Samuel L. Jackson Is Right…Sometimes

Never ask a woman if she’s pregnant is a good rule to live by. I like this and the other thousands of unwritten unchanging rules that keep the interpersonal peace down here.

But when it comes to race relations, hard rules don’t yet exist. That makes peace hard. So what are we to do?

In A Time To Kill, Samuel L. Jackson’s character Carl Lee Haley tells Matthew Maconahay’s character “the fact is you are just like all the rest of them. When you look at me, you don’t see a man, you see a black man.” And the great sociologists Envogue sang “be color blind, don’t be so shallow” in the early nineties. Pop culture has given us one set of rules but then there’s another according to our adoption classes.

There, we’ve been told that being “color blind” and claiming to see a person and not a person of a certain race is “the worst” thing we could do. To say we see a person’s color but it doesn’t matter to us is also, w’re now told, equally harmful. And to say nothing at all of a person’s race can communicate the same thing without a word.

But maybe…Maybe every race doesn’t have one rule book at all, but is instead made up of myriad individuals – wonderfully unique individuals – with their own set of rules. And we hold to our rules with varying degrees of tenacity. And some of us aren’t aware that we have rules at all. Others are certain they don’t.

If this is true then I’m at once comforted and terrified. Comforted because maybe I won’t break your rules when I break your neighbor’s. Terrified because maybe I will but I won’t know it until I do.

So, at the risk of sounding like John Lennon or Lenny Kravitz, um, maybe the rule of love becomes the most important rule when the other rules aren’t so clear.

Suddenly, instead of being afraid of you, instead of treating you like a set of rules, I’m forced to treat you like a person, to learn about you and what you need from me, to listen, to try and maybe fail and try again. So, Samuel L. Jackson is right…sometimes. But love always is.