Look In The Mirror
I would never, ever shoot a cow. It’s one of God’s creatures. Never would I shoot one.
I’ll leave that to the slaughterhouse and I’ll have a juicy cheeseburger please, smothered in hypocrisy and onions.
Looking in the mirror is an absolute, unequivocal necessity for the anti-racist. It’s also painfully difficult and is the hardest part on the long, bumpy path to self-understanding and awareness. It’s like seeing through a dense fog into a vast forest while wearing dark sunglasses. We’re defined what we do, not what we say. Phil Ochs said it best in his song, “Small Circle of Friends.” Check it out.
I am not talking about the garden variety hypocrisy of the person who goes to church every Sunday and studies how to rip off the world on every other day. I am talking about shades of grey.
So let’s take a look in my mirror. What do I see?
I see a white man about 70 years old. He is working on his laptop in his suburban home on a perfectly, perfect late spring day. The air conditioning is blasting and keeping the atmosphere very pleasant, very pleasant indeed.
He’s writing an essay about how to improve the lives of poor people of color who live in urban areas, with no computers on a sweltering day with no air conditioning and windows that won’t open amid worries of violent police interference in their lives.
I look deeper back in life and see a 21-year-old white boy from New Jersey who signed up for a year’s volunteer work with Volunteers in Service to America, also known as VISTA or the domestic peace corps, organizing tenants in Florida, helping poor unfortunate, trod-upon, victimized black people to live better lives. I feel better already. My liberal guilt is fading.
And then a year later, I see that same young man feeling he has put in his time and he is yearning to return to his safe, suburban home in New Jersey where there will be no cockroaches the size of robins, no fears about walking outside after dark, lots of green, green grass and that most wonderful feeling of being back with my people, white people.
As a 22-year-old I have earned my liberal colors better than most of my friends and peers. I can say I have been there, walked the walk. But beyond talking about my hard-earned liberal colors, I don’t know what else to do except hide behind my words of make believe. I’ll read more books like “The Autobiography of Malcom X” and James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” That will certainly add to my liberal bona fides.
I was a rebel. I grew my hair long and wore my African dashiki and sometimes my coveralls to show that I was a man who worked in the fields and was not a Jewish kid from Bergen County, which is who I was. I listened religiously to all the right music by people who sang about freedom and injustice, like Dylan, Ochs, Joan Baez, the Chambers Brothers. (And of course The Beatles. Sorry if that doesn’t fit in with the genre).
But it was all a ruse. Actually, all I really wanted was to be accepted. My costume, I thought, would make me more attractive to others. I’m not saying that the only reason I spoke like I did and dressed like I did was for sex. Or maybe it was the only reason, so shallow I am. Every girl loves a rebel.
Looking in the mirror, I try to see through the image of myself. I have my pick and axes and TNT I try to blast through the self-deception to find substance but it’s not there. It’s like looking through cellophane as I begin to disappear.
Slowly the image is returning and getting clearer and I’m beginning to understand what I see and who I am.
It is called white privilege and I have had it since I took my first steps. I know that’s a fact. I hate to admit it but I enjoy white privilege. I enjoy feeling safe from police while jogging. I enjoy having a nice quiet home in a nice quiet neighborhood. I enjoy being able to walk through a store and not be followed by a suspicious employee who expects that I will slide a pair of socks under my shirt and leave without paying for them. I enjoy walking down a New York City street at night and not having people look at me like I’m the enemy. I enjoy looking in the rear view mirror and seeing a police car pass me by.
Funny how those are the same things that all people want, regardless of the melanin in their skin.
So maybe I do understand that my role is not that of a martyr. I’m not made of that kind of stuff. But I can try to turn a light on through self-examination and hope it can help others see through the fog.
You say I am being too hard on myself. Well, I say I have barely scratched the surface in understanding my role on this earth.