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It's not as simple as black or white

By Edmund Lis
Continuing from my last column: Does acknowledging that there’s a difference between being black or white make me a racist or prejudiced? I don’t think so, but then again, why would I since I’m part of the historically dominant white establishment.
Let’s start by talking about how humans are different and how we recognize those differences. Think of our brains as using evolutionary software, so when we see another person, our brain goes through an instant checklist, kind of in this order: big or small, male or female, skin color, facial features, smiling or threatening. After that instant recognition, we then start our social responses and/or judgments. This is where it becomes about
nature verses nurture. It’s natural for us to see a difference, but we’re taught how to react to it.
Even though science has proven that a human’s physical appearance has no relevance on their intelligence or for that matter anything else, too many people still believe it does. Those same (for lack of a better word) ignorant people are also passing on those stereotypes and prejudices to their families and communities.
We’ve seen the results of that ignorance way too much on the news of late. From the obvious racial dislike of President Obama and the reactions towards the Black Lives Matter movement to the rise of the angry crowds rallying around Donald Trump.
So where does my personal perspective on race come from? Why do I even have one; why aren’t I color blind?
Being a first generation American I don’t have any of that historic slavery baggage or bigotry. Growing up, I don’t remember my parents ever talking about race, pro or con. From 5 to 11 years old, I lived in Topeka, Kansas where there was only one black kid in my school. In the summer of 1968, we moved to Flint, Michigan (one year after the Detroit riots) and I had my first real experience
being around kids of color.
I started going to a school that was at least 50 percent black, and I won’t lie about being scared but then again, I was afraid of anything new. I felt tension, and some of the black guys were mean — they would “thump” me as I walked to class. I hated those guys, not because they were black but because they were bullies. I was naive to American racial history and why they didn’t like me.
If I’m being honest, I have to admit that those first couple of years in Flint did make me fearful (at that time) of blacks in general and a few black kids in particular.
In eighth grade, I started at a new private school that unbeknownst to me had been created to get us affluent kids out of the predominantly black public schools. There were only 80 students in the whole school (grades 7-12) and just a few of them were black. One of those was Al — his family, like mine, was upper middle class. I’m not sure why we hit it off because we were really different. Not just the obvious black and white thing, but as I wrote in my last column, almost everything else.
The first couple of years (before we got into drugs) that Al and I were friends seemed to me like a normal kid’s friendship. We would ride our bikes out to the mall or across town to other schoolmates’ homes. We played basketball, watched TV, read comics, listened to music and talked about girls. I don’t think we ever discussed our racial difference but we knew we were different. To me anyway, it was kind of like the difference between a girl and a boy, very obvious but not very important.
As we got older, I remember us messing with people out in public by calling each other by racial epithets — it was a joke to us. At that time, the N-word didn’t mean anything to me since I didn’t know it’s history and I wasn’t around people that used it as a racial slur.
Sure, in hindsight, it was insensitive but half of what we said and did back then would be considered insensitive today. My close group of high school friends
consisted of a black guy, an Italian/Arab, a Macedonian (don’t call him Greek), an Irish Catholic, a White
Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and me, an Atheist Jew. You don’t think we didn’t call each other a few insensitive names?
We were just kids being kids; sometimes we were good and sometimes we were jerks. What can I say? But I’ve run out of space so I will continue this next column.
For archives of Edmund’s columns, visit www.whatsthepoint-