Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Talk Racism.

First, a caveat:  I am a white, Anglo-Saxon male, although I am not religious, so I guess the WASP thing is out.  But I say this to state unequivocally that I am well aware that I am not experienced in being on the receiving end of racial bigotry.  So, I am not trying to tell anyone that I know the true state of racism from the standpoint or perspective of a minority who does.

Ok?  Good.

I do think that I've got a pretty fair idea of how racism works, though, because I grew up in Texas in the 1950s and 60s, and am VERY familiar with how whites in the South view blacks and hispanics.  So, while I can't exactly talk about the receiving end, I CAN talk about the folks that dish it out.  Been there, actually did that at one time.

And am very ashamed of myself for it.

After having lived in Maryland for the last 26 years, my experience has been enough to turn my views on people of ethnic backgrounds other than whites completely around.  I have worked alongside them, lived next door to them, shopped among them, stood in line at the bank behind and in front of them, sat at the DMV next to them while we all waited the same exorbitantly long periods of time for our driver's licenses and paid the same high fees for the same pieces of plastic.  Long enough to be uncomfortable using the word "them" in the last sentence, wishing there was a better way to express it without using a word that sets us apart.

I've witnessed young people grow up alongside each other from a very young age who were surprised and shocked to learn that their friends were somehow different - in a way they'd never even imagined.  So I know that racism is taught, and somehow, growing up as human beings without the divisions of skin color is natural and can be perfectly normal.

So, what is all this about?

How I view modern racism as having changed, morphing into something that is very different - but no less nasty, perverted and bigoted, while being totally ignored.  In spite of being so in your face, you have to be blind not to see it.

You see, whites eventually noted that the blatant, ugly racism of the 50s was pretty bad.  Stressful, if you will.  It gave us a bad name, and for many, made us feel a bit dirty.  So, we went along with the program and did away with the personal racism, at least in person and face to face.  We passed laws that made the blatant personal racism much harder to pursue and in many cases, illegal.  In short, we made "some" progress.  Federal programs of one kind or another made things seem to be just humming along, equalizing the numbers a bit.

At least, that's what the media would have you believe.

But, if I am to believe the minorities I've known, under the surface, it is still there.  A thousand little ways, it is still there.

But, the really BIG ways are even worse.  I am talking about the institutional racism, the built-in racism that pervades the justice system even worse than it used to.  The institutional racism that pervades the media, the Corporate world and even worse, the voting system.

A very interesting article the other day noted that in the District of Columbia, they graduate over 2800 high school students a year.

They also arrest twice that number for minor drug possession!  Over 80% of that number are black.  It is well documented that drug use across racial lines is about equal, so there are a lot of whites not being arrested.  The incarceration levels between the races are equally (!!!) bad.

Note too, the efforts in State after State to limit the ability of minorities to vote.  While in the Corporate world, hiring practices have made the raw numbers of minorities look better, as one get higher in the pay grades, the numbers of minorities (including women) get lower and lower.

In education, schools in minority black areas still don't get the public funding that those in white areas do, although in some States, there have been efforts to level the playing field.

Look at the Trayvon Martin case.  A teenager gets killed, walking unarmed, by a man who is carrying a gun (against the rules of the Watch group he is "working for") and who gets blamed for his death?   He does, not the adult who pulled the trigger after ignoring the directions of 911 authorities to stay in his car.  In case after case, blacks get the shaft, in State after State, the percentages of blacks is higher in raw numbers of those incarcerated, of those serving longer sentences and of those on death row.

In at least one State, the Governor did recognize this as an issue and used it as an excuse to suspend the death penalty pending corrective measures.  We'll see how long it takes for those "corrective measures" to be made!  I suspect that the reasons for the suspension are less over racial disparity in sentencing than on simple opposition to the death penalty.  In the meantime, a higher number of blacks in that State now are in prison for life, lengthening the average length of sentences for blacks in that State.

My point is that in spite of our efforts to reduce racism and the apparent successes we have made in many areas, much of those efforts have done little but direct the expression of that bigotry into other areas, many of which are difficult to legislate away.

Take the justice system, for instance.  All along the chain of officials from the cop on the beat to the supervising officers and the Public Prosecutor's Office, we have people fulfilling functions that to most of us are esoteric, enforcing laws according to rules that have become so complicated that it is impossible to legislate any kind of equality between races.  Each position is responsible for making decisions about cases where they must take into account individual situations, circumstances and differing laws where they can, even must, use their individual discretion and experience in making those decisions.  Discretion which allows them to express their individual racism without blame, without oversight, allowing them to blame it on "the system".

This attitude is pervasive throughout American life, and all public institutions, whether private or governmental.

Unless you are white, you are behind the eight ball from the git-go, as we say down South.

Well, I've got news for all you folks out there who are instrumental in supporting these racist attitudes and institutions:

By the 2050's, you won't be part of the majority any longer.  Whites will be just one of many minority groups, and there just won't be a "majority" race.  Are you willing to bet on how long it will take a coalition of other ethnic groups to end your segregationist ways?  Or whether they will decide to treat you better or worse than you have treated them?

This country has a long way to go before we meet the Supreme Court's rather cavalier proclamation that racism is over.

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