Teaching Our Black Daughter About Our White Racism

Teaching Our Black Daughter About Our White Racism

I met my daughter when she was three. Her mother and I had begun dating.  Indeed, our first date involved taking Ella to the park.  Her mother, who had finally accepted she wasn’t going to marry, had adopted Ella from Ethiopia when Ella was six months old.  She took on the daunting task of raising a black daughter as a single white mother.  Then, as my wife likes to say, “I walked through the door.”  Within weeks, Ella was calling me Dad and six months later, her mother and I married.

I remember telling my wife that one of the gifts I brought to our marriage was my experience in raising five children, three of whom were daughters. I assumed being Ella’s father would be a piece of cake.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I soon realized I was a bumbling idiot when it came to raising a black daughter and that, unless I began a crash course on racism and white privilege, I had the potential to do tremendous damage to the psyche of my black daughter. Together, my wife and I committed to learning all we could about the experiences and perspectives of people of color, especially from parents of color.

One of our early struggles was in accepting our inability to escape our racial prejudices. As Ella’s parents, we quickly saw the ways white people interacted with her from a racial bias. It took us longer to realize their affliction was our own.  We too were hopelessly prone to acting out of those biases and our love for Ella did not negate this propensity.  Like all white American adults, we were racist.

Since I know many white people find this assertion offensive, let me be crystal clear about what I mean and don’t mean by saying “all white American adults are racist.” I do not mean that all white Americans adults are bad people.  Indeed, in my experience, many white people are genuinely interested in addressing the racism in themselves and in our society.  When I say “all white American adults are racist,” I am reluctantly acknowledging that all white Americans adults have been raised in a segregated and racially unequal society where they have had the power to act on and reinforce their prejudices with little accountability.  Much of this racism is so subtle that we, who are white, cannot see it.

For example, recently one of my daughter’s white teachers called my wife to report that Ella was being disrespectful and disruptive in class. As any responsible white parent would do, we accepted her teacher’s description of Ella’s behavior as accurate, made Ella write a note of apology and temporarily took away some of her privileges as punishment.  We did not ask Ella if she thought the teacher’s description of her behavior was fair.

That was racist behavior on our part.

We should have known better. While it was certainly possible that Ella’s behavior was disrespectful, we had read enough about racial dynamics to know that – at about Ella’s age – the assertiveness and independence of young black women often comes under attack.  They are no longer cute.  As women of color, they are becoming threatening.  White society has very definite expectations about their behavior and often tries to enforce them.  Instead of reserving judgment until we more fully understood any possible racial bias on the teacher’s part, we did what white parents with white children can do – we assumed the teacher’s perspective was unbiased.

As it turned out, when we later discussed this situation with Ella, she acknowledged her behavior had been disrespectful. However, this does not excuse our racism.  Ella is going to spend the rest of her life having white people treat her differently because of the color of her skin.  She does not need her parents uncritically justifying and supporting her mistreatment, always assuming that the perspective of the white person in the interaction is unbiased.

Acknowledging our own racism is only part of our responsibility as Ella’s parents. We must also prepare our daughter for a world where all white American adults are racist. Every single white American adult that she will encounter in life will have some conscious or unconscious bias about her because of the color of her skin.  This is true of the “good” white people as well as the “bad” white people.  This is true even of those who love her the most – her white parents.

Inevitably, Ella will become aware of this reality. Soon, like all teenagers, she will become adept at identifying our parental hypocrisies.  If we want our relationship to our daughter to be rich and deep, we need to make certain that when we say or do things out of our racism, she can understand our behavior as systemic.  Our racism is not an intentional act of disrespect.  When she begins to call out our racism, we don’t want her to see our racism as evidence of some deeper animosity toward her.  She can freely and openly challenge us.  Why?  Because we are already convinced of our biases and want to address them.

The second reason we must prepare our daughter for a world where all white American adults are racist is for her self-protection. If she had been raised by black parents, she would have learned this maxim in countless ways – through observation, through story, through experience and through training.  She would know that she must always assume racial bias on the part of white people.  She cannot afford the assumption that the police officer who has pulled her over will treat her with respect and equity.  To do so put’s her life at risk.

This knowledge is especially important as a child raised by white parents. We have been able to shield Ella from much of the racism most children of color encounter from their earliest years.  She has been raised around white friends and family that have treated her with affection and acceptance.  In so doing, we have created false expectations.  Reminding her that all white American adults are racist is vital as we send her into the world.

