“Bacon – like you might find in a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich,” is one of my favorite lines, from my favorite movie – Trading Places.
Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy) is explaining the commodities market to Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy). Then, Eddie Murphy does the famous fourth wall break and looks directly at the camera, as if to say, “really?”
In that one look, Murphy encapsulates the subtle nature of modern racism. His look says, “You’re talking down to me because you think I’m a fool…based on my race.”
Trading Places is my favorite movie because it touches, through comedy, the rawest nerve of the American experiment and asks the question the entire world has been asking for thousands of years – are all races really the same?
By now, we know that all races actually are the same, and what separates us isn’t really color or race but culture.
Most reasonably intelligent people believe this. Or do they?
If America is Mike Tyson’s face, racism is the tattoos: a constant reminder of a bad decision, but something that can be moved past with some work.
In the spirit of that work, so many want to be on the side of the correction. We all do. But sometimes, deeply held racism shows itself in the process.
In a lot of ways, Lyndon Johnson deciding black people needed the great white saviors to provide them housing and food, was an example of this.
“Bless their hearts. Surely they won’t be able to do it themselves. Thank God the white people are here to help them,” is what it basically said.
But all those programs didn’t help in the long run. Not really. They created ghettos for people who had no agency or ownership in the process, to languish in.
“We’ll take care of it for you, black people. You just stand over there and look pitiful,” was how it came off. And it crippled entire generations.
Mayors who actually consider dismantling police departments, in order to placate some weird sense of social justice, are, in fact, practicing a form of racism. They are creating unsafe neighborhoods and cities that directly affect the black people who live there. We’ve been watching the results of this play out in places like Atlanta and Chicago. And it ends with dead children.
Are there things we can do to reconcile how the police interact with minorities? You bet there are. But when you’re just assuaging your own guilt and making innocent people – many of them black – pay the price for it in blood, you might as well apply for a job at Duke and Duke. You’re their kind of people.
When you issue a city-wide edict that every human being must wear a mask, except people of color, because…you know, they are just in their cause, you are putting people at risk while simultaneously treating them like children. And you’re creating a warped sense of reality for people who have to grapple with a skewed sense of their own reality in their own country, already.
When you refuse to be honest about why there’s a huge spike in Covid cases…THREE. WEEKS. AFTER. YOU. ENCOURAGED. MASS. PROTESTS. because you don’t want black people to feel bad about their decision to take to the streets AND SPREAD A VIRUS, you’re not treating them like equals. You’re treating them fragile little lambs who cannot handle scientific facts.
When you literally skew actual science just to appear like you’re on “the right side of history” you’re like a bad, absent parent, trying to buy love with a pony. It isn’t authentic and it’s actually damaging.
We’re about to have a “black national anthem” played before the actual national anthem at football games.
National anthems, in general, aren’t all that important to me personally (although I think ours is a good one for many reasons), and if we want to talk about changing it to something else, I’m actually listening. But having two anthems, to make a certain group of Americans feel better, is the worst kind of pandering.
Nobody’s offering an Asian anthem or a Mexican anthem or a Native American anthem or a Special Needs anthem. This is being done so that weak people can say they did their part to end racism. But they’re not ending it. They’re only fomenting it further.
You might as well say, “like you would find in a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.”
Change the anthem? Maybe we should. But it should be ONE anthem for everybody. Hence the term national. That’s what America is supposed to be about. E Plurus Unum – out of many, one.
When I see statues being toppled, I’m watching mainly white kids doing it. They are basically saying, “Here, black people. Let us wipe away this uncomfortable part of your history. We’re certain you can’t compartmentalize it.”
None of the black people I know are that emotionally fragile. And they’d rather talk about practical things we can do, than be handed big, woke gestures that don’t feed anybody or educate anybody or keep anybody any safer or help anybody achieve their dreams.
Conservatives and Libertarians have been historically skeptical about government programs specifically designed for black people, through the years, NOT because they don’t like black people and don’t want to see them succeed. They’ve simply recognized that it’s fundamentally racist to assume black people can’t help themselves, given the opportunity.
In so many of our national responses, we are answering the question, “are all races the same?” with a wince and a wink and an ultimate “no,” not by burning crosses in yards, but by assuming white people are the sole arbiters of the destiny of black people.
This also simultaneously assumes all white people will naturally act in a way that will keep black people down. Those two thoughts not only assume the worst about both races, but assign more natural power to whites than to blacks.
It’s racism in all its glory, disguised as help.
Instead of seeing black people collecting a check from the government, I like seeing them writing a check to the government…because they made so much money that year (although, I don’t like any of those checks to be too big. #Libertarian).
Instead of seeing them get the job sweeping the floor, I’d prefer to see them running the business that owns the floor.
Instead of public officials treating my black brothers and sisters like inferior intellects, who cannot make it through life without them, I’d prefer we all level with each other as equals.
Until we do that, we might as well be explaining what bacon is. And black people, who have fully gotten off the plantation into a free mind, will still be looking at that camera, rolling their eyes.
George W. Bush coined a great phrase: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
The Duke brothers, in Trading Places, were guilty of this. They had no expectation that Billy Ray Valentine could even comprehend their business, much less excel at it.
They were the ultimate “subtle” racists because they were pulling strings in all different directions, to create unfair advantages and disadvantages they thought only they could create. And they did it all to prove a point…and win a bet.
They toyed with people’s lives, just to see what would happen, because they truly didn’t see some of those people as people.
But what ultimately happens when those being toyed with finally see each other, discover each other’s common humanity, actually talk to each other, instead of making assumptions, and focus on a common goal?
Well, what happens is a complete and utter reversal of fortune…literally.
And it’s beautiful.
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