It is a sad event that we are now in the second decade of the 21st century and we still find prominent conservative politicians "outing" themselves on a much too consistent basis, with racially tinged words, dog-whistle comments or just plain outright racism, which led me to thinking more about race relations in this county and throughout our nation at a subconscious level. We love to pat ourselves on the back regarding our presumed achievement of racial equality in this country, considering that it's been about 50 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act and overt discrimination has truly been drastically reduced. But has that bigotry been eliminated from our hearts? Come below the squiggle and let's continue the discussion.
It is rare these days to find a white person who will admit outright prejudice. If asked directly, the vast majority of decent white folks will say that they would never discriminate based on race, never judge someone on their skin color, never group people together because of their ethnicity. All fine and good, but how true is this, really?
You see, I'm in the "club." I'm a white, middle-aged male. By that I don't simply mean that I'm just a member of the "good 'ole boys" gang who run things in this country, but rather that I have access to a culture that those of a darker pigment can never see or experience. I get the privilege of hearing things that my African-American or Hispanic friends cannot, witnessing emotions that they cannot, seeing behavior that they cannot. It is a tendency of human nature for people to let their guard down in front of their own “kind.” Perhaps noting these things publicly will get me kicked out of the club, but I cannot remain silent while the discrimination continues.
Apologies are easy when a political career is on the line. Forgiveness is easy to ask after the fact when we've "seen the light" of our indiscretion. The old expression that a person's real character is evident by what they do when nobody is looking is never truer when it comes to bigotry. As a member of the "white club," I know how many of my fellow Caucasians really feel about minority rights. I see the classist fear in their eyes, and I unfortunately hear the despicable humor that is sometimes used to allay that uneasiness.
Yes, we are a society that still discriminates, still classifies, and still judges others based not on Dr. King's dream of character, but on attributes of pigment. As I stated earlier, I am a white male, and because of that, I am lucky. I can walk down virtually any street in America and not appear overtly threatening to others. Women will not clutch their handbags tighter when I enter an elevator with them. I do not hear the sound of car door locks clicking as I stride past, or witness folks crossing the street just to avoid me. I have never had the concern of being rejected in a job interview because of my race. I've never experienced that sudden hushed banter as I walked into a room and the aversion of eye contact that follows.
I am lucky. My pasty skin has given me access to advantages that may not have come otherwise throughout my lifetime. I've received degrees from two good Universities, held a number of professional positions and political positions that have advanced my career, been appointed to boards in my community that were rather important, and never have I had to worry that my race might be seen as hindering my ability to be successful, whether by negative perception or by some fictional delegated advantage.
Counter to what many white people would like to believe, racism still exists, still thrives, and it thrives on fear. Certain friends that I know will begin a sentence, "I'm not bigoted… but….." And that "but" is the big giveaway. Simply put, no matter what statement comes after that "but…," prejudice follows. Try as hard as so many of us may, we cannot get past basic human resentment over perceived unfairness. And when it is perceived by many white folks that folks of color are receiving an unfair advantage, resentment turns to anger, which then turns to illogical conclusions and usually outright hatred.
This is not the time or place to defend Affirmative Action. But it is the time and place to tell my fellow whites to get over it! We have had, and still have, advantages built into the system that favor us and will continue to favor us for some time to come. Perceptions die hard. The white advantage in this country is just as unfair as Affirmative Action, but is entrenched even more deeply. Until we make peace with that history on both sides, discrimination will dominate us. While I have seen the bad that inevitably resides in all of us, black, white, brown, whatever, I have also seen the good that flows from our hearts. We are by nature, a caring, nurturing and uniquely forgiving people. However, we cannot advance until we recognize and purge the darkness that we all carry within. We shall overcome, but only after we engage our intelligence and our compassion to its fullest.