Back in April I wrote a column in which I took the position that since I had never experienced racism, I was going to stop writing about issues involving race.
Alas, like a moth to flame I am drawn to this very important issue. The intersection of so many things I am interested in — economics, history, political science, sociology and psychology — make race and racism a difficult but fascinating issue for me.
Since that April column, the weekly parade of white cops beating or shooting non-life threatening African Americans has continued seemingly unabated. South Carolina suddenly came to the recognition that the Confederate flag really was offensive to millions of Americans of all colors.
We seem to be talking about racism more than ever.
I suppose that is a good thing. Robust honest discussion about this difficult subject is desirable — except the discussion is never very honest because white people are afraid to say what they really think. If they give voice to their thoughts, concerns, opinions and beliefs, they run the risk of being labeled a racist, and nobody wants to be called a racist.
African Americans will always occupy the higher moral ground and arguably should get to decide whether a position or belief is racist. It is hardly surprising, then, that the white person will choose to simply avoid talking about race or agree with an African American even if they view the particular issue as nuanced, complex and not black or white (pun intended).
There is that gap between what we think and what we say.
Is it racist to think that the reason a disproportionate number of the African American students are disciplined at the high school is that those students misbehave more?
Is it racist to think a new African American hire whose resume seems less impressive than the white candidates got the job because he or she was black?
Is it racist to cross the street when you see young African American men dressed like the gangbangers in movies and TV shows?
Is it racist to believe that the African American community bears some of the responsibility for not overcoming the terrible legacy of slavery?
Does racism require intent? Is there a difference between intentional and negligent racism?
Can someone have a Confederate flag in his den and not be a racist?
Is this column racist?
I think most Americans of both races (is the race designation itself racist?) would agree that racism has diminished in this country, but there is a long way to go before we achieve its eradication. Like smallpox, polio and malaria, it takes a sustained effort and, as the cases diminish, diagnosis becomes more difficult and the disease more pernicious.
The suggestion here is that we can pass laws, elect Barack Obama and fill the airwaves with a righteous sound and fury, but until more citizens, especially white ones, change their hearts and minds about race and racism, then the deep historic stain of slavery will remain part of the national fabric.
And we can’t change these hearts and minds until we know what white people really think.