The Salem News
Friday, October 17, 2003
If you would never think of equating a 300-pound gorilla with a little black kid, how could you be aware of the sensitivities of those very strange people who do?
WEEI sports talk hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were joking about the runaway gorilla at the bus stop, laughing that it must be "a Metco gorilla ... heading out to Lexington." I don't listen to the show, but if I had heard the joke I would have assumed they were making fun of the Metco driver who took a black Wellesley kindergartner to Dorchester and left him there, apparently assuming that all black kids live in Boston.
The point of the joke was, I would have thought, that Metco probably wouldn't know what to do with a runaway zoo animal (gorilla, lion, tiger, giraffe) either, and would take it to the suburbs. What else could they mean?
But a black man heard this, immediately assumed they were comparing little black kids with gorillas, and complained. Some black and white people, eager to show their sensitivity to something, agreed and called for the sports guys to be suspended, fired, or run out of town.
The sports guys apologized for their insensitivity. But it seems to me that insensitivity would be their best defense: I could have made the same joke, since it never would have occurred to me that it was racially driven. Because I don't think of little black kids when I see a gorilla. What's wrong with all of those people who do?
Yes, I understand that long ago some racists insisted that white folks were descended from Adam and Eve, while blacks were descended from apes, and used that argument to justify slavery and discrimination. But now we know that these racists were, by definition, ignorant and pathetic. Unable to feel good about themselves because of their skills, accomplishments or character, they decided to feel good about themselves for no other reason than their race; and this required that other races be deemed inferior.
Along with pathetic, this was also once very dangerous, backed up as it was by some southern state and local governments, as well as the Ku Klux Klan. So I guess I can see why some blacks might have a flashback to those times and get angry. But the rest of us don't have to go along, and might gently suggest that everyone get over this now.
Today, scientists generally agree that all of us are descended from ape-like creatures, and that all Americans are African-Americans, because man originated in Africa and then spread around the world. Those who stayed near the equator very sensibly kept dark skin; those who evolved in Europe during the Ice Age lightened their skin to absorb more Vitamin D.
I strongly recommend the PBS documentary "The Journey of Man"; I watched it three times, then joined WGBH to get the video. As the history of man continues with its wars, genocides and hatreds, it's wonderful to see proof that we are all brothers, nevertheless. And it should be fun to celebrate and enjoy our differences as well.
When I lived in Mexico, I met a girl at school with coppery skin, flat cheekbones and straight black hair. I thought she was stunning because she looked like the Mayans in the Diego Rivera murals, and I said so. She ran crying from the room as our Mexican girlfriends glared at me. How was I supposed to know this wasn't a compliment?
As a young Navy wife, I was friends with a black woman whose child and mine were playmates. She was naturally gorgeous, but she confided in me that she ironed her hair to straighten it and used creams to lighten her skin. Of course, my white friends had their hair curled at the beauty shop and spent hours in the sun getting a tan. We decided we were all crazy, while recognizing, of course, that not all faces look good with an Afro or straight hair and we girls do what we have to do.
Maybe I've just always been impervious to the racism swirling around me, though I do notice weirdness in general. For instance: Protesting the sports guys' joke, Blue Cross/Blue Shield pulled its advertising from WEEI and donated the money to Metco, whose carelessness put a suburban child in danger by leaving him in the city. If it hadn't been for the alertness of one Dorchester mother who noticed the little stranger, he could have been hit by a car or picked up by a pervert. If that had been my kid, Metco heads would still be rolling.
Besides, if BC/BS has some extra cash, shouldn't it lower premiums?
My blonde grandchildren go to a preschool gymnastics club in Nevada. I recently received a video of them climbing and tumbling with their mates. They eagerly wait their turn behind a little black boy, as the instructor encourages him to do "monkey flips" on the rings. None of the kids seem offended; guess they're a little more evolved than some of the adults back east.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.