A significant number of people have seen the story about the two pre-school age best friends, one white and one black. These two adorable young boys wanted to have identical haircuts so they could play a trick on their teacher, as they assumed she would not be able to tell them apart. (Story Here)
For most of us, the story of the preschool best friends Jax and Reddy was a beautiful testament to the innocence of youth. The story which started from a viral Facebook post by Jax’s mother Lydia struck a particular chord with people all over the world.
The original Facebook post had obvious racial connotations, as Lydia clearly said in her post “If this isn’t proof that hate and prejudice is something that is taught I don’t know what is. The only difference Jax sees in the two of them is their hair.”
Now, not everyone was touched by the story of Jax and Reddy’s interracial friendship. No, I’m not referring to the overtly racist hate groups, rather I am referencing an article that was published by Dr. Debra Guckenheimer, on the popular social blogging site Medium, entitled “Colorblind Isn’t the Goal. Pride in Not Seeing Race= White Privilege.” No ambiguity present in how Dr. Gukenheimer feels about the story, as she Tweeted “Did you share the FB post about the White boy who doesn’t see race? It’s the epitome of White Privilege” on her personal Twitter page.
In her article, Dr. Gukenheimer reiterates that Lydia’s post is the “epitome of White privilege and color-blind racism.” She affirms her opinion by citing a 2013 article in Psychology Today by Yale Psychology Professor Dr. Kristina Olson, in which Dr. Olson discusses how parents who do not discuss race with their children can facilitate implicit racism or biases. Dr. Olson’s article cites a 2008 study in which it was demonstrated that children as young as five do recognize race, and have already conditioned biases. Furthermore, Dr. Gukenheimer mentions a book by Eduardo Conilla-Silva, “Racism without Racist,” which discusses implicit racism in which individuals see themselves as “colorblind” and deny their racial biases. In essence, Dr. Gukenheimer is suggesting that Lydia’s post is representative of implicit racism and inadvertent facilitation of White privilege because she is raising her son to be “colorblind.”
Anyone who has followed me for any length of time will know that I have written two separate articles discussing that White Privilege indeed is a real thing (Here). Additionally, I have spoken out in support of virtually every minority group that exists, whether it be based on race, religion, ethnic identity, or sexual orientation. Lastly, I have repeatedly spoken out on the importance of raising children to grow up to be healthy, productive, and caring adults. With that said, I wholeheartedly disagree with Dr. Gukenheimer’s assessment of this particular Facebook post and suggest that how she presented her opinion can indeed be detrimental to the goals in which both she and I wish to achieve.
Another thing that anyone who follows me knows is that I am a fervent researcher when it comes to what I write. I am passionate about trying to share the most objective truth that is humanly possible. So after reading Dr. Guckenheimer’s article, the first thing I set out to discover was who is Dr. Debra Gukenheimer.
Right from the beginning, I realized Dr. Gukenheimer and myself had quite a bit in common. According to Dr. Gukenheimer’s Twitter page, she is “Sociologist, writer, change maker for feminist, anti-racist, queer, disability rights and other movements to reduce social inequality.” First, we both are writers and self-described change makers.
Indeed, I also have steadfastly supported women’s rights (here, here, here, and here). Not to mention, I went directly after Milo Yiannopoulos’ for his attacks on feminism (here). My entire public profile has been nothing but speaking out against racism both explicit and implicit. I have publicly supported LGBT rights (here) and was working on an article on transgender rights, just before I felt compelled to answer Dr. Gukenheimer’s article. Lastly, virtually everything I have ever discussed has been in support of racial, social, ethnic and religious equality.
The parallels between Dr. Guckenheimer and myself didn’t end there either. We both appear to be proud Jews, and according to her LinkIn page, she even speaks Hebrew. This may seem like an innocuous detail to some of you, however, as a Jew who also is fluent in Hebrew, I found this to be intriguing given that few American Jews are conversationally fluent in Hebrew.
I don’t even Know Dr. Gukenheimer, and yet strangely I felt like we were already friends. In fact, I feel like from now on; she would want me to call her, Debra. I have to admit I had to fight the desire to message Dr. Gukenheimer and say, “Shalom! Ma ShlomeCh,” rather than continuing to write an article to dispute her op-ed. However, I have an obligation to everyone to not allow myself to be charmed by Debra’s credentials and our similarities. Sorry, Debra, we are still going to have to have a friendly disagreement.
So, why is it that Debra and I, seem to have the same goals and yet our opinions on this entire Jax and Reddy story are so drastically different? Well, it comes from the one attribute in Debra’s profile that we don’t share in common, she is a sociologist, where I come from the academic domain of psychology. In essence, our differences in perception and opinion, derive from our differences in how we view the external world.
Sociologists consider social actions as a system of networks and institutions. To the sociologist, human behavior is shaped by a collective of macro-social structures. Conversely, for me, particularly since my individual interest is in consciousness and perception, I view behaviors from an idiosyncratic standpoint. Essentially, the complexities of cognitive processes are so widely diverse you cannot ever examine one particular behavior and make an assumption on a collective.
