Decades ago, when I worked in a grocery store, I would frequently have to phone my boss and ask whether to cash a check for a stranger. The questioning would inevitably include, "Is he black?"
I never dared say it out loud, but I self-righteously imagined myself responding, "Hold on, let me check."
Well, the color-blind society I smugly imagined didn't exist then and doesn't exist now. And as we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., I wonder just how much progress the next 50 years can reasonably be expected to bring.
True, society has made great strides since King's martyrdom, but the march toward a color-blind society will always be two steps forward and one step back if everyone concerned keeps doing stupid things.
Once upon a time, the civil rights marchers could take pride in courageously speaking truth to power. Now "loose cannon" activist wannabes take shortcuts and speak lies to power.
I refer not only to irresponsible citizens who foment rioting by sharing inaccurate accounts of police/civilian interactions, but also to the numerous cases of African-Americans planting swastikas or nooses in prominent places and acting traumatized when they "discover" them. Of course organizers and the media will jump to the conclusion that some white supremacist must be sending a message, and demand that somebody has to do something pronto.
Perhaps these deceptive measures are rationalized as being for the greater good, but when the truth comes out it becomes increasingly harder to believe actual incidents of racial intimidation in the future.
Yes, ironically, as we mourn gunshot victim Dr. King, overzealous crusaders are more than willing to hand ammunition to the opponents of equality.
"All for one and one for all" worked well for the Three Musketeers, but it can be a counterproductive crutch for police officers and legislators. Truth and justice outweigh any code of silence. Any officer who acts maliciously or incompetently in dealing with a suspect needs to take responsibility and not drag his co-workers into a cover-up. Lawmakers should not circle the wagons and act innocent about gerrymandered voting maps that look like something out of "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them."
Again, ironically, racist public figures who would refer to an African-American male as "boy," cower like little kids when they're caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
Yes, racists exist. But the constant knee-jerk playing of the race card has no positive long-term benefits for mankind. Not everything is a new Jim Crow law or a metaphorical lynching.
Look at it this way: If you're sociopathic enough and patient enough, you can condition your spouse to believe they're deserving of physical abuse. If you train your children to believe they're stupid and should never have been born, they will grow up with a warped sense of self-worth.
Likewise, if you blindly, unrelentingly denounce another group as racist and privileged and clueless, they will be tempted to act racist and privileged and clueless. Oops.
We need rational dialogues and bargaining in good faith. Gestures such as "taking a knee" are arguably valid attention getters, but someone needs to be able to articulate exactly what is being protested and exactly what corrective measures are demanded.
Tiptoeing on eggshells is not a good way to practice walking arm in arm into a future of racial harmony.