April 19th, 2006
So this little anecdote is not from the trip to Utah, it’s from the weekend before, after the boys’ track meet.
The boys were explaining to me that black kids are faster because there’s an extra bone in their ankles. Inside my skull, a million angry neurons fired as I tried to think of the proper response to race-based physiological malarkey coming from the mouths of the kids whose education I have partially taken on as part of my role as stepparent.
I caught as much of my adrenaline in my throat as I could, then I opened my mouth. My response was, “No, there is not an extra bone in the ankles of blacks.”
Ty said to me, “yes there is, Devon totally looked it up and showed me it.” I said, “okay, that’s great, but I don’t believe you. It’s not true.”
I can’t remember now who suggested a bet, but either Ty or I said “what do you bet me that this is so/not so.” Now, Tyler is an ace poker player. Even at 12 years old, he does pretty well. He likes a good bet, and he was ready to wager. He also knows me, and knows that I have a broad base of general knowledge. Also, given he’s been around me going on four years now. We’ve had a few bets of a penny, or a quarter, or a dollar. I think the max was maybe five bucks. When I’m not very confident, I’ll say “yeah, but I’d only bet 5 cents for that one” or “that’s about a five dollar bet.” There’s a direct relationship between my confidence level and the amount of the bet.
How much did I say I would bet? I offered, “fifty, no… one hundred and fifty dollars. If you can prove to me that black people have an extra bone in their ankles I lose.” This is not an idle bet. Tyler is a very hard worker, and has saved money from mowing lawns. He would be good for it. I was daring him to bet me, really.
Leah chastises me, gently, “come on, give him a bet he can actually make!” (She told me later she found my behavior a little juvenile, and she’s perfectly right about that, but I also have very strong feelings on the subject of race, and though I was a little amped up with outrage, it was not really an uncharacteristic moment for me).
I say “we could use the money!! — hey, wait, make the bet eight hundred and fifty dollars, are you interested?” I offer my hand. Will he take the wager?
Ty regards my hand with a kind of horror. I like to think it’s at this point he knows that I’m right. But he’s still unsure, which is perfectly valid. I mention that I have taken anatomy and physiology. I put down my wager-hand and Dev comes around. A laptop comes out, and internet research commences. Search terms are tried — “black” and “african american” and other various searches are tried. I put my attention elsewhere. The pro-extra bone contingent come up with nothing. They’re a little disappointed. It feels a little like I’ve killed an ant with a bazooka. But I’m not unhappy with my conduct. I didn’t lose my temper or lose my breath arguing. I put my money precisely where my mouth was.
Dev and Tyler keep searching, but then we’re onto the next thing, we’re to go out to dinner for pizza. The subject is changed.
In the car, later, Leah mentions the episode to me, a little aghast at how I handled it. I admit it was a strong reaction, and I know that it would not be how she would have handled it. But instead of feeling guilty about it, I re-run the interaction in my head and I’m happy with how I handled it. I tell her so. Nobody got hurt, and even feelings were not hurt. A claim was made, a strong and bizarre one. I objected strongly. And I did what I did in the spirit of not tolerating pseudoscientific bull. Who knows where this extra bone theory came from. It’s so bizarre, and like a weed in a garden. It has to be plucked out. This kind of wive’s tale thinking has to be challenged. Why it has to be me, and why I tend to get self-righteous about it is an issue that I need to do some personal self-examination about, but the weeds are out there. I have no shame for being a little nuts about it.
Even now, I think a week later, the notion gets my dander up, and I’m happy with how I handled it. I might be a little crazy, but I was really sure of my facts.
Leah also mentioned privately to me that in the interim (after the bet and before pizza), a website was found about the controversy. The problem was it was a debunking site, and it basically disproved their contention.
(See also: Posts That Might Be)