Friday, April 25, 2014

Why the word "Racist" freaks white people out

Over the last few years white people, especially white men, have been hearing an awful lot about their overt and covert racism towards blacks and, to put it mildly, it hasn't gone over too well.

It's all bullshit, they say. The few instances that do crop out are blown totally out of proportion by the liberal, elite, white-hating, lame-stream media. What about the instances of black on white racism that they say exist in droves? You know, those instances where the white kid doesn't get into the college of his choice because the black kid did or the white junior executive loses that promotion he thought he deserved to a black colleague or all those instances where blacks call whites crackers. Haven't seen them? Well, trust me, they're out there.

It must be terrible being a white guy having to deal with all that persecution. To be honest, I don't know how we manage to survive these days. I mean, what is the world coming to when all those automatic privileges we thought we were entitled to aren't so, well, automatic? Seems like only yesterday - 44 years, to be precise - that blacks made only 60.9% the median income of whites. As of 2011, that number climbed all the way up to 61.7%. Wow! At this rate, black income will equal white income in about a millennium, give or take a couple of decades.

Oh, lawdy, lawdy!

Seriously, sometimes I think I'm trapped in some past episode of The Twilight Zone. I wonder what white men must be smoking these days to even think such nonsense, let alone speak it out loud. But the facts are undeniable: racism against blacks is alive and well and no matter how hard they deny it, whites can no more escape from it then they can change color. Not that they'd want to, mind you.

And therein lies the rub. I haven't heard one of these geniuses come out and say they would trade places with their black counterparts. Not one. Even they know they're full of shit. Yet being full of shit hasn't stopped the disgusting displays of blatant racism.

The latest example came courtesy of Cliven Bundy, who had some, shall we say, enlightening things to say about "Negroes." Bet you didn't know that blacks would be better off as slaves picking cotton. I mean it's so much better than killing their babies and going to jail. The comments were so atrocious that even Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly ran for the hills in the opposite direction. You know you're out there when those two want nothing to do with you.

Think Bundy is just an aberration? Think again. He has plenty of company. Granted most racists aren't nearly as obvious or stupid as Bundy - for one thing they don't use words like Negro - but don't think for a moment that they don't share at least some, if not all, of his sentiments. Seething deep within this group is an overriding feeling that blacks are way too - oh let's just get it out of the way and say it - uppity. They simply don't know their place. It was one thing for them to have a piece, albeit a small piece, of the American dream, but running the show?

Yeah, right!

A number of years ago, I wrote a letter to President Obama about this very issue.

"Like most political pundits, we all figured that the true test of the nation was whether we were mature and advanced enough to elect an African American to the office of President. What we did not count on was that the real test would not come until you actually assumed the office. It was at that moment that we as a nation came face to face with an even uglier truth about ourselves: that there were certain elements in our society that simply could not accept being governed by a black man, especially a black man who is the chief executive of the country. They are mad as hell and they aren’t shy about strutting their racism."

I once compared Obama to Jackie Robinson, a comparison that drew the ire of some of my friends on the Left. They felt betrayed by Obama's willingness to compromise with his political opponents. I must confess, I was one of those critics. I felt he was, and is to a certain extent, a lousy negotiator and way too accommodating. The heathcare law was a prime example. It could've been considerably better had he taken a lead role in the negotiations. Perhaps we might've gotten either the single payer or public option we wanted had he been tougher. Who knows. Hindsight is always 20 / 20.

The more I think about it, though, comparing Obama to Robinson doesn't begin to get at the heart of the matter. Robinson, after his rookie year, at least began to be accepted by his white brethren. In time, they even came to admire and respect him. Obama has earned none of that from his critics. The man might just as well be Lucifer incarnate for all they know or care. If anything, their hatred towards him has only intensified. Their reaction to his reelection in 2012 was practically apoplectic. They couldn't believe he had won. Mitt Romney was supposed to be their savior: the man - the white man - who would restore balance to the universe; their universe, mind you.

You see the real problem with America lies in its power structure. For most of its history, it was tilted almost exclusively towards whites, particularly white men. It was one thing for a black man to hit a baseball or sink a basket or throw - er, catch - a touchdown pass; it was quite another for a black man to call the plays or make out the lineup card. Over the last sixty or so years, blacks have been stars of the show, but seldom have they run it. Like women, they are all but non-existent in upper management. And don't even get me started on ownership. Yeah, I know all about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. All that means is that if you have enough green in your bank account, your blackness doesn't matter. How many African Americans do you suppose will ever get that close to wielding that kind of power? The kind of power that white people have enjoyed for centuries?

