Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Everyone's A Little Bit Racist...
or, The Tale of My Little Negro Friend

Today is Blog Against Racism Day. (It's also Support World AIDS Day; click on the virtual-ribbon button for more info.) I've always believed the first step in combating racism (and lots of other -isms and prejudices) is recognizing it in ourselves, becoming conscious of it. Of course, one doesn't necessarily want to be too hyper-conscious, and compensate for that "oh my god am I being racist now?" paranoia by acting all PC (in its original sense).

So what comes out is a bit of a balancing act, which goes something like: You realize you're in a situation with a stranger who's Other than you, and a teeny part of you is uncomfortable because they're Other and you don't want to be seen as being uncomfortable because that would be obviously racist but oh no it's too late because your reptile brain has already acknowledged their Otherness which you can't help because it's right there on the surface and there's no way not to notice something that's surface but you need to fucking relax about it because they're just a person too.

And this all happens in your brain in like a split second.

But it's okay. Because when you were a little girl and the other kids hated you and mocked you because you were Jewish and fat and a crybaby but mostly Jewish, your bestest friend whom you called a boyfriend because that's what little girls do sometimes was a lovely Negro boy named Michael Cook. And you adored him and were proud of adoring him because you knew it made other people uncomfortable to see the two of you together and weren't you so much more enlightened than they were in having a friend who was a different color than you (no, I didn't know from a word like "enlightened" then but I felt it anyway). And first and foremost he was Michael, no question about that. But secondly he was your Little Negro Friend, because he could be, because you felt good and right and proper having a Little Negro Friend.

PC at age 7. I think that (and singing the song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" over and over because, my God, I understood prejudice pretty early thanks to my classmates) kind of set the tone for how I'd deal with other people later on in life. Even Republicans. :)

When I was first getting to know comic book professionals, I became friendly with Christopher Priest (ne Jim Owsley) and we had a number of email discussions about racism, which usually began with him remarking something along the lines of how he hated the feeling of getting in an elevator and seeing, out of the corner of his eye, that some women almost instinctively clutched their purses more tightly. And I told him the story of Michael Cook, and from then on Jim was the new version of My Little Negro Friend, which created much amusement for the both of us when other Usenet rac* participants couldn't figure out what "MLNF" meant. And I still call him MLNF, because he can be, because it feels good and right and proper having a Little Negro Friend again when we're all adults and Past All That but Not Really because... well, because everyone's a little bit racist. And you fight it with knowledge of your own stupidity and shortcomings, and you fight it with efforts to become a better person, and you fight it with humor.

I often wonder where Michael Cook is now.