Thursday, September 18, 2014

Everybody Has An Echo Chamber. It's Called Your Tribe.

I grew up white. Most white people do. I've met a couple white people who grew up black -- wait a minute, no I didn't.

Same goes for blacks mostly. There are ghetto blacks, southern rural blacks, and Ivy League blacks, and blacks that strike me as being as mainstream as you or I. To call them "white" would be an insult or at least somewhat stupid.

The same also goes for Hispanics and Asians. A Venn diagram would show where we all intersect, and that would be interesting. But by and large we tend to self-segregate. I've been around the world and lived in both Europe and Asia. People self-segregate everywhere. I stayed in the Jewish Quarter in Vienna. See?

We settle into tribes and grow up members of those tribes. There are exceptions but not enough to change the math. Wish it was different.

Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown -- very much like the shooting of Trayvon Martin, in a sense -- brewed quite a conversation across the nation. But blacks and whites are having very different conversations from one another. This Slate article frames it well:
When asked if “the shooting of an African American teen by law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri” was justified, 62 percent of whites said it was, along with 35 percent of blacks. The “noes” were a mirror image: 65 percent of blacks—and 38 percent of whites—said it wasn’t justified.
This, more than any result in the survey, is astonishing. Remember, we know little on the circumstances that led to Brown’s death. At most, we have witness reports, which say Brown had surrendered when he was killed, and the testimony of Officer Darren Wilson, who says he was attacked by the teenager. It’s impossible to say anything for certain, but my hunch is that this divide has a good deal to do with implicit racial bias and the divergent views of law enforcement among whites and blacks.
 I have implicit racial bias. Wish it was different. Too late now. During this "conversation," I've found white friends who maintain they have no racial bias whatsoever. Judging by their apparent sincerity, I don't doubt they believe what they're saying. I, though, doubt what they're saying.

We don't get to grow up in a white suburb, go to a university dominated by white people -- most certainly by white professors -- and get jobs in professions disproportionately dominated by white people and end up bias-free.

I don't say this to accuse my friends, who I think just want to wish us into a post-racial world. When Barack Obama was elected president, we all had visions of post-racial sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads. Maybe, just maybe...

I joked that George W. Bush was such a bad president that we elected a black man president. There's a lot of truth in that. How the white-dominated, Republican-Party tribes treated the first black president since then tells a very compelling story. And that story should be titled, "We Don't Live in a Post-Racial World. Sorry."

Racial bias works in subtle ways. I once went shopping at an auto parts store, and a young, well-groomed black man assisted me in a very professional way. I thought, "this young man wants to make something of himself, and I bet he does it." I was impressed, seeing someone not satisfied with staying in the ghetto. The city I was in had a substantial black population, which was essentially ghettoized.

It wasn't long before I realized I wouldn't have had the same impression if it were a young white man. I would have viewed the white man as being in a normal groove, so to speak. But the young black man, well, he was making something of himself. See?

I felt self-busted, and should have. It works the other way, too. I see a couple of young blacks on the street, and I don't get nervous, I just get maybe guarded, hyper-alert. Two white kids? Not so.

It sucks, but it's why we hear of white cops shooting young black men more than we hear of black cops shooting young white men. And when we do hear about these shootings, we self-sort pretty fast, as the Slate article and the poll it cited show.

My point is that it's bad enough that we innately support our tribe, at least in the sense that it distorts reality in ways that are destructive to our collective society. It's sad, and it'll always be that part of life that quietly torments me. Wish things were different. But they aren't, and they won't have changed much before I die. A whole lifetime, lived within the confines of my tribe, regardless of any efforts to pretend differently.

I guess it's human nature, but I don't have to like it. Deep inside, I'm for everyone. So tell me again why I've self-sorted into a lily-white town in California wine country. Beats me. I'm just living.

I was doing research about nearby Napa Valley, and I found out that the early
vineyard workers were Chinese. Then they were supplanted by the Italians.
Decades later, the Mexicans took over. Just how does this work? Hmm...

Note. Rereading this, I should mention that there are hints of progress on the integration front all around. I can imagine a post-racial world. If we don't destroy the planet -- hard to imagine we won't -- humans will amalgamate. It's bound to happen. In the meantime, there's a lot of vive la différence going around. We're different, our various tribes, and the interplay among cultures is a rich experience. Life as it is can be beautiful. I just get pretty down hearing about the next dead black kid, and the next dead black kid. Pretty dismal, for now.

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