Wrong Neighborhoods

Back in the Nineties, while we were still living in Oregon, we had occasion to visit Los Angeles for a publishing conference. We borrowed Dad’s van for the trip south — unlike our Chevette, it had air conditioning — and stayed with a friend an hour east of the conference’s downtown location.

The van, alas, was not as roadworthy as we expected. One weekday afternoon, crawling back to our friend’s place on a Great Big Freeway during rush hour, the van began to stall. It wasn’t completely dead, but the slow speeds were killing it. We would pull over, wait five or ten minutes, and try again.

It was during one of those punctuated stops, on an elevated stretch of road, that we noticed the exit sign:

EAST L.A.

Oh, shit, we thought. This is the last place we want to be stuck with a stalled van.

We eventually survived the drive, safe and sound. But there was a long moment when we pondered our immediate fate as a Nice White Oregon Boy in the Wrong Los Angeles Neighborhood.

And who knows? In an alternate universe, maybe there’s a version of our story that ends with a wonderful adventure where all our preconceptions are proven hilariously wrong, where Nice Strangers leap to our aid, and we learn a Life Lesson about The Great Commonality of Humanity, meanwhile discovering a hitherto unknown craving for Street-Vendor Tamales.

It just didn’t happen that way, is all.

We like telling this story because it says more about us than East Los Angeles. It’s a story about a Small-Town Boy in the Big City, about ignorance and preconception and reputation. The joke is on Us, not Them.

The story came to mind while reading various defenses of John Derbyshire’s instantly notorious post. The Defenders weren’t necessarily defending the content of the post, but, like Dave Weigel, defending the post for revealing something we’d prefer to ignore:

Derbyshire is saying something that many people believe but few people with word-slinging abilities know how to say: There are differences between the races, and whites should watch out for blacks.

Or, if you’d prefer that in the form of a Dan Riehl sneer:

The left should be thanking Derbyshire for being honest — for confirming so much of what they themselves always seem to be saying. Yes, America still has racial issues with which to struggle.

And then it struck us — we’ve been down this road before:

“Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

The problem here is what we called “moral agency” back in philosophy days: You’re blaming somebody else for your own reactions. John Derbyshire isn’t a racist, but look at what those black people have done. Juan Williams isn’t a bigot, but look at what those Muslims are wearing. How can we not react as we do, given what those people are doing?

That’s not being honest — that’s being dishonest. With yourself.

It’s only human to feel trepidation among strangers — to feel like the moment you walk into a saloon, the music stops and all heads turn your way. Expressing that trepidation — that fear — is only human as well. Stand-up comedians make careers out of it.

It’s when you take the next step — blaming the strangers — that you run into trouble. And you run into big trouble when you take a step beyond that: Codifying the blame.

That’s when you turn into a Bigoted Asshole.

John Derbyshire didn’t perform a public service by expressing and wrestling with the irrational fears that plague us all. All he did was proclaim to the world that he’s a Bigoted Asshole. And if it took John Derbyshire to inform you that America is full of Bigoted Assholes, you need to get out on the Internet more often.

11 comments:

9:26 am • Monday • April 9, 2012

Tribalism is on the increase, in a public way, all over the world.

9:43 am • Monday • April 9, 2012

Been there done that.
I blame some of that on TV warping my perceptions. Most on being a small town boy done stupid. Like the time I visited Harlem or Watts or any number of places even in Canada City.

Yes, there are neighborhoods that are unsafe but they are if you’re stupid.

I knew a Dootyshire. I once called him friend, but after listening to too many stupid diatribes on how liebruls were wrong on Iraq I stopped hanging out with him. Several years later, he showed up with a mutual friend who was visiting. He nearly caused a riot when he proclaimed that his neighbourhood had too many darkies and he was going to move to a white neighbourhood. The only reason why he didn’t get punched out by six people (including me) was that we were in a bar. I told our mutual friend that he should never invite Dootyshire again.

10:10 am • Monday • April 9, 2012

I’m on the internet too often, and after reading comments here and there and on the National Republic and all that horseshit, I can’t take it, so I’ve stopped. I’m one of the targets of the venom and hatred. I’m part of the group under attack. It scares me, sure, but it also makes me incredibly sad.

