When the topic of race comes up I will often hear someone, usually a northerner, say something derogatory about the “deep south.” This always annoys and amuses me because, having lived both in the south and the west coast, I am convinced that California is by far the most racist state in America.
I could share a couple dozen stories on this. Like the time a couple years ago that my daughter and I went to see Superman on a Friday night. The place was packed. Most were there to see their childhood iconic hero beat the villian. It turns out that a few came to mock a silly white guy who walks around in tights.
Four hip hop dressing youths sat in the front row and heckled the film loudly. From the first frame of the movie they were clearly on a, “This would be a good night for a large brawl in a movie theater with some white folk” mission. After 15 minutes of listening to their very loud deconstruction of the movie along racial themes, the gentlemen sitting next my 9 year old daughter bit.
Clad in his Mervyn’s-esque denim shirt he confront them with something like, “Would you gang-bangers please behave.” He gave them the excuse they needed. Standing up and turning around they started spotting ford letter words in a torrent of pent up hate.
Chaos reigned. I literally made my daughter duck under the seat.
The police came. Things settled. No one was thrown out. Some people left. Somehow we made it through the movie.
I was very mad, scared and annoyed but also confused. Something about the situation was more complex than I could put my finger on at first. Slowly, I started to see the situation from the point of view of the mockers. Then it happened.
Half way through the movie, for the first time ever I saw it. SUPERMAN is so WHITE he is see through.
Could his pants be any tighter? People complain about hip hop teens showing their underwear. Superman wears his on the outside of his clothes. He has the most extreme white bread demeanor I have ever seen. He makes Mr. Rodgers look like a gangster. He is worshiped by a very nerdy throng of middle to upper class white people.
To these kids from the south side of Sacramento Superman is not a hero but a joke.
A joke so cruel that it produced hate. Living in literally stinking neighborhoods this image of Mr. White Perfectness with his all powerful life represented something that provoked them to the core.
If I grew up poor and black and I saw a room full of 40 year old comic book junkies worshiping a guy in tights, would I be able to resist mocking them? No I probably would not. I would probably yell and laugh and challenge this white underwear on the outside of his pants WASPY god man and his sweater vest wearing fans.
To them, this was something ridiculous. Silly. Frustrating.
Not that seeing this point of view made me less upset at them. At the same time I was seeing Superman for the first time as a white icon I was also furious nursing anger for these teens. Beside them personally, I was equally mad at their parent, schools, the especially at the Hip Hop culture the glorifies violent confrontation. I was sure that their anger was going to provoke violence and that my 9 year old daughter would be caught in the cross fire.
Deep in thought and filled with anger I missed the movie. I can’t even tell you if Lex (even the super smart villains are whiter than white) or Superman won.
While departing the multi-plex I heard the Mervyn’s dressed guy remark loudly, right behind the mockers, “Don’t worry, they’ll all be in jail soon anyway.” The mostly white comic book loving crowd nodded their heads.
Another black kid who was with two white teens and not with the mockers, turned to the man, “What do you mean by that? All black people go to jail?” His tone was angry but controlled.
“Seems like most of them do.” Was the man’s response.
A strange moment came next. No one said anything. We all just hurried away. We were all too afraid that literal brawl was about to take place. Instead we ran to our cars, scurried into our homes and locked the doors behind us.
The above story is not isolated. I have been in hotels, and gas stations and schools where racial slurs flowed freely. Hispanic on asian, asian on black, black on white, white on hispanic. These moments of tension, disrespect and ignorance are not hard to find here. I truly believe that California is the most racist state in America.
As more racial sub groups grow in population size here we do not always grow more diverse in the best sense of the word. Sometimes we grow in suspision and hate and isolation as racial issues become more complex because of competing sub cultures. Perspective, poverty, lazy and ignorant thinking is in ample supply and no one group has a majority of the market.
The point – Even though we have a black president elect, we are still a long way away from racial reconciliation. This racism isn’t just in just in the deep south. It is in the bluest of blue states.
I strongly believe that by electing a black man we have made race relations better. The images of his children growing up so close to the seat of power alone will change how we think about what can happen in America.
However, we have also made things more complex. Do not pretend. Do not think that race issues are isolated to some old white geezer on a front porch in Mississippi. No not think they are a simple as electing one man.