This is an article about racism, a very hard thing to write about. Say the wrong thing and you could get hounded from one end of the Internet to the other. I don’t know if what I will write is right or wrong–this blog is about discovery of knowledge not pretending I have it–but I will try to gain some understand of racism.
It is a truth that the United States was founded on racist assumptions and has a long history of racism. For all the greatness of the founding fathers of the United States (and I do think they were great), they were men of their times, and therefore, to some degree they were racist. While many of the white founding fathers were uneasy with slavery, they were not willing to fight to end it; although, they were willing to fight so they–the white founding fathers–would not have to pay taxes on tea.
The Constitution of the United States has racism and the assumption of slavery written into it. It is in the constitution that although the slaves could not vote, to determining representation in Congress, one slave would be worth 3/5 of a white person. This was repealed by the thirteen and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution.
While only blacks were made slaves, racism was much bigger than just slavery. Native Americans and Hispanics also encountered racism and racist violence. White women could not vote until the 1920. Slavery did not end until the Union won the Civil War in the 1865, but even after that blacks were subjected to segregation until the 1950s and 1960s.
It would be nice to believe that racism had ended. The current President of the United States, a Democrat, Barack Obama, is black. And even the Republicans shown a willingness to be broadminded by giving first Herman Cain and now Ben Carson–both black–a fair hearing. So has racism ended? The fact two blacks have done well in Republican primaries shows something has changed.
Something has changed. I work in a Fortune 500 company, and a large percentage of the company is non-white. Much of the management is women. A generation ago that was unthinkable. Blacks, in both political parties, have been successful. We have a Supreme Court, with nine members, that has/had blacks and Hispanic members, also women. To deny there has been great positive change would be denying reality.
Yet, racism lives on.
It’s kind of hard to put a finger on what this new racism is. I don’t think the new racism is strictly about skin color, although that does still play into it. I suspect the new racism is increasingly about how you dress and how you behave. For example, if I’m walking down a trail and come to a fork, and down one fork is a group of white teenagers playing loud music, jumping around horse playing, and dressed in ripped up, unclean clothing; but down the other fork is a group of black teenagers acting nicely and well dressed; I, a white person, will take the fork toward the black teenagers. I would feel safer.
I do not believe I’m the only white person would behave that way. I can’t prove it, but I think a majority of white people would choose the fork with the black teenagers. This is a big change from the 1950s and the 1960s. However, there is one area where racism has not changed and where skin color is important. Most white people, if they could not see down either of the forks but instead were told that down one fork were unruly teenagers and down the other were respectful teenagers, and one group was black and the other group were white, most whites would assume the white teenagers were the respectful group. I think whites tend to assume the worst of blacks, and other non-whites, and are often pleasantly surprised when that assumption is not true. Such assumptions, perhaps learned from previous generations, are hard to see within ourselves and to change.
I’m lucky, I have worked with many, many non-white people. I know what they are like. They are nice. In fact, the nicest people I have known are not white. Perhaps the best manager I’ve ever had was a Muslim from Afghanistan. Some of the most sincere and moral people I’ve known were Hispanic and black. The most beautiful girl I’ve ever known was black. While some of the most not-nice people I’ve known are white.
I’m not exactly sure what this essay adds up to. Except, when it comes to race, the United States has evolved. Sometimes it has been a slow evolvement, and I grieve for all those who suffered because change did not come early enough for them. But that is how the world works.
I would have taken the fork that made me feel most safe, and perhaps that is the main take away. People, no matter their color, want to feel safe. When we deal with each other, even if for whatever reason we do not like the other person, we must help them feel safe. If we do not do that, if we do not help each other feel safe, eventually there will be push back. If we wish to stop racism, perhaps we can start with the simple rule of making people feel safe.
The ultimate sense of security will be when we come to recognize that we are all part of one human race. Our primary allegiance is to the human race and not to one particular color or border. -Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (b. 1942)