"OH, MISS DIVERSITY LADY"
When people discuss the Nor-Cal/SoCal Feud, my defense remains that San Fran is a segregated city where cultures choose to remain in the locales of their own comfort zones whereas in LA, we tend to pierce one another’s social circles daily - crashing into plans & other’s ways of doing things relentlessly.
Crash is one of my all-time favorite movies: not only is it an ode to my Beloved Los Angeles, but it’s a pretty fucking realistic pictorial of what it feels like to live & breathe in a space that widely encompasses the chaos of over 10 million people’s competing desires - & that doesn’t even include our surrounding areas' populations. After all these years, every time the film ends I’m still undecided on which character I want to be friends with more, as everyone is just doing the best they can with what they have… Yet the fact remains that there’s a better way of running our social structure.
When Vernā Myers first appeared on the TED Radio Hour titled Beyond Tolerance with Guy Roz, I was all about her perspective - “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them,” is the title of her full TED talk, which is almost identical to both a chapter title & a quote I use in my own book. She teaches that in order to move beyond our biases, we must first identify, & then face them. I walked down the old streetcar-track-turned-park of Santa Monica Boulevard nodding my head along with her & messaging friends suggesting they listen… But soon after, she lost me.
“I was with a colleague of mine, & she’s really wonderful, she does diversity work with me, she’s woman of color, she’s Korean” - um, hold please. How long have Asians been considered “people of color”? I’m genuinely asking, because I didn’t know until looking it up after hearing this… I mean, most of my Korean friends have skin whiter than mine, what makes them “people of color”? But apparently, as a backlash to calling African-Americans “colored” in the past, the term “person of color” is now in reference to anyone who is not white… Which sounds like reverse racism to me, but I wanted to like her, so I tried to look past it as she went on.
“It was late at night & we were sort of wondering where we were going - we were lost. And I saw this person across the street & I was thinking, ‘Oh, great - black guy!’ I think black guys generally know where they’re going. And she was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting…’ Other direction: same need, same guy, same clothes, same time, same street - different reaction. She said, ‘I feel so bad! I’m a diversity consultant & I did the black guy thing!’ I said, ‘You know what, please, we really need to relax about this, I mean, you got’ta realize I go way back with black guys… My Dad is a black guy, you see what I’m sayin’? I got a 6’5 black guy son - I was married to a black guy - my black guy thing is so wide & so deep that I can pretty much sort & figure out who that black guy is. And? He was my black guy. He said, ‘Yes, Ladies, I know where you’re going, I’ll take you there.’”
Easy for her to say, I thought, but I don’t think that black guy would have answered me the same way had it been me inquiring for his help. Funny enough, life has a way of providing what we ask for & the next week in DT Seattle, I had the opportunity to test my theory.
As I exited the Light Rail at Westlake Station luggage in tow, I looked around for an address to call a Lyft to. A group of 4 black guys around my age were walking up my side of the street - “I beg your pardon!” I smiled as I waved like the ridiculously white, girl that I am, in my heels & high-waisted skirt amongst the chilly April wind. “Could you please tell me if this is Pine Street, or East Pine Street?”
They all stopped talking & laughing immediately, reluctantly looked at each other in silence until one of them finally said, “Yeah, this Pine Street.”
“So not East Pine Street then? Just plain Pine Street?” I tried to clarify.
“Yeah,” he said, as they all passed me, not slowing their stroll & not meeting my eyes. Unfortunately, as I suspected, their response to my need for directions was very different to that of “the black guy” in Ms. Myers’ all’s-well-that-end’s-well anecdote.
“Stop trying to be ‘good people’ - we need real people…” she continues with my kind of thinking back in the Podcast. “It’s like if you asked me explicitly I would say, ‘Female pilot? Awesome!’ But it appears that when things get funky & a little troublesome, a little risky - I lean on a bias that I didn’t even know that I had.” I loved her for admitting her own perceived shortcoming & putting it out there that we need to be REAL. That we need more contact with one another to overcome these prejudices.
“Who is your default? Who do you trust? Who are you afraid of? Who do you implicitly feel connected to? Who do you run away from? Hey, your comfort is real - everybody wants to be in their comfort sometimes, right? It’s just, what are you missing? About other groups & ways of being… How many authentic relationships do, you, have?” YES! I thought. Yes! But my irritation came again, “… with young black men?” the sentence finally ended.
Huh. How about how many authentic relationships do you have - period? Why does it have to be with just “young black men”? I mean, I have plenty of young black men as friends, so that isn’t the problem - my main problem is my lack of finding authentic relationships across the board in this vapid, selfish, instant gratification, happy-with-mediocre filled world we live in.
“When we see something, we have to have the courage to say something - even to the people we love.” She goes on to attack “Grandma” & “Uncle Joe” for setting bad examples for “the children at the dinner table”… “And we wonder why these biases don’t die, & move from generation to generation - because we’re not saying anything! And we’ve got to be willing to not shelter our children from the ugliness of racism - when black parents don’t have the luxury to do so.”
And there lies the biggest hole in her argument to me - for acting like it isn’t a 2-lane road leading to the uglinesses of our world… For acting like I’m not a victim of reverse racism on a weekly basis myself, & most importantly, for leaving out the fact that these stereotypes exist for a reason: because young, black men continue to fulfill these stereotypes. Had she attacked the black community for the same racist behaviors, & if she honestly acknowledged that far too many of these “innocent young black men” need to be criticized for not sitting at their own dinner tables, with their own children, teaching the next generation better ways, then I’d be a huge fan… Instead, I’m left feeling isolated & bitter toward what I was expecting to be a valid voice of reason amongst an outdated, ugly society.
Restructuring “The System” - as our government is often referred to as - is not a question of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” because people have existed long before governments have. To change our society (then again) it must start with the people’s behavior - not the government’s. The government is shared in - & when used appropriately - controlled by the people… Therefore, bringing it back to personal accountability, first.