News & Politics

Blacks Should Stop Calling Whites Racist

If black-white race relations in America are to move beyond the current impasse, black folks ought to stop referring to white brothers and sisters as "racist."
I've written it before. If black-white race relations in America are to move beyond the current impasse, black folks ought to stop referring to white brothers and sisters as "racist."

Not only that, we, as black people, ought not spend so much time and energy protesting the reality of racial profiling.

No, I haven't sold out. Hang with me for a minute.

In my conversations with a fairly reasonable cross-section of white Americans, I've found that when black folks say "racism," white folks hear "evil intentions." Having been made blind to the reality of institutional racism, which requires no ill-will on the part of its functionaries for it to operate, and having rightly judged themselves as being not evil (as all race groups do), the charge of racism only serves to alienate our Euro-American fellows.

It seems that a large swath of white America is focusing on intent alone while black America is focusing on effect alone. So we are talking past each other; all of us morally exhausted, clinging desperately to our half-truth.

I'm not suggesting white-skin privilege doesn't exist. It does and it's an ugly blemish on this experiment in democracy called the United States of America. And that's my first point. White-skin privilege is what we mean; not racism, which conjures up images of a Ku Klux Klan member.

And we know that most white Americans are revolted by such blatant bigotry. We see them going to tanning salons in droves. We know it's white youth that have made hip-hop a multi-billion dollar industry. We know blacks have disproportionately dominated American pop culture from Louis Armstrong to rappers Most Def and Jay-Z to the annoyingly popular "what's up!" Budweiser ads.

We know Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are gods, while Samuel Jackson and Denzel Washington are top box office draws. We know Oprah is the most successful daytime talk show host in the history of television.

By continually using the word "racist," we give white people the wrong impression that we're too sensitive. It makes it difficult for them to see just how resilient we are when it comes to this stuff, and that most blacks could care less if Joe White-Guy is gushing with compassion for black people or not.

What really worries us is how race affects decisions made by people with institutional authority -- like a loan officer or a cop.

And that leads me to my second point. Yes, racial profiling is an example of white-skin privilege. But the reason I suggest we shouldn't spend much time or energy fighting racial profiling is not because it's unimportant. It has to do with the wisdom of picking one's fights.

Police do what lawmakers tell them to do and our lawmakers have made the war on drugs a priority. And with 50 percent of all African-Americans born into poverty, it's no wonder an alarming number of black youth are involved in the illicit drug trade, having been economically marginalized in a society that uses wealth as a measure of people's moral worth.

As long as these conditions exist, the police will continue to focus their limited resources on the nation's poor and vulnerable, who because of the legacy of white supremacy happen to be black.

Speaking out against racial profiling without understanding the economic conditions that fuel it and how it also negatively affects whites is to miss the forest, looking at the trees. Unfortunately, we've all been taught to analyze social problems through the prism of race, which hides the reality of economic exploitation.

Affirmative action is primarily about economic opportunities; not racism or merit. Instead of black and white working class folks fighting over who should get the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich, they should unite in one social movement to expand economic opportunity for everyone, which requires a radical re-evaluation of the maldistribution of ownership in this nation.

As the late financier Louis Kelso points out, poverty in a capitalist nation is caused by a lack a capital; not because poor people don't believe in pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

So even though it is a self-serving contradiction to be against affirmative action while in favor of "rational discrimination" when it comes to law enforcement, it does not follow that people who hold these views are racist.

We must re-connect with the humanity of our white brothers and sisters and form a broader social justice movement. This is what the Rev. Martin Luther King was getting at before he was assassinated.

"I submit that nothing will be done until people of good will put their bodies and their souls in motion," King prophesied in his last sermon, days before he was martyred.

"Yes, it will be a poor people's campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor."

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached at [email protected]
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