In my opinion, this is what is driving the recent rise in racism in America these days. A good many whites are starting to feel African Americans breathing down their necks and they don't like it one bit. Their world is turning upside down. The hegemony that whites took for granted is slowing coming to an end and that frightens many of them.

The litany of voter suppression laws springing up in many southern states has been portrayed by its proponents as nothing more than dealing with "potential" voter fraud. Funny how this concern over the integrity of the voting process only emerged when a black man got elected to the White House. I don't seem to recall any protestations during the Bush, or even the Clinton years.

But then I'm just generalizing, like most libs do. Discrimination is a thing of the past. The Supreme Court said so, so it must be true. And I suppose I was just imagining all those Confederate flags and pictures of Obama looking like some witch doctor from deepest, darkest Africa. Just like I was overreacting to the outrage that many white people had when they saw Obama with his feet up on the Oval office desk. All they were doing was defending the honor and integrity of the office. Forget that Bush, Clinton and even Reagan did the same thing. And let's not forget the row that ensued when a Marine was "forced" to hold an umbrella for Obama during a press conference. Who does he think he is, anyway, the President?


Let's face it, they've called him a liar, a Kenyan, a socialist, a fascist (that was a good one), everything but a nigger. Oh, what am I saying, they've called him that too. Not all of them, mind you, but enough of them.

This isn't some minor issue being blown out of proportion; it's a moral crisis that is threatening the very fabric of our society. Slavery has always been America's original sin. While it may have officially ended more than 150 years ago, we still haven't dealt with its ramifications. Issues like states' rights and stand your ground laws are nothing more than a smokescreen for the underlying problem. Don't believe me? Then explain how it can be that George Zimmerman is a free man while Marissa Alexander is facing a life sentence for basically doing the same thing: standing their ground.* If that doesn't work for you, then explain why it is that African Americans, who make up only 12.6% of the U.S. population, comprise 39.4% of its prison population.

Whites can freak out all they want, but the truth is they can't run away from the obvious. A good many of them are racists. That is simply a fact. I grew up in one of the whitest neighborhoods on Long Island. As I once wrote, if you were black in that neck of the woods, you were obviously lost; either that or you were driving someone home from Shea Stadium.  Don't tell me racism doesn't exist. I've heard the "N" word more times than I care to admit, usually from people who assumed I shared their bigotry just because I was white. I didn't know whether to loathe them or feel sorry for them or both.

The reason whites have such a hard time hearing the word racism is because it hits them where they live.  Even those who abhor it, know people who practice it; some of them in their own families. There was a time in this country where being a "nigger lover" was considered worse than being black. You may have had no choice over the color of your skin, but siding with blacks, that was a different story. The Ku Klux Klan didn't rise to prominence in a vacuum. It was, in many ways, as much a part of our cultural heritage as Betsy Ross and apple pie.

Until white America finally breaks its denial and acknowledges the 800 pound gorilla in the room, we will never truly grow up as a nation. Statements like "we've come a long way since the '60s" or "reverse discrimination is now the real problem," won't solve anything. It will only enable those forces that feed the fire of bigotry to continue their stranglehold over the rest of us.

That's the problem with unresolved rage. It never really goes away. It just continues to fester until it finally erupts like a volcano into violence. The country witnessed such violence in the late 1960s. Do not think for a moment it can't happen again.

Those who ignore history are destined to relive it.

* A post script, if I may. While it is true, as some have pointed out to me, that the Zimmerman and Alexander cases are different in that Zimmerman's team never asserted a stand your ground defense while Alexander's team did, the point I was attempting to make - perhaps not effectively enough - was the double standard within the criminal justice system.  Also, Alexander did not actually harm anyone, whereas Zimmerman's actions resulted in the death of an innocent young man.

The bottom line is that blacks are far more likely to be found guilty in criminal trials than whites. All things being equal, white defendants stand a much better chance of prevailing than their black counterparts. That is simply a fact.



Pliny said...

"Yeah, I know all about Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. All that means is that if you have enough green in your bank account, your blackness doesn't matter. How many African Americans do you suppose will ever get that close to wielding that kind of power? The kind of power that white people have enjoyed for centuries?"

