Sunday, March 01, 2009

Apotheosis now

There's an interesting interview with Laurence Fishburne in today's Guardian. What struck me about it was his repeated references to his intelligence.

“I'm black, smart and I don't hide my intelligence, I lead with it. I have very strong opinions about shit and I don't have a problem saying what I think. I'm thoughtful. But you know... I can't play dumb. A smart black guy is confronting for most people. But that's on them, not on me... And they didn't hire me because I'm a black guy but because of my intelligence."

Sounds to me like Fishburne had some bad experiences with people questioning his intelligence. That wouldn't surprise me. Wouldn't surprise me at all.

I don't think that anyone who knows the details of my life could accuse me of being a racist these days. I am about as color blind as one could possibly be without actually being blind. For whatever reason, genetic probably, I just don't spend a lot of time thinking about what people look like. Of course I notice superficialities when I first meet someone, but I quickly forget about those things and interact with people based solely on their personalities.

For example, I used to work with a severely deformed guy. His forehead was gigantic and malformed, each eye roved in a different direction, he was very short and had a hunched back. He was very smart and good at his job, albeit something of an asshole. We often clashed professionally and sometimes it degenerated into unprofessional shouting matches. I remember one day I went off on him in front a very nice, very liberal woman. Afterward, she asked me how I could talk to him like that. He was being an asshole I said, didn't you notice? Well, yea, but still. Still what? You know, his face... What's wrong with his face? I asked, genuinely not understanding what she was talking about. I had long ago forgotten what he looked like. And that's someone with truly freakish abnormalities. When it comes to something as superficial as the shade of one's skin, I forget about it almost immediately (culture is something else, but that's a different story).

But I was not always so blind. I come from a terribly racist time and place and as a child I was guilty of horrific racist behavior. I don't remember if I was actually racist in thought--I don't think so--but I was certainly racist in word and deed. Back then, pretty much all the kids in my little town and my little school were horrible little shits. Everyone tried to hurt everyone else almost all of the time. People were attacked for being black, for being blond, for being rich, for being poor, for being fat, for being skinny. Whatever a person was was cause for ridicule. Hurling racist crap at a black kid was just another way to hurt him. The words didn't have any meaning. Not for me, at least. Of course now I realize those words probably had all too much meaning. Although it no doubt hurt rich blond kids at the time, it's unlikely that being ridiculed for being rich and blond caused any lasting damage. But a black kid being ridiculed for being poor and stupid when that was what so many idiots thought to be the natural order of things was no doubt much more harmful. All of the black kids in my class ended up doing a lot of jail time. Some for stupid crimes like armed robbery and rape. I don't think it's crazy to suspect those outcomes were influenced by their sense of self worth which had to have been severely damaged by all the racist crap they suffered. The lives wasted and lost in that manner are uncountable. It's a terrible tragedy.

Laurence Fishburne is about the same age as me. Given his apparent preoccupation with people knowing he is intelligent, I wouldn't be surprised if he suffered those same kinds of taunts as a child. I'm sure that kind of thing makes some people stronger. Not most though. Not most.

I wonder how much of that is still happening out there in the boonies. It's hard for me to tell. I live in a liberal wonderland where everyone is nice. I know it's not like that everywhere, but I also have no doubt that things have improved significantly. Kids these days can't get away with openly hurling racist epithets in school. They would be counseled. They would be punished. And there are so many more role models now than there were back then, Laurence Fishburne being one of them. With so many incredibly smart, successful people on the tv, only a genuine idiot would believe the old racist tripe about intelligence. Hopefully, we've reached the point where the black kid who is called stupid and inferior realizes the obvious; that it is the racist who is stupid and inferior.