it to the overtly religious, smokers, short men, tall women, blondes, fast-food workers, homeless people, cops, “hicks,” and everything in between. But nothing is as easy and prevalent as assigning negative qualities and blanket stereotypes to different races.
All Mexicans landscape and pick fruit. Asians can’t drive. Blacks don’t work and commit crimes. Indians run convenience stores, Native Americans get drunk and die on railroad tracks, whites can’t dance or play basketball.
All Italians are in the mob, all Irish people are drunks, Hispanics have 20+ children and live in one home, Asians own dry cleaning businesses, Black fathers are absent, Indians are computer programmers, Native Americans dance to make it rain, Blacks eat watermelon, all Italians are Catholic, everyone in the South is a racist, and everyone in California surfs.
Not all of those examples are racist, obviously, some are just bigotry. Some aren’t even negative, but all of them are provably false and abjectly ignorant and a part of the human condition.
Having been with my wife, an African American/Black/Woman of color for three years now (she and I HATE these labels but in order to communicate I have to use them at times. When I look at my wife I see a beautiful, intelligent, better-than-me human being, period.), I have had a front-row seat to the hate and ignorance that makes America run. And it has been eye-opening and stunning. Thus, I submit to you, that this is one of the few things in life that you must experience first-hand to truly understand.
Quick caveat; America is not only NOT the racist capital of the world, it is most likely the least racist place on Earth. Europe is beyond disgusting in its hate against people of color and its’ anti-Semitism. South Africa is a hot bed of racism on both sides, with the black people currently extracting disgusting levels of “revenge” against the minority white population. The Middle East’s life blood is hate against seemingly everyone that doesn’t believe exactly what they believe. Asia is indescribable in its bigotry. Canada, the holy grail of “politeness,” has a long and current history of hatred towards people of color. It’s everywhere, but we live in America, so we’ll focus on us. Plus, so many of us like to claim we’re so much better than other people, maybe we can start trying to prove it in how we treat each other.
Years ago, my wife and I spent a week in Pittsburgh because, who doesn’t? walking through downtown Pittsburgh on a Saturday afternoon, the stares and daggers my way as I walked through a predominantly black neighborhood holding her hand were palpable. Decades ago, I became accustomed to having a gorgeous woman on my arm and the attention that comes with it, but this was something I’d never experienced. I was out-numbered 10-1 in racial terms…and it hit me…that’s how African Americans feel every day. Asians 16-1. When we’re not engaging in self-segregation, it’s undeniable that white Americans are always surrounded by other people that look like them. Spend a weekend with my wife and me in our hometown and count how many other black people we encounter. News from the future; you’ll only need one hand, and four of your fingers won’t be used.
None of that is an issue, at least not in my experience with my wife. The grace, strength, and understanding with which she handles not looking like anyone else in the room is beyond me. Maybe she’s just used to it. Personally, I think she’s just so much better than pretty much everyone that she instinctually rises above it. Either way, the definition of decency and class has never been better personified than in my wife.
For the record, she and I have quite the sense of humor when it comes to reality. Every time we watch “Wheel of Fortune,” and someone guesses the letter “N,” we both say “that’s racist.” She has a list of foods I like that she calls “white people food.” She’ll say or do something I find odd and I’ll refer to it as a “cultural thing,” and she’ll be the first to tell you I have no rhythm. She’s black, I’m white. We are aware.
But hey, guess what? Her father stuck around. Not only that, I’d suggest he’s the greatest man she’s ever known, present company included. No one in her family has been to prison, and they all speak complete sentences. She comes from a family of military service, not because it was the only option open to them, but because they chose to step forward and defend our nation. She never did drugs, was never on welfare, and, wait for it…she doesn’t like watermelon. She’s a unique human being of her own making, and as far as I can tell, one hell of a person. Perfect? GOD NO! That’s another column, for another time, but all of her failings and short-comings are a result of being a carbon-based-life-form, and have nothing to do with the color of her skin.
And yet, almost daily I get abjectly ignorant and hateful emails like this gem received from a listener named Brian last week (cleaned up slightly but otherwise presented in its’ original, unintelligent context):
Hey Rob, Why do Black people Always ask you after every other sentence. “Know what I’m sayin?” That’s what they repeatedly say after every thought. So my question to Rob is how does he put up with that. It’s weird and I notice black people only do it. Also somebody teach a black person to pronounce the word Ask, correctly. Not Axe but ask. As a man who fornicates with these slang talking hip gangsta wanna be’s. Axe them a question. Like know wut I’m sayin homie g. For real bro.
If you give anything he says any credence, you’re a lost cause, and I hope you meet the receiving end of one of my best friend’s, Pat’s, fist. Oh, he’s black too. And I’ve never once heard him say “know what I’m sayin,” or mispronounce the word “ask,” unless he was making fun of someone else or an asinine stereotype. My wife either. Or anyone in her family. You know what I’m sayin’, Brian? Hey Brian, ever spent any time in America outside of your mother’s basement? Stupidly embarrassing white people are everywhere, you racist jackass.
And yet, Brian is hardly an outlier. I receive emails like this constantly. As often as I see the way people look at my wife and me when we’re out together, whether it be in Sacramento, Reno, Dallas, Pittsburgh, or Hawaii, believe me, I know the prevailing sentiment. I’ve been in the public eye for 25+ years and got used to, very early on, paying close attention to my surroundings. I know the different looks when it comes to being with a woman, and specific to my wife, they are as follows:
- She’s gorgeous
- Hey, that’s Rob from RADRADIO (and yes, I’ve been recognized as far way as Hawaii)
- She’s way too good looking for him
- He is way older than she is/she’s only with him for his money/he’s paying her
- They’re disgusting for being together. Cross-breeders.
Sadly, the last one is the most common one, and it’s the Brian’s of the world that lead the way.
So, while it’s true that too many white people rush to “defend” minorities of all types, almost always out of “white guilt,” I actually live it. Every day. And unlike my white brethren who then turn into white-hating whites, I try as hard as I can, every day, to channel the strength, confidence, and grace that I see daily in my wife and have seen first hand in her family. I try, as hard as I can, to channel the humor with which my friend Pat attacks this reality daily, and most days I succeed.
I am not here to change you or the world, for that is a fool’s errand. I am here, however, to demand that you at least acknowledge and accept the reality of the sickness that is humanity. No matter how neat and infantile it is to believe otherwise, we can’t change others. That comes from within. We can, however change ourselves. And maybe, by doing so, someone who is ready and willing to change will make the same choice. Brian is a lost cause, and skinning him alive, while enticing, will not cure the world of his evils. There’s a Brian behind every corner because as that sage Jon Stewart said:
We have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seem to have dropped the ball… is in teaching people what racism actually IS.