walking-in-dark-street
From my Facebook post this morning: 

About Mark Cuban’s remarks: Whether it’s perceived as insensitive or not, being aware of our surroundings and making quick, often instinctive judgments of those around us is not inappropriate. It’s called survival, and if you don’t keep sharp you’re that much easier a target for somebody who wants whatever they think you have. When did instinct become prejudice? I don’t wear ear buds so I can hear what’s going on around me, especially footsteps. I look at who’s around me and I take precautions. To do otherwise is to invite harm. I also don’t cover my face unless it’s raining, and when I’m in a store I keep my hands out of my pockets so the clerks don’t think I’m there to steal anything. I have no intention of sacrificing my instincts at the altar of sensitivity. I’m only 55, I’d like to get another 30 years in. And that’s that.

I saw a news item on TV this morning about Mark Cuban’s recent comments and was struck by how immediately and damningly he was condemned, especially on social media as the piranha of the Twitterverse smelled racist blood in the water. However, there was nothing racist in what he said. He was expressing, however indelicately, what anyone with any sense in their head knows: that there are threats out there and we all make judgments quickly and instinctively as a means (I would say ancient) of self-preservation. If you don’t have enough wits about you to cross the street when you see someone you perceive as a threat, you’re a fool.

Our conversations (if outrage in 144 characters can be called a conversation) now center around the sensitivities of the hoodie class, whatever their skin color might be. These men (and women) have a right to conceal their faces, and I’m a bigot if I don’t acknowledge it and wade into their midst whistling a tune and going my merry way believing they mean me no harm.

Instead of another conversation on race, we ought to have a common sense conversation on the realities of being human and how our appearance, gestures and facial expressions are constantly signaling others information about us. If you cannot see my face, you have every right (and every expectation as a creature of instinct), to be distrustful of me. If I look like someone who might harm you, please assume that I may be!

I make a conscious effort to signal other people all the time. I keep my hands out of my pockets if having them in my pockets might create a negative perception of me (or get me shot by the bank guard). I’ve often had women tense up, ever so slightly, when they’re alone with me in an elevator or on a deserted street. I hope they do! I try to signal that I’m not a threat because they have every reason to think I am until we’ve passed each other a safe distance.

And perhaps from my experience growing up gay, I knew I had to be on guard, whether in high school where other (white) boys might physically or verbally assault me, or during my many encounters in my 20s in dangerous places with people who might be dangerous. I trust my instincts, and I have no intention of abandoning them at the altar of cultural sensitivity. Distrusting anyone who conceals his face, whether as a fashion statement or because he’s a criminal, comes naturally to most people and is not a sign of racism. It’s a sign of sanity, common sense, and the hardwiring we all have (no matter how much we might wish it away) to survive as a species.

Among the saddest parts of this latest faux racial indignity is that Cuban went on to claim his bigotry, which I don’t think he had any reason to do. The thought police, the word police, the cultural sensitivity police are everywhere and growing so loud that rational dialogue is almost impossible now.

To demand I assume you’re harmless when your appearance and gestures suggest otherwise, is to demand I abandon the very things that have helped me survive. Not gonna happen.