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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Monday, July 10, 2006


A trim handsome black man smiled broadly from the book’s dark blue cover. His teeth were dazzling, his cheekbones beautifully sculpted; he wore an impeccably ironed light blue shirt. The book was about a clever new method to change your body and your life forever. The author had an M.D. after his name. And I thought, how strange that they shouldn’t put a photo of the author on the cover but of one of the people who had changed his life after reading the book.

The next second my mind clicked into self-focus. Why couldn’t the man on the cover be the author of the book?

I read just weeks ago in Scientific American about a psychological study that seeks to identify unconscious prejudice. Even people who make a conscious sustained effort not to be prejudiced can on a subconscious level still subscribe to a black=bad, white=good way of seeing the world. I dismissed the study; I was annoyed that psychology had found yet another thing wrong with the human mind. It wasn’t real, I told myself. Either you’re prejudiced or you’re not – both in a conscious, deliberate way.

But there I was, staring at a book with a black man on its cover, assuming instinctively that this black man on the cover could not be the author of the book because in my mind being black makes you unlikely to become a doctor.

I feel compelled to defend myself, to explain away this slip of judgment. But the truth is that there must be some association in my mind, however feeble, between being white and being a doctor or lawyer or university professor; that on a deep level of which I wasn’t aware before I think that black people who become doctors and lawyers and university professors do so against all odds and are atypical, not representative of their race. I want to say that I’m sorry for thinking like this. But I don’t think that saying sorry will do any good. The only thing I can say in my own defense is that I’m no longer ignorant of my prejudice, however faint, however deeply buried in my psyche, against black people.

My grandfather told me, some years ago when he first came to America to visit us, that he has only one thing to ask of me, and that is that I do not marry a black man. I was mortified but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to, and what’s more I didn’t know how to, argue with him, how to prove to him that what he was asking was ridiculous and stupid and demeaning to himself and to me as much as to black people. I’m afraid that next time I’m given the chance, I will remain quiet again, I will not stand up for what I believe to be right. And I don’t know what to do about that.


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