“Would President Obama lose your vote if he repealed healthcare?” asked Kenan Thompson on an episode of Saturday Night Live. To which Maya Rudolph’s character quipped, “I’d just wear a warm coat,” highlighting the tendency for black voters to continually support the first black president, or instead the “99.2% approval rating among all [black] voters”⎯ okay, I understand that these numbers are vastly skewed for the sake of entertainment, but one cannot argue with the fact that there is a clear disparity in political leanings across the nation, much of it split into socioeconomic and racial groups.
There I was: packed into the staff meeting room, Bloomberg 044, with a few dozen other passionate and interested writers, opening my mouth for the first time, pitching an on-the-spot idea for a potential story, at the behest of the Managing Editor. My friend beside me let out a faint gasp of disbelief. Without warning I had yet again confounded a prejudice that had been designed by my friend in an effort to offer the semblance of social concurrence between the two of us.
As a perceived “African-American” (when in fact I am Caribbean), it comes as a great surprise to others when they learn of my quite conservative political views, as it did to my friend. However, the question that loomed was whether this was the result of what is commonly referred to simply as “racism” or something more profound, and perhaps much more innocent.
If you take a moment, it is easy to notice the misuse of the term “racism” in everyday society. From childhood, I have known racism to be, in one case, the hate crimes of the civil rights movement, and on the other hand, the misunderstandings that particular social groups dig through wildly to find unintentional insults to their cherished heritage.
As a conservative, Christian, upper-middle class, half-Caribbean, half-Caucasian, prep school kid living in the suburbs of New York City, I never really saw the world as black and white, and perhaps for the better. I was born into both worlds, experiencing some of the benefits and obstacles of commonly faced by both white and black individuals.
When I finally grew up, sharing my opinions, for better or worse, I ran into the issue of the preconceived notions that limited the comprehensions of certain individuals. People in the “white” community usually flinched, or were at the very least weary of guessing my political leanings for fear of being ousted as the supreme racist, who, unbeknownst to the world, was making it his or her own purpose to assert their superiority and put me in my place. Members of the “black” community jumped much sooner to the conclusion that I must be their “nigga” and obviously concurred with their long held opinions based on the color of their skin and the idea of standing up for an invisible band of brothers that pretended to look out for one another.
Inevitably it was up to me to decide which I thought to be the more “racist” tendency. I think that in the long run neither of the two socio-political outlooks is in any way “racist”. Rather, the two views were results of schemas created by normal, innocent people to categorize the people around them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The looks I received in classes, and the subtle gasp from my friend were not instances of racism at work, but instead episodes of “exploding noema,” a term coined by German philosopher Edmund Husserl in the early 1900s, meaning the precise moment when the mind cannot differ between perception and reality. The exploding noema is a revelation in the making, a shattering of the conceptual schema that has worked for people for so long, whether founded upon experience or knowledge. At that moment, the gasp is not racist, but revelatory and crucial to the understanding and amending of the schema.
Looking at situations in everyday life, these schemas affect nearly everything, for instance when we all quietly sat in our bedrooms on our computers senior year of high school calculating our chances of getting into Princeton over and over again, testing different combinations, only to be disappointed at the results because, perhaps there was no option for “disabled, homosexual, minority, raised by a single parent” category, or better yet, “orphan, refugee, international, abusive foster parent, poverty stricken” selection. When we look at another person, we see and assume so much more than we think we do, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
If I were walking the streets of the Bronx at night, and were to see a young man, wearing baggy pants, a thick leather jacket, painted in tattoos, walking with a heavy swagger with flashy chains hanging around his neck, I may cross the street, and you may have the image of a black kid in your mind. Neither of these actions, crossing the street, or filling in the blank, is an inherently bad thing, and are completely normal and understandable.
Even if the young man were to be a Caucasian, Indian, South East Asian, Nigerian, or Middle Eastern kid with no foul intentions, could you blame me for crossing the street just to be “safe”? In the same way, can you blame my friend for being surprised at my political ideology when almost every other person with my features fits perfectly into her schema? You cannot, and should not.
Life is rampant with times where we are faced with contradictions to our beliefs, and often we must alter our schemas and search for a better understanding of the world around us. We’re constantly trying to fit everyone and everything into a group. But who is to say that there is a clearly defined way to categorize one another? Because at some point we are all proven wrong, and we need to rework our schemas. Instead, we might as well welcome Husserl’s exploding noemata with open arms, knowing that they mean our world is only getting more complicated, diverse, and exquisite.