Race Against The Machine

I’ve done it. I have invented a machine that gives you the power to change your race.

I know! I am as surprised as you are, given my complete lack of scientific and technical knowledge.

But now, with the mere push of a button, you will no longer remain confined to the skin color, hair texture, or facial features assigned by your DNA. Please mail my Nobel Prize and large cash award at your earliest convenience.

Want to try it out?

While the Race Swapper 3000 (working title…I’m open to better ideas) warms up, I have to give you several warnings so you don’t sue me in imaginary court when the shit goes down.

  • Once we switch you over to your new race, your life expectancy changes—for better or for worse. As does the likelihood you’ll be diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, or HIV. Your educational prospects are altered. The total amount of money you’ll earn in life skews dramatically, depending on your choice. Contingent upon the direction in which you’re swapping, all of this is either an amazing or terrible consequence.
  • Your present sense of ethnic pride will mutate into pride for your new racial identity. So, if you’re currently proud to be, let’s say, Irish-American, you will instantly be just as proud of being Ghanaian-American…with the caveat that you won’t actually know if you’re Ghanaian, Kenyan, or Senegalese, in most cases. Given the strange absence of certain American genealogical records from 1619-1865, if you choose “Black,” you’ll just have to be proud of being Black.

Note: a number of white people will use your pride in being Black as justification for their pride—or more to the point, vocal assertion of their pride—in being white. They’ll ignore the reason you can almost never trace your specific ethnic, regional, or tribal lineage, while they can almost always trace their own. They know exactly why, they just don’t care.

  • Just in case you haven’t consumed media or spoken to another human in the last few decades, please understand: your chance of interaction with the criminal justice system dramatically increases or decreases based on your new race. As does the chance of surviving such interactions.

Pro tip: any race other than white winds up on the bad side of this sliding scale of justice.

Ready to give her a try?

To be honest, I doubt many people of any race would take me up on such an offer.

Ask most people, and they’ll say, “Yeah, I grew up [poor, rich, fat, skinny, Black, white, immigrant, native], but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It made me who I am today.” Very few of us would swap for a different set of life experiences. It seems disrespectful to your family to even consider it, in fact.

But I have no doubt plenty of non-white people would gladly trade for a set of white problems. Namely because white problems are decidedly less lethal.

I don’t think Daunte Wright would have traded his 20 years of experiences for those of someone else. Not to say his life wasn’t hard. Or easy. Or good or bad. I have no idea. But I’ll wager anything he would have swapped his problems—especially those with the criminal justice system—with the problems of the average white person.

And if he could have done so, statistics say he’d still be alive today.

Yes, angry white friends from high school. If Daunte Wright was white, he’d still be alive, even if he ran from the cops. Or killed a bunch of people in Bible study for that matter. Or walked down the street shooting people during a protest. Hell, even if he stormed the Capitol with a few thousand friends in a wild search to literally hang the Vice President of the United States.

I can say—with statistic if not literal certainty—that if Daunte had been white, he would have survived his encounter with the police on April 11, 2021. He might have not even had a run-in with the cops that day at all.

Same goes for Rayshard Brooks, who fell asleep in a drive-thru and was confronted by police. In the chaos, he snatched the taser from an officer’s hand and ran away. As he tried to flee the Wendy’s parking lot on foot, the police shot him twice in the back.

I have a white friend from high school, “Bob,” who once got shitfaced at a bar. Bob drove drunk to a burger joint, and promptly fell asleep in the drive-thru. He understandably got arrested for this bad decision. His parents bailed him out, and he was handed a DUI and a hard lesson.

It’s true, Bob didn’t try to grab a taser from the arresting officer. He didn’t run.

He also didn’t happen to have the same skin tone as Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, or any of the other Black people who ultimately complied with the police and got killed anyway. Jumping from the balcony is illogical. Unless, of course, the building is on fire.

Given the chance, I think Rayshard would have gladly swapped problems with my old buddy Bob. Getting arrested sucks, but getting shot twice in the back is a lot worse.

Likewise for Daniel Prude, who had a mental health episode and was restrained and asphyxiated when the cops placed a “spit hood” over his head while restraining him during his arrest. He’d likely jump at the opportunity to swap problems with my white fraternity brother, “Sam,” who had a drug-induced breakdown one night after a party.

When Sam started talking gibberish, threatening people, and taking wild swings at partygoers, I tackled him. We called 911 for help, just as Daniel’s own brother did. A few of us gently held Sam down until the police and ambulance arrived. Then, the EMTs peacefully escorted him to the hospital for treatment. His parents met him there.

It was a hard day for Sam’s family. That being said, it was a lot less difficult than going to the morgue to identify his body.

Or take George Floyd, for whom the mere suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill led to his death at the hands of Officer Derek Chauvin. I’m sure Mr. Floyd would have readily traded problems with me.

I once accidentally wrote an $8.08 check when I had…let’s say, “less than $8.08” in the account. I was charged with a misdemeanor—issuance of a fraudulent check—for that accounting error.  Yet, in spite of that transgression, I’m currently writing this essay from my balcony, not from the afterlife.

I can attest: life goes on after committing a nonviolent crime, pleading guilty, and paying your debt to society. Well, my life went on. I was embarrassed and slightly poorer, and that was pretty much it.

The same cannot be said when a policeman kneels on your neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, holding you down long after you’ve stopped moving. Long after you’ve stopped breathing. All for the mere allegation of a petty financial crime.

I’m not saying being white means life is rosy. I’m white, and my life is chock full o’ problems. I have had to overcome plenty, just like everyone else.

My life is often hard. But my life is never hard because I’m white.

Take note, white friends: our lives may be difficult, but they’re not difficult because of our race. Other people absolutely cannot say the same. And that fact ethically requires our recognition and deference as members of the caste that wrote the rules to our own benefit.

Okay, all warmed up. The machine is ready to go.

In a “post-racial world,” this machine would be pointless. No one would ever want to try it, because swapping to a different race would have no effect on anything at all. White, Black, Asian, Latino, Indigenous…it shouldn’t matter if society is “colorblind,” a thing which only white people ever say.

And while I can’t tell you if anyone at all would use it, I can tell you this: not a single white person would ever choose to permanently swap lives with a person of color, a Black person, or an indigenous person. Zero. You know it, they know it, we all know it.

The fact that such a statement is 100% self-evident implies that, in our society, being white is preferable to being other races. Not at all better. Just preferable. It’s that way by design.

Being white means you’ll live longer, make more money, be healthier, and get a better education.

And when you stumble, when you get drunk, when you have a mental breakdown…or when you pass a bad $20 bill or write a bad $8 check, you’ll at least live to make amends and do better next time.

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Want to read more now? Try this one: There Ain’t No Doubt, I Love This Land. Or maybe you’ll like this one: Blink And You’ll Miss Yaupon Season. I personally like this one: I Did It My Way (And Failed).

5 thoughts on “Race Against The Machine

  1. Thank you for writing this, Rickey. I know the term “white privilege” raises the hackles of a lot of (white) folks, but this line from your post speaks volumes: our lives may be difficult, but they’re not difficult because of our race. Other people absolutely cannot say the same. And that fact ethically requires our recognition and deference as members of the caste that wrote the rules to our own benefit.

    Keep up the great writing.

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked it. I hope it pisses off the right people, encourages the right people, and makes anyone who reads it at least think for a minute or two.

  2. Pingback: Nobody's Fault But That Brown Guy's | HITTING THE TRIFECTA

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