So I read this article in the Washington Post the other day, and my first reaction was: This is interesting. Not only that, it is thoughtful, perceptive, well reasoned.
I would like to discuss it with some friends. I was still, at this point, several minutes away from my second reaction.
The author was Post reporter Natalie Hopkinson, a black woman who, with her husband, has just bought a house in a predominately black neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Said Hopkinson in her piece: "We damn sure are not about to let white folks buy up all the property in D.C."
Said Hopkinson in her piece: "From our perspective, integration is overrated. It's time to reverse an earlier generation's hopeful migration into white communities and attend to some unfinished business in the 'hood."
It continued: "I see every day another benefit of that black migration [back to black neighborhoods]: A second generation of African Americans is growing up in a prosperous, predominantly black suburb."
I'm a white guy. I talk like one, act like one, think like one. But I do not feel threatened by the pride and solidarity of other racial or ethnic groups. In this particular case, I admired Hopkinson not only for her convictions but for the clear and forceful way she expressed them.
Then I had my second reaction. What if one of my fellow white guys had written the exact same article? Well, not exactly the same.
What if he had said in his piece: "We damn sure are not about to let black folks buy up all the property in Scarsdale."
What if whitey had said: "From our perspective, immigration is overrated. It's time to reverse an earlier generation's hopeful migration into black communities and attend to some unfinished business in the 'burbs."
What if whitey had said: "I see every day another benefit of that white migration [back to white neighborhoods]: A second generation of white Americans is growing up in a prosperous, predominantly white community."
What if this had happened? The answer is obvious. The white reporter's piece would not have run in the Washington Post, or in a majority of other newspapers in our country, and he would have been fired or shipped off to a sensitivity training gulag for an extended stay.
I was not kidding about my regard for Hopkinson's article. One of the reasons she feels as she does is that, having moved into white neighborhoods as a child, she and her family were brutally taunted. "The KKK's gonna get you, nigger!" said some white kids to her cousin, as they chased her through the streets. Her husband, then a child in another part of the country, heard: "My grandfather used to own your grandfather!"
I am moved by these stories of Ms. Hopkinson not just because of our shared humanity, but because of my family's shared experiences. As a grade school girl near Pittsburgh, Pa., early this century, my Italian grandmother stopped wearing clean dresses to school because the Irish kids kept throwing mud at her. She started wearing bandages because they threw stones at her.
They called her a guinea, a dago, a wop. She did not know what the words meant, but did not need to: Their real definition was in her accusers' tone of voice.
This, then, is not a column about Ms. Hopkinson. I would be comfortable in her presence. It is a column about her editors. I would not be comfortable in theirs. It is about the terrible hypocrisy in journalism which, in the name of righting past wrongs by allowing minorities an unfair license in the press, perpetrates present wrongs, and makes racial healing seem a dream that will never come true.
As long as there is a double standard, there cannot be a single nation.