Racism And Richard Cohen’s Reality, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 17 2013 @ 4:44pm

A reader writes:

Your comments struck a chord with me, because it really does seem that a lot of older white folks are stuck in the ’80s. I’m a young white guy living in DC, and every time I go home for the holidays or a party with extended family, after the usual small talk it always comes up: “How do you deal with the crime?” It’s honestly a question that drives me crazy. I’ve lived here five years and all I’ve ever witnessed is someone stealing something from CVS. I do know of friends of friends who have been mugged and such, but still … it’s far from a war zone. When I commented that I had recently moved to nearby Arlington, they said, “Well, of course – I mean, you can’t live in DC, really.” It’s apparent to me that despite my denials, my aunts and uncles are convinced that DC and other urban areas of the US are something akin to Baghdad. They just don’t seem to believe me when I tell them that, yes, there are a lot of black men around (“sketchy people”, in their words), and, no, they do not bother me. They are convinced there is mortal danger around every corner, just like Richard Cohen is.

Another DC resident:

Just this morning I reflected on the Metro that I hardly notice race anymore. I am trying not to sound like Stephen Colbert as I type that, but what I mean is that I am far less race-conscious than I used to be.

I am white, and I moved to DC several years ago, after living in smaller cities. It isn’t like I never interacted with minorities in other cities, but in a big city like DC it is harder to segregate oneself. In other cities, I lived in mostly white neighborhoods and so I mostly interacted with other white people when not at work. The people of color I worked with were well-educated professionals. I rarely ran into young black men in hoodies, but in DC, I see all kinds of people just on my commute before I even get to work or to lunch or whatever.

I promise I wasn’t an overt racist before moving to DC, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some unconscious prejudice before (and still now, of course). If I had been alone on the street with a young black man in a hoodie, I might have been suspicious for no good reason other than I didn’t recognize the guy. I am not proud of that, but it’s true.

It is different now. The increased interaction with all kinds of different people here in DC makes me able to recognize when to steer clear of a person or group, and race is really not a factor. A black guy in a hoodie isn’t notable. A guy eyeing my phone? Maybe. A guy walking back from 7/11 talking on his phone? Probably not a problem. Very few people commit robberies while on the phone.

I point this out only because for people like George Zimmerman who lived in a gated suburban community (and possibly Richard Cohen – not sure we’re he lives), the lack of exposure to black men in hoodies is what leads to the fear of a black man in a hoodie. I know this because I used to be much closer to their thinking than I am now, and I get where they’re coming from, to a degree. But what it reveals is not some “reality” of an intelligently honed fear of young black men as Cohen suggests. It reveals that we are still a segregated country in many ways and that Cohen doesn’t often interact with young black men.