Thoughts on Racism

A friend posted a link to a blog about identifying racism. After reading it I have a few comments to share from my personal racismexperiences. First of all I am human therefore I have biases. Sometimes I let the cover define the book, therefore I can be prejudicial. Today I walked into the local Walmart store and my inner voice said, “Damn these people are ugly,” forgetting what I look like in a mirror. Therefore I can be bigoted. All of these are human characteristics and I’m pretty sure we all have them to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t know how we acquire them, just that we have them.

The blog’s author says that claiming to have best friends who are black is a potential sign of being racist. I’ve never made that claim but I do know of examples where such is true. Best I can say is that some of my favorite people are black but I can’t honestly say we are “best” friends. We just seem to like and enjoy each other when our paths cross.

Another thing the blog says is racist is claiming to be color blind. That beneath the skin we are all the same. Well, I don’t know if it’s racist or not but I don’t feel that way. I know enough about people to recognize that we are different. Black people have had a collectively different life experience than what I’ve had. There is such a thing as black culture and some times I don’t understand it nor feel totally comfortable in its presence. But the older I get the more I do understand and the more joy I receive from it. You can’t seek out great barbecue or delve into the history of blues music without coming nose to nose with cultural history that differs from your own. The key is to recognize it as being different, important, and not inferior.

You hear lots of people claim that we begin our lives on a level playing field and if we work hard enough we can overcome and be successful. That simply is not true for blacks or whites. The playing field in America has never been level and still isn’t. The reality is that our chances of success are directly reliant on chance, luck of the draw. The odds for or against our personal futures are directly connected to what family you were born into. If your parents were solidly middle-class or higher, you’ve got a much better chance of being successful than those who are born poor. Whites have a better change than blacks.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard whites defend themselves against being racist with arguments such as, “Don’t blame me, I never owned slaves.” That may be the case but it doesn’t protect one from being racist. In my case my great, great, great-grandfather did own slaves and it took a civil war to remove slave ownership from my family. While being the descendant of slave owners doesn’t cast guilt on me I am accountable to seeing it never happens again. Black culture and attitudes are in great part a consequence of over four hundred years of oppression. I can’t reverse that history but I can work to understand it and better our collective futures.

I’ll finish up with one I heard just this morning, one the blog calls “exhaustion and despair.” “I’m so tired of this and I’m just going to turn my TV off.” I don’t know if this is racist or not but it certainly isn’t contributing to any solution. We as a nation absolutely have to talk about the issues that divide and threaten us. Problems almost never solve themselves. The dialogue has to be both internal and external. We must sit down and have an honest and quiet conversation with our inner being just as we must have honest and open public conversations.

There are no innocents, black or white, because we are all human and display human traits. Our issues are the consequences of history that we didn’t make but have to live with. It is absolutely imperative for us all to understand that history and collectively try to reconcile it in such ways that allow us to be different, to have our differences recognized as being of value, while developing a sense that the doors of opportunity are truly open for all that wish to walk through.

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