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Riding the Bus

I grew up in Utah, which is almost exclusively populated by caucasians.  In the elementary school I attended, there was 1 black student out of the 700 enrolled.  I remember on one occasion one of my teachers asked the class how we thought she felt, being the only one in the school.  I don't know about the other students, but I didn't know what to think.  I didn't even really know how to process the question.  It never even occurred to me that being the only black student in the school would affect how she felt.

Fast forward twenty years.  When I went to Atlanta for Dragon Con, I got a hotel a few miles away from the heart of town because it was one third the price of nearby hotels.  I was surprised when I got on the bus to go to the convention and I was the only white person on the bus.  We made several stops over the 15-20 minute ride, and at every stop the people who got on where of other races.  For (probably) the first time in my life, I was the minority.  In fact, I was the only one.  How did it feel?

I didn't feel afraid or threatened.  I know that some people (*cough* Zimmerman *cough*) do feel threatened by those with darker skin, but none of the people on the bus seemed even remotely threatening to me.  I was extremely conscious of the race difference, but mostly because Conrad and I had recently had a conversation about it and I was trying to be aware of any feelings I had, being the only white person on the bus.

I noticed that many people on the bus were talking to each other.  Was that just because they were already friends?  Or because they're comfortable talking with other people of the same race, but not with me because I'm of a different race?  I wondered how they felt about me.  Did they think that I'm racist because I wasn't talking to them?  I even had this strange kind of feeling as though I were somehow guilty for all of the oppression that black people have historically suffered--as though I were a plantation owner in some previous reincarnation.  Was there something I could do to show my good will toward these people?  Or would that just be condescending?

Another thought that I had was Why aren't there more white people on the bus?  Is it because white people are all rich enough to afford their own cars, and the only ones who need to rely on public transportation are those of other races?  Or is it just because the neighborhood I was in was mostly populated by non-caucasians?  Then, I wondered is racism still a huge issue?  Are non-white people underprivileged because they can't get jobs, because white employers view them as lazy or untrustworthy?  I had lots of these kinds of thoughts running through my mind.  Personally, I thought that racism was a thing of the past, but maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe it still is a real issue in many places.

It was odd because there are people in my life of many different races and backgrounds and I never even think about the differences at all.  To me, people are just people.  Sometimes I've heard this called "race-blind" or even "color-blind".  I treat all of my friends the same--or at least, I think I do.  So, why was I having all of these feelings while on the bus?  Is it because there's a legitimate reason I should feel that way?  Or simply because I'm making a conscious effort to focus on it?

I saw an interview with Morgan Freeman where he said that he doesn't think Black History Month is a good idea.  He thinks that the best way to stop racism is to stop talking about it.  I think that in many ways, he's right.  I think that there's something to that.  I don't know that it's necessarily the best way to stop racism.  I think some people probably still need to have pointed out to them that some things they do or say can come across as racist.  And I was appalled when my Chinese friends told me about the bullying they've gone through just for being Chinese.  But, I think for me personally, I'd be much better off if I never really worried about it.  (And yet here I am writing a post about racism.)  For me personally, the only reason I ever think that skin color might possibly make a difference is because people talk about it.  As far as I'm concerned, there's no difference whether you have white skin or brown skin or squinty eyes or big, round eyes.  It doesn't matter if you speak English or Korean or Hebrew.  People are people.  If you want to be my friend, I'll be friends with you.  I like to think of myself as an equal-opportunity friend.

I also want to be sensitive toward other people's feelings.  When I use a word to refer to a particular ethnic group, I want to make sure it's not an offensive word.  I like to joke around and tease people, but I think sometimes I need to stop and make sure that the person I'm teasing will be okay with that kind of humor.  I don't ever want to come across as demeaning anyone--just as being lighthearted and being able to laugh about things.  But I try to err on the side of caution, just because I really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  And even if I joke about mathematicians being better than engineers (I figure that's a safe example) I don't actually mean it.  I think laughter is good, but shouldn't be at anyone's expense.

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