Monday, March 20, 2006


To dis, or not to dis; that is the question

On NPR, commentator John McWhorter talks about his personal experience with stereotyping of African Americans. Referring to a situation on the "reality show" Black/White in which they talk about "a daily litany of racism", Mr McWhorter notes that his own experience differs markedly from that of the black man on the TV show:

Like Brian, I'm a 40-year-old black male. I'd be lying if I said I didn't encounter the occasional slight. But a "daily litany"? I've spent my life being told that this was my experience, and so I do watch for it and sometimes I find it, maybe once a year, if that.
The white man on the show suggests that Brian is seeing racism even when it isn't there, because he's expecting it, because it's what he "wants to see." Mr McWhorter contemplates that:
Could it be that a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is that, for some of us, asserting ourselves as eternal victims becomes a substitute for positive identity?

As someone who has never been the target of prejudice, I'm not in a position to comment on this directly. What I'd like is for others, who can directly comment on it, to do so as comments to this post — not just African-Americans, but anyone who has first-hand experience with this sort of thing. Which is closer to your reality: Brian's experience, or John McWhorter's?

1 comment:

Roy Byrd said...


The world is complicated enough that it is not always possible to decide when racism is behind slights that we receive.

I am a black male who has lived around NYC most of my life. When I once responded - in person - to an apartment ad in a tony New York neighborhood and was told that the apartment was "no longer available," I suspected racism, but couldn't be sure. I later found a better apartment.

When the woman who rented me a room during my junior year in Paris told me that many parisians wouldn't rent to blacks, I believed her. But it didn't really affect my experience in France.

I guess I agree more with McWhorter: There are two many other things to worry about while living a life to focus too much energy on seeing slights everywhere. Yet, it would be naive to forget that they are possible and to not be prepared to deal with them when they occur.