Dear readers, friends, and all,
A story about “All In the Family” caught my eye. (New Yorker, The Great Divide, by Emily Nussbaum, April 7, 2014) It retells an anecdote that I’ve used many times, but somewhat differently. She recounts how this clever satire by liberal Norman Lear intended to defuse and ridicule racism may well have fueled it by reassuring many Americans that you could be a racist but also loveable—in fact more so than the righteous liberal son-in-law.
What she doesn’t mention—as one of its side-effects—how the students in our high school (or at least the Latino and Black students) were influenced by it. I was chiding them once—about 25 of them—on their perhaps over-reaction to sometimes subtle, nuanced or even misinterpreted racism. No one, I said (naively) would be baldly racist on prime time. That’s some sort of progress, I contended. Hands went shooting up. What????? The most popular prime time TV show is blatantly racist, one after another claimed. Again, I said indignantly, “name one!” With nary an exception they all pounced on “All in the Family” and Archie Bunker as obvious refutations. They were completely unwilling to even consider my claim that the producer, Lear, had meant it as an attack on racism. Could they all be wrong and just Lear and me right?
Thanks, Emily Nussbaum for reminding me that the world appears differently depending….. And if we care about racism we need to check it out with those most closely affected by racism. “I didn’t mean…” is not irrelevant, but it’s no where near as relevant as we in the majority tend, or perhaps just want to believe. (It still intrigues me that Lear didn’t check it out first on those he was intending to help!) These “misunderstandings” leave us—black and white—in different universes time after time. That is at least one reason why desegregating schools by race and social class would be good for us all. And also, occasionally more painful.
Filed under: 2014 posts