I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the first nine months of writing this blog. In e-mail exchanges, Facebook interactions and face to face conversations, I have spent a majority of my time trying to explain racism to white people who are convinced they are not racist.  Too often, instead of talking about the injustice done to people of color and how we rectify those inequities, I’ve focused my energies on soothing the hurt feelings of white people offended by the insinuation that they might be racist.  After nine months, I’m exhausted.

I’m also more sympathetic. I better understand the great frustration on the part of people of color with the lack of serious conversation about racism in the United States.  When a large percentage of the white population refuse to acknowledge racism exists and even imply they are the oppressed ones, making progress on righting injustice is nearly impossible.  When a common white response to “Black Lives Matter” is “All Lives Matter,” I can understand why people of color are tempted to violence.  I’ve wanted to pound my keyboard during more than one recent conversation with a white person.

I’ve begun to wonder whether such conversations are futile. If a white person is unable to see the evidence of racial prejudice and bias in our society, they are either unobservant or willfully ignorant.  While I understand no problem can be solved that isn’t first acknowledged, every exposed injustice is also an incentive for white people to pretend there isn’t a problem.  When the game has been stacked in our favor so long and so well, why change the rules.

Ironically, I often hear white people talking about the need for minorities to be more accountable and responsible for their behavior. Yet white people are extremely resistant to any accountability for a racist system that has benefited them and their ancestors for centuries.  I’m tired of hearing white people disavow any responsibility for the injustices of today.  These are the same people who are offended when I suggest their attitudes and behaviors are racist.

I’ve thought a lot about why so many white people insist they aren’t racist.  A primary factor is our collective misunderstanding about the causes of racism in America.  Many white people associate racism with the hatred of people of color.  Since we feel no great animosity toward people of color, we assume we can’t be racist.  Some of our friends and even family members are people of color.   This affection for a few people of color convinces us that we cannot be racist.

Unfortunately, equating racism with hatred is a seriously flawed understanding of racism. Consider this analogy.  We’d find it odd if, when asked if they loved their spouse, someone replied, “I don’t beat them.”  A lack of hatred and abuse for your spouse is hardly evidence of your affection and concern.  Yet I have had many white people, when I’ve suggested their attitudes and behaviors might be racially motivated, reply, “I don’t mistreat people of color.”

Let me state this as clearly as I can. Finding a sign reading, “No Dogs, Negroes or Mexicans” offensive does not mean we are not racist.  It means we aren’t assholes.  As with our spouse, the proof of our affection and concern for people of color is in what we do to enhance their lives; not in our lack of abuse.  While hatred can certainly cause someone to be racist, hatred is not at the core of America’s racial malaise.  It is the inconsistency, inattention, carelessness and power of white people that has entrenched racism so deeply into our societal systems.

Inconsistency

Inconsistency in behavior is at the heart of all racism. While most white people do not actively seek to harm people of color, we are quite comfortable treating people of color differently than other white people. We do this so unconsciously that we aren’t even aware of our bias.  Yet this bias has been demonstrated scientifically again and again.

Studies have repeatedly found that police officers pull over people of color at a much higher rate than white people. Juries convict more people of color.  Judges pass harsher sentences.  Landlords are less likely to rent to people of color.  Banks make loans at a higher rate of interest.  Job applicants with minority sounding names are less likely to be interviewed.  I could go on and on.

These inconsistencies are evidence of a racial bias. While they may not be intentional or conscious, they are still racist.  When someone responds to the killing of people of color by the police with Facebook posts declaring “Blue Lives Matter,” but posts nothing when a black officer kills a white woman, that inconsistency reveals their racism.  Blue is not the color motivating their behavior.

We don’t have to hate people of color to be racist. We just have to treat them differently than we would treat another white person.  Racism – at its core – is an inconsistent application of basic human rights and privileges, or the tolerance thereof.

Inattention

Inattention is another sign of rampant racism. To push my earlier analogy further, being a negligent spouse – while less destructive than being an abusive one – still exposes a lack of affection and concern.  Yet many white people, though we do not actively seek to harm people of color, are perfectly willing to ignore, diminish or tolerate the unjust treatment of people of color.  Quite simply, for many white people, even when we acknowledge racism in our society, it isn’t worth our time and attention.

