By now, virtually the entire world has heard about the potential french terror plot that was averted due to the brave and heroic acts of six men, of varied ages. Three of them being young American citizens. Each of these three men—Alex Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler sprang into action and took down a heavily-armed terrorist Ayoub El-Khazzani.
Many newspapers discussed the dramatic events that transpired in graphic and riveting detail. The common narrative was that each of these guys was awakened by gunfire which prompted Skarlatos to leap from his seat and gave the command to his two buddies “let’s go” and the rest is history. In August, the group was awarded with the Legion of Honor, or Legion d’ honneur, the most prestigious award given by the nation of France. More recently, last week, all three of them were honored with medals by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the White House and had a private meeting with President Obama who had spoken with each them and their families by phone in late August, and who then also wanted to thank them in person for their heroic bravery.
Stone, whose thumb was nearly severed in the attack, was awarded the Airmen’s Medal and the Purple Heart. Army Specialist Alex Skarlatos had a Soldier’s Medal bestowed upon him. Anthony Sadler, a college student was awarded the Defense Medal for Freedom.The trio were also the recipients of hometown parades, talk show and radio interviews as well as all became darlings of both national and international media across the political spectrum. Skarlatos is currently a contestant on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars.
While the public became privy to many details of the lives and backgrounds of these young men, one factor that has not been discussed is the fact they are part of an interracial friendship. While this does not make them a novelty, it is in fact somewhat noteworthy. There are those who argue that cross-racial friendships are not unusual, given the fact that these men are millennials (Generation Y). For the better part of a decade, we have been led to believe that these groups of young men and women are supposed to be the most racially and socially progressive enlightened group in American history.
Though recent studies have refuted this largely held belief.
It is probably safe to say, on average, millennials (those born between 1980-1998), are likely to be more open-minded and accepting of certain “mores”, e.g. customs, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, open drug use etc., that have been less well received by previous generations. However, being more tolerant does not necessarily mean more accepting. Tolerance and acceptance are two different things.
Because these men were part of an interracial buddy friendship is of interest given that while we have seen many cases on the silver screen and in entertainment where white men, non-black men, and particularly black men have formed close bonds with one another, we haven’t seen such examples in real life. From escaped convicts Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in the 1958 Oscar nominated movie The Defiant Ones to Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in the 1960’s NBC detective series I Spy; to Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in the 1994 Oscar nominated film Pulp Fiction to Scott Bakula, Ray Romano and Andre Braugher in the woefully underrated and ridiculously unappreciated TNT series Men of a Certain Age that ran from 2009-2011. Zach Braff and Donald Faison in NBC’s Scrubs (2001-2010) and some others. The entertainment industry does a great job of providing fictional versions of non-white/white, particularly black-white fellowship that is often at odds with reality.
To be sure, there are interracial relationships between white and non-white men in real life, but the question is how commonplace and frequent are they?
Yes, it is true, many men have problems making friends with anyone, their male neighbor, co-worker(s), let alone a man of a different racial background. The fact is that relationships between white men and black men have often been fragile. This is due to a number of historical, economic, and psychological reasons. Fear of supposed unrestrained sexual prowess and black male violence was often promoted as a factor instrumental in creating a divide between men of both groups. Throughout most of the 20th century, lower income men of both groups (particularly Irish and Italian white men) were often competing with black men for low-wage jobs. Other factors were at play as well. Even among more supposedly liberal white men, this divide had been commonplace. The scene of a group of University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chanting “there will never be a nigger in SAE” and other racist slurs seemingly shocked many people. University President, David Borenwasso was so disgusted he ordered the group to get off campus immediately.
To be honest, as someone who attended college in mid-to-late 1980 and who graduated in the 1990’s, I cannot say that I was all that surprised. Fraternities, particularly predominately white fraternities, were often seen as dens of racism, sexism, and elitism. Many (not all) of them often lived up to this less-than-flattering perception. Back to the video, does the image of a bunch of ignorant, bigoted, obviously socially-limited frat boys engaging in an act of pathetic racial venom represent the attitudes of all white men? Of course not, but it is probably safe to say that it represents a sizable segment of many, including older white men and non-Greeks. To be sure there are non-white men who harbor racial prejudice and dangerously misguided views about others with different skin pigmentation and they should be justly condemned and challenged for their attitudes.
There are many men across racial lines who, while they do not use racial slurs or have hatred toward others who are physically and culturally different from themselves, nonetheless, are often either far too indifferent,unwilling, or disinterested in taking the step of crossing that racial divide and befriending or learning more about their brothers of another color or culture.
These are the men (most often white self-identified liberal men), who like the idea of racial diversity (as well as cultural pluralism in general) in theory, yet from a nonthreatening safe distance. As the old saying goes “talking the talk, not walking the walk.” Does not having any friends of other races make you a bad or racist person? Of course not. Does it make you a socially limited person? To a large degree, yes it does. For those men like Mr.Stone, Mr. Skarlatos, Mr.Sadler, myself and others who do have male friendships across the racial divide, we can safely say that these relationships have been very valuable and rewarding for a plethora of reasons—educationally, culturally, etc…and we are likely to be healthier in a variety of ways because of this fact.
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