In retrospect, I wish I’d taught this to my white children as well. Instead, I reinforced the false dichotomy of “racist equals bad” and “non-racist equals good.”  In so doing, I made it more difficult for my white children to see, acknowledge and address their racial biases.  Indeed, it is white people operating out of this assumption who are most likely to inadvertently misjudge and mistreat my black daughter.  Overt racism is broadly censored in our society.  It is the systemic and subtle racism of “good” white people that actually has the most power to adversely impact her life.

Ironically, when it comes to racism, there will soon be a role reversal in our relationship with our daughter. We have been the teacher and she has been the student.  As she becomes an adult and fully experiences what it means to be a black woman in America, she will have much to teach us.  Though we expect some of those lessons to be painful, we couldn’t ask for a better person to teach them.  While all white American adults are racist, we also want her to know that some white American adults are willing to listen and learn.   We cannot completely eliminate our racial biases, but we can demonstrate the proper response to such self-awareness.  You vigilantly work to diminish and mitigate the impact of your biases on the world.

Advertisements

Are All White Americans Racist?

Are All White Americans Racist?

I say, “Since all white Americans have been raised in a racially segregated and biased society that has provided them with certain cultural privileges and advantages, all white Americans are racist.”

Another white American says, “How dare you call me racist. That’s offensive.  You don’t know my heart and mind.  You don’t know how I think or act.  You don’t know how I was raised.  My parents were good people who taught be to be color blind.  I’m not racist.  You’re the racist.  You’re the one who is judging a whole group of people based on the color of their skin.  If you are going to continue to make broad and outrageous statements like this, our conversation is over.”

I say, “I apologize. I didn’t mean to offend you.  I just think it is really important for white Americans to talk about our role in perpetuating racism.  Could we at least agree that since all white American have been raised in a racially segregated and biased society that has provided them with certain cultural privileges and advantages, that most white Americans are racist?”

Another white American says, “That’s offensive, too. Most white Americans are good people who believe in basic human rights, a level playing field and the rule of law.  I hold no animosity toward people of color.  I have never intentionally mistreated a person of color.  In fact, I have friends and family who are people of color.  To lump me in with neo-Nazis and white supremacists is offensive and unfair.  If you can’t see the difference between those people and me, our conversation is over.”

I say, “I apologize. I’m not accusing you of being a white supremacist or even a bad person.  I just think racism is more pervasive than you’re suggesting.  Could we at least agree that since all white Americans have been raised in a racially segregated and biased society that has provided them with certain cultural privileges and advantages, that a majority of white Americans are racist?”

Another white American says, “I could never agree with that. Most of my white friends are just like me.  We aren’t racist and we’re tired of getting judged and condemned for being white.  Slavery ended 150 years ago.  In the 1960s, segregation ended.  You completely ignore all the progress we’ve made. Most of the problems faced by minorities in our society today have less to do with racism and more to do with poor decision making.  If you’re going to insist that white Americans are still responsible for every inequity, our conversation is over.”

I say, “I apologize. I don’t want our conversation to end.  There must be some common ground as we seek to create a more racially integrated and just society.  Could we at least agree that since all white Americans have been raised in a racially segregated and biased society that provided them with certain cultural privileges and advantages, that some white Americans are still racist?”

Another white American says, “Well, I can agree with that. I know some white people who are racist.”

I say, “Wonderful. Let’s begin there.  What can we do about that?”

Another white American says, “There’s no point in talking to them. When people are racist, they won’t hear anything you say.  They’ve been raised to see the world in a certain way and don’t see anything wrong with it.  If you challenge them, they just get defensive, offended and angry.  It’s a waste of time.”

I say, “On that, we can agree.”

One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

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.

The Umbrella

The Umbrella

My beautiful black daughter, Ella, turned ten. No more single digits.  No more little girl.  She’s grown two inches since December. She’s dealing with her first pimple.  She has the beginnings of a teenager’s sarcastic wit.  This is both wonderful and frightening.  It is wonderful to watch her becoming a young woman and frightening when I remember what it means to become a black woman in America.  While I celebrate her growing maturity and independence, I also realize my ability to protect her from racism is diminishing.

Last week, she and I went on a walk. For years, this meant her walking beside me.  Now I walk and she rides her scooter, exploring her burgeoning freedom to navigate this world. Vacillating between child and young adult, sometimes she rides next to me and sometimes she ventures far ahead of me, only circling back when I call out to her.

As we walk through our white neighborhood, I notice a new dynamic. When she is beside me, the white people we encounter greet us with warm smiles, wishing us a good day.  They recognize her as my daughter or granddaughter and offer her all the entitlements of my white privilege.  But when she ventures too far ahead of me, when it isn’t obvious she is connected to me, the demeanor of the white people she encounters shifts.  No one smiles and greets her. Some stare at her, obviously disturbed by this unaccompanied black girl in their neighborhood.  Only when I call out to her to slow down or come back, do they relax.

