I guess this might come as a surprise to Black people, but in my experience white men spend essentially zero time thinking about race and race relations. It's just a total non-issue.
A reasonable response to this fact might be something like, "It's easy to say you don't think about something when it isn't a big problem in your life."
Such a response makes a lot of sense. For example, few people spend a lot of time thinking about getting a particular illness until it directly affects them. But, to a person with cancer, illness literally becomes an immediate life-and-death issue.
On the other hand, living in a place like Oakland forces every one of us to subconsciously deal with race every day.
Like many cities, Oakland is virtually color-coded. It's a largely segregated city, with Black regions in the West and East of the city, Hispanic areas on down International Blvd, etc.
Anyone who looks at the statistics knows the risk of being victimized by crime is also a color-coded situation. I remember reading somewhere that, if a Black and non-Black man pass each other on the street, the Black man has 1/500 the probability of being assaulted by the non-Black as vice-versa.
Knowing facts like these, it would be irrational for a white man to ignore race when walking around Oakland.
Still, there is a big difference between a cognizance of race in potentially dangerous situations and having a worldview that says your race is the key defining characteristic in your life. The former is an ongoing background process akin to avoiding being burned by a stove. The latter seems much more omnipresent in people's minds.
And, it''s this latter view, combined with extreme racial sensitivity among guilt-ridden non-minorities, which makes the East Bay such a strange place to live.
In the 10 years that I've lived in Oakland, I actually think this state of affairs has served only to move my gut instincts in a more racist, not less racist direction.
So many people here are so quick to find the racial explanation for everything they see that I no longer have any patience for such arguments. And, being constantly confronted by this "us-versus-them" mentality makes it hard not to view yourself as part of your own racial "team" -- an attitude that pushes one inexorably away from viewing people as fundamentally equal.
The thing that brought this topic to mind today was J Douglas Allen-Taylor's latest article in the Berkeley Daily Planet.
Incidentally, Allen-Taylor's article appeared above a house advertisement for how the Daily Planet embraces free speech and all different viewpoints. This is very funny to me, since it's so obviously that they censor conservative viewpoints. The East Bay does have conservatives. Maybe the Daily Planet would do better if they asked a couple of us to write for their paper.
But I digress. Allen-Taylor's article discusses the "African-American/progressive coalition" which drafted Ron Dellums into running for mayor of Oakland. He talks about Councilmember Jean Quan as having an "Asian American" base of financial contributors.
Just for fun, I started using Google to do image searches for the list of people Allen-Taylor discussed in his article. Pretty much every single person he said clearly good things about is Black -- Ron Dellums, Barbara Lee, Sandré Swanson, Keith Carson and new police chief Anthony Batts. Allen-Taylor seems more skeptical of Quan, and he doesn't seem to like Phil Tagami (who doesn't look Black to me), Gilda Gonzales and Ignacio De La Fuente.
Now, to be fair, Allen-Taylor is largely reporting the views of others in this piece, so this tendency probably has less to do with him and more to do with the "African-American/progressive coalition" he's describing.
But, I've called him on this question of race bias in the past, and he has more or less admitted it when it comes to his support of Dellums. My recollection is that he argued that there's nothing wrong with one Black guy supporting another. Of course, I'm sure Allen-Taylor would write a pretty unflattering column about me if I said my plan in 2010 was to vote for "the white guy."
Some people might make an argument of the sort that says, "when you're a hammer, everything you see looks like a nail." So, if you're Al Sharpton, you're going to frame everything in racial terms, because that's what you do every day.
I guess that makes sense, but then it makes me wonder why people feel like it's beneficial to them to view life through this lens. It's not like nuclear physicists feel the need to analogize all their social interactions to neutron collisions or some such silliness.
No, I think it's more likely that people frame their thinking this way because they get something out of it. For leaders, I think it gives them access to a set of unwavering, bordering on unthinking, supporters. Such was the case last November when Blacks voted 95%+ for Obama. In Political Science, a 55%-45% victory is considered a landslide. To my knowledge, they don't have a word for a 95%-5% victory. Such results are usually only seen in banana republics.
The rank and file must get something out of it too. Perhaps it's some sense of belonging, or maybe the concept of racial identification is seductive because of its simplicity.
But, in truth, when a set of people spends so much time talking about race, they themselves are the ones who lose out. There are more compelling and interesting things in life to be dealt with. Skin color is not one of them. It just isn't.