Roger Marolt: All lives should matter. Unfortunately they don’t
We were BS-ing over beers, which we rarely did, and I was emboldened in the rare moment of outside-the-foul-lines camaraderie. “How long would I survive in inner-city New York?” I asked him and a few of his black friends.
The laughter was as legitimate as it was spontaneous, like they couldn’t control it. I was laughing along with them, not completely sure why. I had made a good joke that I didn’t fully understand. The tears in my eyes were as much from embarrassment as vigorous guffawing.
“You’d be alright,” Dre said as he got his breath back. “You’re so clueless they’d feel sorry for you.” They would affectionately call me “clueless” for the rest of our college days together.
We were teammates before we were roommates, so living together for a year was an arrangement of circumstance more than choice. We had time commitments in common on the field, in the cafeteria and at study hall, so it made sense. The fact that I came from a mostly white rural Colorado upbringing and he from a predominantly black Brooklyn one was not a big concern for me. I imagine it might have been a bigger deal for him. He didn’t have much choice. The odds were high he was going to be rooming with a white guy.
Growing up in the apparently enlightened community of Aspen, I was certain I was not a racist. My illogical conclusion came solely from the fact that I had never been around black people. I recall this and cringe. Had I considered myself progressive because I hadn’t had interactions with minorities? Was I actually inadvertently admitting without realizing it that, had I spent any time with people of color that there might be reason to be prejudiced, like then it would have been justifiable? That immature reasoning rolls around in my head now like a loose object in the back that slams into the sides when I turn.
Even in Aspen in the 1970s, jokes about black people were common on the playground and, of course, we used the “n-word” for effect. Polack jokes were popular. Blondes and Catholics didn’t escape the collective sense of humor. References to Jewish people being cheapskates were often used. Sure, we were just kids repeating what we’d heard. 12 year olds weren’t making up those “jokes.” When the issue of bigotry came up, it was easy to prove to ourselves that we weren’t racists because we interchanged races, creeds and nationalities into our humorous anecdotes. We included everyone. This part of my childhood has been more problematic than I have let myself admit.
Sometime toward the end of the first semester, Dre told me that I needed to stop acting so weird by basically tip toeing around him. It made him uncomfortable and I should just treat him like I did everyone else. The takeaway was that racism isn’t just being ugly, cruel and insensitive. It is every form of treating minorities differently, including being overly sensitive toward them. In my increased consciousness I had been sending the message that I saw my roommate as being different, a person who needed to be treated with care. Was I more concerned about proving to myself that I wasn’t a bigot? Unbeknownst to me, I was a “benevolent racist.”
We have a conundrum in the abolishment of racism: We must not treat any group of people differently, but in order to not do that we have to recognize groups of people in how they are different. In other words, you cannot possibly claim to be colorblind and then set out to help a black man.
The solution would seem to be setting aside the recognition of any group of people for any reason. The way to do this of course is to treat every individual, regardless of race, creed or color, with equal respect, love, and justice. If we feel we can tell a white man to go to hell but could never say that to a black man, even if he deserved it, the answer is not to go ahead and tell the black man to go to hell to make him feel equal. Rather, it would be to forgive the white man for his transgression and give him a hug, and then turn around and hug the other man, too. As for now, saying “all lives matter” is a blatant lie or a sign that we are clueless. The truth is “all lives should matter”. Unfortunately, too far too many black ones don’t. That’s why we need to focus on saving those.
Roger Marolt is proud to say that the first protest march he ever participated in was for Black Lives Matter. Email him at email@example.com.
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