The problem with stereotypes is that they tend to persist, no matter how they started out. No matter how much of a fallacy it/they may be or how close they may also get to hitting the nail on the head. There’s a similar element with discrimination- it persists because it has a tendency to become hardwired into our DNA. Whether it’s something we personally subscribe to or not; it becomes a part of our environment.
The stereotype I dealt with was when I found out the author was a linebacker. I mean who expects a guy who crashed into others for a living, to be able to churn out this kind of a sensitive, hard-hitting, factual and yet engaging narrative. Aren’t all football players hugely built dumb jocks anyway? We’re all prone to judging and discriminating then; some more than others.
Often the stereotypes and discriminations go hand in hand- one feeds the other and keeps it alive. The dumb blonde stereotype could and possibly often does, lead to a blonde woman being considered as a good fit as a front office staff, ornamental and aesthetic but not necessarily one in a managerial position or as someone who could have a good amount of situational intelligence. A blonde guy could and often does get slotted as a Ken doll if he’s chiselled and happens to be a looker. Rarely does capability and potential enter the picture. And while this is a very loose kind of a parallel to draw, it’s one that exists up and down the country this book is set it.
Why go so far away? Right at home in India the stereotypes of and about the people in the Northern part of the country vs the Southern part have led to generations of ill-informed notions about people, their food, their lifestyles; which may not be accurate but often rear their head as discriminatory thoughts and actions.
And that’s why this book is so relevant, more than anything else, in today’s date. Because it forces a conversation about a long-standing, maladaptive, dysfunctional and degrading discriminatory system against a group of people. This ages-old discrimination has sadly become a way of life and the each side- discriminator and discriminatee both, living a self-fulfilling prophecy without always questioning it.
I don’t consider myself as a person of color because in my own country, everyone is like me. Just a few tints separate us on the melanin-distribution scale. If I were to go to a country that’s largely Caucasian then yes, I would be a brown woman there. But this book talks at length about why being colourblind is one of the worst things a population could be. Because being colourblind to the Blacks essentially ends up meaning being blind to their history, their struggle and their entire existence.
My interaction with people who are black was almost solely restricted to my classmates and people I would see around me, while living in New York as a child. We had Black History Month, we were told about Rosa Parks, Dr.King but all from the perspective of a child would understand. Sitting here in circa 2020, a couple of thousands of miles away from the BLM movement, I am not directly impacted by the injustices happening. But it pings on my radar. It talks about the state of the world, albeit restricted to one geographical area, where it’s possible to forget the core value of humanity and still be selectively humane to the rest of the world.
The reason this book took me a few days to finish is mainly due to me going back in time from 2020 to 1998-1992 (the years I was abroad)…I was trying to see if the child in me inadvertently picked up on vibes that the adult me now understands as any kind of oppression, ignorance or even outright discrimination. I can and I have.
The narrative of the black people and of the author isn’t just a lesson to be learnt from history about subjugation of a race of people in a specific country. It’s the notion of a person being less than human than another, purely on the basis of their features and skin color and how that’s become a staple tradition, becoming woven into the country’s historical tapestry.
The author, a black man from a family that never lived in the projects, went hungry or was ever on welfare, still feels what it likes to be a man with the skin color he has, when instances of police brutality, negligence and an overall suppression of a class and a race become the norm rather than the exception.
That essentially ends up being the crux of the book…to raise questions, to talk, to try and understand why things are the way they are. It’s not about currying favor for the blacks and get more than the liberals championing their “cause” but more about lowering the barrier and finding out why there still needs to be situations which call for the creation of the BLM in a nation which also touts the Emancipation Proclamation has a watershed moment in its history.
Whether you read the book or not, whether you feel that if sitting in a country that’s not the USA, this book’s relevance is less or lost; no one can argue that things can’t go on the way they are. There needs to be dialogue. Open dialogue where voices can be raised and blame placed but the kind of dialogue which spell out how people can and should be treated. There needs to dialogue about how extrajudicial measures need to be noticed and dealt with appropriately and how the rule of might needs to take a back seat to the rule of law.
Sounds utopian? Maybe. Possible. Probable even. But that doesn’t mean it’s not time things changed. In the US and whenever suppression occurs on the whims of those in power.