White people often tell me that since they have not actively caused the injustices done to people of color they have no responsibility to rectify them. Yet what would we think of a person who, upon finding out that their spouse was being mistreated at work, responded, “I’m not the one mistreating them so it isn’t my responsibility.”  If we care about someone, we take the injustices they experience personally.

A lack of national outrage over the historic and current racial inequities in America is ample evidence of this deeply entrenched racism. We don’t have to hate people of color to be racist.  We only need to look the other way when they are mistreated.  This inattention reveals both a lack of compassion and a lack of identification.  They are not like us; therefore their treatment is of little concern.  Racism thrives on this inattention.

Carelessness

Carelessness – in every sense of the word – defines the racism of most white people. We don’t hate people of color.  We simply “care less” about the racial injustices of our present system.   We refuse to look carefully at our own prejudices for signs of latent racism.  By defining racism as hatred, we can ignore all of our daily micro-aggressions toward people of color.

This careless attitude about the struggles of people of color may seem rather harmless, but it is insidious in its ugliness. Indeed, in some ways, hatred toward people of color is more respectful.  At least hatred acknowledges them as a legitimate threat and opponent.  When white people treat people of color carelessly, we demonstrate a deeper disdain.  They are not even worth our emotional investment.  We care less because they are worth less.

Power

Finally, no thorough discussion of racism can avoid questions of power.  While any person of any color can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their attitudes and behaviors toward people of a different color, only those with power can systematically damage and diminish the lives of those whom they disdain.  In a society where white people have controlled the levers of power, racism is a direct product of white society.

White people can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their behavior toward people of color with little risk or consequence.  We can treat a Latino worker with disrespect without censure.  We can be inattentive to a police officer without danger.  We can be careless about racism without any effect on our quality of life.  This is not true for people of color.  A person of color who complains about disrespect is often fired.  A person of color who is inattentive to a police officer can be killed.  A person of color who is careless in their interactions with white people will eventually be punished.  This power differential turns common bias and prejudice into an uniquely white ailment – systemic racism.

In fairness, I am aware of the inconsistency, inattention, carelessness and power of white people largely because this described my attitudes and behaviors for nearly fifty years. I have been part of the racial problem in America.  Even now, I am a recovering racist at best.  As such, I am well positioned to see the racism of other white people.  It takes one to know one.

Unfortunately, I am also learning most white people don’t appreciate and value my new found ability to see racism. I experience far more resentment than appreciation.  I am seen as disloyal rather than helpful.  So I’ve decided to no longer argue with white people about their racism.  When they disclaim or dispute the prevalence of racism in America, I will ask them to read this essay.

If they are unconvinced, I will move on.

I will identify them for what they are – the reason racism continues to thrive in America.

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40 thoughts on “One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

  1. Thanks, JIm. I’m enlightened. And part of the problem in the sense that I do little to combat racism beyond trying to raise my children with less prejudice than I had growing up. There are so many things that should demand my attention, but I’m ignoring many of them because it’s hard to fit fighting for those things it into my life, which consists of trying to do the best I can for my family financially. It’s a tough balance, and I appreciate the reminder from your posts.

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  2. I belive there is racism in each and every one of us. No matter how hard we try, our society is so entrenched and have taught us not only to be racist, but that it is okay. I also speak of that for all people, not just white people. Thank you for your great article.

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    1. Kendra, unfortunately, the sentiment that all people are (or can be) racist is incorrect and another misunderstanding of the meaning of racism. People of color can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their attitudes and behaviors toward white people with little impact on us. Indeed, such behavior by people of color usually results in their punishment by white people. Applying what I say about racism to include people of color is to completely misunderstand my point

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      1. I don’t completely agree w/ the above response James. I am a white male, living in a community that is 98% people of color; as such I’m the minority. All official positions of ‘power’ in my community are held by AA or West Indian residents. I have been denied membership in the AA church I attended for 3 years (one leader told me it was simply ‘because you’re white’) & denied leadership opportunities in community organizations led by AA folks, while my talents, skills, & resources (yes- all bestowed on me via my white privilege) are still eagerly embraced and welcomed at the table, & I’ve got solid relationships w/ the AA & WI community leaders I serve. Personally, because of the legacy of baggage I bring to the table as a white man, I don’t think it wise to be in any positions of leadership, but the point is – I’m also not offered the opportunity that other members of my community are.

