No Serious Consequences

Isabel Wilkerson so deftly put into frame and focus the experience of Black Americans, I wondered as I read what the obverse of that coin might be. What do White people – and other non-Black people – experience when they interact with Blacks?
It occurred to me that while my family did not utter anything dismissive of Blacks, let alone racist, the society I grew up in was very dismissive. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I challenged my students to look at the Life magazines in the back room of the school library and go to the back issues from the 50s to see how many African-Americans they saw portrayed there. I found in all my junk one day an issue of the NYT Book Review and with that in mind, leafed through it; the only mention of Blacks was an article on South African history concerning British exploits there.
This missing persons effect is often depicted by showing a photograph of a group of people with one figure edited out, replaced by a white space. I wonder if any artist has ever given us such a painting of our society with that missing figure.
Such dismissal has the effect of weakening in people the normal thing we call empathy, the “that could be me” sense. I’ve always mentioned the practice in the 40s in Virginia newspapers when reporting a fatal car accident, of putting in parentheses after the names: (colored). My take on it is that they were saying to their serious readers, “pay no mind, nothing of consequence here”.
That can transfer into the emergency room where aggressive efforts may not be made in the case where the patient may be of “no consequence.” A student’s request for leniency for an infraction of school rules may be met with indifference as to the consequences of disciplinary action for that student  because he is of “no consequence.” Lose a scholarship? Him? Seriously?
Because I’ve interacted with so many Black people on various levels, from intimate to casual and social, work-related and recreational, I examine my feelings all the time. And I fight against the inbred reaction of “no consequence.”
What aids in that fight? I don’t feel that way about family members, friends, anyone I know in a personal way. We’ve all seen team mates, school mates, work mates, grieving over the loss of a Black comrade. We must remember, the slave holders also wept and grieved genuinely over the death of a “beloved servant.”

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