1.15.2009

Baby Steps...

The NY Times' latest article on Race relations in America ends as weirdly as I've seen an article end in recent memory:
On the morning after the election, Kristin Rothballer, 36, who lives in San Francisco, kissed her female partner goodbye on the train while commuting to work. A black woman who sat down next to her turned and said she was sorry that Proposition 8, the amendment to ban gay marriage in the state, looked like it was going to pass.

“We grabbed hands,” Ms. Rothballer recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, I really want to congratulate you because we have a black president and that’s amazing.’ ”

“Our conversation then almost became about the fact that we were having the conversation,” she said.

Something moved her to apologize to the black woman for slavery.

“For two strangers riding a train to Oakland to have that conversation about race, it wouldn’t have been possible if Obama hadn’t been elected,” she said. “I always felt open with my colleagues, but to say to a stranger on the train, ‘Hey, I’m sorry about slavery,’ that just doesn’t happen.”

I... don't get it. I can't think of anything more awkward than walking up to a gay person and saying, "Hey, sorry about Prop. 8." Unless it's walking up to a black person and saying, "Hey, congratulations on Barack's election." Mind you, that's how the whole article ends... no commentary or guidance about whether I should start apologizing to black people I see on the sidewalk for slavery. Is that what they're doing in San Fransisco now? Weird.

7 comments:

Monica said...

Or like walking up to a Jew on the street and saying, "I'm sorry about the Holocaust." That's so weird. And, potentially, very offensive, too.

Casey said...

Exactly. Right??? So offensive.

fenhopper said...

i get the weird and awkward and naive bit. but why offensive?

Casey said...

Well, it's a gamble: you've got about 97% chance that it's not offensive if we're talking about black people and Obama, but try saying that to the 3 out of 100 black people that voted for McCain, and see about the reaction you get...

Monica said...

I think there's also something offensive about re-asserting the offence through the apology, perhaps? I mean, if I approach a black person I do not know and apologize for the legacy of slavery for which I allegedly share some kind of responsibility, I am, in a roundabout way, also reinforcing my own historical dominance as a white person....right? I'm in the position of power, and that is the only position that even enables me to make such an apology.

fenhopper said...

about the 3 mccain voters -- i can see that. tho i'm pretty sure they still think slavery was an injustice. but then i guess the offense comes from saying 'i know what should be important to you.'

about the reassertion of power. sure. that's possible. but then we're assuming the efforts of the apologizer -- and even if they're subconscious or unintentional -- offense comes with a lack of faith in sincere and sound apology.

is offense possible when you realize that no power is being asserted — neither knowingly or unknowingly?

Casey said...

I dunno, Fen... it's really an interesting question. I was losing confidence in my words about "offense" as I drove in to school this morning. I kinda thought you were right to ask, "What offense?"

I... am biting my tongue a little, but I don't know why right now. I'll try to do a post.