I’m not criticizing these people. How can I?  They are like me.  Their reaction has been my reaction when I’ve encountered people of color where I did not expect them.  Discomfort.  Suspicion.  Even hostility.  Yet, as I watch the reaction of white people like me, I am also ashamed.  This is white privilege exposed.  It is not an academic abstraction, open to debate.  It is a visible manifestation of a deeply embedded inequity and cruelty.

It is as if I am carrying a large umbrella on our walk. When Ella is near me and underneath that umbrella, she is afforded all the rights and respects of my white privilege.  But, when she ventures outside my umbrella’s shadow, she immediately loses those benefits. She is judged differently. She is greeted with discomfort and suspicion. She is no longer endearing. She is a threat.

So I am finding her tenth birthday bittersweet. I am so proud of who she is becoming, of her intelligence and creativity, her passion for life, her kindness to others and her genuine outrage over injustice.  On our walk, I asked her who – in her class – she thought most likely to become the President of the United States and she replied, “Me, of course.”  I love the confidence with which she approaches her future.  I have so much to celebrate on her birthday.

But I am also aware of the forces that will do everything in their power to keep my beautiful black daughter from becoming the President of the United States. She will spend less and less of her life walking under the umbrella of my white privilege.  She is moving out into a world where she will have many opportunities to be outraged at injustice.  What she does not fully understand is how often she will be the victim of those injustices.

She is why I write these posts. I wish I had thought and written such things long ago, but I didn’t understand my complicity in racial injustice until I became her father. Without becoming her father, I would still be oblivious.  For this reason, I try to be patient with those – who in their ignorance – continue to downplay the role of racism and white privilege in our nation.  How can they understand?  They can’t see the umbrella under which they walk.

This is why I speak out even though I often irritate friends and family. Speaking out is the least I can do for Ella.  I can try to make visible what is invisible, to illustrate what seems abstract or absurd to many white people.  I write because I want my daughter to grow up in a world where the possibility of her becoming the President of the United States is neither ridiculous nor improbable, where the white people she encounters see what I see – beauty, intelligence and incredible potential.

I cannot give Ella that gift for her tenth birthday, but that is the gift she deserves.

What Are You?

What Are You?

My daughter-in-law is bi-racial. Her father was black and her mother was white. Her skin is a very light brown, making it possible to think her Latino, Asian or even Middle Eastern.  This racial ambiguity often makes white people uncomfortable.  Uncertain of how to identify her, complete strangers often ask, “What are you?” While she finds this offensive, she usually responds with, “I am a human being just like you.”

Of course, some people – either lacking certain social graces or harboring deeper prejudices – don’t get this not-so-subtle suggestion that their question is racist. They persist in their attempt to categorize her. They say, “You know what I mean.  What race are you?” To which my daughter-in-law answers proudly, “I’m half black and half white.” Sadly, many of her questioners seem only concerned about whether any part of her is black.

The lineage of another person shouldn’t be our concern.  That we are all human beings should be enough to engender respect and kindness.  If someone was really curious about my daughter-in-law’s family history, they could ask far less offensive questions.  Asking “what are you?” – with its objectifying language – is obviously focused on determining status rather than empathy and understanding.  They are asking if my daughter-in-law is due their deference or disdain. For some, any blackness is justification for disdain.

While I think such questions offensive and racist, they are far too common. All of us are repeatedly asked to identify what we are.  Indeed, our government is one of the worst culprits, demanding this information on a variety of forms.  We are offered a list of boxes with different racial and ethnic designations and asked to fit our often complicated histories into these prescribed boxes.  My daughter-in-law prefers to identify as bi-racial, but is often asked to identify as either black or white.

Sadly, while my daughter-in-law has both a black and white parent, she does not necessarily have the right to identify as white. The predominantly white culture demands those without a “pure” lineage identify with the “less pure” lineage.  People with a black ancestor are black. Though we’re given the impression we can self-identify, historically the government has carefully delineated who fits in what box.  Those who deviate have often found themselves in court or jail.

Fifty years ago, it was against the law for my son and my daughter-in-law to marry. To enforce these laws, the government established who was white and who was not.  In Virginia, 1/16th black was black.  In Florida, I/8th black was black.  In Alabama, any black ancestors made you black, regardless of how you physically appeared.  Thirty years ago, many southern states still had laws that determined how to categorize people.  These “one drop” laws were designed to defend the purity of the races, specifically the white race.

