Wearing the Black Star

America has changed less radically in the last 80 years than has Germany, but it has changed nonetheless and in essential ways. We no longer legally discriminate. But we have not allowed those who wear our own version of the yellow star, those whose skin color makes them “black” ( a word that means different things to different people, the only common thread being ancestry from “dark-skinned” Africans), to entirely take it off.

Read my essay in the current Eclectica. Let me know what you think.



About Thomas J. Hubschman

Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird, Billy Boy, Father Walther’s Temptation, The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service.

Posted on April 8, 2014, in Other Thoughts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Like you,Tom, my education in history did not include the genocide on which America is built. Nor do I remember any in-class discussion of the deep roots which remain. I do remember the 70’s and the courage of those – both Black & White – who fought & often died for equal rights. But I don’t think many people appreciate how pervasive that racism still is. You describe what must be the awful pain of facing it daily even in a multi-racial place like New York today.

    I do have one thought about racism, however, to add to the assumption that it is immoral and arrogant. Anthropologists estimate that we humans have the capacity to related to about 160 others as close members of our community. We also seem to be born with an instinctive fear of differences. This is quite possibly a survival mechanism. We see something strange about anything from a new vegetable to a new animal to a new person, and our instinctive response is fear. Babies reach for their care-giver, children reach for someone familiar.

    Even as adults, when we see someone wearing a skull cap, or a burka, who is walking strangely, or has hair on his in an unfamiliar pattern, we are careful. And rightly so. Our cultures are different, we have different assumptions about what is correct, or what various signals mean, many of them incredibly subtle and of which we might not even be aware, that we send or receive.

    So I suspect that racism, at the core, is based on a fear that we have been unable to face or process. Instead we kick out at what we fear and try to destroy it.

  2. Don’t you think, though (I don’t mean to imply what you say means you don’t) that any prejudice is learned. The mechanism may be there to fear the unfamiliar, but what gets identified as the strange is a cultural thing. Babies really are without inborn prejudice. I marvel sometimes at how willing they and young children as well are to accept everyone as just people. In my own warped way I keep thinking, ‘But, can’t you see they’re black?’. Which is not to say, of course, that the child should be thinking that. It’s just that I am never free of thinking it when I talk to or otherwise interact with a brown-skinned person. Consciously I understand the child shouldn’t and doesn’t share my prejudice, but that prejudice — if only of insisting on a “racial” identification — is very powerful. Not something I’m proud of, nor would I wish my friends of less pale complection to be aware of in me, though I suspect their own antennas are just as sensitive, for good reason.

    It really is a kind of disease, and Americans all suffer from it to some degree, though young ones much less than us older folk. That’s why we can’t get our fists and and legs out of this tar baby. We can’t see beyond it. If a reasonably thoughtful, non-racist can’t stop categorizing people into “racial” identities (and it doesn’t end with skin color), what hope is there for those who do even less thinking — people like our politicians and our intellectuals?

    • Let me begin with a story, and then I will add my caveats. My husband and I once got a dog who was about a year old. She was smart and loyal and an excellent guard (as opposed to attack) dog. One day after she’d been with us for several months, we were watching the evening news when a Black journalist was making a report. Our dog got up, walked up to the television screen and growled. We were astonished, and asked the breeder if she could explain it. We were told that the young dogs often played in a yard facing the street, and that several children from the neighborhood used to come over and throw rocks at the dogs. The children were Black. Our dog, we discovered, was deeply “prejudiced,” and for the rest of her life we had to be extremely vigilant in the presence of Blacks, especially of children.

      Obviously, our dog’s responses were learned in response to a real danger. But the response was also instinctive – a survival response in the face of perceived danger or attack. Our dog processed the evidence as she perceived it — apparently Black skin. That, of course, was the wrong evidence to generalize from, but as a dog, Black was the best sensory evidence she could process. We are not surprised when a human child also responds simplistically to such sensory data, sometimes positively (mother’s face or the breast or bottle) or negatively (a stranger, or an object or noise,for instance).

      I think our human prejudices are also both instinctive and learned. The instinct is that we respond to what we perceive as a threat to our well-being or even to our very survival. But we have a huge capacity for learning, and for better and worse, we are taught by our caregivers to fear some things, and to embrace others, so that we do not have to learn everything through direct experience. We are taught not to put our hand into the fire burning in the fire place. We are taught not to parade outside without any clothes. We are taught not to get into cars with strangers. These are important survival behaviors. Unfortunately, we are also taught responses which are no more valid than are the responses of our dog.

      I believe racial prejudices are as destructive as you do. But they are not just the result of White colonialists against Blacks. Slaves were sold to the traders in boats by other Blacks. Tribal warfare in Africa today is still real. And though White explorers have sometimes been met with friendliness, sometimes they have been met with deadly hostility because they were perceived as dangerous – quite possibly in the same way a lion looking for his daily feed may have been perceived.

      Of course, once one group or culture gains the upper hand, the next step is to believe that is due to an intrinsic superiority or moral goodness. That’s what Americans did in relation to slavery. It’s been done the world over – from China and Japan to Nazi Germany to Latin America.

      Racial prejudice is arrogant, it is ignorant, highly destructive of both perpetrator and victim, cruel, and despite the support for slavery by Christian churches, highly unChristian, not to mention scientifically unfounded.

      But I think we need to understand its roots in an instinctive impulse for survival. Because we will not eliminate it solely with social disapproval or moral dictates. I approve of both these, but these are not enough. Without a deeper understanding of the source of our prejudice, we will simply drive it underground.

  3. Apologies for what is probably a late response to your comments, Terry. For some reason I’m no longer getting email notices of new postings.

    Thanks very much for your careful, considered thoughts.

    I’m interested these days in the way my own prejudices, which were only generated after my youth, have taken root and, to my embarrassment, persist despite all my conscious attitudes to the contrary. In that sense I do accept the idea of prejudice as a kind of virus. But the fact that my own prejudices seem to be the product of my adulthood seems to indicate a causality, erroneously based but causal nonetheless, exists for them — such as expecting the behavior of a few members of a group to be that of all of the members. There’s a logic there, though based on a fallacy.

    • Like you,I have discovered that prejudice often is not simply the result of bigotry or intrinsic racism. As I said earlier, I think it is tremendously important to understand that because if we don’t, we will misunderstand its cause, and so how to reduce it, both in ourselves and others..

      As I said before, prejudice is most often a result, as you put it, of expecting the behavior of a few members of a group to be that of all the members. That might not be scientifically valid and in that sense, it may be “irrational.” But it is often a valuable survival response. I think the challenge is not to dismiss our concerns about danger from potential sources, but to recognize that generalizing from a small number may be completely unfounded.

      But I think it gets more complicated, when our “prejudices” are realistic. Some parts of a city ARE more dangerous than others. Murder rates ARE higher in some places than others. Whether we call them freedom fighters, jihadists, or martyrs (Christian or otherwise), people who hold some beliefs ARE more dangerous to one’s well being than are others.

      We can try to solve that problem the way the RC Church did through the Inquisition and execute anybody who holds what we consider dangerous views. But that doesn’t work, does it? If it did, America would be the most popular country in the world in places like Iraq.

      Ach, if only understanding the problem was the same thing and knowing the solution.

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