Thursday, February 26, 2009

Talking About Life with Miss Teen RSI

Someday, I'll be smart enough to realize that spending so much time carting around my daughters is the best thing about being a father.

That's because we get a chance to talk about life.

Today's topics while I was driving my older daughter--Miss Teen RSI-- back to school were piano, getting old, and race. It's a twenty minutes drove to the county school in rural Kentucky. During these kinds of time, I tell her what I think and observe and she measures my "wisdom" against her own experiences and observations.

Today, the bottom line was race and I learned as much from the conversation as Miss Teen. As we stopped in the BP convenience store for some gum (for her) and candy (for me), I realized that African-Americans had a particular interpretation problem--how to deal with white people who are as nice as they can be but also extremely racist. The issue came up when I was telling Miss Teen RSI about a retired colleague and neighbor who is extremely gracious and friendly but also a determined racist and misogynist. I emphasized to Miss Teen RSI that this guy's general friendliness made it necessary for me to keep reminding myself of his poisonous bigotry.

That's when I stopped to think that this must be a big problem for African-Americans for whom determined racists pose much more severe difficulties than they create for a white guy like me. How do black guys and women deal with white people who are overtly very friendly but also might be racial bigots. What about figuring out how genuine friendliness, unthinking racial stereotypes, and determined racism might be mixed together in the white people they meet?

I certainly don't know the answers to these questions and it's not like I'm going to come up with good answers in a 98% white town like Morehead, KY. But this is the general thread of what I want to import--an interest in the conundrums that people face in life and what they choose to think and do about them.

Now if I can only get her to be nicer to her sister.

1 comment:

Eduardo Ballestero said...

I'm having the same problem with some close friends, professor Caric. I had a class with you fall of '04 (you probably don't remember me, I was the hispanic guy that sat in the back). Well, I'm also gay and a couple of my close friends are closet homophobes. I've been having comflicting feelings on how to deal with them. They seem to only want to interact with me as a non-racialized, non-sexualized person. I asked them recently if they supported gay marriage and one said he didn't "get the big deal" over it and the other refused to answer. The point was that neither supported my rights. I thought being friends with them and allowing them to value me as an individual would change their minds, but they seem to be able to deal with me on terms that make their bigotted opinions justifiable, or at least impervious to change. It's especially hard when the bigots are the people you care about. The only way to deal with it is to ignore it as best you can, although that's gettting troublesome real fast for me.