I came from lily-white Orange County in Southern California. My upbringing was not as racist as it could’ve been. It was more “we-accept-the-blacks-but-they-should-keep-to-themselves” brand which could be more insidious for the lack of awareness it breeds. It certainly was not the hate-hate-hate kind of racism, but still one of the kinds of racism depicted in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”
In grade school, I had a developmentally-disabled African American friend named Donnie who lived nearby, across the park in Balboa. He was adopted, and for a time, I preferred Donnie to my other friends. He had an innocence I related to. My mom told me I shouldn’t spend as much time with him as I did my other friends. I naively told him this, and shortly afterwards his parents reached out to my mom. I then got a baffling lecture on “loyalty” from my mother. I could not understand how carrying out my mother’s instructions could possibly be disloyal.
In high school, I never imagined anyone I dated would be anything other than white. I dated white for several years. Honestly, I found white chicks a bit boring which brings up yet another complicated don’t-say-aloud-white-male-opinion. There have been many white women whom I have deeply loved, but on the whole and at the time, the rigid, high expectations that surrounded these relationships didn’t fit with my wild personality. I’m quite sure those in love with a PC lifestyle would see that as racist.
Attending USC was my big entry into international waters. Not by dipping my toe in, but head-first submerged in a sea of diversity. Easily my most challenging life event so far, I was surrounded by non-whites. There was a large, showboat Arab woman in my first communications class by whom I was offended but wound up liking. A black housemate who I thought was my friend but who stole things from me. Lots of gang intimidation just off campus. And lots of Jews at USC.
Which brings me to yet another kind of racism, the hatred against Jews. Of course, Jewishness is not a race, exactly. But it is an important identity and a classification ensuring that Jews receive protection as a race against racial discrimination. I’ve always had a problem with prejudice against a person’s religious beliefs. When someone holds a belief against other people’s beliefs, you have the germ of conflict that has plagued our world from ISIS on back. One thing my stepfather used to say was “I can’t tolerate intolerance,” a self-contradictory non-sequitur which which made my head spin. I like to think he just couldn’t understand someone controlling another’s beliefs.
Anyway, other than the feeling of belonging that a religion provides, I never did quite understand proscriptive religious beliefs. But I certainly couldn’t get why those beliefs could be banned or prohibited.
It has taken much time and effort to become aware of the beliefs I was raised with. It has almost been a painful process, letting go of my upbringing and being alert to it’s problems. I was never actually aware of the process, and the idea of trying to cure racism was something I did not and do not know how to do. This is complicated by the fact that anti-racist speech sounds very much like a lecture, like it’s something I should already know how to treat, or that we’ve skipped over the necessity for fundamental changes and onto how things should be.
But it’s very inside work, always. That’s why I think “The BlacKkKlansman” could be inspiration for change. But, of course I have to see problems with the film. Mainly that a story — poignant all by itself — seems to have been a set-up for a five-minute cutaway to current events, a lecture to white America. With that ending, it became a lesson from Spike Lee, and the Awards talk rewards him for it: “Oh, we white Americans have it coming, bring it on, Spike.”
Saying that my becoming more alert continues to be a process, I bet comes across as reductive or disingenuous. I wonder if it is for Spike Lee.