While most of these laws were repealed or found unconstitutional, the courts are still asked to rule on racial identification. When there are disagreements about “what we are,” the courts are asked to judge.  The census includes an admonition against fraud, implying that self-identification is potentially criminal if the government decides you are not who you say you are.  Indeed, for the 2020 census, the government has added a new category – Middle East/North Africa.  Many people who previously identified as white are being asked to identify themselves differently.  They are no longer white.

As complicated as racial identification has been for my daughter-in-law, it could be even more complicated for her children – my grandsons. What are they?  By appearance, they both look very white.  Yet by the old formulas, they are 1/4th black.  What box should they mark?  Should they mark the one that honors their father or the one that respects their mother?  Why should they even have to choose?  And, if they choose to apply to college as a black person, could the courts accuse them of fraud?

Such questions expose race as the cultural and political construct it has always been. Race is used to divide and categorize us.  For some, it means inclusion and all of its benefits.  For others, it creates obstacles and disadvantages.  In America, it has always been a construct designed with one primary goal – to guard white identity and power.  Within this American racial construct, identifying as white is a protected privilege.

The problem in America is not with how people of color identify themselves. The problem is that so many of us – whose genealogies are probably far more diverse that we know or acknowledge – continue to proudly wear the white label.  As long as I identify as white, I give tacit approval to the cultural and political construct that does so much damage to people of other colors.  Racism will not end with laws or constitutional amendments.  It will only end when white people abandon and deconstruct the idea of whiteness as preferable and normative.

I will not pretend this deconstruction is an easy task. White privilege was embedded in the very foundation of our nation.  Our cultural institutions were built on this foundation.  Cosmetic changes to a few laws do little damage to its underpinnings. However, I am certain who holds the responsibility for deconstruction.  It is the ancestors of those who built this ugly system.  It is white people like me.  In the months ahead, I will be wrestling with the many ways I and other white people can speed the deconstruction.

For example, how should I identify in the 2020 census? To identify as white feels like flashing my membership card to an exclusive club. Yet I also understand that demographic information has provided evidence of inequities and support to those who challenge them.  Even with this statistical evidence of great inequities, many white people resist change.  Without this demographic information, how can the courts be swayed and people shamed?

But I also realize demographics are a two edged sword. The census data of the 1930s was used to identify the Japanese who were placed in internment camps.  How will the label North Africa/Middle Eastern be used against Muslim people?  The boxes we mark give power and legitimacy to what I hate, the idea that people can be divided and valued by the color of their skin.  As much I wish, we are not at a place and time where my daughter-in-law’s response that “she is a human being just like you” is enough.

Until that day, I will use my membership card to gain entry to the club, examine all of its many security measures, exploit their weaknesses and plot its destruction. My goal is not that my white looking grandsons are assured admission. This would be no victory.  I want to tear down the building, brick by brick and stone by stone.  I want to destroy this American apartheid, to see a day when marking the box “white” has no more value than any other box.

Just The Facts

Just The Facts

Here are some facts.

Though blacks are only about 13% of the US population, they represent over 40% of the jail and prison population in the United States. A recent study – based on current trends – estimated that one in three black males will spend time in prison during their lifetime.  Based on this information, what could you conclude?

a.) The American criminal justice system is intentionally and systematically racist.

b.) Black men commit more crimes than white men.

If you are progressive, you probably gave response (a). You interpret the statistics above as evidence of racial bias.  If you are conservative, you probably gave response (b).  You believe the explanation for these statistics is in the behavior of black men and not in the racial bias in the system.  Ironically, neither (a) nor (b) are facts.  They are both opinions based on facts.   It is difficult to sort out racial bias from individual behavior.  It is not difficult to determine if black men commit more crimes than white men.

Here is a fact.

Black men are six times more likely to be arrested for a drug offense. Based on this information, what could you conclude?

a.) The American criminal justice system is intentionally and systematically racist.

b.) Black men commit more drug offenses than white men.

If you are progressive, you probably chose (a) and if you’re conservative, you probably chose (b). Again, both are opinions and not facts.  Being arrested for a crime and committing a crime are not the same.  Arrests only indicate whether a person was caught in or accused of a crime.  They tell us nothing about the overall behavior of a group of people.  If you are not arrested when in the possession of drugs, this does not mean you didn’t commit a crime.  It means you didn’t get caught.

Here is a fact.

Black men (11%) are not significantly more likely to use illicit drugs than white men (10%). Based on this information, we would conclude that blacks and whites should be arrested, convicted and incarcerated for drug offenses at approximately the same rates.  However, we know that black men are six times more likely to be arrested for a drug offense.  Something is deeply wrong and the problem isn’t the behavior of black men.

