Growing up white in the post Civil Rights era pushed racists into the closet. And they have done a good job — until now — hiding their true colors.
My name is Andrew Pridgen, and I am one racist-ass motherfucker.
Hard to believe, right? A white kid from Marin County who grew up with every access and advantage known to man — mother, a vice president of a giant nonprofit, father, a fair-minded attorney — could have such feelings of contempt, of inequity…such a grave misunderstanding of the world around him and the people who occupy it.
But there it is.
It was almost coded in. Coded and then reinforced by a community separated from the rest of the world by the invisible gate of affluence.
There weren’t only white, upper-middle-class Catholic kids at my high school, but we were the ones who created the dominant culture and everyone else kind of shut up and fell in line. The school valued athletics first, academics second and arts…well — somewhere in the backdrop. And, as a little warped as it sounds, that created a space for everyone to be equals on the field or on the court. So from my point of view, my friends who were of different colors or backgrounds were no different than me because we all wore the same uniform.
But, I’ve come to learn that that’s the equivalent of a guy coming home from his commute getting filled with daily bread of hatred courtesy Glenn Beck, or Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh or whoever the fuck that shiksha whitehead on the chin of the dark lord himself Tomi Lahren is and then saying he’s got no problem with his kid having posters of LeBron James on his bedroom wall. It’s this sort of tacit two-facedness that only perpetuates the problem.
I grew up in a post-Civil Rights era when white people especially learned that you couldn’t just shoot off your mouth in public like grandpa used to. All the seething, all the smarm, all the discomfort with the changing world — maybe even one’s own family turning shades darker with each passing generation — had to be voiced on the DL.
In fact, it’s been about 50 years and racism and intolerance not only dominates the conversation in this country, but now that everyone has a platform (social media) it is mainlined into our psyche with every swipe of the finger.
The problem is, the white guy isn’t doing such a good job hiding his disdain anymore.
We all know that thugs is the replacement for the N-word. We all know that #alllivesmatter (besides having too many l’s in a row) is just an attempt to debase the fact that black people in this country still aren’t being given a fair shake and a #blacklivesmatter movement is necessary.
We all know the entire Republican party has been hijacked by a fringe of fear-mongering, gun-clinging, white supremacists whose every cause — be it attempting to dispel the notion that our first black president was, you know, actually born here to gut-wrenchingly supporting a lump of coal of a man who is one part carnival barker, one part low-level con artist and one part prodigal son with a giant Mrs. Dash pinch of Satan himself — is race-motivated.
They have given too much power already to an undiagnosed melanoma on the right cheek of America’s backside whose every rally, every tweet, every little spittle fleck of searing-hot orange pizza grease that comes out of that venomous maw of his, is 100 percent inciting hatred, dividing the populace and doing so by pandering to a base of vengeful, hot-headed Caucasians — who at long last are experiencing a bit of discomfort in this country and expressing themselves in the most harmful way imaginable — by rallying around him.
His suggestive tactics are meant solely to corral those who have been thinking bad thoughts about how things are going — and legitimize them.
Even though the nominee of hate, as oafish and clownish and misinformed as he is, doesn’t seem to be a formidable threat to take up residence as the most powerful leader on earth, the fact remains he has steamrolled everyone so far with anger, lies and hyperbole (remember, he had to hire actors to come to his campaign kick-off only a year ago.) So it is time to be scared. Very, very fucking scared. Yes, Hitler-level, code-red, all-hands lunch frightened.
I am no innocent. I have said and done some things to people who are different than me that I am not proud of. Just after 9/11, I nearly didn’t board an airplane when I saw a pair of men who “looked like they were from the Middle East” queue up just ahead of me. I’ll give you one guess at the kinds of words that have come out of my mouth when cut off by a driver of Asian descent. When a black man, usually an athlete, doesn’t deploy proper grammar in a press conference or speaks in colloquialisms from where he was raised, you know I have shaken my head in dismissive disbelief. At the same time, when a down-home white country hardballer does the same thing, I shrug and laugh along with the good ol’ boy.
I have subconsciously under-tipped servers who were not my same shade, and when I drive through the Salinas Valley, my hands clinch at the sight of workers doubled over all day so I can have extra lettuce and tomato on my double-double as I wonder to myself how many are documented.
All this, while knowing that my son who rides by with me in his car seat and sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, is the great-grandson of migrant farmers.
Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor from Georgetown, wrote an editorial in the Sunday Times talking about white people and how they view blacks in America. “At birth, you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture or intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege, they are status, regardless of your class. The greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over.”
Case in point: I almost got pulled over the other night. We were headed back home from my girlfriend’s birthday dinner and I was the DD. We had enjoyed a two-hour meal of excess. Rounds and rounds of shared small plates. Dishes like black bean fritters, bacon-wrapped dates, pork-shoulder tacos, gnocchi with wild mushroom and lamb…all prepared using locally sourced ingredients. The dainty portions garnished by the faint salt water breeze under a canopy of dangling white lights across from the Mission in downtown San Luis Obispo.
The cop ended up stopping the guy behind me. It was luck of the draw as he and I were both going about the same speed. But was it simply luck? I didn’t get a look at the other driver, but he was in an older looking sports car, low to the ground. For my SUV-driving self, at worst, it would have just been a ticket and a quota-filling fine. An inconvenient end to an otherwise stellar evening. No hands on the steering wheel. No search of the car. No me having to get out and get fleeced. No hoping against hope the cop he had a working body cam on so things wouldn’t get too out of hand. There was a zero percent chance of me getting thrown on the ground or taken to jail. Zero. I drove on with confidence knowing that. It’s how I was born. It’s how I grew up. It’s how I live.
The thing is, I am starting to recognize the difference. Please, please, please believe me when I say that. Please know I am trying, with every fiber, to do better, to be better. To show my son we are in this together not through words, but through actions. Dyson wrote, “You do not know that after we get angry with you, we get even angrier with ourselves, because we don’t know how to make you stop, or how to make you care enough to stop those who pull the triggers.”
He’s right. Right now, I can’t do much to stop that from happening. But I can start with me.