As my Sunday ritual dictates, I arose to seek fresh coffee and the local Sunday newspaper. The only difference being that today, I had to share my DDT (and coffee of course) with my sister who was visiting me from Seattle, WA.
Being a gentleman, I offered my sister the front page of the Delta Democrat Times, (hoping that it would not offer some horrid tale of child abduction or a "Conoco caper"). She silently perused the front page for a few minutes and then quietly asked, "What are black lawmakers?" She paused and went on to read me the headline, "Mississippi hosts conference of black lawmakers".
Being from the Delta, the headline didn't seem unusual or ambiguous to me... at least until I tried to answer her question. Before I could utter a reply, my sister sharply inquired, "Should I assume that black lawmakers are those who make black laws?" I had to smile a bit at this, knowing where this conversation was probably going.
All I could get out was "Well, no...", before she folded the paper, removed her eyeglasses, glanced up at me and proclaimed, "It appears that Mississippi has made little progress over the past 100 years. Why is it that everything has to be labeled 'black' in the south?" A bit dumbfounded at first, I quickly realized where Sis was going with this debate... the problem was, I couldn't answer her question.
Several hours later, after my sister had departed for the airport, I had time to reflect on the essence of our conversation. It dawned on me that she was actually appalled at the term "black" lawmakers!
I picked up the DDT and stared at the headline and a question came to me. How would replacing the word "black" in this headline with any other adjective (such as white, Hispanic, gay/lesbian, Catholic, agnostic or HIV+) affect its newsworthiness? Better yet, why not leave out all racial, ethnic and cultural descriptors and simply boast that Mississippi will host national lawmakers?
Why? Because we are still a very segregated society for all of our strides toward equality. I think that my sister's indignity was that we still use labels, such as "black" to differentiate each other. Are the political issues of health care and housing restricted to "black" Americans? Are the plagues of poverty and inflation exclusive to the "black" population in our country?
Here's the real issue. By distinguishing "black" lawmakers, we imply that they are in some way "different". Isn't that what we implied in the 1950's with the designations of "White" and "Colored" restrooms, water fountains, schools, building entrances and restaurants?
At this moment, my sister's indignity hit me square in the face. As long as we label groups by their racial, cultural or spiritual beliefs, we are asserting some inequality... otherwise there would be no reason to differentiate. So why, in 2006, do we still see black and white?
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I got to see one of my favorite classic movies, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". In it, the gifted actor Sidney Poitier angrily addresses his father over personal views stating, "that the difference between you and me Dad, is that you see yourself as a black man; I see myself as a man".
Before the movie's end, even Spencer Tracey, a die-hard liberal of the printed word, nods to himself in acceptance of true racial equality in our society, and quietly mutters, "I'll be a son-of-a-bitch!"
Well, Sis... I guess I will be too!