One of the joys of living in a small town is our newspaper. We get to find out which of our kids is Student of the Week, who ran their car off the road on Sunday, and win a free movie by guessing where Jack is snapping his photos. I particularly enjoy the letters to the editor — which of the half dozen regulars will defend the IFPD this week? Which water district will Jeff Smith target?
This week, though, we had a special bonus. An open letter to Reverend Al Sharpton! (Shut Your Front Door, Al Sharpton. Idyllwild Town Crier, October 1, 2015). Who knew he read the Crier? (I’m waiting for your vacation photo, Rev. Sharpton.) I was literally gasping for breath as I read it out loud to my family. “I like older black people. I don’t like the younger ones, with all their complaining.” “If I were a black person, I would….” She even included her own version of the I-have-a–black-friend argument by noting that she’ll vote for Ben Carson. Hilarious! It was like an old comedy sketch about Thanksgiving dinner with the unbearable elderly aunt, and everybody chugging the alcohol and praying for it to end.
Sadly, though, it wasn’t comedy. The writer was serious. Rather than funny, it was horrifying. And although I have spent my 15 years here avoiding the kind of attention a letter to the editor brings, I feel compelled to respond. Since the writer seems to feel comfortable with broad generalizations about entire demographics, how about we make some about the one she is most familiar with?
I don’t much like older white people.* Entitled and self-righteous, with their Buicks and golf memberships and lectures about what the rest of us are all doing wrong, telling strangers how they should live their lives without an ounce of compassion for experiences they cannot comprehend.
I like younger white people. I visit IAA and love the
way they learn curse words from friends all over the globe, borrowing their iPods to share their culture. I see their excitement for their friends’ successes, their determination to solve problems, and their deep compassion for those less fortunate. I see their dedication to making the world a better place.
If I were a white person,** I would remember to be grateful for the advantages I have enjoyed merely by virtue of being born pale. Advantages that are so commonplace that I am not even aware of most of them. I would recognize that I enjoy a position of privilege that I did nothing to earn. My parents were able to raise me in the neighborhood of their choice, where my teachers all had college degrees and teaching credentials. I can shop without being trailed by store security. I have never been stopped by police for taking my evening walk through a wealthy neighborhood, and I have never been arrested over a broken tail light. I have never lost out on a job interview because my name sounds “too ethnic.” My right to vote has never been questioned when I visit my polling place, and, given that this is Idyllwild, it even includes a hug from the poll worker. Win!
If I were a white person, I would understand that the highest form of patriotism is to demand equal treatment for all my fellow citizens in a land that claims to be founded on “liberty and justice for all.” I would understand that there is more than one American experience, and I cannot assume that my reality applies to everyone else. I would have compassion for those who struggle. I would be angry that Dr. King’s dream is still just a dream. I would understand that it is my responsibility to call out racism when I see it — even if it is in the local paper, even if it means that I no longer fly under the radar in a small town.
*DISCLAIMER! I am both old and white.
**As already noted: I am.