Intermission is now over. Shall we proceed?
Ok, let’s get to it..
Patrick wasn’t the first to dehumanize the un-alike based on race or for whatever reason, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
I’d seen this creature before, of course. It had reared its ugly head in my presence a number of times back home in the good ole’ USA, among blacks and whites alike.
Among whites, especially those with an inability to see black people as individuals and equals, this brand of dehumanization would usually result in blacks retaining a feeling of invisibility, of being lost under a cloak of stereotypes and not truly full-fledged members of society.
This phenomenon was best captured, IMHO, in the words of Ralph Ellison.
I remember when I was in grade school, I was assigned to write a book report. The name of the book was “Invisible Man.” I was a big Abbott and Costello fan, so naturally I thought it was going to be a creepy tale about, well, an invisible man.
It was…and it wasn’t.
It was about a man, alright. And it was very creepy. Gave me nightmares. Not the kind of book I think should be assigned to 12 and 13 year olds. I was an avid reader, though, and devoured books for fun. But, this one…it was the first book I’d ever read that scared the shit outta me despite the fact I could hardly understand it. I just knew the parts I didn’t understand would scare me all the more.
For example, in the first chapter named “Battle Royal” -a wicked example of understatement- a nameless “ginger-colored” boy, expecting to give a speech and receive a scholarship from some drunken white benefactors, is forced (after watching a naked blond women dance around) to fight 8 other black boys in a ring, all blindfolded, for the white guys’ amusement. Then, after blindly beating the shit out of one another, they were paid, but the money was placed on, unbeknownst to them, an electrified rug and they had to fight one another to retrieve the coins. Then, battered, bleeding and electrocuted, and subject to repeated interruptions replete with racial slurs and other insults of the lowest nature, including the editing out, under threat of violence, of the word “equality,” he was allowed to give his speech and receive his scholarship.
While public school kids were reading Huckleberry Finn and the The Catcher in the Rye (two of the greatest books ever written IMHO), at the behest of my teachers I was reading this book.
Even at that age I knew that I was not Ellison’s target audience. I was the wrong age, and probably the wrong race, too. Ellison was part of the Harlem Renaissance’s black intelligentsia, and this book was written in a style only fellow intelligentsia, or at least well-educated or well-read folk could fully grasp. His audience was white people.
At least I used to think so. Now I think it was written for thinkers of any race.
Ralph Ellison won the the National Book Award in 1953 for this novel full of surreal imagery and symbolism. It’s held up as one of the 100 greatest American novels ever written.
I still can’t read it without feeling chills. Without feeling myself disappearing into the eerie landscape of the dream world he’s produced. A dream world forged by the dehumanizing impact of living in a society racially charged predominantly by white hate and ignorance.
I’d seen this play out among black people, as well. Myself included. One time, in particular, stands out in my memory.
After University, there was an event in the US that polarized, racially, the entire country…virtually no one was excluded. No one was immune.
At the time I was working in corporate America, at a respectable company receiving, after commissions and bonuses, respectable compensation. I was an account executive, a salesman, and though I would come to hate the place, at the time I was content.
The company was actually pretty diverse comparatively, and the Sales department reflected this diversity. I had co-workers from several minority groups, (Latinos, Asians, Middle Eastern, etc…) and the whites represented a number of ethnicities (Italians, Jewish, Irish, etc…) Like my experience in the Army, we were all thrown together and expected to get along, only this time it was in the name of the only color that really mattered, the color of money: green. And, aside from a few minor bumps along the way, we did just that!
We were a happy group of Yuppies, Buppies and what have yous. Since the commissions were based on the group effort, we all bust our asses. Slacking was frowned upon. No one wanted to be the guy or gal bringing up the rear. We’d play basketball together, sometimes go drinking together. One of my best friends, til this day, actually sat right beside me.
Life was good.
That is, until this event…
It was June, 17th 1994…I was watching my home team, the Knicks, battling it out against Olajuwan (perhaps the greatest center ever) and the Houston Rockets, game 5 of the NBA Finals, and man was I pissed when this interrupted the game:
As far as I was concerned the fucker was guilty just for pulling this shit during the game! Watching that white Bronco cruising along the highway in a low speed chase, police in cold pursuit, all I could think was…well I’ll get back to that.
Needless to say, but little did I know at that time, that half of America was doing the same thing right then.
Nor did I know how the events that took place afterward would impact my life, and bring out the ugly in all of us.
to be continued…