the Change I Wish to See

...and whatever else it takes to find my pants

3.21.2007

the Amazing Race

So my focus has been on the promise of equality as one meant to guarantee chance or results. Current legal structure, with its concerns - both rational and absurd, accurate and incomplete - of reverse discrimination lends itself to this allegory:

A king hears of a land he recognizes as unacquired. He sends a ship, instructing its captain to stop miles shy of its shore. The captain's orders: throw a naked white man and a naked black man into the ocean. The goal? The first to make it to shore gets to lead a new nation. If there's a tie, they both lead. But there's a catch. The white man is dropped into a boat with an oar. The black man is dropped with a boulder chained to his ankles.

The winner should be obvious. The white man, though stranded in the middle of the ocean without fresh water or food, paddles his way to shore. There he finds all the resources he needs for survival. But overwhelmed with his new power, he claims all he sees as his own, confusing leadership with ownership, and stamps his mark upon the landscape with ash and mortar. As leader, the white man decides the new regime is to begin immediately. He doesn't wait for the black man to surface.

The black man is in a paradox. He can choose to quit and drown, realizing his escape would most likely require superhuman strength or transcendent mental ability; his success nothing short of a miracle. If he is blessed enough to be armed with either, his arrival at shore will be met with hierarchy; he will not be the ruling class.

Somehow, the black man makes it to shore. The miraculousness of his perseverance is ignored, and so he soon forgets it himself. He is late, so he's slow. He couldn't figure out how to win the race, so he's stupid. And he is still naked, dripping wet, so he's a raw, sexual being. He is treated accordingly. Who wants a slow, stupid, sex fiend to have power over anything or anyone?

Eventually, the nation is confronted with the notion that its past of oppressing the black man and his descendants was erroneous. Some say it's because benevolent whites sympathized. Some say the blacks demanded it. Some say both possibilities are true and incomplete. Nevertheless, the nation promises "from now on, things will be done differently."

But the black man still carries his boulder.

---

An ever-present problem with current legal structure is its literalism. It forgets that even if the black man survives and makes it to shore, the boulder is his existence. It is the evidence that he arrived late; that his power is determined by the white man's, whose arrival was timely; it is his mark of ineffectual intelligence, if any; it is the reason why he should be grateful to have been included at all. Perhaps most telling, it is suggestion that some great power intended him to have lost. And he wears these ideas on his skin (an indicator as much for those who see him as a personal reminder). If he keeps this facade, he is Stokely Carmichael. If he sheds it, he is Michael Jackson.

What is the promise of only looking forward if that gaze is affixed with old eyes? Eyes that remember the black man's arrival as late, invasive, at best functionally necessary... One could perhaps argue we could return to that original beach. But when we draw a line in that sand, and say, "The race for opportunity starts here," whether there is at that point a false start is not the sole issue. We must also note that one is still latched, dragging a weight the other does not.

How can we run beside you if our legs are tied?

2 comments:

Nina said...

beautifully written and grossly sad.

f.B said...

sad, but not meant to be hopeless. the last question is supposed to be difficult but non unanswerable. we just have a lot of work to do