White Guy Finds Racial Politics Puzzling, Again

Wallace Matthews, in an article titled “Racial issues part of Vick backdrop,” in today’s Newsday, writes that “there still is a sizable portion of the American public that believes none of this would be happening” if Vick were white. Matthews goes on to say:

“Speaking as a middle-aged white male, not particularly a dog lover but of the belief that breeding, encouraging and just watching two animals fight to the death is in some way depraved, it hurts to know that there are some who think I would feel differently about the Vick situation if he were white.

It hurts even more to admit that in some way, maybe they are right. Maybe race does play a role in everything that happens in this country. For my own sanity and peace of mind, I choose to believe not. I think – and I hope – that Vick is going down solely on the merits of his case.

Clearly, there is hypocrisy in a society that is more outraged with Vick than, say, Brett Myers, who was charged with smacking his wife in full view of witnesses in downtown Boston, or would seek to ban Vick from the NFL while embracing Ray Lewis as ‘God’s Linebacker.’

But that doesn’t change the fact that Vick’s crime baffles the sensibilities to the point that you wonder if there is something seriously wrong with him. Don’t tell me about his upbringing or his environment, please. Unless he was raised by Charles Manson or Son of Sam – both white men, by the way – he would have to know that executing dogs was wrong.

That would be true if Vick were black, white or pinstriped, and you would hope that everyone would see it that way.

But the Vick case once again exposes the great racial divide in this country, in which people who interact daily, conduct civil conversations with one another and even regard each other as “friends” can look at the same individual, the same incident, and see it completely differently.

It reminds us that this ‘one nation under God’ is, in fact, made up of White America and Black America, and sometimes it seems as if there are certain issues we will never agree upon.”

There’s really so much that’s misguided, confused and just plain offensive, in Matthews’ piece it’s hard to know where to begin to discuss it all. As an easy get, let’s start with the fact that Matthews resorts to referring to the racial identity possibilities for Vick as including “black, white or pinstriped.” Now, I know that Matthews is a New York-based sports writer, but when did “pinstriped” get to be a racial identity? Is that a reference to the Yankees or to people who are biracial? At the very least, it suggests a lack of understanding about racial politics in the U.S.

I think what is most telling in Matthew’s piece is that it “hurts him” to think that “race does play a role in everything that happens in this country.” And, for his “own sanity/peace of mind” he choose to believe that’s not the case. Remarkable admission, really, when you think about it. I suggest that Matthews consider the kind of racial privilege he enjoys that allows him to ignore racial politics at his leisure and affords him that kind of “sanity/peace of mind.”

After comparing the Vick case to the O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant cases, Matthews continues:

“At times like these, it becomes obvious that black people and white people fear and mistrust one another far more than either group cares to acknowledge. We seem leery of each other’s motives and intentions. Each group seems to think the other is out to get them.

To my white, middle-aged mind, the Vick case is as clear-cut as they come. In fact, the prosecutors must have had plenty more on him for Vick to accept a plea without going to trial.

Yet, to others, this is one more example of how The Man has brought down another rich, successful, young black celebrity. To them, the prosecution of Vick is really a persecution based on race and wealth, a McCarthy-like witch hunt for a minor offense no white man would have had to answer for.

It is understandable that Black Americans, justifiably mistrustful of the police and the justice system, would believe Vick to be just another victim of a racist society. We all have seen enough evidence, from the Scottsboro Boys to Rodney King, to know that such things can and do happen. And it is conceivable that dogfighting, so abhorrent to many of us raised in the Northeast, could be shrugged off as another form of rough entertainment, like boxing, to those who grew up in the South.

But none of that absolves Vick, who has lived a life of wealth and privilege for a long time now, who had run his dogfighting operation for more than five years, and who certainly was aware enough that he was doing something wrong to have kept it a secret, and lied to his employer and the NFL commissioner when asked about it.

No, Vick wasn’t set up and he wasn’t railroaded. By his own admission, he did the crime. Now he will do the time. When his time is served, he deserves to get what every American is entitled to: another chance.

At the very least, perhaps all of us, black and white, can agree on that.”

Matthew’s stance in this piece is really a triumph over cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, he acknowledges in a dozen or so ways the deep, racial divide in this country and the fact that Black Americans would do well to be distrustful of the white establishment. Then, on the other hand, when racial politics make him uncomfortable (for whatever reason), this threatens his “sanity” or “peace of mind,” and can then be chaulked up to an ill-defined, inarticulate paranoia about “The Man.”

So, what we have here is a self-described “middle-aged, white male” in American finds racial politics puzzling. Nothing new in that I suppose.