An hour north of here, in Cleveland, the police last week shot and killed a twelve year old black boy who was wielding a toy gun. True, the gun looked real enough, and the orange tip that was supposed to mark it as fake was missing.
But the policeman jumped out of the cruiser and shot him within two seconds. No warning, no call to drop the gun. No shot to the leg to bring him down. Just shot dead, on sight.
This comes, of course, in the wake of the Ferguson fiasco, and of other high profile shootings of black males by white cops.
The usual reactions entail. A certain sort of white person rallies to the cop, certain of his innocence and of the criminality of the victim. Most of what is used as ‘evidence’ would convict my sons, or would have convicted me at fourteen.
Black folk, on the other hand, see each new killing in light of their experience as black people, understandably enough for all but the apparently vast numbers of empathetically challenged white people, who can’t imagine why black people are so touchy.
And the pundits punditize about the sorry state of race relations in America, about the racial tension seething just beneath the surface of American life.
I have the unique experience of living in two economic worlds. My postal coworkers are comfortably middle class or above. Most of them earn a six figure household income, with spouses working decent jobs, two kids.
I, on the other hand, with one income and eight children can be safely described as working poor these days, though it is something of a shock to recognize this. We live in a neighborhood that was solidly middle class when we moved here seventeen years ago. Today it has declined and many of our neighbors are poor and I am daily reminded of how much better off I am with a decent union job, paid leave and the rest.
Among the comfortable there is palpable racism, mostly born of fear. But among the working poor and lower middle classes around here there is little observable racism. Black and mixed couples and their children do not raise an eyebrow and it is common to see white grandparents with their mixed race children, always beautiful, sometimes stunningly so. This is startling to someone of my vintage, who remembers socially acceptable racism as the norm, not so long ago.
Not that there are no tensions, especially among young men. A couple of years ago my two oldest sons, then 16 and 18, were talking bad about the young black men they knew from school, guys with aggressive and thuggish attitudes. They were using stereotyped language and were little inclined to try to understand what goes into the anger of young black men, which is of course easier from a distance. They were so mad I worried that they were becoming racists. Then the younger formed a friendship and musical partnership with a mixed race kid, and more recently the older one fell in love, hard, with a young black woman he met at work.
This is purely anecdotal, but here in the Steel Belt of eastern Ohio the poor and working class are the least racist segment of society. Working and going to school and living with other races disarms prejudice, humanizing the Other.
Not to mention the daily complications of struggling to deal with the ‘Justice’ System, the bureaucratic bullshit one must navigate to find some help , and the incredible stress of trying to live in the capitalist utopia of modern America.
Well, a utopia for the capitalists, anyway.
But sharing a common experience of oppression, recognized or not, of course men and women fall in love, make love and make babies, regardless of color. And grandmas and grandpas lose their prejudice in light of love for their grandchildren.
It is not thus among the affluent. Little League games with the affluent suburb just north of here are illuminative. The Massillon teams are racially mixed and heavily tattooed and pierced. The Jackson crowd is lily white, with the occasional east Asian.
It is little remarked, this lack of racism among what are viewed as a backwards class, all rednecks and hicks. Humanity seems to have trumped race, at least among the marginal, which is the glory of what is left of the working class.
Which is God’s argument against racism.
This is not to say that America does not have unresolved racial issues, nor to deny that the police are increasingly out of control and hostile, especially to black males. Or that any of that is going to go away soon.
But in one corner of the world love has overcome racism, with beautiful children the proof.