Whiter than White
In the fifth grade, I was in a talent shows with an eight-year-old black musical prodigy, a classical Michael Jackson. He played Flight of the Bumblebee on the violin 10 times better than I played Liebestraum on the accordion. I was awed by the boy, but also by his teacher. The stoop-shouldered black man in wire-rim glasses and a gray homburg who paced backstage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium had coaxed an adult performance out of a tiny child. My own teacher, Mr. Flaherty, though a great showman, was not much more advanced on the accordion than his students. By temperament, he was better suited to selling biodegradable cleaning products, which he also did—and did successfully enough that he drove an almost top-of-the-line black Cadillac, awarded by the company that made the cleaners.
I was fascinated to learn that Mr. Flaherty had chatted with the violin teacher. “Yep, I talked to him,” said Mr. Flaherty. “And here’s what I told him”—and I knew from his earnest tone that he was about to impart some kind of life lesson. “ ‘You know, there’s no such thing as a colored man,’ I told him. ‘Nope. Everybody’s white to me.’ ”
At the time, Mr. Flaherty’s strategy for race relations—mentally bleaching a good part of the population—made me question his sanity. In retrospect, his ideas appear no more insane than those held by many sensitive, well-meaning people today. I mean, which is nuttier—to pretend the world is all one color or to pretend to see no color at all? To sermonize about race to a total stranger or to abstain from ever talking about race even among friends? To reduce race to a dopey little slogan or to become trapped in a hall of mirrors, wondering if the other person thinks you might be prejudiced or thinks you think he thinks you might be prejudiced?
Racial biases and stereotypes are, as Tufts psychologists are proving, dyed in the wool. To anyone who believes they can be wished away, I recommend a bottle of Mr. Flaherty’s miracle cleanser. To all others I recommend Michael Blanding’s probing article on the psychology of race, “The Big Taboo”.
Changes. The inestimable Laura Ferguson, who guided this magazine through 44 issues, a considerable tenure for a quarterly, is now busy directing new projects for Tufts Advancement Communications. Lucky for us, she continues on as editor of the magazine’s Alumni Association section, News & Notes.
Along with a new home (the Office of Publications, producer of Tufts’ professional school magazines) and a new editor (your humble servant), Tufts Magazine has many surprises in store for you. Did you know, for example, that astronomers have added a planet to the solar system? Hint: this one’s brown and blue. And have you tried the spicy new dish our chefs have concocted just for you? As ever, our single aim is to deserve your attention. I’m counting on you to tell me how we’re doing.