James, you mentioned race relations in the South, so I feel I should speak up here. It’s a long reply and I appreciate your patience. The first two sections describe my standing on the subject and the worldview I’ve developed concerning racism. The third section will most directly address the concerns you listed in your response.
1 — I was raised racist in the MS Delta, and my entire family and every White person I knew was racist (you can read more about it here). To make a long story short, I joined the Navy, saw the world, and was forced by my experiences to recognize my racism (and my family’s) for what it was. I’ve worked towards unlearning it for many years since.
First off, how does one define “racism”? My own definition is different from (and seems significantly broader than) Clay’s. You see, nobody in my family held malice towards Black people. We really wanted the best for them. We would have been deeply insulted if you had called any of us racist, for in our opinion, the racists were the idiots wearing white robes.
Why, then, do I say we were all racist? Because as soon as the Black people were out of earshot, out would come all the old racist assumptions and N-word jokes, and none of us ever seemed to realize how those assumptions and jokes directly affected our social and political attitudes. That’s why we had White churches and Black churches, almost completely-Black schools and all-White segregation academies (I attended both). Even in 1984 — twenty years after the Civil Rights Act was signed — the only doctor’s office in Shaw, MS (where I graduated high school and was visiting while on leave) still had two doors with signs above that read “white” and “colored”. They were all painted a solid green, but paint doesn’t hide inch-deep chisels in marble very well. The residents still obeyed the signs. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, since it had always been that way…but you can probably imagine what the Black people there thought about it, and how powerless they must have felt, since every single White person in that town (including me) knew about those signs and did nothing about it.
The point is, racism doesn’t require malice. Racism only requires untoward assumptions of those of other races (or ethnicities or religions, for that matter). That’s why I say that the great majority of racists are good, honest, hard-working people who don’t recognize their own racism for what it is.
2 — After my first decade in the Navy, I had become more aware of the degree of racism in the world, not just in my family in the Delta and America in general, but pretty much everywhere I went in the world.
Would you agree with me that racism is found everywhere in the world, that no race or culture is immune from racism? I’m sure you would. Problem is, why is it, even though White people now comprise only a little over half America’s population, the great majority of racism (and the most egregious such acts) is committed by White people? Are we White people somehow more racist than those of other races?
In America, yes we are…and I wager that once you hear why, you’ll agree.
The key is this: in any given nation, the most (and most egregious) racism or acts of prejudice is always committed by the socioeconomically-dominant demographic (whether racial, ethnic, or religious). In China, it’s the Han against the Uighurs and Tibetans. In Japan, it’s the ‘normal’ Japanese against the Ainu. In Rwanda, it’s the Tutsi against the Hutu. In Mexico, it’s the Hispanics against the indigenous Mexicans.
That’s why I can say with confidence that yes, in America, White people are indeed the most racist of the citizenry. It’s not because Caucasians are somehow naturally more racist, but because in America, we are the socioeconomically-dominant demographic. Of course, this does not by any means excuse the racism itself.
3 — That’s why, when I read your response, I had to speak up. When you see Black people seeming to accuse all White people of being racist, it may well be because that’s what they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced, because that’s precisely what they experienced where I grew up. What’s more, we White people often commit racist acts without even realizing it…but you must realize that our ignorance of those acts means little to the People of Color seeing those racist acts. Add to that the white privilege that you and I both have, that we carry with us anywhere on this planet you care to go. I’ve gotten preferential treatment almost everywhere I’ve gone overseas because of my race — yeah, one can say that it’s often because they think I have money (even when I don’t), but the obvious reply is that they think I have money because of my race.
What I’m getting to here is that when we White people discuss race and racism, we need to have not just thick skins, but more importantly, the understanding that neither you nor I have had and cannot possibly grasp the experience of not being White in a nation not far removed from the Jim Crow era.
To explicitly address one of your examples, when you read “white people dont want us black people to vote so they are trying to stop us,” it’s sorta hard to tell Black people otherwise when there is not only the history of slavery and Jim Crow, but also modern-day deliberate voter suppression of Black voters and a president who chose two white nationalists (read: white supremacists) — Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon — as senior White House advisers…to the sound of *crickets* by the increasingly lily-white GOP.
I mean, given all that, what the heck are Black people supposed to think?
You’ve been a reporter, so that tells me you’ve already got the thick skin I mentioned earlier. But please understand that when you hear such comments from Black people, in almost every case, it’s not because they’re trying to be racist, but because that’s what they see every single day of their lives.