This is an important point that you made, and then, just seem to dismiss. I'd argue that, in the year 2014, real discrimination lies within the realm of economics, not race or gender. You asked the question, "How many African Americans do you suppose will ever get that close to wielding that kind of power?" Probably not many. And guess what? If you take a look at the total population of whites within the U.S., not very many of them, percentage-wise, will get to wield that power either - nor have they ever enjoyed that kind of power.

Does racism exist? Sure it does. As long as you have stupid people as members of any particular group, you will have racism. But do these very stupid people exercise any real, consequential power over anyone these days? Is the problem as broad or as widespread as you're making it sound? In the year 2014... in the United States of America? I don't think so. If you truly believe so, however, what should the remedy be?

Steve said...

Thanks, Pete. People like Bundy are a carnival sideshow compared with the more pervasive undercurrent of racism in this country. The most powerful racists are the decent folks, people like you and me, whose pressed white shirts and green lawns mask a savage indifference. The irony is that guys like Bundy probably know they're racist and are proud of it. The decent folks would protest, even be aghast at being labeled so. To anyone interested, I recommend Michael Emerson's landmark study of racism in Christian America (Divided by Faith).

Pliny said...

@Steve: Guys like Bundy are inconsequential buffoons who may have a very small following of like-minded buffoons who wield no power or influence. In 2014 America, they are held up to universal ridicule and condemnation. You said, "The most powerful racists are the decent folks, people like you (the essayist) and me, whose pressed white shirts and green lawns mask a savage indifference." Seriously, how do you arrive at equating "decent folks" with the term "racist?" And I'm not so sure I understand what "pressed white shirts" and "green lawns" have to do with anything. To your point that decent folks would protest and be aghast at being labeled racist, that's absolutely true. Decent people DO protest and ARE aghast at being labeled racist. And do you want to know why? Simply because *decent* people are NOT racists.

steve said...

Thanks, Pliny, for your comment to my comment and for your concern. Let me explain. By "decent folks" I mean the average law-abiding, prosperous, so-called "good people." As Pete points out, it is we who profit most from the day to day racism in this country, obtaining benefits we might not have if there were a more level playing field. We usually equate racism with people of low education and income. And that might be true if we judged racism only by what people say, rather than what they do.
In his study Emerson shows how it is actually the most educated and prosperous among us who contribute most to racialization. Living in the South, where the subject of race is rarely broached among middle and upperclass whites, I meet few people these days who seem openly “racist.” So what is the problem? The difficulty is that, today, racism across this country is more often tacit than stated, complicit than active. It is expressed more in what we do, where we live, the relationships or schools we choose, than in what we openly say or consciously believe. Ironically, this form of racism is more prevalent among the most educated segment of the population—those who would least consider themselves to be racist—since affluence affords people more options regarding where they live and where they send their children to school.
The church is also highly complicit in racism. I speak as a pastor. How is it that in the twenty-first century, Christians, of all people, can still be so comfortable with the status quo of racial segregation? What seems most shocking is not that there are white churches and black churches, but that most of us seem content with the arrangement.
Some contend that racial segregation in our churches is merely the result of different cultures and worship styles, that human beings are by nature more comfortable associating with those who are like themselves. Others in church-growth circles even go so far as to tout racial homogeneity as a major factor in church growth. Yet in a nation such as ours, with our obvious and painful history of racism, how can we claim that prejudice has no significant role in producing such outcomes? Or how can we deny statistics that show Protestant churches leading all other denominations, and indeed all other religions, in racial segregation? (According to Emerson’s 2006 estimate, only 5% of Protestant congregations are multiracial, compared to 15% of Catholic and 28% of non-Christian.) While many larger congregations are making inroads into the problem and there is hope for change, we cannot escape the fact that half a century after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, America’s churches have relatively little to show for it.
In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), Dr. King writes:

"…[T]he Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will… We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

That's what I mean by "decent folks." (It's an ironic term. Not that racism makes one decent.) Hope that makes better sense.

Pliny said...

Thank you for your response and explanation, Steve. I can't say that I agree with you on your specific interpretations of racism in modern society, but I respect your views. I view the main problem in 2014 America as being economic stratification, affecting all races. As far as human interactions and associations are concerned, it's extremely complex and may very well have no racial component at all. I'm saying all of this fully aware of the nation's contemptible history with regard to race, but also rightly acknowledging just how effective modern education has dealt with this issue over many years, disabusing any notions of racial superiority or privilege.