Some of you may have read my response I posted Sunday, to Dr. Debra Gukenheimer’s article about the pre-school age White, and Black kids, who wanted matching haircuts to play a trick on their teacher. Dr. Gukenheimer expressed in her article how the story was in actuality the epitome of White privilege. Now as rule of thumb, I try not to make a habit out of personally picking fights with anyone. It’s counterproductive to my ultimate goal of trying to bridge gaps between individuals. Additionally, for obvious reasons, I never find it to be a good idea to pick feuds with fellow social activist and Ph.D. sociologist.
HOWEVER, for you guys, I was willing to do it! With me living in Georgia, and Dr. Gukenheimer hailing from California, I was prepared to kick off an East Coast vs. West Coast battle of the activist. The battle lines were drawn, I was ready to fire across the bow, in epic fashion like a nerdy literary form of Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up.” Moreover, I was prepared to get presidential and take this thing to a Twitter cage match…
Sigh… Sadly after all the hype, it turns out Dr. Gukenheimer is a brilliant and very friendly person. It also turns out she was right.
Dr. Gukenheimer’s analysis of the story of those two young boys examined a deeper level of the fabric of society than I had considered. Frankly, I was more focused on the outcome of the reader after they heard the story of those two charming lads, and how it might spark the desire in someone to want to return to the innocence of youth. To want to regain a sense of themselves in which people were not so polarized by their attributes. In a way, maybe my perception is too idealistic to the reality of how society functions.
Now, here is what Dr. Gukenheimer was getting at in her article when she characterized the story as being the “epitome of White privilege.” What she is saying is the fact that racism cannot just be wished away by pretending it doesn’t exist. As she pointed out, unfortunately, racism is engrained in the fabric of our culture. Often people have this concept that if we see each other the same as the children in the story did, then suddenly the world will magically be a better place. However, the reality is not that explicit racism is rampant, rather it is that implicit racism is highly prevalent. Implicit racism is the unconscious biases that we all have as a result of cultural stereotypes that exist in society. For example, a White person, if presented with the option of taking a cab ride with a black male driver or a white male driver, would often choose the white male driver, out of an implicit bias that it would be safer. I am not saying this as an e accusation that you (yes you, the reader) would make that choice. Rather, this is simply a statement that has been supported by numerous scientific research studies.
Furthermore, Dr. Gukenheimer isn’t wrong in the fact that the story itself, at least superficially, isn’t representative of the power of children’s lack of racial prejudices. Why? Well, because the truth is young African-American kid, Reddy, he and his older brother were born in Africa and adopted by a White preacher and his wife. Make no mistake, this act of adoption by the pastor and his wife, are indeed examples of the acts of caring and loving people. However, in light of the boy’s skin color or even ethnic origin, the fact that cannot be escaped is that the children's environment lacks the cultural idiosyncrasies that may be present if they were being raised by Black parents.
What do I mean by that? Well, take for example the article Dr. Gukenheimer referenced in her article by the Yale psychologist Dr. Olson. In that article, Dr. Olson described how the most beneficial way that children can grow up being racially astute is when their parents have a racially and culturally diverse set of friends. Given this situation, it is hard to simply assume that the same outcome would exist if the two African-American boy’s parents were not White. Essentially, the young White kid’s parents could still harbor, even overtly racist views, and yet the boys still get along as best of friends, because the interaction between the sets of White parents fosters positive collaboration. I will say, that I highly doubt that is true in this case. However, it would be reckless of me not to point out that the cultural dynamic of the relationships between both children and adults is not atypical. Therefore, their situation cannot be ascribed to society as a whole.
Does this mean that you should feel sorry for thinking it’s a heartwarming story? No, it doesn't. Does this mean that the children’s parents should feel bad for being proud their kids get along so well they wanted to try to have the same haircut to fool their teacher? No, not at all. It actually doesn’t mean that anyone in the story or who enjoyed the story is racist. So don’t get upset, thinking that Dr. Gukenheimer or myself is accusing anyone of being racist. This is about solving racism not accusing people of racism.
The overall significance of the story is only lost if we assume that “colorblindness” or the belief that we can look at each other, not as a component of our ethnic identity is a reality to how racism is solved. The reality is that when the young African-American boy Reddy, is grown-up, and he happens to be the Black male sitting behind the wheel of that car, science has shown us that people will be more like to pick the White male driver over him for their ride home. The way to overcoming that isn’t with Reddy believing that racial differences don’t exist. Instead, it is by being honest about the implicit biases that occur within our unconsciousness minds, thereby influencing the passenger’s perception, not the driver.
Ultimately, that is what Dr. Gukenheimer was getting at when she said the story was the epitome of White privilege. It was that only the ethnic majority, who doesn’t have to face negative implicit biases in life, considers that racism is cured if suddenly we never talk about race again. In a perfect, magical world, sure that would be great! In this enchanted kingdom, people are viewed as people by their actions as individuals and no negative connotations are attached to anyone’s categorical demographic.
However, that isn’t the world we all live in. Case in point, THE FACT THAT THE STORY WAS EVER HEARTWARMING, TO BEGIN WITH!
Most importantly, that isn’t a world we will ever live in if we ultimately believe that being “colorblind” is the solution. Because, if you assume you are colorblind, then you aren't truthful about reality. Therefore, you have no desire to want even to consider why you hoped in the cab with Mr. White Guy and left poor Reddy still waiting for his next fare.
In closing, the story is heartwarming and nostalgic. However, remember some cultural attributes facilitate the story’s environment. Most of you will not be as fortunate to have a similar environment. So if you truly desire to have your own heartwarming story, then for most of us, it will require us to resist even our unconscious desires and cultivate similar bonds with diverse groups of people like those two young men, and their families did. In order to resist unconscious biases, we must make them conscious thoughts.
Sigh… Now I have to tell my wife she can gleefully mark the calendar. Yesterday, I was wrong. The West Coast won this battle, which should serve as a reminder to me and others, as to why you should never go picking fights.