By John Hubbuch
Following Paula Deen's use of the "n-word" and George Zimmerman's acquittal, we once again are agonizing over racism in America. Attorney General Eric Holder sounds the call for meaningful discussion on the issue. I thought we had already exhausted the topic each time Barack Obama ran for president. Guess not.
The discussion is never very satisfying because the issue is so complex and emotional. Most white people avoid the discussion other than to express outrage against racism and sympathy for the victims. Their reticence is understandable. For the most part, whites are not directly impacted by racism, and they are vary wary of being called a racist. Being called out as a racist is almost as bad as being called a pedophile.
It's just easier, and safer, to keep your mouth shut. No doubt someone will call me a racist for writing this column.
Racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race (Webster-Merriam on-line dictionary). Based on this definition, only a small percentage of Americans are racists — i.e. those who belong to the Ku Klux Klan. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa were racist governments. The United States is not. The federal government and every state government has passed lots of laws banning discrimination in housing, hiring, public accommodation, voting — the list goes on and on. So this national conversation needs to stop assuming that the U. S. is a racist country.
It is not. It is a country in which racism exists.
We need to discuss who gets to decide what is racist and what is not. The press, national African-American organizations like the NAACP, and individual African-Americans are possibilities. Should white people have any say? What if not everyone agrees on racism? Here are some examples of potential racism:
1) Is it racist to use the "n-word" if one is quoting an African American?
2) Is it racist to observe that African-Americans commit proportionately more crime than whites?
3) Is it racist to maintain that more African-American dads should be doing more to raise their children?
4) Is it racist to acknowledge the terrible impact of slavery but to wonder when that impact will be over?
5) Is it racist to oppose monetary reparations for slavery?
6) Is it racist to cross the street when seeing African-American youths dressed like popular TV and movie gangstas because you think there is a small chance you might be robbed?
The list could go on and on. In determining what is racism, does it make a difference whether the person raising the issue is black or white? Does racism require intent?
Maybe racism should be considered a disease, passed on from parent to child. If so, is there a course of treatment? Should we feel sorry for the racist? Should schools have mandatory classes on racism?
Is racism relative? Is there a different standard in Birmingham, Ala. than there is in Santa Monica, Calif.?
Are there degrees of racism? If you make a statement that you don't think is racist, but an African-American does, then are you a racist? (We're back to the question of who determines racism.)
Finally, given the myriad laws banning racial discrimination, just how can we as a nation change the hearts and minds of our citizens with respect to this issue?
I'm pessimistic and skeptical about much progress happening in this national discussion in the short run. Maybe we're not ready for this discussion. Heretofore that discussion has been labored, contrived and overly emotional.
If we can't do any better, then maybe we should all just shut up.