Saturday, August 01, 2009

Black People Make Me Nervous

Goethite (brown ochre)Ochre - Image via Wikipedia

As do white people, yellow people, red people and sometimes even ochre people, a thought that arises in the aftermath of the Gates arrest and Obama's hope for a "teachable moment."

Moreover, powerful people make me nervous as do fat people, ugly people, beautiful people, people with body odor, well-dressed people, really smart people, really dumb people, people who seem to be a bizarre amalgam of smart and stupid, people with white even teeth, people with no teeth and people who cover their teeth with their hands when they talk.

Indeed, I make myself nervous. I'm not all that comfortable being alone. Beer with the President? I'd wet myself. Confrontation with a white cop? I wet myself writing that sentence.

So, here's the baseline.:

* Zero degree of anxiety is a state I've never attained.
* One degree of anxiety. With my wife. She's very nice.
* Two degrees of anxiety. With myself, all alone, with the buzzing in my ears and the sudden movement at the corners of my field of vision.
* Seventy-three to eleventy hundred degrees of anxiety. Pretty much everybody else.

Here hyperbole shades into truth: It's degree of anxiety and management of anxiety that matters. So many degrees of overlay determine the final number. Is race/ethnicity a factor in this and do I need to be aware of my own semi-conscious prejudice? Damn well better. Autopilot, the unquestioned premise, is a dangerous thing.

But it's not simple, and I'm a teachable guy. As the President said, it really is all about calibrating the truth of the moment, not ignoring it.

Addendum: It's brown ochre, also known as Goethite.

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