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      2. Rex, I hope you can see your presence in this community as an opportunity rather than an oppression. I think their decision and your recognition that having a white man in a position of leadership is problematic is wise. However, I don’t see their treatment of you as racism. I hope you can continue to celebrate the relationships and learn together.

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  3. Very Good Blog—I have a Black Roomate/Best Friend for the last 6 years, so I have had a front row seat to see how others that I have introduced him to treat him differently than they do me, white female of 52 years of age. The respect level is much lower and they find it acceptable to take advantage of his good nature, he works very hard at being accepted in our suburban neighborhood the fact that he has to work to be accepted is racism!!

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    1. Whites are so quick to holler “reverse discrimination” when the shoe is suddenly on the other foot. There was a very interesting video on YouTube that showed what life in America has been like for Blacks in terms of a foot race, where the White runners were given a 10 lap head start (representing the 300 or 400 years that Whites had to progress) and the Blacks didn’t. The Black runners had to contend with holes in the track and a multitude of other well placed OBSTACLES in their way, and yet, despite all the obstacles they still ran the race. But to what end? They were never going to win, unless they started the race all over again with “a level playing ground.” And, that is exactly what the Whites fear…competing with a stronger race. They know that Blacks have internal strengths and abilities that they don’t have, so they continue to do whatever they can to keep them oppressed.

      Yes, to share POWER means to lose power, as they said in South Africa; being the reason why Apartheid took so long to be abolished. No one WANTS to be the UNDERDOG in a society, but apparently SOMEONE has to be, according to those in Power. 10% must suffer so the 90% can live well. But, they have chosen who will be the ones to “live well” and who will suffer by their own standards. When Black people progress they move into White neighborhoods (that is, if they let them), go to White schools, and then socialize with White people ie. become their friends, marry their children, etc. and that is what the racist Whites don’t want.

      WHITE PEOPLE CALL IT SURVIVAL OF THE RACE…Black is the dominant gene in genetics, mixed children are called Black no matter how White they look or who their White parents are. So White people (especially White Supremists, KKK, Skinheads, etc.) do not want Black people to even be around them because the ultimate condition will be total BLACKNESS or less Whiteness in the least sense. THIS IS THE REASON FOR RACISM…plain and simple. Just because a few Black people have become millionaires, does not mean there has been “advancement” of the race in this country, when 10% of Whites own more wealth than 90% of EVERYONE ELSE here! It is a calculated condition plain and simple.

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  4. I am a 69 year old Caucasian, graduated from high school in Mobile, Alabama in 1965 a couple of months after the march in Selma. I was ashamed of the way my culture treated people of color and the blatant violence surrounding school integration the year before. I Ieft the South with the intention of never returning and moved north anticipating a less racist environment. I was naive. It is practiced a little differently in Iowa than Alabama, but still there. Maturing, I thought myself egalitarian, until I considered why I raised my windows and locked my car doors when traveling through areas of Kansas City occupied largely by people of color.That is when I hung my head in the dawning awareness that I too was racist and was still using terms like “he Jewed them down in the negotiation.” We each see the world through lenses of our own self-deception. We harbor self-perceptions and scripts which we have practiced since we were children and have seldom examined with courage and honesty. I have appreciated the company and friendship of fellow employees and, in some cases, employers who were not Caucasian yet still work hard at trying to discover evidence of my prejudice.

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  5. Thank you for your very correct and frank essay. To offer support to you, let me say that i am a college professor of social work and I teach diversity at two different colleges, one of which is a Historically Black college. You observations are spot on and backed by the books I teach from. I will share this with my Black students to help them understand the white privilege mindset.

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  6. Ok. I agree with you that we live in a racist society. I don’t know what made the lightbulb really turn on for you but this article did it for me and I’ve sent the link to tons of people since I read it:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/09/03/how-st-louis-county-missouri-profits-from-poverty/?utm_term=.f1d3dc46d231

    That article goes a long way in painting a picture of a world that I have never inhabited and did not know existed. Add it to videos of cops stopping whites and blacks and seeing the contrast, plus some other stuff and I’m convinced.

    But I’m a 58 yo white woman, disabled, who doesn’t get out much and lives in an area that is something like 93% white. What am I going to do about it? Well, when I am out and I see a black person at Walmart or at the doctor’s office, if it feels right, I engage them in a friendly way. It isn’t much but honestly, if everyone did that, it would make a huge difference.

