Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Killer Crossover, Among Other Things

My rule of thumb about comments sections is this: If threads regularly top a dozen commenters, it will be a cesspool. I can think of two exceptions to this rule. The first is Alas, a Blog. And the second is Ta-Nehisi Coates' site.

In that vein, I agree with Ta-Nehisi that this comment is excellent and illuminating. It's from a White guy who grew up in an overwhelmingly Black neighborhood in DC:
Speaking to the "at a young age" point, for me that brings up the asymmetry with how I experienced being a "minority" at a young age. At a pretty young age (8 to late teens), I was the only white kid in my neighborhood, and really the only non-black person. Being in DC public schools, I was also a minority at school, but not as much so. I spent 3-4 hours many days at the basketball court a block away (Hamilton, between 13th and 14th, for any DC peeps) where my nickname was "white boy" because that was sufficient to distinguish me. I had a great time and got to be a pretty good playground basketball player. My race was often a thing, whether when an opponent ribbed his teammate who was checking me after a three-pointer ("that's what they do!") assigning me a NBA nickname (my mop of hair doomed me to John Paxson, who I hated), or sometimes worse. I got called a "KKK m**f*r" for no reason other than the kid was having a bad day and I was having a good one. New people to the court often got frustrated and looked to single me out, aggressively. I backed down from many eager combatants, and I rarely called fouls. My friends the other regulars often protected me, but sometimes not, and I chose to prostrate myself in whatever way would allow the game to keep on going, and me not to get my ass kicked.

While this experience has shaped my attitudes on race (and given me a killer crossover and a preference for 33 instead of 21) it hasn't left any legacy of fear or alienation. This, to me, is not a testament to my own courage (clearly lacking, or at least not deployed in this arena) or any great personal conviction, but that I could go home and go out into the wider world with the confidence that any racial resentment I experienced there wouldn't follow me or affect me. When a playground friend asked if I was going to college, and I told him yes, and the name of my very well-regarded destination, he said "Where's that?" This was not my bubble, it was his, and there was a big world waiting for me.

I'd be fine with being corrected on this, but this to me is the essence of white privilege from my experience. Not only do I get to feel "raceless" for most of my life and just be "psychologist," "father," "coach" or "teacher," but even those moments when my race was clearly a hindrance to people seeing me as a person, I could rest assured that this was temporary. In college and elsewhere, that part of my upbringing was essentially optional to share with people, which is not true for someone with different colored skin than I.
Totally off topic, but since people seem to be sharing. And now... back to being the central casting aloof academic...

That's a better comment than you'll find on the main page at most sites. It's worth reading on its own, but it's testament to the sort of site TNC runs that he's able to get these sorts of discussions rolling on a regular basis.

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