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Let's Talk

By tt stern-enzi · March 21st, 2007 · The Alternative
I've been working on a book project over the last few months. Much of my time has been spent reading and re-reading the email exchanges between my wife and me during our Match.com courtship.

For nearly a month, outside three face-to-face dates, we communicated daily (several times a day in fact) online largely due to the fact that she went on a two-week, end-of-the-summer vacation with her family in the Northeast. Rather than simply relying on our cell phones, we chose the seemingly more old-fashioned means of writing to one another -- if email can now be considered old-fashioned.

The unintended result was we ended up with a documented paper trail to follow, if you will.

And it leads all over the map. Music (she's a singer), movies (I'm a film critic, so go figure) and all matters of life and love were fair game -- although, looking back, it seems we tended to avoid the most obvious topic (race) for a black man and a Jewish woman.

We had both specified in our Match.com profiles no racial preference.

You can't take the Northeast out of either of us -- the sense of a blended world where everyone lives and shares cultures and experiences in the streets and in their homes. Race accents the language of each and every daily exchange in ways that seemingly render the rest of the country mute.

As a society we're quick to talk about class, but race factors into the discussion only after seismic events rock our radar. Police brutality against black men -- well-documented here in Cincinnati, in Rodney King's Los Angeles and in pre-9/11 New York City -- had the nation on the defensive with our overly rehearsed denials clipped into neat sound bites.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and Mississippi, and Kanye West proclaimed President Bush doesn't care about black folks -- yet again the redundant phrases raged like muddy waters littered with a few random images of White House officials embracing black faces.

Or were they struggling to hold us under?

We talk about race when it matters least, like whether American Idol is racist or whether it's appropriate to say that Sen. Barack Obama is an articulate man. No one rushes to defend Sylvester Stallone, who also happens to be an articulate and thoughtful man, when "Yo, Adrian" impersonations start flying out the sides of our mouths. Where's the love then?

It comes down to what we know about race and what we know about each other, the intimate details of personal and national history. Allow me to admit my own personal bias, but I believe there are more black folks with dual majors in race relations -- and I'm talking about more than just having a basic cultural pass to cross between the 'hood and the 'burbs.

White kids riding the main line buy into Hip Hop as a cultural phenomenon, but what do they know about the history of black folks? To be fair, we need to ask what black kids today know about the history of black folks.

Too often I hear the kids I work with saying that this or that topic doesn't matter to them because they can't relate to it or the experience is too foreign. The refrain is tired before it finishes falling out of these babes' mouths because it's certainly not new.

The majority of white America utters a similar sentiment about black folks, black experiences and black culture. Hollywood execs feel they can't export "urban films" because the global market is unfamiliar with these experiences and unwilling to spend their time and money on something they wouldn't find entertaining or enlightening.

Bringing this line of thought back to the interpersonal level, it seems we all desire mere reflections of who we are at this given moment. We want someone like us, someone who understands, someone to take for granted, a vote we can count on before it's cast.

Even within our communities, however, we're divided. There's little common ground to be taken or given, and it most definitely isn't free.

Allow me to admit to another assumption: Black folks talk about these intra-racial concerns more than white folks. On the surface, the reasons are obvious -- I mean, why would white folks talk about being white? What's the point?

In so many cases, there's no real counterpoint for comparison.

But I spy on you when I'm out and about. I watch couples and groups interact in restaurants, on the street, in bookstores and movie houses, and I try to imagine the conversations that take place, especially when you see me with my wife, when you recognize us as being different. Different from you. Different from the norm.

I see the signs of recognition. Recently my wife has begun reading the tea leaves, too.

And as we've begun to share our discoveries, our unique perspectives clearly affect our visions. While I'm attempting to wiretap the white psyche, she breaks down the suspicions and frustrations of black folks who cross paths with us.

We don't immediately recognize or seek reflections. Rather, we see the Other and in turn see ourselves through their eyes, and as we talk we begin a process of redefinition.

Our individual selves become more fully realized as a result, and so too do we as a couple.

Let's talk.

CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letters(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here in the third issue of each month.


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