    Now let me give you a bit of advice. Don’t get so personal about it. Talk about the ways that black lives are DIFFERENT from whites, ways they are indeed treated differently (like call backs for exact same resumes with typically white vs black names) and about the SYSTEMIC racism that exists rather than beating up individuals as racist. It is much easier to convince a white person that our systems are racist than that they are personally racist. If they get the system part of it, they will eventually figure out the individual part.
    Now let me ask you this – are you aware of the fact that Native American women are raped and murdered at much higher rates than women of other groups? The reason is that offenders can’t be prosecuted by the tribes on tribal land so white men go on tribal land and rape and pillage with impunity. Why aren’t you doing something about this? Why don’t you care? My point is that your analogies have this weakness. There are loads of injustices in this world and any given person only has so much in the way of resources and has to make decisions on how to use the little bit that is left after they do their work, take care of their families and manage their lives. They are also limited quite naturally in how much they know about the daily lives and challenges of other groups. Recognize this and don’t beat people up for living the same way that you did for decades. Again, don’t be so personal about it. People can’t change what they DID or DIDN’T do yesterday (so leave that out of it), they can only move forward from today.

    You didn’t use this term but I’ve thought about it so I will say that I also think the term “privilege” is counter-productive in this because it is a term from social science meant to describe differences in populations but the layman’s understanding associates it with wealth and status. When you tell a layman that they are privileged, they automatically get defensive and think of all the ways that they have been less-than-privileged instead of being open to discussion. So again, don’t make it personal – focus on systemic racism.

    Think of it this way – you don’t need to try to “convert” people to believing that they are racist, you just need to move them along a continuum from racist to not-racist (we all exist somewhere on that continuum in both knowledge and action). If you move them a little bit in the direction of not-racist, then you have accomplished something whether they are “converted” or not. For most of us, change happens largely in increments with occasional “breakthroughs” along the way. You will be less frustrated if you take this approach.

    I hope this helps some and I encourage you to continue trying to make this world a better place.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I appreciate your call for patience as people slowly change. As to taking this personally, you’d need to read more about my personal journey to understand that I need to take this personally. I have a black ten year old daughter and five bi-racial grandchildren. Racism is not an abstract discussion point, but a daily issue for our family. Consider this…would you really ask a person of color to not take racism so personally?? Maybe the problem is that most white people don’t take racism personally or very seriously.

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      1. I’m on mobile and can’t seem to find a post titled Anti-Racist Resolutions. I am interested in reading it. Would you please add a link?

        Thank you.

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  7. I’ve had this same reaction in talking to men about women’s issues. When I try to explain that disbelieving women who report rape leads to women who are assaulted being afraid to come forward, or that posting articles about the importance of women dressing modestly makes women feel like they need to be afraid of all men in public, men get VERY hurt feelings. I think I am trying to explain the reality of how men’s behavior affects women, and they hear personal attacks. And they get very upset about it. It is honestly baffling to me. These are men who are open about discussing women’s behavior, and what is right and wrong about what women do, but when a woman addresses their behavior, suddenly everything is different.

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    1. That’s because the world is run by rich, (or nearly rich) White, racist men who think that they were born to treat people differently, whom THEY perceive to be INFERIOR. Maybe we need to talk about WHITE SUPERIORITY COMPLEXES before we even talk about racism, because that is the ROOT.

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  8. Thanks so very much for this James. It echoes the sentiments of many who’ve sought biblically grounded racial reconciliation for decades and have run up against these attitudes over and over again.

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  9. Hi Jim,

    Thank you for continuing to speak the truth about the great “sin” so ingrained in our society and culture. It is so “everywhere” that we white people are blinded. All one can do sometimes is speak the truth and hope it will at least get people to think. I sense more white people are starting to “consider the possibility” at least. The NYC church where I work is offering space to https://www.constructivewhiteconversations.org/ . I’m happy to report that 6 people came to the first meeting and the organizer was very happy how it went.

