Next time you think racism in America is a historical curio, and are tempted to believe that the Obama era could only be possible in a color-blind society free of bigotry (at least bigotry in high places), think of Dean Grose.
It’s not that the mayor of Los Alamitos could be a racial bigot that surprises me – though it irks me a bit. What’s really fantastic about Grose’s story is that he was clueless not just about the ultimate nonsensicalness of racism, but clueless also about how his “close friends” would react to bold-faced stereotyping.
He expected them to laugh. He thought they would appreciate the humor of watermelons on the White House lawn (not only was the cartoon racist, it wasn’t very creative either; no surprise there.) He didn’t realize that his brand of racism has gone out of style.
Maybe because it hasn’t.
I recall a ride home from Kennedy airport in the early 80’s. I, a teenager, had been on vacation with family, and my father, my aunt, a cousin and I were conversing amiably with the driver of our limousine. (I don’t know why we were in a limo instead of a plain old taxicab; maybe someone had a coupon, because it’s not really our M.O.) The driver asked where we’d been (Florida) and proceeded to volunteer that he, too, had recently had a vacation – in South Africa.
“Unusual choice for a trip,” I noted; apartheid was on its last legs, but divestment was still the PC rule, and traveling to the place was anathema for people of good conscience. My family and I were bemused.
The driver explained: “I just love watching the black man get his assed kicked by the white man, you know?”
Our initial shock gave way to anger, and we took turns running the guy over the coals. We are a family of civil rights advocates and never had any tolerance for racial intolerance. The man’s loathsome delight in the violence of apartheid was disturbing, and we let him know, in deliciously colorful language, just how much worse the world is made by his kind of moron. Then, when he tried to respond, we rolled up the glass divider and ignored his pitiful apologies.
I am reminded of this event as I contemplate Dean Grose. Racism exists; we know this. What amazes me with Grose, as it did with the limo driver, is the assumption by white racists that other white people – even absent any explicit indication – are also racist. Why would Grose assume such a thing?
Perhaps it’s because his assumption has been validated more often than not. Perhaps at parties and cocktail lounges, in closed-door meetings and private emails, in winks and nods unnoticed by the general public, racial bigotry is taken for granted, is amusing, is a tacitly (or not so tacitly) understood common language in the good ‘ol boy networks that still run much if not most of this country.
In other words, Grose assumed his “close friends” would be racist simply because they have light skin, moderate to conservative political views, and have never given a clear sign otherwise. The fact that he did not anticipate backlash lets us know not just that he’s clueless about race, but that in certain circles, racism is still quietly but clearly the rule.
The fact that he was forced by public pressure to resign lets us know that its days may be numbered. Every time you speak up against the brutal ignorance of bigotry, you lower that number.
So say something.
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