Est. May 2008

28 July, 2013

A Conversation on Race

In our local paper today, columnist Eugene Kane inadvertently shows us why we can’t have a ‘conversation of race’ in this country; I say ‘inadvertently’ in order to give Mr. Kane the benefit of the doubt, something others who’ve read his columns might consider generous.

Mr. Kane explains two personal experiences he’s had to show us that Americans are still racist.  The first is as follows:
During my early years with the old Milwaukee Journal, I was working as a reporter in the Waukesha County bureau. I vividly remember one reporting assignment was to go out with a photographer to do a series of interviews with shoppers at the local mall about some news subject that was in the headlines at the time.

Dressed in a suit and tie (I wore suits to work back then) and armed with a notebook in hand, I approached various shoppers with a request for an interview.

Time after time, I was passed by, some politely declining with others recoiling at my approach.

It didn't take long for me and the white photographer to figure out what was happening.

When I returned to the bureau office with nothing but a paltry excuse about not getting any good quotes, surprisingly the usually gruff editor didn't make much fuss.

Later, I found out the photographer had explained to him that the white people in the mall refused to be interviewed by the black guy.
I don’t know whether Mr. Kane’s photographer was black, white, yellow, red, or green-with-purple-polka-dots, but I don’t think it really matters; the point of this story was to show that people, when approached while shopping in a mall by someone who happens to be black, are racists if they ‘politely decline’ or ‘recoil’ from the questioner.

Then I’m a racist, I guess, because I do that all the time.  I don’t like having my shopping interrupted by anyone, whatever their skin-color, who’s carrying a clipboard and says to me, ‘Do you mind if I ask you some questions’.  Add to that the fact that the questioner is accompanied by someone with a camera and, well, I think you get the point.  But, according to Mr. Kane’s photographer, it’s because ‘the white people…refused to be interviewed by the black guy’.

His second experience:
More than 10 years later, I was at the Super Bowl in New Orleans in 1997 with a team of Journal Sentinel reporters, photographers and columnists to cover the Green Bay Packers win over the New England Patriots.

It was an exciting assignment that mostly involved filing columns and features about Bourbon Street; the only real deadline crush came immediately after the game ended when I had to rush to grab Wisconsin fans exiting the Superdome to get quotes for the next day's big staff-written story.

I found a group of about five family members from the Green Bay area to interview about their trip to New Orleans to watch the Pack's return to glory. Things were going well until the father suddenly began pulling everyone in the group away.

"I knew it! Pickpockets! Get away from here!"

Apparently, he had seen a black male hovering nearby as I conducted the interview and had figured me for a decoy. It was an embarrassing moment for myself and several younger family members who had been talking to me.

One of the young men in the group looked at me with surprise and confusion. He reached over to inspect the official Super Bowl press credentials around my neck and said to his father: "No, I think he's all right."

Needless to say, the father's actions broke the mood. I went on to find other quotes to use for the story.

But I have never forgotten the moment and how I felt standing there accused.
I am sorry Mr. Kane felt that way, I truly am, but had he thought for a moment (or does he think about it now) that perhaps the man had once been pickpocketed by a black man?  And does the reaction of one man in a crowd mean everyone is racist or has racist tendencies or feelings?

Additionally, the first experience happened sometime earlier than nineteen eighty-seven; the second happened sixteen years ago.  I wonder if Mr. Kane could have chosen any similar experiences he’s had more recently – oh, say, within the past five years.  Actually, as we’ve seen from the Paula Deen crucifixion, all you need is one bad experience in your past (in Mrs. Deen’s case, right around 20 years ago) to be considered by race-baiters and their fellow-travelers as a perpetual racist.

If it’s a conversation on race that they want, fine; let’s start by dropping the preconception that all white people are racists and that white people have to prove they aren’t.  Let’s acknowledge there are reasons other than the color of somebody’s skin for the behavior of others.  And let’s honestly look at problems and try to find solutions, rather than trying to hide the problems behind the façade of victimhood-due-to-skin-color.

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