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Thursday, August 29, 2013

I am a racist. United States of America fifty years after the dream.

I am a racist

This is not an argument for being racist. This is a description of why I think I am a racist and why many of you probably are as well.

In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech there was extensive discussion of the state of racial affairs, equality, and justice. I found several points from Up With Steve Kornacki’s  to be especially insightful.

First several truths. The wage gap, life expectancy gap, education gap, infant mortality gap, and death penalty gap still exist in the United States of America in 2013. In each of these cases, studies show that race is a significant factor for outcomes in every area previously mentioned. Second, our schools are nearly as segregated now as they were before “Brown v. Board of Education.”

A great piece from Christian Science Monitor on "How far we have come."

So then, what is a racist and what do the previously repeated truths about our American society have to do with racism.  One of the participants in the panel, outlined his insightful train of thought in roughly this way.  If I am a man involved in public affairs involved in the exchange of and debate with others of differing opinions I may find myself confronted by someone pushing a policy that I consider racist. Do I call this man a racist? Not necessarily. Something else needs to happen. The motivation for the policy may not be race. I should endeavor by clear discussion to show him that the intended policy has disproportionate and unequal effects on different races. If after this he continues pushing for and supporting his policy on specious grounds then I have no choice but to determine that he is a racist. A person that continually supports policies that disproportionately affect any one race is a racist.

A second panelist, joined the discussion at this point. “It may however not prove advantageous to call the person a racist. It may not be productive and in the end not lead toward better solutions.”

I believe the second point brings out the underlying tension between intentional and accidental racism. I think most of us would err to the side that says unless someone pursues a course of action specifically to harm or deny a good to a specific race they are not racist. On the other hand, I think the time has arrived for us to move toward the higher standard offered by the first panelist.

I spent some time reflecting on race this week. First, I thought of moments when meeting or even passing by others of a different race I have been more nervous. Let me be blunt. In walking past a group of African-Americans I have felt differently than I would toward a group of white kids. I am not even sure what the proper terms to express that reality are. I also thought about my support of systems of education and economics that undoubtedly produce racist outcomes. Countless studies show that many of the standardized tests that shape education are racially biased. I know employees of different races still are not paid equally for experience and qualifications. I know that being white opens doors for me that are closed to others. I know that I am involved with both of these types of offenses. The stock protestation that “I have black friends” is of no consolation or defense of this.

After fifty years of hearing about the dream it is time to raise the bar. The countless people of color who struggled for the decades leading up to to the civil rights act demand it. The great number of Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and others that joined them demand it.  It is time to raise the bar. If you support policies that proaogate these unjust outcomes between races you are a racist.

I can’t stop being a racist by myself. I need neighbors and a community that help me form the relationships and friendships where I will no longer see people of a different race automatically as “the other.” The fear inspiring other who we do not know so often lies at the root of the “unintentional racist.” You may not go out of your way to harm them, but you certainly will not join the fight to help them.

It is time for us to be honest. Fifty years later. We all must fight to form communities of justice. We must fight to tear down institutions that discriminate without speaking the word “race” or “black” or “African-American” out loud. In our struggle to better our country we can all rise together, but to do this the forces that pit us against one another must be brought to light and overcome.

Fifty years is long enough.  

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this blog and appreciate your honesty. I think being honest with ones self is the first step in this debate.


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