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Ben Kawaller reports from the Dallas Reggae Festival

WATCH: Is America Racist? Reggae Fans Aren’t So Sure

Ben Kawaller reports from the Dallas Reggae Festival, where one black Southern woman said the unthinkable: ‘I’ve never really experienced racism!’

I arrived at last month’s Dallas Reggae Festival in a state of near-total ignorance, as is typical. I can name exactly one reggae artist (Bob Marley), who I am fairly but not completely certain is dead. As for reggae culture, all I knew was that it is about “one love,” which I thought had something to do with our common humanity. That’s in fact what drew me to the festival in the first place. Given that my series Ben Meets America is all about learning from different communities and attempting to bridge our sociopolitical divides, the “one love” crowd seemed like my kind of people.

The festival unfolded at the Dallas Midway, a sprawling outdoor field of asphalt that seemed better suited to overflow parking than to a music festival—but these surroundings presented no challenge to the positive vibes. I had no desire to dampen the feelings of universal love, but I am the kind of white person who, when finding himself among a mostly black crowd, can’t resist asking everyone about race. I’d noticed, you see, a recent uptick in mainstream discourse suggesting that black Americans spend their “entire lives” “under siege” in a society “constantly” trying to rob them of all joy, and I was eager to compare notes, as this perfectly describes my experience living as a 7 in Los Angeles.

Interviewing folks at a reggae festival introduces no small degree of selection bias: the “Don’t worry, be happy” crowd probably have unusually sunny outlooks. But the responses I got at least complicate the idea that Americans are living in a racial hellscape.

If you like what you see, watch Ben’s previous dispatch: “An Atheist Finds Faith Among the Mormons.” Click here to learn more about Ben Meets America

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