Racism Is Engrained

Gray_bike racka_2012-08-03

2014-05-25 – Some people like to pet my dog Lefty when I take him for a walk in the park. I always warn them away. It’s not that I think Lefty will take a bite out of someone, but he will bark and prod and scare people. He’s a sheep herding dog who is apparently unable to distinguish sheep from small children, bike, birds, or cars. He hasn’t seen a sheep for most of his life, but he sees the others and always wants to chase them. So I warn people away.

Some people ask before they approach, which is a good thing. This morning, I saw a group of African American kids in the park ranging in age from maybe five to maybe 13. They looked like a family. The oldest one, a boy, was warning a young girl on a bike not to get too far. One of the younger boys called out to me to ask if my dog was a sheep herding dog. I said yes but I feared he might ask to pet Lefty, so I told him that he also likes to go after little boys and bikes.

Then I thought: OMG! Did I sound racist?

Why would I think that? I always say stuff like this when kids ask about my dog. I wouldn’t have had a second thought about the encounter, if the boy had been white, other than wishing that Lefty was more kid friendly.

Whether you are a person of good will or ill, if you grew up in this country, everything is tinged with race.

I want to be clear about this. Race is in the front of our minds whether we like it or not. Race is in the front of our minds whether we hate or love. It is something we learned and can’t unlearn.

What we can do is what we do with other nasty thoughts that come to our minds. We suppress them. Have you ever wanted to kill someone? You didn’t do it, did you? . . . Did you?

Well, if you’re like me you didn’t. You had the thought cross your mind, but you didn’t act on it. You did the right thing. It’s the same with racist thoughts. You don’t act on them.

Okay, my warning to the black kid was not what you would normally think of as racist. And my private thoughts afterward were thoughts of concern, not animus. My point is that, in our society, we see everything this way. My point is that, in a moral world, we may have immoral thoughts, but we control our actions. We think about race, but we are careful not to let that control our actions.

I took Lefty on a second walk a couple hours later. The family I met earlier was still there. The girl was still riding her bike and the boys were shooting baskets. The boy who asked if Lefty were a herding dog saw me and said hi. Lefty barked.

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