A Black Reader’s Response to “Racism Today, Racism Tomorrow, Racism Forever”
In Jerome Parent’s article “Racism Today, Racism Tomorrow, Racism Forever,” he discusses the idea that racism lives in all of us. It seems that negative connotation of the label “racist” prevents us from evaluating the “racism” in ourselves and its impact on our lives. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, once known as the Black Wall Street. In the early 1900s it was a Black Mecca of economic wealth but was destroyed by a race riot in 1921. I never interacted with white people, so I never saw white people as “superior.” I saw them as the “other,” or as the “foreigners.” I struggled with the concept of racism and didn’t see it in myself or its impacts on my thinking and behavior.
My first white friend was Joe, whom I met at Southwestern Bell, my first employer after college graduation in 1972. Growing up in the Sixties, I had a chip on my shoulder about race. Joe challenged me to a game of one-on-one basketball, which I resisted for months. I finally decided to take up his challenge and “teach him a lesson.” He had not told me that he was a starting guard on a team that won a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championship. Consequently, I was the one who was taught a very valuable lesson. In hindsight, it is embarrassing to admit that sports is possibly the only venue where he could have gained my respect, but it is true. I was blind to my own racism.
Later, I was scheduled to fill a position in the computer department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but the leadership there did not want an African American. Consequently, I was assigned to the same position in Topeka, Kansas where they were willing to accept me. While there, I was informed by Booker Shackleford, the first black man in the Norman, Oklahoma police department and a fraternity brother, that my brother and I were both on the “watch list” compiled by the Norman police department. They became suspicions about us because my brother was the president of the Black Student Union at the University of Oklahoma and I was President of Alpha Phi Alpha, a primarily Black Fraternal organization. This is how racism surrounded me during my initial foray into the business world.
Racism influences how history is recorded and therefore how we feel about ourselves and our race. As a student, I was taught that a white Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden. A study of the Bible demonstrates that the Garden of Eden was probably located in Africa. Science has discovered that the oldest skeletal remains are Africans with Negroid features. Racism’s distortions of those facts are subtle and pervasive. Consistent with these “alternative facts” are the concept that Egypt and Israel are located in the “Middle East” when they are really in Africa. These “alternative facts” were effective because I was an adult before I actually realized that the “Middle East” was a distortion that disguised countries that are in Africa.
When I visited Israel, I actually asked people what continent Israel was on, and I got multiple answers, including Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. No one said Africa. Racial distortion of historical facts has been around for a long time. Refusing to acknowledge this helps people convince themselves that they are not racist. Michelangelo changed the color of Jesus from black to white in his paintings. When Bible verses are used to show that Jesus was “not white,” many white people deny it or say, “The color of Jesus does not matter.” Well, it apparently mattered to Michelangelo. Recently, the History Channel created a movie about Hannibal, the military genius who defeated Rome. Everyone knows Hannibal is from Carthage, but seldom is it depicted that Carthage is in Africa. When this movie depicted Hannibal as black, there was strong backlash from some white people, and some white historians said we do not know Hannibal’s racial identity for sure.
Progress in in keeping racial prejudices from hindering the black community has not been a straight path. Affirmative Action was so successful, we began to see another backlash to black progress. “Reverse Racism” was coined to justify this era’s resistance to our country’s moves toward equality. The justification was so effective and the argument so convincing to some that some blacks began to support the concept of reverse racism. In “Making America White Again,” Toni Morrison says that “fear of losing White Privilege led to Trump’s election.”
Racism impacts Blacks and other minorities in pretty much the same manner. The struggle with inferiority manifests in self destruction. Steven, Samuel Jackson’s character in Django Unchained, is an example of how Blacks engage in “anti-Black” activity (racism) when they receive a modicum of power. Common terms to describe this phenomena are “Sell Out” and “Uncle Tom.” Another example is the Syrian family of Dr. Ghassan Assali, a dentist from Pennsylvania who voted for Donald Trump and was recently deported back to Syria. Somehow, Dr. Assali justified his vote for Trump by not believing that he would really deport immigrants, in spite of his rhetoric.
Racism has gotten sophisticated but continues to perpetuate feelings of superiority in Whites and inferiority in Blacks. We moved from slavery to Jim Crow, to redlining, to justifying massive Black incarceration, to justifying voting identification laws. The complexities are more apparent in economics where Classism has poor Whites feeling superior to rich Blacks and Rich Blacks feeling superior to poor Blacks. In this scenario, poor Whites and Rich Blacks perpetuate the superiority/inferiority cycle that supports racism without ever considering the concept. We argue about whether police killings of Black youth are more devastating than Black gangs killing themselves. Both arguments address superiority or inferiority. Though sophisticated and subtle, all of these examples have elements of racism entwined in their approach.
I am torn as to whether everything is about race and racism, but reflecting on the past eight years, I think it is apparent that we moved from the promise of a “post racial” America to “making America great again,” where both have racial undertones and both attempted to sidestep the topic of racism. An honest conversation about racism must start in the mirror.
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Delbert DeWitty has over 40 years of managerial experience in both the corporate and community arenas. This includes information technology assignments with FedEx and AT&T; Board of Director positions with National Urban League, NAACP, YMCA, Boys & Girls Club; and consulting assignments with World Wide Technology and California Emerging Technology Fund. He enjoys travel, sports, and music, all of which have facilitated his interest in history. He is currently Pre-Release Specialist at a prison where he helps prepare incarcerated men for a successful life after parole.