Most importantly, I would respectfully consider that Debra’s opinion is consistent with sociological over-critique of behaviors. Over-critique sociology is a melodramatic, often negatively one-sided critique of societies. The train of thought has often walked a narrow path with being considered ideologically consistent with Western political Marxism. Societies are consistently structuring themselves from within, therefore for over-critique sociological views to be functional, one would have to go outside of society for them to be rational. Essentially, any action, even theoretical, is inconsistent with what is morally right because the idealistic concept of moral righteousness exists in a fictitious realm “outside” of society. This is the crux of how terms such as “political correctness” have been weaponized as a means of oppressing people.
Essentially, millions of people found the story of Jax and Reddy to be heartwarming and representative of the innocence of children. An innocence that is devoid of negative racist stigmas. Now, the overly critical sociological view of the incident is to tell people that they are still wrong and contributing to racism. Regarding the sociological view, what Debra said can be indeed true. However, from a psychological stance, to be overly critical of the incident instills a sense of negative reinforcement for those positive feelings one may feel at the demonstration of two children lacking racist views. It is the “politically incorrect” argument where people, of all races, walk away feeling bad for feeling good.
With all of that said, here is my counter-argument to my new friend Debra’s article. First, I think Debra is far too overly critical of this one incident. She is accessing a scientific view, of one’s unscientific social media post, by suggesting that the statement “the only difference Jax sees in the two of them is their hair.” In Debra’s article, it would suggest that Jax nor Reddy are cognizant that they are racially different. I counter that suggestion by saying that what the original author meant was that the children see no NEGATIVE differences between each other.
Additionally, I would say that it would appear that Debra has conveyed far too much literal interpretation towards the original Facebook. Respectfully, I would speculate that Debra does not have children, that is an assumption on my part because of the overly literal interpretation of the story. My wife and I have a pair of five- and three-year-old boys and a six-month-old daughter. One thing, I have learned from this pack of tiny people is they are crazy! Not crazy, in a clinical way, I mean in that they say things that are imagination based, which are inconsistent with the norms of adults. For example, this past week, my five-year-old told me that he drives his school bus to school every day, and his bus driver’s name is “Sandstorm.”
To suggest that Jax believed that his teacher would be unable to tell Reddy and he apart is a negatively accessed assumption on the part of my buddy Debra. Lo Tov, Lov Tov, Debrah.
To assume that Jax’s mother is raising him “colorblind” is an unfair assumption as well. You cannot make that assumption based on the limited information provided. For example, I teach my five- and three-year sons Hebrew. When they ride in the car with me, my three-year-old wants me to play “Rak BeyaChad” (Only Together) and my five-year-old request “Hashem Melech” (Lord is King) on the iPod. They both can sing along in Hebrew. However, on any given day, you might catch my five-year-old telling me, he’s not speaking "Jewish” anymore, or he’s not Jewish at all. Instead he’s a ninja. In fact, today he was a Pokémon. Does my five-year-old Pikachu mean I am doing a poor job as a parent teaching my children their cultural identity or reverence for their ethnic background?
As a father, let me tell you it’s hard enough as it is to be a parent. So don’t bash Jax's Mom based on a subjective determination. Remember, the thing about implicit biases is they are unconscious manifestations based on our experience. Therefore, indeed I think you implicitly viewed the entire story of Jax and Reddy from a vantage that was too socio-racial and overly critical. Especially, given it was based on what was, frankly very limited information.
In closing, before you get upset Debra, remember we are both in this thing together. We both want the same outcome for societies and humanity as a whole. However, the entire reason that I took the time to write out this lengthy response to your op-ed was because I think the manner of going about social and racial equality that you presented in your article can be detrimental to the overall success of unity.
Sure, in academic or social activist circles what you said can be appropriately discerned. However, that is the same group of people who are already aware that racism is a part of the fabric of our society. They are the people who already acknowledge and make a commitment to being anti-racist and overcoming implicit biases.
These are not the people that need to be reached to truly effect lasting change in the world. Rather it is the “diet racist” who have never considered implicit racism as being a real thing or even realize that they indeed may say or engage in racist behavior without using racial slurs. You can’t use a heartwarming story of a young White kid and Black kid as an antagonistic approach to expressing a perspective to the “diet racist.” All that is going to happen is they are going to throw their hands up and say, “F$%& this, I am sick of being told I’m racist when I try not to be racist!”
In the end, the story was never and will never be about those two kids. It will be about the people who hear about it and remember the innocence of youth and how things like race, politics, sexual orientation, gender, or religion are never what is ultimately important. It is about how seeing those two boys hugging can spark a desire to want to make new friends and become more diverse. That is ultimately, what this entire story is about, and why it ever went viral in the first place.
So help me out here, and seize on that spark to remind people that societies flourish when diversity is celebrated. High-diversity within a system, whether it be an ecosystem or societal system, makes that system less vulnerable and more sustainable by giving it a high resistance towards adverse changes. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You’re the sociologist. So from the cop and psychologist in me, I simply want to say, being emotionally blind is not the goal either.
Toda Rabah v'Shalom, HaChavera HaChadash Shli…