A Brief Aside on Race
Recently, while working as a Production Assistant (read: generalized grunt) on a low-budget commercial for online poker website “UB.com,” which is apparently quite popular in Puerto Rico, I was given the job of taking one of our “actors” to the hospital. I saw “actor,” because, due to said budgetary restrictions, this football-themed spot was using actual football players to play a football team – in this case, Valencia’s College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita’s preeminent community college since 1969, who knew?) varsity football squad, appearing as themselves as far as I could tell. This stood in stark contrast to what I saw while working on a Jordan Brand spot in July, where the “high school football team” you see was composed of primarily 25-29 year old actors (although many were former small college players now trying to act, some were just large actors. ).
ANYWAYS, situation thus established, it was around 11pm when I was called on walkie-talkie, and told that I would have to drive Marquaveous to the nearby hospital after his finger had gotten caught between helmets on a tackle. His finger was cut, not that bad, but for obvious (liability) reasons, Marquaveous had to go to a hospital to see if he needed stitches, and I had to take him there and fill out the worker’s compensation info for the billing. This was not as easy as it seems, due mostly to the difficulty of trying to remember how to spell Marquaveous each time you received a form. Marquaveous is a 18 (maybe 19 by now) year old defensive end, from around Clearwater Florida (if I remember correctly), and we got to know each other pretty well in the 2 hours we waited for him to be seen by a doctor.
When the doctor finally arrived, he sized up the two of us in the quick and self-assured manner of the best ER doctors in cable television dramas. It was clear he had made up his mind about something, but I would be taken aback when he revealed his diagnosis.
Doctor: “Hi, [looks down at clipboard, makes the face of someone seeing a dog trying to have sex with a cat] Mar..qu..Marquave..ous.”
Marquaveous: [3/4 asleep] “hello”
Firm Hand Shake.
Doctor: [whips around to me]”So, what happened here? Is he ok? Is he in a, like a group home, foster home, or something? What’d he do?”
Now, it was 1 am, this is a busy man, and I’m sure he’s seen plenty of situations to form that assumption, but I instantly just felt distaste and disgust. It was clear that, despite my own appearance (22, scruffy, jeans and a hoodie, an ensemble shared by M.) the Doctor had seen a White Man and a Black Youth and instantly assumed that: 1. I was the authority in the situation. Why the hell are you asking me what happened to M.’s hand? He can speak for himself.
2. Marquaveous had injured himself in some sort of misconduct or illegal behavior. Despite M. being a super nice guy, which the Doctor of course could not know, he looked just like any 18 year old I ever met at UCSB in demeanor and appearance, with the large exception being his blackness.
I was delighted to correct the Doctor, in a stunned tone, that, no, Marquaveous was playing football in a commercial when he hurt his hand. After that, the Doctor shifted gears, and dealt with M. directly and completely normally, and so the incident faded from memory at first. That said, upon further reflection, I just realized how different an experience it must be as a black American, even as many of us pat ourselves on the back for electing Obama. I’m not calling the Doctor racist, or even bigoted – he honestly did nothing untoward, but he did show how deeply engrained those assumptions are in our society. For me, I realized how sheltered I had been to race issues at UCSB, due primarily to the lack of diversity at the school (and within my group of friends), and I gained some small understanding of why, say, a Jeremiah Wright is seen as legitimate in the black community. When society is constantly assuming the worst of you, resentment is bound to grow. Who really ever wants to go to a party they weren’t invited to?