    Even in NYC – liberal, diverse city that it is – A Black colleague (who is a Ph.D. FYI) sometimes needs White help to get a cab to stop for her. Same for a Black retired pilot I now. A cousin of mine said that “stop and Frisk” policy was the price that had to be paid to make the city safer. I told him that didn’t fly because he didn’t have to pay the price. An older retired friend of mine did however– being stopped countless times walking home from his grocery store in his nice neighborhood – being asked by NYPD where he as headed, what was he up to…

    What is especially hard for me is our micro-aggressions. The words phrases we use in our everyday American English, that we don’t even connect with race or people – but they still hurt people of color. This is hard stuff.

    Valerie

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  10. In summary:
    All white people are racist.
    People of color can’t be racist. (Or if they are, it doesn’t count?)
    The reason a disproportionate number of people of color are arrested is racism and not because they commit a disproportionate amount of crime.
    The fact that I’m not outraged that racism exits makes me racist.

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  11. I found this article very strange. I can understand that racism might rise up in people when confronted with someone of a different country, culture or class but why would -anyone treat a person differently because of their skin colour? Surely the only person who would do that would be the sort of person who would look down their nose on someone who dressed differently or had tattoos or body piercings for example – the sort of person who makes a superficial judgment based on appearance. But is that racism? Surely it’s just small mindedness and ignorance? An affliction which is sadly not confined to the white middle classes.

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    1. Rose, in my opinion, the attempt to equate what white middle class people do around race with what people of color do IS RACIST. That is what I find so strange. We do not end racism by redefining it as a common human malaise.

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  12. I assume, since you are enlightened, you might be open to some counter points to the issue?

    I’m slowly coming to understand and know what different issues that people of color deal with on a daily basis. Being raised in an inner city and not seeing black people as any different than me for the first 18 years of my life sort of gave me a huge blind spot to the realities that they face. Living the rest of my adult life in a very homogenized town has shown me the prejudices that people of color do endure. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to NOT have the race issue thrown in your face at nearly every turn. So it’s either hunker down and ignore the issue with your fingers in your ears, or at least try and bring in the information in at a pace that can be digested. Sure, you want the whole world to change tomorrow, but the reality is, these changes, which used to take centuries…are taking decades or even less these days.

    So now, for my questions……

    Inconsistencies — You say that we as white people are biased. That science has proven we are biased and the white cop treats the black person with bias. But you glaringly ignore the fact that blacks also commit this racist “crime” to other blacks. White people aren’t the only ones with “unconscious bias” against black people. Even black people have been scientifically proven to have unconscious bias against black people. This is a problem with our society, not just white people. Our entire society has this problem. Why did you leave this important fact out?

    Inattention —
    Again you fail with your poorly formed analogy. My spouse is someone I love and have committed my life to. I have a sworn bond to them and a relational interest in them.

    Let’s use a much more proper analogy.
    If my wife is working at a store and is being abused and is underpaid. I will step up and attempt to help her rectify the situation.
    However, if Joe Blow is being abused at the same store. I might make a comment or even commiserate with him over a beer later, but it’s truly not my fight to be making.

    Fighting racism is the responsibility of everyone in society, I think we can agree on that, but to equate the entire community of color to my spouse? You are clearly letting your own biases come through on that one. I fight PERSONALLY for my family. My children, my wife, my father, my mother… don’t even THINK to equate any group to that level. I understand that in your own situation, it is different. You are fighting for your own family when you make this post, but to accuse others of racism because they don’t hold your family’s cause as high as their own is profoundly misguided.

    Carelessness —
    On this, I think we can agree.

    In closing
    The real problem can be summed up in a word. That word is, semantics.
    For my entire life, the use and definition of racism and racist was synonymous with the word bigot. They were the same thing. So when YOU say racism, you trigger an image of “hateful bigot” in most people’s heads. Of course today, now racism is “microaggressions” and “institutional” and “systemic” and “power”. All these not so subtle twists and turns to not call someone a bigot but still get the satisfaction of calling someone a racist. Then, when they become defensive, we get scholarly and attempt to make them feel stupid for not knowing the “true” definition of racism and racist.

    It’s just a game of semantics designed to make some people feel more “enlightened” than others. The problems you complain about, you give no actual tool for fixing or even (as anyone who actually IS enlightened might do) give the unwashed whites some nuggets of truth to chew on. Instead, you just throw another log on the fire of racial tensions. Talking down to people who are engaging you and treating them with disdain, like some elitist European colonist rolling his eyes at the savages he has to encounter.

