Counterpoint: Don’t be blind to racism
William Bengtson, Star Tribune Commentary, May 28, 2014 – It seems that we Minnesotans don’t really understand racism. We certainly don’t agree on what racism is. For example, Mitch Pearlstein wrote that recent examples of public condemnation of high-profile racists demonstrate that we are on the right track to eradicate racism (“What’s more telling about race in America?” May 22). Pearlstein writes as though racism is nowhere to be found except in the obscure.
While some of us surely agree with him, others find his view culturally blind and unwittingly racist itself, dare I say.
Then, on the other hand, Nekima Levy-Pounds (“White privilege,” YourVoices blog, May 20) wrote about how white privilege is an elephant in the room. In contrast to Pearlstein, Levy-Pounds writes as though racism exists wherever white people are.
While some of us surely agree with her, others find her view to be unwittingly racist, too, again, dare I say.
We Minnesotans have a racism dilemma on our hands. Some of us think racism is pretty much everywhere; others think it hardly exists at all.
I’d like to share a recent experience that gave me, in an odd way, a new perspective on race relations in Minnesota. My fiancé and I were enjoying a beautiful evening on Nicollet Mall. All I will tell you about us as a couple is that we are half white and half black. On our way to our favorite downtown sidewalk cafe, a horse and carriage strolled by. In the warm air I pondered how wonderful life would be if one were a horse trotting along the mall on such a night. In fact, I felt a bit jealous of the horse’s worry-free life.
A matter of minutes later, the love of my life and I found ourselves relaxing and sipping wine at the outdoor cafe. As we enjoyed the evening, the very same horse and carriage abruptly stopped in front of us. The driver got out of the carriage to attempt to get the horse moving again. A bit of a struggle ensued, and the horse seemed to gain the upper hand.
Suddenly, the horse flung the driver aside. As the driver hit the pavement, the horse galloped for freedom — disappearing down Nicollet Mall, empty carriage in tow, hoofs stomping, wheels rattling. It was quite a sight.
I sat there and realized I had been all wrong about the horse. I had been blind to the fact that the horse was caught in a world where he felt alone. The truth is he was suffering. He was running to nowhere, but I suppose he was also trying to run to somewhere — perhaps to a place he thought he might feel understood and loved.
I think we can all relate to that horse. We all want to run from something. We are all suffering in some way in our own little world. But we are all blind in our own way, too.
Just as the horse was running to nowhere, so is our discussion on racism in Minnesota. We live today in a culture historically dominated by people who are white. On that point none can disagree. But while some of us reference an elephant metaphor to blindly point the finger at everyone unlike ourselves, others of us, self-gratified in our blindness, deny that a problem even exists.
Maybe we Minnesotans need a new perspective. Maybe if we recognize we are all suffering, we’d find we don’t need to point fingers and we also don’t need to deny there’s an issue. Maybe then we can see each other.
William Bengtson is a business consultant in Minneapolis.