In 21st century Canada, there are a growing number of youth who have spent so much time in the intellectual, socially innocent bubble of campus life that, heart-warmingly, they’re actually surprised to hear that ol’ time racism is alive and well in North America. With YouTube at their disposal, they are, of course, aware of the fun-loving, diversity-celebrating racism of Russel Peters, but his antics do little to blunt the malicious and de-humanizing racism of those who don’t allow other human beings the benefit of their own ignorant doubt.
The suspicion that results can still, it seems, get you killed. Unless you abstain from any form of news, I needn’t explain in detail the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, in which Zimmerman, a “neighbourhood watch” for a gated Florida community decided the black, hoodied and significantly smaller Martin was suspicious, a confrontation occurred and Martin ended up shot dead. Regardless of the details of the confrontation, a good argument can be made that if Martin was white, nobody would have died that day. Julian Sanchez presents an excellent argument here.
Readers of the immensely popular book Hunger Games flocked to theatres this last weekend to see its cinematic adaptation (having made $155 million by the end of Sunday, it is the third-largest debut in movie history) and walked out, for the most part, content. Some, however, had to deal with an apparently angering realization: some of their most beloved characters were black. Many jumped on their computers and (beware: language) twittered their annoyance (and I don’t just mean a small handful!). Add to this the fact that these characters were, indeed, mentioned to be black in the books, and we have ourselves a shameful and perhaps surprising look at some of our (supposedly) modern youth. As these kids read the books, the diminutive and tragic character of Rue tugged at their heartstrings; a cute little white girl, perhaps looking something like Dakota Fanning, caught in the violence and corruption of post-apocalyptic America. Exiting the theatre, having watched the same things happen to an equally-aged young black girl, their heart-strings felt decidedly un-tugged.
Speaking as a humanist, I don’t know whether to be angry at these kids or pity them for the circumstances that have left them so desensitized and unapologetic about their views. Humanism in its pure form is, of course, blind to skin colour; the tragedy of the character is in her sweat and blood, which are salty and red respectively, regardless of she’s white or black. Nor am I unfamiliar with the sentiment; how many Christians, after all, would appreciate being shown the real face of Jesus?
I need to be careful here, for I am neither perfectly rational nor perfectly cosmopolitan; as a white man, I’m more well-equipped, for the most part, to deal with and relate to other white people. There’s an essential distinction here, though, one which I’ll allow the TV series House to field. In response to a snarky comment by Dr. House about the race of the women he dates, Dr. Foreman, a black man, replies, “My exes have usually been black, so what? Its not a racial thing, its cultural. I have more in common with them, like, I assume you only date emotionally stunted bigots.” We may have our differences, but we have a responsibility to approach them with sensitivity and understanding. This does not come naturally to some.