THIS IS MY OP-ED PIECE PRINTED IN THE ROCHESTER NY PAPER, DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, ON SUNDAY 10/06/19–AND SUBSEQUENTLY POSTED ON IT’S PARENT PAPER’S WEBSITE, USA TODAY.COM–IN RESPONSE TO AN EARLIER PIECE BY A WHITE ROCHESTER BUSINESSMAN WHO DISPUTED THE EXISTENCE OF WHITE PRIVILEGE.
In 1961 James Baldwin wrote “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”
In history class I learned about blacks being lynched, incontrovertibly denied fairness in court, openly refused jobs and I wondered “how on earth did black people put up with that?” At my first sleepover at a white friend’s house, we were sitting at the neighborhood pool. Suddenly there was a wad of phlegm on my leg. For the life of me, I honestly didn’t understand that someone had just spit on me. Days earlier in class, we learned spitting on black people in public with impunity only happened in the bad old days. Surely this couldn’t be what just happened to me. I was confused, then continued talking with Elizabeth about the new Blues Brothers album.
While I was waiting on the steps of a building for an apartment showing, a car stopped at the curb briefly and drove off. I waited forty minutes more, then left. I had to be in my thirties looking back on that incident before realizing that car was the landlord. He saw I was black.
I’ve been recently musing that blacks in the U.S. all share a distinct mental illness. A necessary cognitive dissonance that extricates the perfectly logically consistent reaction of anger from our day-to-day psyche. To look plainly on our condition would be to live in constant rage. This mental illness is what made not recognizing phlegm or waiting another forty minutes seem perfectly logical at the time.
On Sept 6th, Calia asserted with pride on WXXI’s radio program Connections With Evan Dawson that this country was founded on the ideal of equal opportunity and we must ensure that, unfettered for all. This mental illness allows blacks to carry on knowing the idea was a perjury even as the founders’ ink was drying. Only our polite management of this mental illness for order’s sake allows white people to continue to cling so gravely to this original lie.
Now the term “white privilege” unfairly categorizes men like Calia and robs them of their individual accomplishments and identities and he’s angry. He should have dinner one night at any black home on Jefferson Avenue where generations have had practice at managing this same anger. They’ll show him how it’s done.