    Step up and be brave, show love to your perceived enemy. Show compassion. Show patience. Show the unenlightened that becoming enlightened doesn’t make you an arrogant know it all. Or…just keep the cycle going while you virtue signal for your own self-satisfaction.

    Let me be clear. We do have a problem with racism. We do have fundamental issues that need to be addressed and worked on and discussed and hopefully, eventually, fixed. But we will never figure that out if we are continually creating new enemies out of everyone who isn’t lock step in line with us.

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    1. Rob, thanks for your thoughtful response.

      You suggest that I offer nothing for white people to do to address racism, but only incite and chastise. While that may be true in this specific post with a specific theme, that accusation does not represent much of my writing. I encourage you to read more of my posts, especially my Anti-Racist Resolutions which outline what I am doing to address racism in my life and society. Honestly, I plan to spend far less time berating white people. That was the whole point is calling this post “One Last Try…” I am tired of these conversations, but find them necessary again and again as I talk with other white people. As soon as I mention any injustice facing people of color, most white people push back with racist statements. When I challenge those statements gently, they become defensive and ask, “Are you calling me racist?” And off we go!

      As to your point about black people demonstrating these same biases and prejudices towards each other. You’re absolutely right. I did not address that in this post, though I have in others, because I’m already inundated with white people who use that fact to justify racism or diminish its ugliness. That black people have internalized and unconsciously adopted certain racist behaviors and attitudes toward their own people is one of the sadder aspects of systemic racism.

      Finally, I take your point on the inadequacy of my analogy with how we’d respond to a spouse. Obviously, with a black daughter and bi-racial grandchildren, I do take racism very personally. However, that most white people don’t take racism seriously is precisely because they fail to see any connection or intersectionality with people of color. Maybe when more of us connect at deeper levels with people of color, we to will take their plight more personally.

      As to creating new enemies, I think you mistake the situation. As a white person allying myself with people of color, I am not creating enemies. I am finally seeing enemies through the eyes of people of color. The enemy is inconsistency, inattention and carelessness. My friends of color have also encouraged me to step up and be brave. Only they recommend a different approach than you. They ask me to speak out where and when they dare not. They’ve been told to be patient for hundreds of years. It is for them that I am learning compassion and empathy.

      Thanks for writing. I sense we agree on more than we disagree.

      By the way, my use of enlightened was meant to be ironic and tongue in cheek. Obviously, that wasn’t clear enough.

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  13. My Dear James…you could talk or write yourself until you are blue in the face because you failed to do one important thing. You failed to distinguish the difference between RACISM and PREJUDICE or BIAS. People will dislike a person or group of people and treat them differently than those they do “like” for different reasons. THAT IS CALLED PREJUDICE. But, when you possess the POWER to actually affect or change the lives of these people THAT IS CALLED RACISM. We get the two or three terms confused because they are misused daily in this country. RACISM can go both ways…it is not just Whites vs Blacks…it could be Blacks vs Whites— if the Black people had the power to affect the negative changes that Whites vs Blacks have made here. The inherent (built in) difference here is…no matter what you THINK about another race, creed or color of a person…is IMMATERIAL… if you can’t or don’t do anything to either make their lives better or worse. True Racism has made the lives of Blacks in this country WORSE because there is a group of people (call them the ones in power) who have decided that THIS IS THE WAY IT IS GOING TO BE.
    How can 12% of the population be 95% of the prison population? How can a company hire 100 White people and NOT ONE BLACK? How can almost 90% of Whites be better off than over 50% of the Black people? THAT is the difference between Racism and Prejudice. I could hate you and make all kinds of excuses as to why I hate you or even not hate you. You could be my best friend or even my mate or family member. But if my actions (or lack thereof) makes the difference between whether you can feed your family (or even yourself) and whether or not you live or DIE today…THAT IS RACISM. Everything else is just PERSONAL PREFERENCE.

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    1. Carla, I completely agree with your important distinction, one I’ve made in many previous posts. However, explaining this distinction between bias and prejudice and racism is lost on most white people. In this post, I intentionally dealt with racism in its most basic form. Unfortunately, getting white people to even admit they treat people of color differently is a tough task. If they can’t admit to inconsistency, inattention and carelessness, trying to get them to acknowledge the differentials in power is probably a lost cause. That being said, I completely agree with your point and hope you’ll read more of my posts. In any 1200 word post, you have to choose what to emphasize and what to leave out.

