Speaking Out

Elsewhere in this issue (See Streetcar pg. 152) the story is told about a scam in a supermarket parking lot in which a woman holding a baby (presumed to be her grandchild) claimed that she had been hit by a vehicle stalled in traffic. Another woman who was driving an SUV (and who may or may not have been part of the scam) suddenly appeared and chimed in about the first woman being hit, saying that the police should be called. The incident ended with all parties driving away and nothing happening, but it did raise issues about how to react in such a situation.

Originally the incident was written about on our Web site: www.myneworleans.com. It got a large reaction primarily from people with tales to tell about similar incidents.

Surprisingly, while the article didn’t make any racial references, race became part of the blog discussion. Unfortunately, in the undisciplined world of blogging – where people are unhindered by having to identify themselves – when the discussion is about race it tends to get increasingly mean-spirited; as happened in this situation.

Such discussions miss the point. The social issue isn’t really about race; it’s about class. It isn’t so much skin colors that people react negatively to but behavior.

Frequently skin color is linked to behavior but not entirely. No black family would mind having Drew Brees as a neighbor or Tulane President Scott Cowan or a solid white family. Conversely, any white family would be pleased to have Chris Paul living next door or Xavier president Norman Francis or a solid black family. What neither side (nor any of us) wants are neighbors whose presence suggests criminal activity or a disregard for the neighborhood. Those types can be identified with any race.

Just as white people speak critically of “white trash,” all races have slang for people within their group whom they regard as a less desirable class. Poverty alone doesn’t create those people but rather a whole set of maddening social circumstances. Such people are not inherently evil. They are just individuals that society has somehow failed.

In the case of the supermarket incident, the women who perpetrated the fraud were of the same race as the police operator who took the call about the incident, and who responded so professionally and of the nearby security guard who would’ve been relied on for protection if needed. Those people represented the bad and the good.

We keep thinking about the child in the woman’s arms and our hope, indeed belief, that he will grow up in a better world.

We hope it will be a world in which when people talk about race they will actually understand what they’re talking about. Better yet, it will be a world in which there will be no need to talk about race at all.

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