Ok, so the text below is from the essay “Crazy Sometimes” by Leonard Pitts Jr. as found in White Privilege by Paula S. Rothenberg. It is amazing. We read it for Race and Nationality with Gunkel. Definitely, hands down, my favorite essay of the bunch.


It has been suggested–and fairly so, I think–that black people spend entirely too much time talking about race.  That we interject it into situations where it has no business, use it to explain slights that could just as easily be explained in other ways.

I can tell you why we do:  It’s because this thing makes us crazy sometimes.  Race, I mean.

A story.

A few years ago, Ted Koppel was conducting a group interview on the subject of race.  His subjects:  a group of white Philadelphians who had bullied a black newcomer into moving out of their neighborhood.  These people, blue collar, young, old, and middle-aged, had all kinds of excuses for what they had done.  They were worried about crime, they said.  About the woman’s effect on property values.  About what sort of neighbor she might have been.

Not one of them stood up and said, “By God, I didn’t want that woman here because I’m a racist.”  Had they done that, I think I’d have had more respect for them.

Instead, the group was impatient with the idea that because of white animosity, black Americans have it harder than others or deserve recompense for their sufferings.  Blacks, went the gneral consensus, have it as good or better than anyone.

Then Koppel asked a telling question.  How much money would they each require, he wanted to know, before they’d be willing to give up their white skins forever and become black?

Surprisingly, a man in the audience was willing to answer.  Fifty million dollars, he said.  That was the going rate for white skin.  That’s what he’d require to be black.  If he had fifty million, he told Koppel, “I could live anywhere I want.  I wouldn’t have to deal with any…”

And here there came a pause, a half-beat of stammering, at a word he didn’t qutie know how to confess.  That instant of hesitation told you everything you needed to know about why black people get crazy sometimes.  Because he finished his sentence with the word you knew was there, the one that was hiding all along behind the rationalizations, that gave the lie to him, his neighbors, and all their protestations and excuses.

“…racism,” he said….

Crazy sometimes. Crazy enough to give up.

Like the time a fourteen-year-old friend of my oldest son said, “I can’t get anywhere, because the white man is keeping me down.”  Fourteen years old and already convinced of his own defeat.

Crazy sometimes. Crazy enough to holler first and ask questions later.

Like the time folks in Washington went to war over a white bureaucrat who used the word “niggardly”–never mind that it meant stingy, cheap, tight, and had nothing to do with that word it sounds like….

The people who feel we stand in the promised land, having already overcome, enjoy hearing these stories.  The tales validate their notion that black folks operate on a hair trigger, with rage reserved like a Molotov cocktail carried in the briefcase, needing only a spark to become a bomb.  More to the point, stories like these support the argument that we talk too much about race, that we’re too ready to see its hand in innocent places, that we need to get a grip.

You cannot gainsay their arguments.  Indeed, they eloquently speak of the need for African Americans to refocus their struggle for the new millennium and to spend their moral capital more wisely than they have recently.  To be a little less crazy sometimes.

And yet…being crazy doesn’t make you stupid, does it?

Another story.

A white kid once swerved a car toward one of my sons.  The kid turned away at the last instant as someone inside the vehicle yelled racial slurs.

My wife, Marilyn, went to the house where these young people had gathered to talk with the adults….

But when Marilyn got there, about ten or fifteen kids were jeering at her from the porch.  And the mother of one of the children who had been in the car stepped down and chalenged my wife to a fight.  “I am so sick of you people,” she said….

And yet, in hindsight, the most troubling thing about that episode wasn’t the fatigue it left me with, nor even the fact that it validated my flinching.  Rahter it was knowing that, if you asked her, the woman who pronounced herself “sick of you people” would tell you, like those people in Philadelphia, that she had reasons fro the way she felt.  And that racism was not one of them.

Racism, for people like this, does not exist.  Or, if they concede it does exist, it can be explained away as rationality and common sense, not the atavistic stupidity it is.  Not racism, but fear of crime.  Not racism, but concern for property values.  Not racism, but…fill in the excuse.

So yeah, you get crazy sometimes….

You get called crazy, even when you’re not.

So here we stand, a generation after civil rights; more doors open, more opportunities available, and yet we have not overcome.  We have only learned to flinch on the one side and deny on the other.

Meanwhile, the nation frays along seams of culture, race, and class….

The Justice Department reports that, on any given day, one in three black men ages twenty to twenty-nine is under the control of the justice system, either incarcerated, on probation, or on parole.  After reviewing statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, Jerome Miller, founder of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives in Alexandria, Virgina, has concluded that by the year 2010, the majority of black men ages eighteen to thirty-nine will be in jail.

And yet black unemployment is down.  Black earnings are up.  Black test scores are rising.  College attendace among black women is skyrocketing.  Black teen pregnancy is falling.  And an unprecedented number of black women and men stand acclaimed by the white mainstream as role models.

Which picture tells the truth?  Blacks and whites would tend to point in opposite directions.  The fact is, both pictures are correct.  Together, they point to the unfinished business that remains between those who flinch and those who deny.

Because the truth is this:  Black people spend way too much time talking about race.

And white people don’t spend  nearly enough.