Posted by Curt on 20 July, 2013 at 9:14 am. 1 comment.



Slow news day so here’s a open thread with a primer. Richard Fernandez’s great post:

I remember the first time someone drove me around a low-income New York city neighborhood in the early 1980s.

“Well what do you think?”

“Think of what?”

“The slums.”

“Which slums?”

I was not being facetious. It was simply that everything we had passed would have been considered middle or upper middle class housing in the Philippines. This old memory came to mind after reading CNN’s article on Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the emotional hook of which is that he crosses the street to avoid making white women feel uncomfortable.

Cummings and Obama are no doubt sincere. One can never understand the peculiar inner life and experience of a black person without being one himself. But the statement is incomplete, simply because neither Obama nor Cummings can — by the same token — know what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes any more than they can walk in theirs.

Everyone crosses the street in his own way without being aware that others do too.

People who come to America from the Third World are completely astonished by such things as lights that work, faucets with water and roads that are paved, having sometimes never actually seen these things before. They often can’t tell the difference between one “white” person and another, Greek, Lebanese, Anglo and Jew being all the same to them. In many cases they don’t even speak English. The streets they criss-cross in their minds are many and labyrinthine.


I had a Jewish classmate at Harvard who told me a story about his dad, who was a doctor in Milwaukee but who had survived the Holocaust in Europe. One day his father took him aside and whispered, “son, let me show you where it is”. What could it be, he thought to himself. Intrigued he followed his father to a closet in which were a packed suitcase, some stout shoes, an overcoat and a hat.

“If they come for you, take this and run.”

He wondered for a moment whether his father, a respected doctor, had lost his senses. Later he realized that somewhere deep down inside his dad there was a scar that would never heal. In some corner of his mind there persisted a trauma from his youth under the Third Reich, such that he was prepared to make a run for it, even deep in postwar America. In the Milwaukee doctor’s mind the problem was less how to cross the street to avoid white women then how to sneak across border wire and keep one step ahead of the whistles and the dogs.

We cross many streets in our minds sometimes without knowing that others are doing so themselves.

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