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      1. Carla, after thinking more about your comments, I revised the essay with a section about the role of power. I’m not certain it will make this explanation any more palatable to those who resist it, but it does make the argument more thorough. Thanks for challenging me.

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      2. Yes, the addition of the section on power makes a big difference. Thanks for doing that. And thanks to Carla for suggesting it.

        Great post. Thank you. It’s educational and enlightening for me.

        And I appreciate reading the comments – and your thoughtful and receptive responses, especially when you’ve been challenged. Best wishes, Paul

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  14. Fascinating blog, thanks. When people are open to change, it helps.

    I do think ‘racism’ has such an all-or-nothing negativity these days that it’s a nonstarter for many whites who are unthinking racists to then think of themselves as having anything to do with it.

    Here’s something else: holding a conversation about racism between blacks and whites means negotiating a solution, I think, and most white people are so ignorant of about black experience that they’re at a complete loss as to how to begin. Also, listening itself implies admission of systemic mistreatment, and in turn, accepting guilt about that. Who would want to begin a negotiation from that position? Intuitively, even deniers know intuitively they’re giving up the upper hand socially.

    Not saying there’s no answer, but this shit gets complex.

    Also agree with Margaret’s comment above that when things get personal, the stakes feel much higher and more dangerous. There are ways to depersonalize, but it requires a knowledge of and commitment to some pretty firm boundaries.

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    1. “This shit is complex” may be an understatement. I think you’ve identified the chief impediment to racial reconciliation – whites will need to give up the upper hand. That seldom happens willingly. I think this is why Obama was so threatening to many, often as a level they were unconscious of. He represented the possibility of losing the upper hand. As to depersonalizing the conversation, I’m not sure that is the answer. For me, when racism became personal, I began to care. As you said, this shit is complex.

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  15. Love your article James. So much to think about. I grew up with a dad that made racist comments from time to time. Not until after his retirement when he drove kids to and from places they needed to go at a boys home did he finally chill out. See, he had never been around someone of color enough to know them. We are still segregated to a certain degree.
    My lovely wife is pretty dark skinned being from Perú. I was married to her for maybe five years when my aunt pointed out that I, this very white guy, was in an interracial relationship. I don’t really care, hadn’t really thought much about it. I love her and her family. Her grandma is 80% black, a result of black slavery in Perú. Before that, I hadn’t really thought about slavery outside the USA(which I now refer to as the DSA (divided states of America). I love the diversity. My nickname is Gringo, but is truly used as a term of endearment.
    She has been in the states for about 12 years now and works her butt off in our business. Because of her we are definitely more successful than I would have been alone. She’s a dynamo. Her mom tells me about not eating for two days as a child. Most white people can’t relate to that. If I went hungry it was because I refused to eat what my parents served.
    She spent most of first 11 years here with no real problems. Now, she has heard inapropiate comments from other kids parents at our daughters school. Even my now old friends wife felt it was OK to make a racist comment to her via Facebook. So wrong. I had asked her husband last summer who I had not seen in 20 years after he was making racist comments about Obama how many times he had a black person over for dinner. His answer was I’ve never had a black person over for dinner, not that I wouldn’t. Hmmm…
    I went to a school that was maybe 98% white. A few blacks and Native Americans was all the diversity I saw. After school I was fortunate enough to have several close black friends I met through the world of music that I got to know very well. I loved them. Wonderful people. They were left in my house alone several times. Some people thought I was crazy. I trusted them with the keys to my house more than most people I knew. We just don’t get to know each other sometimes since I believe we are still segregated to a certain degree due to opportunities and oppression.
    My one good friend from this world of music told me something I have always remembered and have sometimes myself come up short.
    His name was Renard Luke (RIP old friend, and blow your horn with the angels).
    His comment was simple, but makes you think.
    He said Chris, “We are all black in the dark”. How true.

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    1. Beautifully written, Chris. I think for both of us, being in an intimate relationship with someone of color, both changed our perspectives and helped us see the often hidden (from white) racism all around us. Without becoming the father of a black daughter, I have no doubt I wouldn’t be writing this blog. I hope I’d come to some of these conclusions without her, but they would have still been fairly abstract. The greatest hope is that racial barriers seem to be slowly melting away, especially with the present generation. Our task is to make certain those in power don’t try to reverse this trend.

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