Monday, June 17, 2024

It’s a ‘ME’ thing (some of my best friends are selfish)

published in Jan. 1996

We’re a racist society. You hear those words so often and so matter-of-factly these days that they’re rarely questioned, but charges of racism, even those with some merit, are often just a thick sheet of smoke that hides a far more reaching problem. We are a selfish society. It’s not so much the color of one’s skin as the inability to get out from under it that is responsible for many of our woes.

I’m a member of society, and I’m not a racist. All my friends and relatives are members of society, and none of them seem to be racist. But they’re selfish — every damn one of them — and so are the overwhelmingly white Nebraska Cornhusker fans who have cheered star running back Lawrence Phillips even after he had pleaded no contest to charges of assaulting his former girlfriend. He’s black, she’s white, but even more importantly to the self-image of Nebraskans, he can help bring another national championship back to Lincoln. Meanwhile, the victim is living proof of the down side of the “win at all costs” edict, and so she has been swept under the Astroturf.

Advancement has a funny way of showing itself, but let’s not dismiss the strides in civil rights that have been made in this country. Thirty years ago , blacks couldn’t use the same restrooms as whites in some parts of the country, but these days a black man can kill two white people and get away with it, so long as he can afford the best lawyers. Now, that’s equality.

Still, the stirrers of the melting pot always are looking to adda little spice, so they play up the negative. When Arizona citizens voted against a paid holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1992, the shouts of “racism” drowned out the reasoning that Arizona is full of elderly taxhaters on fixed incomes who would vote against a paid holiday for Christmas if given the chance.

The old want what’s best for the old. White people want what’s best for white people. Black people want what’s best for black people. This is a selfish society where the rich want to keep all their money, while the poor feel entitled to more of their own. People are insecure about what they want, so they just want everything.

If you come to your “secret” fishing hole and find a man with his line in the water, you’ll instantly dislike him, no matter who he is, because he’s taking away just a little bit of what was yours. I suppose if the angler was black, you’d call that racism, but really the negative feeling comes more from a general fear and mistrust of others. A lot of people who are considered racist really just don’t like anybody.

The public basically loves things that it can identify with. Women who just got dumped by some jerk love that Alanis Morissette song, while fans of felines laugh out loud at those stupid cat cartoon books. Meanwhile, the citizens of Dallas cheer for the Cowboys, while those in San Francisco root for the 49ers, regardless of the personnel, because those teams represent them, those sofa lumps who only touch a pigskin when picking up a slice of bacon.

The reason the horoscope is such a popular section of the newspaper is because, unless your name is Jim Bob Moffett or P.J. Harvey, it’s the only thing in the paper about you. George Carlin nailed this new egocentricity with a funny routine that traced the evolution of magazine names from populist themes such as Life and People to current exclusive and narcissistic titles such as Us and Self.

Whoever called the ’80s the “Me Generation” wasn’t thinking very broadly: The truth is that we’re residing in the “Me Millennium,” with the long and narrow road cutting across lines of sex, class, race, nationality, occupation and on and on. People don’t seem to care much about other people, period, but race gets most of the ink.

Once a year, it seems, a major news event or an overrated Spike Lee movie will force the race issue to the fore, and during 1995, it was the Simpson arrest and trial. During the famous low-speed chase, predominantly white crowds cheered on the white Bronco containing a black man accused of murdering two white people, and I thought to myself, “Well, at least they can’t cry `racism’ this time.” This handsome, well-spoken sports hero had crossed over so well to the “white world” that it seemed almost appropriate for a white cast member to portray him in the obligatory “Saturday Night Live” skit.

To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, however, no one ever will go broke betting on the race card. Johnny Cochran certainly beat the house, and

news organizations and networks have profited in fanning the flames. But the real problems never really are addressed because the malfunction is inside all of us. This is a self-centered world overun by useful oxymorons such as “reverse racism,” where politicians boast about their accomplishments and predict victory or run the risk of being perceived as soft.

Everybody’s looking for an excuse, from those on the psychiatrist’s couch struggling to understand how they turned out just like their parents to the street corner hustler who sells crack because at least he doesn’t have to ask if you want fries with that. Whenever hard-core liberals, black and white, cite a disturbingly high percentage of black males in prison, they never tell you how many are innocent, because that would screw up their tidy equation. What’s more, many in the equally close-minded, angry white sector still believe that women have babies to get more welfare, which is as ludicrous as thinking that a singer would commit suicide to sell more records.

It’s time to sink the slave ships that have made this society so queasy, but too many people are still aboard, refusing to trust the promise of liberation. People are afraid, and you really can’t blame them.

So don’t.

Instead, resign yourself to the fact that the center of the universe is inside every individual. We are a selfish society, with acts of racism falling under that umbrella.

But ask yourself two things: If this was truly a racist society, why would so many white people love Michael Jackson, an African American who was accused of molesting a white child and ended up paying the kid to drop the charges? Also, why would so many black people stand by the singer, who has gone through incredible lengths to look like a white person?

Also, if this society is indeed consumed by the disease of racism, with white supremacists training for a race war, then why is Simpson still alive?

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