Sunday, October 31, 2004

"It took me a while to admit it, but I was scared of black men for the first time in my life."--Rachel Seiffert. (Or, a new low for the NYT mag.)

You know that Seinfeld episode where Elaine tells a rabbi who lives in her building that she's jealous of George because he's getting married and she's still single, and the next thing she knows, the rabbi's told everyone in the building about her woes, and, finally, he tells her tale on public access television?

Writing in the NYT magazine about her inadvertent fear of black men following a near-assault by a black man, Rachel Seiffert goes through the usual motions of reminding us all that she's a good liberal, that she likes black people, that some of her best friends are black, and so on:

"Kind people of all colors have assured me that my fear is understandable and that I am wise to take precautions. My Cypriot grocer, Indian nurse, Scottish doctor, the West African mothers in my postnatal group: they all said London is a big city and has a crime problem to match."

Here's the real question: Why can't Seiffert keep her fear that she's secretly a racist to herself? If she doesn't act in a racist way, no one would ever know she was more frightened when a black man came to her door than when anyone else did. Why did the Cypriot grocer, Indian nurse, Scottish doctor, and West African mothers all have to get involved? Why does Seiffert pay so much attention to the nationalities of her grocer, nurse, doctor, and postnatal group companions, in the first place? I'm assuming these "West African mothers" are black--why would they want to hear all about how Seiffert--who is, she explains, white--fears men of their race? If someone told me that she had a bad experience with a Jewish man and that she now found all Jewish men creepy, but felt guilty about it, I would have wished this person had kept both her fears and her guilty feelings to herself.

Well, now the entire NYT readership knows all about Seiffert's fear of black men. If I were Bob Herbert, I'd steer clear of any dinner parties the well-meaning Seiffert might throw.


Molly said...

maybe she really wants to get published and will say anything even if really, she would be better of not saying it. I'm wondering how she can hang out with her black friends now? is she like "you scare me. let's go get a drink?"

Phoebe said...

Funny, but I have this inexplicable fear of Cypriot grocers.

Anonymous said...

The perils of the personal essay. The unexamined life -- worth living? The over-examined life -- worth reading? More a topic for her diary or therapist not for the NY Times. Will she now write about her fear of being thought fearful and racist, etc.? --JM