White people can choose whether to interact with minorities (unless your car breaks down in a less than desirable neighborhood), but we do not have a choice when it come to interacting with the majority. Ever.

I receive enough pain, insult, even injury from daily interactions — the face-to-face kind — that I do not seek it out online. I can’t, and I won’t.

I’ve been to the SPLC site tracking hate groups (for a class I was in). I wanted to vomit. I still want to vomit. I hate this world.

1:15 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

Meanwhile

Two sources told WFTV on Monday that gunman George Zimmerman could be arrested this week, and that a Grand Jury will not meet on Tuesday…

State Attorney Angela Corey said she will not use a Grand Jury to decide whether Zimmerman will be charged for killing Martin.

Since I don’t watch L&O, is skipping the Grand Jury significant? Does this mean the DA SA is confident enough to make the charge on her own?

2:15 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

@nojo: From my L&O knowledge, which is not to be confused with actual legal knowledge, the grand jury is convened for the purpose of examining evidence to see what, if any, charges can be brought against a suspect. As for what circumstances preclude the calling of a grand jury, I do not know. However, 99% (99%? Yeah, that sounds good) of cases go to trial without calling a grand jury.

2:35 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

@matador1015: I read today that the Martin family does not want a grand jury convened either. I’m not sure why, assuming that the report is accurate.

A friend of mine, a law school prof who teaches criminal law, pointed out last night that, if Zimmerman’s story is true, he doesn’t need to invoke the Stand Your Ground statute but can rely on the usual principles of the right to self-defense.

2:38 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

Can’t edit for shit on this phone. Whatever.

I meant AZ Republic or whatever.

Just brought home elderly brain damaged and domestically abused (for 15 years) cousin incarcerated off his stroke meds who was one of a handful of blacks in his town. He told me he wondered where the rest of the colored folk were. They were in prison with him. The prison guards jerked me around for five hours before they released him. He was on only one of the seven meds he takes. For over two months. Broken glasses, broken dentures. Soon to be ex wife robbing him blind They split in 2006–his SSDI was being garnished for child support. Okay. Problem is, it’s still being garnished despite the fact he moved back into the house and lived there approx 5 years. So, you know what? People fucking suck on the whole. They really do.

2:42 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

@I’m passing for white: Best commenter-renaming ever.

3:07 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

I got sick on a family road trip in Montana when I was in the 6th grade back in 1972. I think we were looking for a place to stay when my mom or dad woke me up and said we had to move on because the people there didn’t like Indians. We drove through the night and were back in New Mexico the following day.

I have been back to Montana several times in the past few years on a case and have had nothing but very good encounters with the people there. I know how to deal with country people, so that helps. Over all, though, almost all of the racism I have experienced has been by rural native Hispanics here at home.

My “nice” predominately middle class Hispanic neighborhood had another death over the weekend. Some guy running from the cops ran into a stone wall and was ejected from the car. How fucked up must that be to wake up in the middle of the night to see your wall wrecked and a dead guy in the yard? The crash site, about two streets over from mine, is a block from where an escaped con from Arizona was captured last fall, which is on the same block where a guy was shot last year. I heard those shots when I was in the bathroom that night. On the other side of the park is where a guy got shot at a party because someone hated the music he put on.

@nojo: When I was an assistant district attorney, we had the option of doing a grand jury presentation at which the grand jury votes on whether there was probable cause (more likely than not that this guy did that thing) to bring a charge or I could do a preliminary hearing before a judge who would rule whether there was probable cause to support a charge. I liked doing a prelim better. The judge knew the law and I didn’t have to educate laypeople on the elements of a charge and the law. The DA would make the call on whether to do a prelim or take it to a grand jury. I believe the thinking was that we’d go to a grand jury when we felt we didn’t know what the outcome of a hearing would be, so we’d throw it to the grand jury to see what they thought.

4:33 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

AP updates and clarifies:

[Special prosecutor Angela] Corey has long had a reputation for not using grand juries if it wasn’t necessary. In Florida, only first-degree murder cases require the use of grand juries.

So, question answered. No Murder One being planned, but I doubt anyone expected that anyway.

7:35 pm • Monday • April 9, 2012

Add a comment