A Comment on Race Relations in the US (for what it’s worth)

Hi Chris Burns –

As I may have told you before, my personal “civil rights” credentials run deep, all the way back to marches in Washington in the late 50’s and early 60’s before MLK was in the picture, fund-raising for the original Freedom Riders, etc.

Also, I went to a “progessive” highschool on 110th St in Manhattan (north border of Central Park, south border of Harlem) which was deliberately racially integrated with both upper and upper-middle class black kids and scholarship black kids from the surrounding neighborhood. (My FB friends Karl Knobler and Julie Alli Palmer-Blackwell attended the same HS, two years ahead of me.)

And then from 1966 to 1973 I lived in the Northwest Bronx around the old NYU Bronx campus, which at the time, was a pretty racially diverse neighborhood.
And then from 1973 to 1983, I lived on 15th Street in Manhattan,where there was a fair degree of racial diversity.

But then my life took me into various vicinities that were de facto racially segregated, and outside of the usual scattering of black co-workers on the job, I rarely came into contact with any black people.

So, here I am now living semi-permanently (until I move to Greece in a few years) in a Homewood Suites in Chester VA (20 miles south of Richmond), and this hotel is really quite racially diverse, not only during the week, but even more so on the week-end, when many black guests doing family visits and occasions choose to stay the week-end.

And what I want to share here is my amazement at how unfailingly polite and friendly all of these black guests are when we have chance encounters in the lobby and elevators.

Now I know that this is part of general Southern culture which blacks and whites share – strangers get hello’s in the South, but not the Northeast.

But at the same time, given what’s been reported in the US recently from Ferguson through to Chicago earlier this week, I have to say that if I were black, I am not sure that I would be so unfailingly polite and friendly to white strangers. Because I think my attitude might be that even well-intentioned whites are complicit in creating the kind of culture which leads to Ferguson’s and Chicago’s (and all of the similar situations which have arisen in the US since the Civil War.)

And this feeling that ALL whites are complicit, EVEN “well-intentioned” whites, might lead me to be a little less friendly and polite, or a lot less friendly and polite.

It reminds me of a discussion I had with a highschool friend (John Carter) back in 1964. John was the son of Robert Carter, one of the young black staff-lawyers who took Brown vs BoardOfEd to the Supreme Court.

And I asked him how he could live with the fact that he knows the cards are stacked against him in this country for no good reason. And he told me that it’s just something black people get used to dealing with.

So, I guess the black guests who are unfailingly polite and friendly to me in this hotel have kind of the same attitude as John – they don’t let their knowledge of how bad things are in this country affect their day-to-day dealings with white people – they don’t let this knowledge make them worse human beings.

But I got to tell you – I don’t know if I would be such a good person. I really don’t think I would be …