The failure to target the malignancy of racism both smacks of Dorian Gray avoiding his portrait in the attic and carves fresh blemishes amongst those caused by the malignancy itself. Quentin Lucas shows us how.
My father liked his strange perspectives and I think that’s having an effect on the way I’m looking at the Confederate Flag coming down in South Carolina. I admit that it’s a good thing, a deed with some meaning. But when I was a boy, my father once asked me if I had ever seen my face before. “Of course,” I answered. “Every day in the mirror.”
“That’s not your face,” he said. “That’s a reflection of your face.”
And then he went about his business, leaving me tied up with the fact that I’d never actually seen my face before and probably never will. I had always thought I was looking at the real thing. But now I wondered what both seeing and the real thing actually were.
I see my father as a man who studied life the way I imagine God studies people — with an inclination toward finding joy in the peculiar. Also, I think my father may have snuck lessons into my brain, along with tooth fairy quarters under my pillow, about how what we see is affected by the way we look. Realizing I can’t even see my own face without assistance is frustrating but it keeps me engaged. President Obama’s interview on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast serves an example.
“It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours,” the president asserted.
I never like hearing that viewpoint because my young history with racism includes Trayvon Martins which remind me of the Emmett Tills. I tend to gravitate toward Bryan Stevenson’s “Slavery didn’t end; it evolved.” But even if Stevenson’s statement can be understood literally, an evolution from 16 hours of labor for no money to eight hours of work for little money is still an improvement. So, through a sigh that sounds more like a groan, I admit that an America where a presidential candidate erroneously links the immigration of Mexicans with the frequency of rapes and then sees a bump in his polling numbers is what an improved America looks like.
When a friend suggested that both perspectives were correct, that America has improved and worsened in regard to race, my memory vaguely reproduced the F. Scott Fitzgerald about being able to carry opposing ideas in a single mind and still function.
Holding, maybe even nuzzling, opposing ideas in one body does appear to be the trick. On one hand, I’m not a slave. On the other, video footage of a police officer strangling me may not lead to the trial it deserves. Even twenty years ago, footage of a Rodney King beat down merited, at least, a trial. But how do you function when valuing opposing viewpoints reduces you to little more than the tug-of-war’s rope?
After the Emmanuel A.M.E. massacre, the red herring debates about gun laws, mental health challenges, and the Confederate flag volleyed between the coasts. I’m staggered by those discussions when they’re contrasted with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley referencing the cutting experiences of “the widow of Senator Pinckney and his two young daughters” while vying for the flag’s removal.
Conversely, this past August, Jonathan Hoenig, was praised for — while on a Fox News panel — declaring that the only people who talk about race are racists.
The failure to target the malignancy of racism both smacks of Dorian Gray avoiding his portrait in the attic and carves fresh blemishes amongst those caused by the malignancy itself. Meanwhile, the child in me still wonders if I’m really seeing pimples in the mirror while I, the adult, wonder if America will ever grasp how a less guarded discussion can advance the journey toward an improved America. Gazing intently into the lives of citizens struggling with these opposing ideas the way we gaze at controversial flags will neither give us a political policy to impugn nor a clear view of our face, but it will, at least, produce a reflection.
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