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Jewish World Review August 18, 2000/ 17 Menachem-Av, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice -- DURING one of those sensitivity training sessions led by a woman in flowing clothes, dangling earrings and comfortable shoes, the following question was hurled at us, "You have just entered a reception. There are people of color (trainers use "people of color" because they don't believe in race except for affirmative action purposes). You don't see anyone you know. Which person would you speak to first?"

The clear implication was that we backward white folk would stick with other white folk. However, I volunteered to the trainer, who I am certain still has Care Bears on her bed, that I would talk to the hired help first, even if they were Kryptonites, because I am always more comfortable with them than I am with the dweebs who frequent obligatory receptions. The trainer told me my answer was wrong. She couldn't fathom that we monolithic oafs of prejudice don't use race as a screening tool.

The trainer knows the great perpetuators of the racial divide: build guilt, accentuate differences, and demonize some groups while elevating others. The sensitive sleuths of the media, trainers and other profiteers from the racial divide toss labels and data about so easily that they have tied everything from cancer rates to debt defaults to racial inequality. I would not be taken aback if Frank Rich wrote a column linking Halley's Comet's infrequency to prejudice inherent in the solar system.

I am weary of the accusations of prejudice and the media fixation with race. The New York Times just completed a series called "How Race is Lived in America." Fifteen stories running two full pages in the A section, not including the front-page teasers complete with photos of "persons of color" and a white guy (Anglo) from Houston, documented everything from whites not being good at hip-hop to the problems of being a white quarterback at a Black college. The series culminated with a Sunday magazine spread comparing a "Black kitchen" with a "White kitchen." Blacks buy fewer brand-name paper towels and less diet soda. Blacks buy Philadelphia brand cream cheese and whites buy the store brand. Both buy Star-Kist tuna and Campbell's soup. Whites prefer Prego spaghetti sauce and Blacks prefer Ragu. Whites use Mennen stick deodorant and Blacks prefer Degree.

Fortune magazine ran a story called, "What Minority Employees Really Want." They want higher pay and recognition for their work in the form of promotions. These findings are as opposed to white employees who enjoy pay cuts and demotions???

This past week a reader in Mesa, Arizona complained that as he watched the firefighters training at a local athletic field he was dismayed that they were "White, tall and buff," with no women or "people of color" in this monolithic crowd.

There is a common thread in these racial revelations- an alternative explanation. Perhaps Black and White employees are not so different. Perhaps firefighters are chosen on the basis of physical skills, not race. The ideal firefighter in my book is someone who can get me out of a burning building. Mini Me suffices so long as he does the job.

Racial tension continues because of these stories alleging separatism, attaching labels and handing down group indictments. Truth suffers to perpetuate the racial divide. Even compassionate George W. was wrong in his confession to the NAACP of the Republican party's shortcomings as the party of Lincoln. The facts appeared in National Review. Demon Republicans outnumbered the Democrats on votes in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: 82% of Senate Republicans voted for it vs. 69% of Senate Democrats; 80% of House Republicans voted for the Act vs. 63% of House Democrats.

I have racial fatigue because I see what we have in common in our rugged individualism Ragu might be better than Prego. "Persons of color" and even Republicans have their views on garden style vs. meatless. The Times looks at the kitchen along racial lines and worries that Blacks buy generic paper towels. I look at the kitchens and see that, unfortunately, tuna and Cream of Mushroom soup plague us all.

The now-Pavlovian responses of guilt and separatism create feelings of hopelessness over the great racial divide. I had a former student complain that recruiting Black executives to Phoenix was difficult because they had to assure candidates or candidates' wives that there were hairdressers good with "Black hair" here. There are few businesswomen or wives of executives who wouldn't fret about hairdresser loss in moving to a new city. Hairdresser concerns know no racial bounds.

Hairdressers, bartenders at receptions, sauce and deodorants are the ties that bind. We are one in our shyness and sweaty bad hair days. Common ground might replace the racial divide if the media could stop their facile labels. Their obsession clouds their perception, distorts their facts, and unfairly assumes that prejudice abounds. The prejudice lies in their refusal to see beyond race.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings