DARE TO ASK: Personal space, race: Touchy topic
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Most people accept being bumped into as part of living in a busy metropolis.
But every time I bump into a black person, they get extremely upset and start
yelling. What's up with this?
Mark, 49, white, New York
Blacks have a greater sense of personal space and take it as an aggressive
act to bump into someone and then not apologize.
G., 43, black male, Phoenix
It may be the way people treat some blacks: as if our feelings don't matter,
or as if a little annoyance here and there isn't a big thing.
Christine, black, Hartford, Conn.
Many blacks know whites are basically afraid of them. They like to intimidate
you and probably would back off if you became aggressive.
Sam, white, Fort Myers
Black folks have so many issues with white folks that the last thing they
want is some white dude bumping into them who doesn't have the manners to
Bella, 33, Afro-Caribbean, Washington, D.C.
A large number of blacks, especially well-off blacks in big cities, view
themselves as "victims of racism," so every accidental bump is elevated from
"whoops" to "racist assault."
Ann, 38, white, Kansas City, Mo.
"Bumping" and "shoving" in the Big Apple? How quaint. Try facing down a
Hummer for a parking spot at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Fleming Island. Or
knowing with a heavy heart you'll need to clothesline an 11-year-old to get
positioning for the last iPod nano allocated to your Circuit City.
If we must talk about these folks caroming off each other up there, we might
as well do it with Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, an African- American
known to comment on race and culture in America in a Pulitzer Prize-winning sort
Using race as the chief variable for who gets miffed when jostled is dubious,
Pitts argues, because it's just one characteristic - albeit the most visible -
among many that differentiate people, including class, education and upbringing.
Yet there may be something to that some dub the "black tax" - an extra burden
African- Americans shoulder just for being black, piled onto all the usual
worries like kids, high gas prices, a jerk boss, etc.
"It demands an extra pound of flesh . . . so there can be an undercurrent of
anger in some African-Americans, where they expect the worst until shown
But other minorities have obstacles, too, no?
"Let's just say my forebears came here to oppression, whereas other
minorities came here to escape it.
"We [blacks] are trying to make a life among those who oppressed us. It's
like going through a bitter divorce but still being in the same bed."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.