As the supporters of Elenita Muniz suggest, there is racism beyond that overt racism of which Muniz’s outraged critics protest themselves innocent. As part of the discussion of other forms of racism, I offer the following from my racial past.
In high school in the 1950s, my English teacher told a story on herself: She’s in a crowded bus and when jostled against a black kid (of which there were few in that time and place) involuntarily, as she tells it, pulls away from him. There’s that level of racism, seemed to be her point. The president of student government at that time was the only black kid enrolled in high school.
When maybe 40 years ago my cousin called her parents and told them she was going out with a black guy, my liberal family applauded. But the big deal of it, the self-congratulations—if that was not racism, it was in the ballpark.
On a trip to a Caribbean island walking on one of our first nights along an unlit road, suddenly realizing we were the only white people walking along that road. We were unused to being a minority. (We lived in Hartford at the time but didn’t hang out on that side of town.) Wow. The only white people amongst all these dark-skinned people and, pretty clearly, nothing to fear. How much of our apprehensiveness, natural enough perhaps, given the history of the colossus to the north, was racist? That experience alone should be a basis for understanding profiling by cops.
Another instance of profiling of the non-law enforcement sort. We are in downtown Wellfleet restaurant with our son, age five; the only other people a black man and his daughter about the same age, who was dancing amongst the tables. Later when we talked about our time there, there was absolutely no sense that Ben saw the color of skin as anything worth mentioning about the girl. It was as if he hadn’t seen it. “Little girl” he said, perhaps mentioning the color of her dress, the fact that she was dancing around. In telling another party the story, his parents said “little black girl.” It would have felt coy to fail to mention the girl’s skin color.
The racial innocence of early childhood is a wonderful thing and in a way a model and goal. But in the adults protesting their outrage at Muniz’s insult to their racial innocence, it’s part of the problem.