Here are some more facts.

Black men are three times more likely to be pulled over by the police for an investigatory stop. They are five times as likely to be searched.  Based on this information, if illicit drug use is equally common with black men and white men, it stands to reason that stopping more black men than white men would result in more arrests of black men.  Black men do not commit more drug offenses.  We have simply created a system that catches them at a much higher rate.  What is true with drugs is also true with other crimes.  One of the privileges of being white in America is a much greater opportunity to get away with a crime.

Here are some more facts.

Blacks are more likely to accept a guilty plea for a lighter sentence. They are less likely to ask for a jury trial.  They are less likely to post bail or to hire their own legal counsel.  If they ask for a jury trial, they have only about a 50% chance of having a single black person on their jury.  If they face an all-white jury, they are 16% more likely to be found guilty.  If convicted, they are given sentences that are about 20% lengthier than their white counterparts.  Based on this information, what could you conclude?

a.) Black people, though they are not statistically more prone to criminal behavior, are targeted by police, pressured by white prosecutors, allowed to languish in jail, poorly represented, forced to put their fates in the hands of people who are racially bias and given harsher sentences.

b.) Black men commit more crimes than white men.

While these are both opinions, they are not equally credible. The first is supported by nearly all the facts and the second ignores them.  The first opinion suggests you are a fair and open-minded person willing to adjust your opinions based on evidence.  The second opinion suggests you are ignorant and racist.

Those are the facts.

You Might Be A Racist If…

You Might Be A Racist If…

When someone uses the phrase, “I’m not racist, but…,” you can be nearly certain they are racist. In my experience, what follows the word “but” is usually stereotypical and often racially offensive. Indeed, the least racially prejudiced people I know never make such claims.  If they say anything at all, it is to acknowledge their continual struggle to address their racist tendencies.

Some white people are clearly less racist than others. Not all of us are white supremacists who think people of color genetically and intellectually inferior.  Many of us are genuinely trying to check our racism and address our white privilege.  While I applaud such efforts, I continue to discover ways in which I am unconsciously racist.  I offer this short list of statements, attitudes, behaviors and possessions that I’ve either had or tolerated.

You might be a racist if…

  • You have recently begun a sentence with the disclaimer, “I’m not a racist, but…”
  • You hit the automatic locks on your car in response to the presence of a person of color.
  • You have suggested people who complain about injustice in America should “go back where they came from.”
  • You say “they should go back where they came from” when a Native American complains of injustice. (In this case, you are not only racist, but really stupid.)
  • You own a Confederate flag or a black Sambo yard ornament.
  • You claim “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter.”
  • You think traveling to a resort in Mexico qualifies as traveling to Mexico.
  • Your only real interaction with people of color is when they’re serving you.
  • You think of a black male when asked to describe a drug dealer.
  • You can’t understand why “Indians” get so upset about sports team mascots.
  • You have wondered why there isn’t a White History month.
  • You don’t notice when you’re in a group without a single person of color.
  • You are never the only white person in a group.
  • You’ve hired an undocumented immigrant and paid them less than a fair wage.
  • You don’t know any details about the life of Frederick Douglas.
  • Even worse, you think Frederick Douglas is still alive.
  • You have used the term “those people” to describe a racial group.
  • You think affirmative action is unfair, but think it perfectly acceptable for your child to get preference at your alma mater.
  • You own a signed copy of a book written by Rush Limbaugh.
  • You’ve never watched a Madea movie.
  • Even worse, you’ve never heard of Madea.
  • You have recently said, “Some of my best friends are people of color.”
  • You’ve made the argument that the Civil War was about state’s rights.
  • You don’t celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • You think one or all of the following to be true – Asian people are more talented at math, black people love watermelon, people of Muslim faith are violent, Latino people are more tolerant of heat or Jewish people are better with money.
  • You still think Christopher Columbus discovered America.
  • You are white and were born in the United States.

This last indicator is probably the most important. It is impossible for white people to grow up in America without some level of racism.  Until you acknowledge this reality, you are ignorant in the truest sense of that word.  You ignore the truth.  This combination of ignorance and racism makes a white person very dangerous.  They can do or support terrible things while continuing to see themselves as morally righteous.

Unfortunately, even for those of us who acknowledge our latent racism, this list only captures the more obvious examples. Sadly, I was once oblivious to the racism in much of this list.  In the future, I expect to discover other examples of racism within myself, racist statements and behaviors of which I am presently unaware.

This is good news.

The longer this list becomes, the less racist I will be.