Monday, February 27, 2006

Casual racism

I know, another SERIOUS topic. But it is something that I think about, and it happened today. First let me say this, everybody stereotypes. It's true. When you meet someone, when you see someone on the street, you will start assigning them certain characteristics based on your experience with their appearance. You could assign them the title of snob, bitch, thug, or anything else. Personally, I don't think it is a bad thing that people do that. It is a way of making the world around you make sense. You have life experiences, and they affect how you react to a similar experience the next time. For instance, when you are young, you find out that the stove gets hot. You burn your hand. The next time, and for the rest of your life, it affects how you approach a stove. That is a rather simplified corollary, but it does apply. You have met people with a similar appearance to someone you are approaching, your mind recalls the previous encounter, and it informs how this encounter will begin. But THIS is the main point of human behavior, at least in this case. The past can inform how you begin the interaction, but an open minded human being doesn't let it dictate how the interaction continues. In other words, the first time I walk up to a guy with a short sleeved button down shirt and polyester pants, wearing a pair of glasses with tape in the middle and with a big pocket protector full of pens in his shirt pocket, I am going to apporach the situation as if he is, for lack of a better term, a nerd. However, when I begin talking to him, if he starts talking like Antonio Banderas and discussing the merits of hemi versus turbo deisel, well you get the idea. Stereotyping as initial reaction is human nature. It is allowing the individual you meet to not be trapped in your stereotype that makes us a community.

Which brings me to the reason I brought this up. Someone who works in the dental office was behind me on the drive in to work this morning. This is one of the people up there I actually like and get along with. Well, she asks me if I noticed the damage on the front of her car, and I say that I did. She then begins to tell me what happened. It seems she was driving along York Road near the Senator (it's a Baltimore thing. If you aren't from the area, that means it is a borderline part of town. One of those "good block bad block" kind of deals). Apparently she saw tow cars in front of her to the left slam on their brakes and the two drivers get out and start arguing rather vociferously (just in case you didn't know, it's Big Word Monday!). These two men were both black. Now I will use as close to her exact words as possible..."And these two big black guts get out of their car and start arguing. I got scared. I thought bullets were going to start flying...". She was watching the fight, not paying attention to the road, and rear ended the car in front of her.

Before condeming her, let's look at this. Baltimore is one of the most violent citied in America (possibly the most violent city, if the current conspiacy rumor about the police department and the mayor cooking the numbers to drop them so it looked like crime was on the decline have anty merit. Really it is fascinating stuff. Go to or and check out the story). Like many cities, there is a lot of what I call chosen segregation. White people don't move into black neighborhoods and vice versa. There is a lot of what I have seen called "black-on-black" crime. The section of town she was in has been known to host violence. A lot of the violence ends in gunshots (we average almost if not more than a killing a day here. Not something I am bragging about, but facts are facts). All of those factors informed her thought process.

When she first said it to me, I immediately began to think that it was a racist thought. Then I started thinking about how she never seemed racist to me, I never saw her react negatively to any of the black or hispanic co-workers in the office. Then I started thinking how asinine these thoughts were. Can I not say that the same thought would not have crossed my mind if I was where she was? I cannot. And that leads me to this moral quandry. Is her (and what could have possibly been my) initial reaction racist, or does it fit within the framework of what I was talking about earlier? Seeing how she didn't get close to the conflict, what with the accident and exchanging insurance information and all, there was no way for her to get anything that would alter her view of the incident.

When she told me, it felt as if she was telling me this in order to get the okay that her reaction was valid. I cannot say for a fact that she was trying to get validation from me, but it did have that sense to it. I declined to show my hand one way or the other, because of my own ambiguity to the whole situation. So I put it to you, gentle readers. Was she wrong? Am I wrong? How would you have reacted? Can you honestly put yourself in that situation, including all of the variables, and say you wouldn't have had the same thought, if only for an instant? If she had driven through the same thing but in a different area, one not thought of as a place of violence, would she have reacted the same way? I know you can't answer that last question, but I felt it was worth mentioning anyway. Tell me what you think, I eagerly await your responses.

And as always, I will strive for my next post to contain many fart and dick jokes to make up for the seriousness of this post. I am like Playboy, no one REALLY reads me for the articles. And before you ask, yes, they are real. And they are SPECTACULAR!


  1. Given all the variables... what your co-worker said was a fair statement. However, lets be honest, the statement probably wouldn't have been made if it were two white guys arguing. But, it's not like she used the dreaded N word either. I'm with you, it wasn't meant to be racist, just a natural, instinctual, reaction based on her own life experiance, and the world around her.

  2. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Ron I couldn't even read to the end before I responded. I'm African American, and I may have reacted the same way your dental office friend did. Now would I have been racist? I don't know. I think the better question in what context did she think bullets would be flying. I think the media plays a big role in our imagery of certain others in other races. Sure there is a lot of Black on Black crime in B-more. But I think the biggest crime in this city is the state the schools are in, the fact that if you are a dopefiend you can't really find suitable treatment and worst yet there are no resources for parents single parents especially for their teen aged sons or daughters to participate in worthwhile programs. Now this sad state of affairs has a lot to do with our America and the society in which we live. Don't get me wrong parents have some responsibility too. Hell we are all responsible. Now I've said my peace