Roger L. Simon is an author of mystery novels and non-fiction, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, and one of the creators of PJMedia. (Full disclosure: A decade ago he agreed to let me mention his name if I shopped a murder mystery idea to reality TV producers. Each week the worst of the contestants/wannabe detectives is killed off, giving the survivors fresh clues to investigate. I still think it’s a pretty good idea, although of course it’s only “reality” television if they let us murder the bad detectives.)
In his latest column, Roger claims to be racist, though what he describes is sexism:
When I see a black gangbanger walking down the sidewalk toward me at night, sometimes I cross to the other side. Even if he’s not wearing a hoodie.
Ditto for skanky white guys in ponytails who look like meth heads, bandana-clad Mexicans who might be members of the Zetas, and Asian guys with ominous Fu Manchus, black belts, and ninja pajamas.
Now, I’m a “country mouse” and Roger is a “city mouse”. I have no idea how he identifies a specific black guy as being a gangbanger. All I know about gangs is this: there’s the Bloods and Crips, there’s the Sharks and Jets, and that Natalie Wood, not George Zimmerman, is the real “white Hispanic“.
I can’t identify gang colors and tattoos, though I’ll guess that the Bloods use red as a fashion statement. Even if I was forced to live in the big city, I probably wouldn’t bother learning that stuff. As a country mouse I’m not comfortable with any strangers in my personal area, and certainly not in my blind spot. It doesn’t take many fights, or many blindside spitballs/ear thumps/wet willies, to learn not to trust anybody. That should be the default setting for the Y chromosome crowd. It’s not bad advice for you ladies, either.
Seriously. If you can travel back in time and relearn any early childhood lession…trust people less.
This is a major reason that I don’t like being in crowds. Concerts, parades, thronged major metropoli…ugh. Constant threat assessment is draining. Not that I’m jumpy or tense, but every time there’s an unexpected jostle or a big scary dude suddenly appears…right next to me!…the ol’ survival instinct whispers:
“Duuuude…that could have been a lot worse.”
During Roger’s walks he consciously notices gangbangers and meth heads and Zetas and ninjas, but the majority of travelling decisions don’t ping! in our minds. They don’t need to. When you’re walking on a smooth, flat, dry road, how often do you consciously direct your feet? Never. You stopped doing that long before your baby teeth fell out. In fact, once the skill of walking is acquired, questioning the body’s decisions only gets in the way.
But have you ever gone spelunking? Buildering? Cliff-climbing? How about scaling a tree, or picking your way across a stream while stepping from rock to rock? Compare any of those movements to the feel of strolling along a path. Big difference, right? And it’s not just a quantitative difference, it’s a qualitative one.
By claiming to be a racist, Roger is simply pointing out that he isn’t insane. Let’s put it in perspective: suppose you’re a rock climber who’s just scaled a tricky pass. Then I come running up shouting, “Mossist! You’re a mossist!”
ME: I saw you. You deliberately avoid mossy stones with your hands and feet.
YOU: Well, mossy stones are slipperier and so naturally-
YOU (backing away slowly): Sorry, I apologize, gotta run now…
That’s what this fuss sounds like to me. As Roger notes, even Jesse Jackson admits to avoiding groups of young black strangers. Then everyone goes back to arguing about race when the point is that they’re strangers.
Sanctimonious people have a mantra, “profiling is wrong”. That statement is as stupid as it is impossible, and refraining from profiling is utterly impossible. If you don’t consciously profile a person it’s because the profiling is already done; it simply didn’t ping! your radar. Profiling little old ladies is like strolling on a trail; you do it without even noticing. Navigating past rough young men is like traversing a gully; you need to be very careful and a different route might be safer. Anyone who says otherwise cares nothing, absolutely nothing, about your life and health.
Roger is not a racist. He does not swerve away from 90-year-old black ladies to get closer to…let me run a search string for “crazy white dude” and post the first result…
Hmm. Inconclusive. Also, he looks more “gray Hispanic” than white. Let’s try again. This guy:
Before you scoff and say you’d take your chances against Mr. Pasty, let me add that this Tweeter is called “Rorschach01“. Does that ping! your radar? No? Fine! Search string: “Tex Cobb Raising Arizona”. Which is a perfect synonym of “crazy white dude” anyway:
Now ask yourself, “WWRLSD?” If Rorschach01 doesn’t seem threatening enough to ping! the radar, probably Roger makes no changes. If he swings away from the black lady toward the slender but possibly crazy white dude, then subconscious racism might be present. But if his radar does go ping! we can’t test him for racism; we already know he values his safety and thus will avoid the creepy-ass cracka. (Since Trayvon’s girlfriend intimated homosexuality about Zimmerman, we could make the phrase much creepier by spelling it “creepy ass-cracka”.)
So, if you want to check someone for racism, forget the hoody wearers and see how he acts around black women in their Sunday-go-to-meeting hats.
In the case of Leonard Smalls (Tex Cobb’s character in the awesome movie Raising Arizona), Roger’s radar would go PING!! He would choose consciously and carefully. And if he swerved around the black lady to put her between him and the “Lone Biker of the Apocalypse”, few would blame him.*
Certainly, anyone who’d rather take his chances with Leonard Smalls than, say, Bill Cosby, is probably a horrible, horrible racist. I just don’t see the problem. Most such bigots won’t live long enough to pass on either their genes or their prejudice, and the situation will eventually sort itself out.