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TinotopiaLog → Racism in America (21 Jan 2002)
Monday 21 January 2002

Racism in America

In the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr. writes:

Hey, when you find a black bigot, feel free to censure and ostracize him or her as the circumstance warrants. I don’t care. Just don’t pretend the transgression is what it is not. Don’t claim it represents a significant threat to the quality of life of white Americans at large.

I’d define racism differently from Mr. Pitts. In a recent column, he defined “racism” as “th[e] practice of demeaning and denying based on the darkness of skin.” (In this column, he seems to back down from that.) And I’d say that racism is a threat to everyone’s quality of life.

I think that a much better definition of racism is: “the belief that the color of a person’s skin, or his genetic makeup, determines what he is in any socially significant way”.

So the KKK is a racist organization, because they believe that black people are somehow inherently inferior. People who complain about Jewish control of finance and media are racist because they believe that this control has something to do with people’s being Jewish (which doesn’t constitute being a member of a “race” anyway). And Marion Berry’s firm belief that the lack of respect he got while he was mayor of Washington, D.C. was because he was black — and not because he was an idiot — is also racist.

Race, by and large, doesn’t matter in most of America these days. There are relatively few black CEOs of large corporations, but then there are very, very few black people of appropriate age (most of these guys are pretty old) who have the skills and experience necessary to run a Fortune 500 company. When the white CEOs of today were going to business school and starting their careers, those careers weren’t open to black people — or women, for that matter. That was real discrimination, and we’re still seeing the effects of that today.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to be black and be Secretary of State, or National Security Advisor, or to be black and be CEO of AOL Time Warner, of of Maytag, or of Avis, or of American Express, or Symantec, or Covad. You can be black and president (but not CEO) of Merrill-Lynch, and of thousands of other large companies.

One thing that I’m sure of, though, is that few if any of the highly-placed people — of any color — in America today believed, growing up, that they were marked for failure because of some innate characteristic. All of them believed in themselves, got good educations, and, most importantly, understood what they really had to do to get ahead.

The real racist tragedy in America today is that we’re telling millions of young people that the challenge they have is the color of their skin — something they can’t do anything about — when the challenge they face is in fact one of class.

Class — and, more specifically, the unconscious understanding of the culture and the society that comes with a middle-class or higher outlook — is the key. You can’t be CEO unless you follow the right career path; you can’t follow the right career path unless you get the right kind of education, and at the right university; you can’t get into the right university unless you’ve not just completed high school, but completed it in the right way. You can’t complete high school in the right way unless you are at least moderately intelligent and unless you — this is the important part — know what “the right way” means.

The kid growing up in the ghetto likely grows up knowing none of this. He probably knows that “going to college” is a requirement for success, but he probably doesn’t know what he kinds of things he should study in college, or where he should do it. That kind of information has to be sought out — you have to know where to look. And you have to know that you have to know where to look.

And if he (or his family) knows where to look, he or they have to know how to apply: for admission, for scholarships, for financial aid, for grants, for loans, and all the rest. This information isn’t secret, and it isn’t doled out only to white families with straight teeth. It’s not straightforward, either, and it’s not done exactly according to the written policies.

In the second season of The Sopranos, there’s a series of events surrounding Meadow’s — the family’s daughter’s — college applications. Carmella, her mother, is consumed with the need to get a letter of recommendation to Georgetown from an acquaintance who is president of the local Georgetown alumni association. The acquaintance doesn’t want to write one, because the Sopranos are a mob family, after all, but eventually does after persistent and blunt requests from Carmella. Carmella has the social knowledge that families in the ghetto do not. She knows how the game is played.

If our hypothetical ghetto resident believes that he’s not being admitted to Georgetown not because he has no knowledge of how the game is played — knowledge that can be gained — but because of the color of his skin — which can’t be changed and that his children are likely to share — there’s not much hope.

Posted by tino at 21:30 21.01.02
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I concurr that the majority of the problem is misattributed to race and is actually a class problem. (But wait…there are no classes in the US?)

I think (much like the conflict in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine) we just need to put it behind us and get on with life. The South African post-Apartheid. model is a fairly workable way to address past injustices and move on. With out the moving on part the same old fights and problems will just fester and re-emerge later.

Posted by: Paul M Johnsono at January 22, 2002 07:07 AM

racism sucks

Posted by: at April 1, 2002 04:11 PM

Nice website and it is really cool and has alot of cool and interesting things on it.

Posted by: Ronnie Turner at March 7, 2003 05:38 PM

I totally agree. Nowadays, while I believe there are racists in every color, I think race relations have improved much over the years. Even Booker T. Washington said that it doesn’t matter what your skin color it, how you contribute to the needs and wants of the community you live int.

Posted by: matt at February 23, 2004 06:11 PM

hey i hate biggots

Posted by: emily at July 22, 2004 11:39 AM