Talking About Race in Black and White

Shock, anger, and bewilderment, guilt, resentment often follow when the specter of race barges into the national conversation. Underneath the gloss of so-called post racial America, lies the fact that were still a very segregated country that stalled in it’s conversation on race despite our African American president. The amount to which one can exercise their constitutional rights is still too closely tied with the color of one’s skin. I believe that we can make any progress on the main reason American is not a perfect union.  We must find better ways to express our concerns about race and ethnicity. At the crux of the problem is the fact that the word racist has lost it’s meaning. 1960s television broadcasts from Montgomery, Alabama showed us just what a racist looked like. A slow, southern, fat sheriff jawing about a communist conspiracies, good southern and bad northern ni***rs, and states rights. Their descendants now populate white power and Christian identity movements that have been increasing in membership with the election of Barak Obama. Now racism can range from a racial epithet to murdering black children as white supremacist, John Paul Franklin did. Whites and blacks have extremely diverse definitions of what the r-word means.

It is only when a when black man is chosen at random and dragged behind a car in Jasper, Texas do we look in collective anger and shame at our “national birth defect” called racism. Many whites look at that the civil rights era and feel better that visible structures of white privilege have been eradicated. Almost all whites have forgotten that the rest of the country passively supported de facto racism.  Many African Americas from that era are still alive and many stories are passed down around the dinner table, the church, the beauty parlor and barber shop. In the early 1960’s, a black person could be told to go through the back door in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and most other cities.

When an events like the shooting of black cop by a white cop in New York City and the black-boogieman-kidnapped-me antics of Bonnie Sweeten may hold little significance for most white people, but people of color see these events as another painful episode of the same old same old. America was enormously successful and implementing change in public accommodations, but we have failed terribly in the desegregation of the education and criminal justice systems. This is where a true discussion should start. It has been  almost fifty years since our society awarded full constitution rights to African Americans and we still have not found a productive way to discuss injuries of generations of inherited oppression. While many whites may see how far we have come, African Americans think about how much more needs to be done.

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