Racism Today, Racism Tomorrow, Racism Forever
Every time I see a news story about a white person expounding on racism in America, I cringe. Exhibit A is the recent Twitter war between the Orange One and Georgia Representative John Lewis. Imitating the Three Stooges, Maine Governor Paul LePage, Iowa Representative Steve King, and D-list actor Rob Schneider jumped in and are the latest white people to expose their ignorance of both recent and more distant American history when it comes to racial issues.
I empathize with black people who, when they hear of a heinous crime, cross their fingers hoping it was not a black perpetrator. Every time I hear something ignorant said about race, I hope it isn’t a white person. Except it almost always is. On the subject of race, white people seem to fall into three basic categories: those who deny racism is a problem (I’ll call them average people), those who insist it is whites who suffer from racism in America (neo-Nazis), and those who are overwhelmed by guilt about racism (standard issue Liberals).
The general reaction by the media to the comments of the “Three Stooges” is that they have no business commenting about race simply because they are white. I sympathize with this assessment even though I disagree. The biggest reason to attack their comments is that all three are demonstrably stupid. In fact, all three of these people have a long history of doing and saying stupid things. This is why the media gives them coverage. It is a fundamental problem with our free press: they are more interested in what gets the clicks, eyeballs, or ears to sell their products. Profit drives their coverage, not the best interests of the public. And ignorant people are much more entertaining than smart people. For every TED talk on YouTube, there are a hundred Fail videos.
Racism, is in fact, a universal trait of humans. They should put it in the Olympics. Or maybe it’s already there and they could turn it into an actual event. I’m told the Japanese team would be dominant. But I think that if we could get native Hawaiians to join forces with certain confederate flag waving good ol’ boys then I think the US team would be a shoo-in for gold. In any case, all humans have the ability to make observations about racism because almost all of us are all racists. There are exceptions, but there is a lot of data to support the idea that almost every adult makes initial judgments about people based on: (1) Sex (2) Race (3) Attractiveness. If you say you don’t, you are either fooling yourself or you are a truly exceptional person. Xenophobia is pretty much hard-wired into our brains. To deny it is to deny both our heritage and history.
I am a racist, albeit a reluctant one. What I mean is that is my subconscious makes initial assessments of people based on the three criteria I laid out in the previous paragraph. Then my conscious mind has to monitor my words, actions and attitudes to prevent my prejudices from being the driving force over my interactions with others. It’s hard work, in part because most people, including me, believe that being a racist is a bad thing. And yet we all have racist tendencies.
The average American would rather ignore racial prejudices and pretend they don’t exist except in extremely limited cases such as the neo-Nazis. Denial is a powerful force but it is usually betrayed when white people open their mouths to discuss racism. As a black colleague says, “We expect white people to say stupid stuff.” And that is the major source of the problem. White people talk instead of listening and asking questions. And even when some whites do ask questions, they assume that one black person speaks for all black people which is just more racism. Racism is tricky business because it only happens with humans. Animals don’t segregate themselves based on fur color. Even the language of racism is weird. We have the term reverse racism which is unnecessary and confusing. Racism against anybody white, black or brown is just plain racism even though the effects of racism vary by both groups and individuals.
I expect neo-Nazis to say outrageous things. It’s sort of their trademark. After all, they claim Aryan heritage when all evidence points to Aryans being dark-skinned. Hitler spent a lot of money trying to prove otherwise and failed. Of course ignoring evidence is what most people, especially racists, do best. The folks who really get to me are the Liberal types who wallow in guilt over slavery and think that blacks deserve special status because of it. I remember some members of a Western Philosophy class admonishing me for discussing slavery in front of a black student. The issue I had brought up was Aristotle’s position on slaves. I was told in hushed tones that I should be more sensitive to the black student because “We brought his ancestors here as slaves.”
This is another example of clueless white people speech. First of all, my ancestors were Belgian potato farmers who immigrated to escape being killed by the Prussians. And secondly, even if my ancestors had profited from slavery, my obligation would be to use some of the family fortune to address black poverty or provide special educational opportunities for black youth. I would not be responsible or guilty for anything my ancestors did. And if modern Americans are responsible for the sins of their ancestors then they should also get credit for the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment. Personally, I think the ancestral guilt/reward idea is Adam and Eve nonsense, and I reject it on purely rational grounds. And if I had wealth, I would have an obligation to use it to help others, not just blacks. Profits from slavery are a special exception that I would grant, and at least one major university agrees with me.
But the ultimate question is who has the right to comment on racism? My conclusion is that everybody does as long as they confine their remarks to their personal experience. I would also include those who have studied real history and not the fictionalized garbage taught in K-12 schools. People who haven’t read a history book since tenth grade should just keep their mouths shut. There is zero percent chance they will add anything of worth to the public discourse and a 99.9 % chance they will sound racist, ignorant or both.
And ignorance is something we already have an ample sufficiency of, thank very much.