“I’m Not a Racist, But … “
I travelled around Australia and New Zealand with my wife at the time a few decades back, and one of our observations was that people we spent time with sooner or later said “I’m not a racist, but … ” And then they followed with some really racist observation about Aborigines or Maoris. It was kind of sad. And then there was the time we were at a dinner party and the conversation got onto the subject of children raised by wild animals, then, without missing a beat, they segued into a conversation about whites raised by Aborigines. And I’m quite sure all of these people would have been quite insulted if it was suggested they were at all racist.
In any event this post was inspired about a poll that was recently taken in America. Basically non-whites think the racism situation has improved in recent decades, though not as much as whites think it has improved. No surprises there, the situation regarding racism in the USA has certainly gotten better since the fifties and overt segregation. What surprised me though as that a significant number of whites report that they now feel discriminated against. I mean, I knew there were some whites who felt discriminated against, it’s not that hard to find whites whining about how minorities have all the advantages now and they are the discriminated against minority now.
People like this make me angry. Anyone who thinks whites face discrimination in the USA simply doesn’t understand the pervasive and all encompassing racism permeating American society. This is still very much a country where whites rule and in almost every facet of society being white, especially white male, is a huge advantage. And while whites might certainly come across instances where a non-white is hostile and prejudiced towards them, it simply isn’t the same as the subtle miasma of racism non-whites deal with on a daily basis.
Some examples. I read an interview with an American Air Force general. They asked him if he encountered any racism during his career, since he wasn’t white. He had two interesting examples. He said that of course he met many people in the course of his life. And often the first question that comes up when getting to know someone is “So, where are you from?” And our Air Force general would answer … Ohio. And sometimes people would get annoyed at him for answering that, because of course they were really asking him about his ethnicity. Tell me, will a white person ever encounter this kind of reaction if they tell a fellow American they are from Ohio? Not in the USA they won’t. Another example, same source. This general was at an official function in Washington. He was wearing his US Air Force uniform, which had a US flag on it and says “US Air Force” as well. The American wife of a diplomat came up to him and said “Oh, you must be a general in the Chinese Air Force!” Would that ever happen to a white US Air Force general? Would a white US Air Force general even be asked if racism was a factor in their career?
See how subtle this is? For example, I was walking through Berkeley with a friend a few weeks back. A woman getting out of her car shouted out at him the breaking news of the day … the verdict in the Oscar Grant trial. Tell me gentle white reader, has any stranger ever shouted out to you some news of the day because they thought that as a white person, you would want to know? My friend of course is black. He even commented, Gee, I guess she told me that because I was black? Yerp. This is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln once met with a black political leader of his day. Afterwards, someone asked him what he though of Mr. Lincoln. He said: “That was the first time in my life where I spent an hour talking with a white man, and he didn’t once mention that I was a black man.” And this is what I mean by pervasive underlying racism. Whites in America can go through their entire life without someone pointing out that they are white. Non-whites are reminded constantly that they aren’t white.
My point is that we are still a long ways from being some sort of post racial society in America. In fact in many ways we have a veneer of being post racial, but racism is simmering quite nicely under the surface. Just becasue it’s no longer politically correct in most circles to espouse racist views, doesn’t actually mean that racism went away. In my next post I will expand on the unpleasant topic of how liberals can be both simultaneously racist, and yet declare and apparently believe that they aren’t. Then of course there’s the whole nasty business of just how brutal and overt racism was in the USA. The lynching of Laura Nelson and her 15 year old son in 1911 illustrated above is a good example. Pictures like this were commonly reproduced and sent as post cards! Times have changed for the better for sure, but we still have a long ways to go.
Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is Public Domain under US Copyright Law. It’s a photograph of the lynching of Laura Nelson and her son. And to end on more pleasant note, in New Zealand we hitched a ride that took us nearly 800 miles. Our driver was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, he paid for our meals, wouldn’t accept gas money, and was just in general a prince of a man. Yet at one point in the drive, he said “I’m not a racist, but … ” My wife and I braced ourselves for some horribly racist remark. ” … it really bugs me how Maoris drive on the freeway in big cars with their long hair waving out the window.” We didn’t see that one coming.)