Recently, one of my readers, an immigrant from Russia whom I will call Vladimir, phoned me. Polished into readable text, our conversation went something like this:
Vladimir: Mr. Sailer, I read all of articles you write and like them.
Me: Well, thank you. That's most kind.
Vladimir: But, I want to ask you question. I come here from Russia, you know, and I look around me at people in America. I see things, I see patterns. I watch sport shows on TV, too. I notice patterns there, too. Then, I read newspapers. Nobody writes about patterns I see with my eyes.
Me: Like …?
Vladimir: You know, like race stuff. I watch basketball, I watch Eyewitness News on TV, I go to beach.
Me: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Vladimir: Then I find you. You write about patterns I see every day. You tell truth.
Vladimir: How come almost nobody write like you?
Me: Well, when I was starting out a writer, I was looking for a market niche without much competition, so I settled on telling the truth. Turns out, though, that the reason the truth is in short supply is because there isn't much demand for it from editors.
Vladimir: Okay, here is question I worry about lot since I come to America. Take average writer who works for big fancy newspaper. What in world is he thinking? Does he not notice things like I notice things?
Me: Oh, like …
Vladimir: Like take racial profiling. Don't writers at New York Times or big magazine notice that black guy more likely to commit crime than white guy or Chinese guy? Don't they see this with own two eyes?
Me: Oh, I get it. No, they have two eyes in their head, same as you do. They see what you see. When you talk to a nice white liberal about his personal life, he's far more realistic in what he tells you than in what he writes for public consumption. When you ask him why he lives in his beautiful crime-free suburb, or why he sends his kid to a private school, or why he fought so long to get his kid into a magnet school, or why he wants his kid to specialize in soccer rather than basketball, he'll tell you exactly why. He'll generally use code words so he won't have to mention race specifically, but that's precisely what he's talking about.
Vladimir (audibly relieved): You mean, he's hypocrite?
Me: Yeah, exactly. It would hurt his career to write for the public what he thinks in his private life.
Vladimir: Thank God!
Vladimir: Hypocrite I understand. I grow up in Soviet Union. Lying to save your job, that's life. No, I was very worried smart people in America weren't hypocrites. You know, this country is supposed to be land of free, home of brave. I was scared that smart Americans weren't hypocrites, but instead were hallucinating. I am very happy to hear they're just hypocrites. Hypocrisy much less scary than mass hallucination.
August 22, 2001