I don't blame Jackson for being angry. He is not exactly an unknown, and no one calling himself an entertainment reporter should have made that mistake. Still, I felt sorry for Rubin. I was reminded of the time an 8-year-old black boy -- me -- went on a field trip to the L.A. Zoo that brought him, for the first time, into proximity with white kids.
Flocks of them, giggling and shrieking, went scampering down the lanes of the zoo and I remember watching them and worrying, with a child's earnestness, that their moms and dads would lose track of them, be unable to tell one from another. They all looked alike to me.
It turns out this is not uncommon. People often find it difficult to identify people of different races, whether it is whites identifying blacks, blacks identifying whites or what have you. Indeed, it happens enough that psychology has a name for it: other race effect. It is the reason eyewitness identifications across racial lines are notoriously unreliable. And though you might think this an outgrowth of racial bias, researchers say it isn't. A bigot is no more likely than anyone else to misidentify people of other races.
Which is not to say "they all look alike" is never a sign of racial bias. And here, I'm thinking of a reader who looked at side-by-side images of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and a tough-looking 32-year-old rapper called The Game and insisted they were one and the same, even though the rapper has a tattoo on his face and Martin had no visible markings. We don't need any fancy psychological terminology to know what that was. That was just plain old bigotry.
But it isn't always. And maybe it would not be the worst thing in the world, in our era of instant affront and zero-to-60 outrage, to allow for the possibility that occasionally, what looks like a moron is just a human being, being human.
At least, that's my opinion. If you disagree, you know what to do.
Blame Bob Steinback.
Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.