I leapt at the opportunity to hear Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts,
speak at Friends Select School in Philadelphia a while back. Although
disagree about most things, I believe he is a straight shooter.
Admiration for Mr. Pitts was not the sole reason for my interest however.
wanted some insight as to why so many young, successful and respected
African Americans like him continue to perceive themselves as victims
racism even after they have realized the American dream. Why fight a
Approaching Friend's Select I felt the twinge of apprehension which
accompanies me on forays into the unknown. But I did what I always do...
took a deep breath.... before stepping into a lobby bustling with an
eclectic mix of young, well-coifed, urbane African Americans, rumpled,
middle-aged, sixties-era, white grey beards, and a liberal measure of
and Latinos. This straight, middle aged, suburban white guy instantly
like a fish out of water.
Undeterred, I reached into my grab-bag of personas and donned my mask
cool detachment. It worked. I sauntered toward the buffet table where
chatted my way through the line engaged in pleasant conversation with
attractive African American television news personality. I floundered
after that but found a seat in the darkened auditorium and felt myself
as Acel Moore, veteran Philadelphia newspaper columnist, introduced
guest to the audience.
Mr. Pitts speaks the way he writes: deliberately, dispassionately,
scholarly. I was pleased that his opening remarks addressed Sept. 11's
salutary effects on racial unity in America. He challenged us to think
about how the races can stay together now that shared grief has brought
together, while cautioning that this will be no easy task.
He went on to examine the " ties that bind" a group into
....common ancestry and common threat ( such as Sept.11 ).....and the
process of assimilation, citing the Irish, Italians and Europeans who
" Americans" once they lost their need to see themselves as
Then came the rub, with his assertion that African Americans, Native
Americans and other minorities continue to see themselves not as
"Americans "but as discrete groups because they continue to
as oppressed minorities.
First, groups circle the wagons for reasons other than identity and
oppression, the acquisition and retention of power and privilege being
Likewise, oppression, like beauty, frequently is in the eye of the beholder,
particularly when the beholder views reality through a lens blurred
steady stream of invective, indoctrination, profiling and paranoia lovingly
dispensed by a black praetorian guard whose livelihood depends on convincing
blacks that they are an oppressed minority.
Part of growing up is accepting the world as a scary, impersonal and
unforgiving place. It's a tough world, no matter your skin color. The
struggle is one of the things we share in common. The trick is not to
the covers over our head, or take the things that happen personally,
them sever us from the larger whole.
No man ( or group) can long afford to be an island. Even Pitts predicted
that some day racism will end and black people as a distinct group will
disappear in much the same way that Italian and Irish people have. The
sooner the better. I would argue that day has arrived.
He ended with the observation that although it's nice to come together
because of fear it's better to come together because of love. I agree.
love gives us the perspective to see beyond the ten things which divide
to the hundred things we have in common.
I would go a step further. Love is a two way street. In Pitts' words,
simply requires that people " do the hard but necessary work of
their comfort zones, abandoning the presumptions and biases born there.
Mr. Pitts and those of like mind should heed this advice. They may find
the cure for feelings of oppression and isolation is to occasionally
deep breath and stroll into a roomful of strangers who neither look
think like them.