Posts Tagged ‘Black racism’

Are white people picked on?

June 2, 2011

Some white people think they are victims of racial discrimination.  They object to a Black Congressional Caucus, a United Negro College Fund or a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on the grounds that any distinction based on race is, by definition, racist, just as a white congressional caucus or a united Caucasian college fund would be.

I doubt, however, that very many of the people who raise this objection would be willing to change places with black people, and be treated as black people still are treated in American society.

I have heard of black people passing for white, but I never heard of any white person passing for black. (I am not talking about people like the white firefighter years ago who claimed he was an affirmative action hire because he had a native American grandmother.)

The experience of black and white testers – equally qualified black and white people who apply for apartment rents, mortgage loans or jobs – shows that black Americans are not playing on a level playing field.  So long as black people are singled out for discrimination on the basis of race, they have a need and a right to organize on the basis of race.

The other relevant distinction is that the descendants of black American slaves are an ethnic and cultural group as well as a racial group.  Out of their experience, have created a distinctive music, art and literature as well as movements for social reform.  The black experience has significance for everyone, not just for black people.   If you interpret American history as a history of the struggle for freedom, African-American history is a prime example and central part of that struggle.

African-Americans as an ethnic group are comparable not to white people as a whole, but to particular groups such as New England Yankees, Polish-Americans, Appalachian mountaineers or American Jews.  We white Americans have nothing in common that we do not share with Americans of all colors, except for the history of white racism.  I am not one of those who says that American history and European history as a whole constitute White Studies, because that implies these subjects are not of equal interest to members of all ethnic groups, but certainly the contributions of Anglo white males are not ignored.

So it is not discriminatory to have African-Americans studies programs in universities and not European-American studies or white studies.  When I attended the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, there was a Department of Scandinavian Studies.  I heard that a liberal arts college in the Rochester area is thinking about starting an Irish Studies program.  These would be the true parallels to African-American studies programs.


Racism vanishing, racial prejudice remains

June 1, 2011

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Racism and racial prejudice are not the same thing.  Racism is a doctrine.  Prejudice is an unconscious attitude.  Racists are usually proud of being racist.  Prejudiced people are usually unaware of being prejudiced.  Prejudiced people object to being called racist.  They’re right.

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Racism is a doctrine that some groups of people are genetically superior to other groups, and that the superior groups are justified in denying equal rights to the inferior groups.  Today few Americans will admit to believing any such thing, but I can remember a time (I’m 74) when racist ideas were part of the normal discourse of American society.  I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me, “Tell, me, Phil, and be honest:  Would you want one of them to marry your sister?”

Prejudice is an unconscious attitude.  Prejudiced people judge individuals on the basis of superficial characteristics, such as skin color, or they project the negative traits on individuals onto every member of the group to which the individual belongs.  They sincerely believe their opinions are based on fact and reason.

While racism is marginalized, racial prejudice is very much with us.  The experience of testers – sending out teams of closely-matched white and black people to see if they’re treated different – shows that racial discrimination is not a thing of the past in American society.   At the same time, I’m old enough to remember when things were a lot worse.  Black people do not yet compete on a level playing field, but I can remember when they were completely barred from the game.  They have a harder time getting jobs or mortgage loans than equally-qualified whites, but I can remember when their race made them ineligible even to be considered.  In fact, I can remember a time when there were parts of the United States in which white people could kill black people with impunity, and sometimes did.