I know that most of you would never consider yourself a racist. Not only that but you condemn the practice and loath the idea. Nevertheless you live in a very racist society. How do you reconcile these two ideas?
Like George Lakoff's Don't think of an elephant you can not avoid thinking about race. Our society will not let you do that. The history of our Nation will not let you do that. Let's look at why.
With a strong prevailing history of slavery in the United States, racism has always been an issue. The enslavement of millions of Africans along with the huge influx of immigrants throughout its history has not only allowed great diversity but has created racial segregation. With the abolition of slavery different forms of segregation were implemented including Jim Crow laws and the later American political structures which invited extreme segregation within cities and the suburbanisation of the white working and middle class. As overt and obvious racial discrimination became less and less apparent and illegal the idea that the nation was homogenizing became popular. It was thought that as the U.S. accepts more immigrants from different cultures a sort of "melting pot" will occur and unify everyone under one creed. Along with this, ideologies formed that every group of immigrants goes through the same discrimination. Groups were thought to eventually assimilate, but racism remained and is still present today.
Another covert racial problem occurred when most of the black G.I.s returning from the war were denied money promised to them to go to school or buy a house. There were estimates that 25% of soldiers, serving in Vietnam were black, but anecdotal evidence were much higher. Black servicemen were likely to re-enlist at twice the rate of their white counterparts in the Navy, Marine Corps and Airforce and three times the rate in the Army. Not for any sense of adventure, they found the monetary rewards to be promising and they were treated as equals or near equals.
I was born in 1936. My life has been a continuous engagement with the racial discrimination we systematically practice here. I grew up in Chicago. The city was very strongly segregated and ghettoized ethnically. I say this to make a point. Never was I warned about traveling to another ethnic ghetto. I was always warned to stay away from the African American parts of the city. There once was a Second City skit that eventually appeared on Saturday Night Live about some liberals riding through the city discussing their liberal views about race. Suddenly one of them notices that they have entered one of those
neighborhoods. The conversation stops as they frantically roll up the car windows and lock the doors. Clearly a skit like that tells us a lot about the status quo.
The first encounter I had wit African Americans was in High School. had I gone to a local high school it would have been lily white like my grammar school, but I went to a technical High School across the city. Again I was warned about them. The reality was that I quickly made friends with African american students and we actually banded together to protect ourselves from the white thugs that dominated the school.
In the United States covert racism is used to construct barriers that disable and oppress a racial group. Some of these methods are covertly racial profiling and the use of racial stereotypes. In the 1950s after World War II, urban areas were overtly divided into blocks by race. The wide acceptance of these divisions by the majority and the lack of social integration was covert. These blocks were close to toxic dumps, busy highways, and other undesirable locations throughout cities. Whites lived away from these areas and often time Realtors would not be able to show properties to whites within these areas. Apartments also could not rent to certain minority groups henceforth maintaining segregation. Until the late 1960s, the government sanctioned discrimination in housing markets by promulgating rules preventing blacks from receiving mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
My first trip to the south was by train to Norfolk, Virginia to board ship for my freshman midshipman cruise in 1954. There I was introduced to overt segregation in all its classical forms and was shocked. Later when I actually lived in Virginia it became clear that overt segregation was different than what I had experienced growing up in Chicago. People actually lived in closer contact and yet their was no pretense that prejudice did not exist.
We can fast forward through the years to the present. I live in Virginia's second smallest county. We do not even have one stoplight. Segregation is now covert but very real.
The "N" word is as common as it was years ago in Chicago. One difference is that I see African Americans just about every day where I rarely saw then in Chicago unless I went downtown or at least far from my neighborhood.
I know that most of you had your own version of the kind of thing I am talking about. The point is that nowhere in this country is covert racism of some form absent.
So what is the point? The point is that we are still seeing the equivalent of lynchings and we still are not able to overcome the strong systematic racial hate that exists everywhere in this country.
We never dealt with our first racial crimes, namely the genocide we committed when we stole the country from its inhabitants. We never really did much to right the wrong of slavery after that. With that kind of legacy, it is little wonder that we have problems.
I often wonder why it is so hard to realize the price we have paid, are paying, and will pay for this. We are a racist nation and systematic racial hate has become a new terrorism. Each day it goes on we sink deeper into a condition of degenerate social sickness.
To pretend that we can deal with this through electoral politics alone is to condone it. You can not seriously believe that we will solve the problem that way. History is all too clear. So, as usual, the question becomes one of how to deal with the problem. Like all our other serious problems it requires us to change the way we live. It requires us to be able to feel the injury being done to others as if it were being done to us. The liberal/progressive community in this country needs to be ashamed of its acceptance of covert racism. The existence of systematic racial hate and the resultant terrorism needs to be halted. Violence is not the answer. Martin Luther King taught us that. Yet the commitment needs to be so very much stronger. We have failed as a people so far. I think we are all racists. Some are much worse than others but we all have dropped the ball on this one.
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