Monday, October 8, 2012

Confessions of a Media Racist

I'm not proud of it, but I admit it, I am somewhat racially prejudiced.  Not in a "White Power!" way or anything. But, When I see a black person, I do sort of go into a fight or flight mode. I over-analyze everything I say, or am about to say. I expect them to go crazy on me , yell at me, call me names, or try to beat me up. I have a similar response to most Hispanics, though to a lesser degree.

What is interesting about this is that I have had almost exclusively positive personal interactions with black and Hispanic people.

I grew up in Idaho, so my experience as a youth was nothing but pasty white. My first real, personal encounter with a person of color was between my Junior and Senior years of high-school. I spent a month in Kirksville, Missouri for a program which allowed a group of (Geeky) kids from throughout the US to take a University Level course and mingle and whatnot.

Our schedule each day included a period we affectionately referred to as "mandatory fun time"; an hour or so in which we were required to participate in some social and/or athletic activity. On this particular day it was basketball. So here we were, a handful of alabaster boys with a slight lean toward nerdiness, playing hoops. Then this one black kid comes in to the gym and is watching us. I assume he was first year college, or local high-school. He just sat down and watched us play. Being the decent sort we were, we invited him to play with us. He was very gracious, very humble... very much better at basketball than any of us. But In spite of the fact that he could have probably beat any five of us single-handedly, he didn't showboat, or ball-hog, he was an excellent sportsman, an exceptional teammate, and a true gentleman.

After high-school, I spent two years in Florida, as  missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. A goodly amount of that time was spent in and around predominately black neighborhoods. There were some places we were warned were dangerous for white people. Perhaps black people have a respect for young men serving God, but I never encountered trouble in those neighborhoods from the black people. They were kind, friendly, decent folk. I had a time or two when white folks sent their dogs on us or made veiled threats. Only one time that I can recall, in a wealthy neighborhood, did I have a negative experience with a black person. He ranted at length about how we were evil racist usurpers. But that is one negative experience compared to dozens of positive interactions.

My mission also provided many opportunities to work with and around Hispanics as well. All positive experiences. They treated us like family. They were some of the most caring, sharing generous people I met.

There are a couple Black people and a few Hispanic individuals where I currently work. I don't interact with them very often, but the time I do are always pleasant.

So, what accounts for my behavior around black and Hispanic people? I suspect the media.

As I said, most of my life has been spent in the chalk-white Northwest. So most of my experience with other culture comes from television. On the news I hear about the black man who committed this robbery, or killed that person, The Latino gang that is terrorizing some park or neighborhood. There are plenty of fictional televison shows with violent Mexicans or angry black people. As for real voices in the media, Kanye West, Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee come to mind readily, and they seem to always be angry at some white person for something. There are exceptions of course. Bill Cosby for instance. I loved The Cosby Show; the good, clean family values. I can't even imagine Mr. Cosby going postal on anyone. He is the epitome of poise, grace, wit and charm. I used to watch The Cosby Show all the time. Why doesn't that pop into my mind as readily or easily as an Al Sharpton angry speech?

Beyonce Knowles seems like a real sweetheart. Phylicia Rashad, Queen Latifah, Keisha Knight Pulliam, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, L.L. Cool J... I would love to meet any one of them. They just seem like decent, happy, pleasant people. Why is it that Kanye making a butt of himself,  manages to trump trump LL Cool J being... well... cool? It just ain't right.

Maybe if I spent a few minutes every day watching interviews with Will Smith, or LL Cool J, maybe I could build up a negative media immunity. Do you think?

Will, LL, Beyonce, etc... If any of you happen to read this, and are ever in the vicinity of Logan, Utah, stop by my house and let me take you to lunch or something, so I can  build a positive personal experience to help override the media  refuse poisoning my mind.

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