Granting my summertime birthday wish, my three teens deigned to spend time with me floating on rafts at a local quarry, playing a version of 20 Questions. Each of us would think of a person—any human being on the planet—and the rest would have 20 questions to guess who it was.
Shia LeBeouf. Bill Gates. Leo DiCaprio. Robert Downey Jr.
Round after round, I began to notice how frequently we drummed up white males.
“No more white males!” I ranted, playfully. “Come on, people! Get creative!”
As we were playing, a black teen from my kids’ school swam over and joined our game. (Polite, savvy, he chose the same kinds of “people” we were choosing.)
The data rolling off our tongues—among one black, one Indian, and three white folks all raised in America—confirmed what I suspected: The message many of us have inadvertently internalized is that to be a person is to be an American white male. The insidious, hidden assumption is that everything else—having too much melanin, not enough testosterone, or speaking a non-English language—is somehow less than fully human.
Questioning Our Assumptions
That Dylan Roof massacred nine black people in Charleston five days after our trip to the quarry is, as Austin Channing Brown has noted, the “logical conclusion” of the white supremacist ideology exposed in our little quarry game. (Other victims of the same wily logic have been Middle Eastern, Latino and Asian.)1