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To be African American is to be perpetually exhausted by race

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

Ed has had enough.

"I'm simply tired, tired and tired of hearing about race," he wrote last month in an email. He signed himself a "former racist" and in a postscript, wanted me to know that he used to have "a black friend" with whom he ate breakfast on workdays.

Take Ed as an example of the pushback that comes when you grapple with America's original sin, as happens not infrequently in this space. Invariably, some people -- almost always white people -- will declare themselves well and truly fed up with the topic. "Tired, tired and tired," to borrow Ed's words.

And Lord, where to begin?

In a nation of mass incarceration, job and housing discrimination and resurgent white nationalism, Ed and people like him think the real issue is how race makes them feel? It is hard to even imagine the level of cognitive myopia that allows them to suggest that while missing the glaringly obvious. To wit: If race is so fatiguing for a white man to hear about, what do you figure it must be like for a black man to live?

"Tired?" Give me a break, Ed.

To be an African American is to be perpetually exhausted by race. It is to be worn, wasted, spent and drained from the daily need to prove and defend your own humanity. And it is to be tired of people like Ed telling you how tired they are. I could happily spend the rest of my life not talking about the great American pastime of assigning denigration, derision and disadvantage by color of skin. But I don't get that luxury so long as America continues to pursue that pastime. And the hits just keep on coming.

Take July, please: In Hudson Valley, New York, security at the Angry Orchard stopped a black man three times to falsely accuse him of shoplifting a T-shirt. This, as he was proposing to his girlfriend. She was in tears by the time they left. At a convenience store in suburban Chicago, a clerk told a Latina customer she was "in the wrong country." At the University of Mississippi, news broke of a photo showing three white male students posed with rifles next to a bullet-riddled marker at the site where Emmett Till's body was fished from the Tallahatchie River. In Peoria, Arizona, a white man allegedly cut a black boy's throat because he felt "threatened" by the child's music. In Raleigh, North Carolina, a white woman called two black women the N-word at a restaurant. Asked by a reporter if she understood that what she said was "incredibly offensive," she replied with perfect equanimity: "Yes, I do. That's why I said it." And then there were those weekly eruptions of presidential dyspepsia.

 

But Ed is tired?

Not to pick on Ed. He's just the guy who happened to drop one last straw onto the camel's back. But there were many straws already there, each placed by an indignant someone, righteous in their ignorance, demanding to know when we can finally, finally, finally stop talking about race -- as if we do so because of some strange tic in the African-American psyche that makes us see inequality and oppression where there is really starlight and rainbow unicorns.

In the meantime, there goes July. And here's August with more of the same, guaranteed.

Ed is like a man who curses the fire alarm but ignores the fire. Indeed, the Eds among us are always more vexed by the discussion of racism than the reality of racism, his "black friend" notwithstanding. Frankly, if the energy they put into resisting the discussion were put into changing the reality that makes it necessary, the discussion would soon wither away. There'd be no need for it.

Maybe then we all could get some rest.

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(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)


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