This is to lend my own perspective in support of what my colleague Warren Bolton has to say in his column today.
There are an awful lot of white folks out there who are by no means racist but who nevertheless get impatient with black folks seeming to talk about race "all the time." I’ll admit that while I don’t quite go that far, I have had a similar reaction: Sometimes it just seems odd to me that black writers or speakers will inject race into their comments on a subject that seemed — to me — to be totally unrelated.
But while I’m not the most empathetic person in the world, I have managed to figure out that the reason I have that reaction is that I’ve never had the regular experience that black folks have of race being thrown in their faces, and usually in an extremely unpleasant way. This usually happens out of the view of the kind of white folks who would never dream of doing, saying or thinking anything racist, and thus such well-meaning folk think it’s their black neighbors who have an unhealthy fixation.
Working with Warren has helped me see this. I’ll give you an example.
Sometime after Warren Bolton joined our editorial board, he wrote a column or two about the Confederate flag that was then atop our State House dome. At that point, I had already written on the subject — demanding that it come down — about 200 times since I had joined the board myself in 1994.
Warren’s style of writing about it was milder and more polite than mine. He objected to the flag’s presence in a kinder, gentler manner than was my wont. This was partly due to the difference in our personalities. But I suspect it was also because Warren knew, far better than I, what was coming.
You see, I thought I’d seen it all in the way of negative reactions from flag defenders. The editorial department secretary hated the days that one of my pieces on the subject ran, because it meant a day of fielding — and passing on to me — angry call after angry call, followed by a flood of letters.
But what I’d experienced was hugs and kisses compared to the slime that came bursting out of the woodwork from the very first moment that Warren dared to touch upon the subject. The vitriol, the pure hatred that was aimed at him was like nothing I had seen. And what was the difference between his columns and mine? Well, there were two: Mine were somewhat more provocative, and a picture of a black man ran with his.
I was already at that point tired of hearing the canard about how support for the flag never had a thing to do with race, but I really got fed up with it at that point. What provoked the hatred; what was Warren’s offense? Simple. He was guilty of having an opinion on the flag while being black.
This did not surprise Warren. He had, after all, been black all his life. But it was an eye-opener for me.
Warren quotes — with epithets blanked out — one of the worst recent phone messages he’s received. But reading about it doesn’t communicate it. You need to hear it to get the full impact (and sorry, but my attempts to convert the recording to a format that I could link to here have been unsuccessful). The caller starts out speaking VERY softly, so that Warren or anyone else listening would press the receiver more tightly to his ear, and turn up the volume on the phone. Then, without warning, he SCREAMS the really nasty parts at a volume intended to hurt the eardrum of the listener. That this stranger hated Warren could be in no doubt. Nor could the reason be obscure. He hated Warren simply because he was black, and he wanted to put that point across in as offensive and painful a manner as possible.
I’ve never had anything quite like that aimed at me. And if you’re white, you probably haven’t either. If you and I suspect black folks are just a little on the touchy side about race matters, that’s probably because they are. And they have reason to be.