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Black, White and Gray: A New Look at Racism Over the Last 50 years

163

Black, White and Gray

© October 2015 by Gerald Zezas

 

Introduction

The “N” word

Background

The Incongruity of Welfare Queens

Distain and Pity

Fear

Ridicule and Condescension

Modern Day Conundrums Regarding Race

Sports Teams Which Use Racist Names

A Quick Comment about Reparations for Slavery

Blacks and Money

Black Periodicals and Publications

Blacks Are Not Immigrants

White People and Hip Hop

Kwanzaa

Black History Month

Islam and Blacks

Affirmative Action: The Jury is Still Out

The Bakke Decision and Affirmative Action

Our Valuation Problem

The Kerner Commission

Black Leadership

Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay and the Birth of Constructive Black Arrogance

Black People and White Cops

Crime and Incarceration Statistics

Obama and Post-racialism

A White Guy Walks into a Black Bar

The Problem with Patterns

The Mistake of Fatalism

My personal racism: White men and black women, black men and white women

How Many Blacks Appear to Many Whites

Insider Speech

Conclusion

Afterward

[] Introduction

“Son-of-a-bitch!” I pressed the accelerator, sliding into the right lane and accelerating to get even with the idiot who cut me off, only to slow down to 40 mph in a 60 mph zone, anger brewing in me as I approached him from the right. As I our cars became parallel, I was surprised to see that the driver was not the self-centered, arrogant, self-important schmuck that I expected to see. He was, in fact, a skinny guy, driving a piece of shit car that belched smoke, with peeling paint and a window held up with duct tape. My anger dissipated as I realized that this was an older black man and, well, what do you expect?

The “soft bigotry of low expectations” is a phrase attributed to Michael Gerson, a speech writer for George W Bush. It is, in my mind, a much more pervasive attitude than many will admit. We attempt to train our brains not to hate, convincing ourselves that racism and bigotry are wrong, but our biases and stereotypes remain, like an old jar of salsa on the bottom shelf of the fridge, way in the back, unreachable. We see it, but ignore it because there are more pressing things to do at the moment than clean out the fridge. Yet it remains until we are again reminded of it.

Modern racism, for many, is so profoundly intrinsic yet so publicly distained that the evidence of its existence is often in inverse proportion to its vehemence. The deeper our racism goes the better it is hidden. We’ve become quite skilled at the suppression of those feelings.

There are many forms of what some refer to as racism, bigotry, stereotyping, bias or discrimination, but they all lead to the same thing. They lead to one’s imagined superiority over another, for reasons not well defined, other than those used to bolster already-formed beliefs that rarely have a basis in fact or historical record. These feelings tend to flow from past injustices, real or imagined, perpetrated on ourselves or our ancestors, for reasons that matter less with the passage of time. Time diminishes the rationale, but the feelings of superiority perpetuate.

I grew up in a racist household. When I say racist, I don’t want it to sound as if we were Klan members. My parents never really had to courage to “walk the talk” and fully identify with a racist organization-but their sentiments were aligned with those who did.

When I was an adolescent I dated a girl, Jennifer, who was, shall I say, not from the best family in our Bronx NY neighborhood. Ok, she was a bit of a slut, or at least came across that way to those on our street. When my parents found out about our little romance, they admonished me, in the strongest of terms, to stay away from her, not because she was less sexually scrupulous than they would have preferred, not because she wore short skirts and tight tops, not because she wore too much makeup for a 13-year-old, but because she had been seen holding hands with what my mother referred to as a nigger. This was in 1969.

I remember wondering where that kind of dislike for, not only a member of another race, but someone who would do something as innocent as hold hands with a member of that race, could have come from. My mother had grown up in Manhattan in the 1930s, gone to a Catholic school and had a rather normal upbringing for a city girl. Her formative years were not ones that were pock-marked by the civil and racial unrest that had plagued the 1960s. She had spent no time, say, in the south, where racism was a way of life. She was a northerner, raised in a moderately sheltered manner, among others of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, with no reason, that I could discern, to hate those with whom she had probably spent little time. Something or someone had taught her, the daughter of Greek immigrants, to hate black people and feel perfectly comfortable referring to those of a different skin color than her’s as niggers, even to her own children. Her hatred of these people was so profound, so embedded in her bone marrow that she felt no embarrassment in displaying this weakness of character. She was, in fact, moderately proud of it.

Anyone who has read this far should understand that the only way someone like me can write this book is to dispense with any fear of accusations of racism. My sole intention is to have an honest talk with all who read it based on the perspective of a white man who considers his own racism to be a personal failure. That is the fundamental impetus for the research and effort involved in writing this book. Anyone who imagines, or artificially constructs, any other motivation on my part is welcomed to do so as he or she sees fit. But those who do will simply be wrong. I don’t fear the accusations and vitriol of those who don’t believe that white people are qualified to discuss black people by simple virtue of the fact that white people haven’t had the black experience. To suggest that the “walk a mile in my shoes” argument overrides all others suggests that men can’t have opinions about women, Christians can’t have opinions about Muslims, or, to go all reductio ad absurdum on you, tall people can’t possibly have the imagination to know what it’s like to be short. I reject those blanket assumptions as simplistic to the point of being imbecilic. Anyone who disagrees with my conclusions is certainly within their rights to do so. But no one is entitled to question my motives or my ability to interpret that which I see. I am not attempting to look through the eyes of others. I am communicating what I’ve seen through my own.

I shall use the word racism as an all-encompassing one for the remainder of this book. I will use it to describe many things that could be defined other ways, but I’ve chosen this word because it so closely matches that which I’d like to discuss. Plus, it is a word that is used to describe many things, quite often incorrectly. It will be used to describe religious bias, tribalism and various forms of bias and bigotry since that is how it is often used in society. Many of these things have little to do with the race of those against whom they are used, but it works well as a shortcut. I apologize to any lexicographic Nazis who may have occasion to read this book. That’s how I’m going to do it.

Doing a simple web search on the word reveals some of the problems that emanate from its practice. Dictionary.com defines racism as:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. [_ A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine Cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior to and has the right to rule others._]

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. [_ Hatred or intolerance of another race or other races._]

These definitions seem to comport well with what most people would agree is the meaning of the word, but there is another definition that seems closer to the truth. It is from Oxford Dictionaries:

1.0 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

1.1 Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

The Oxford definition appears to be closer to the actual meaning of racism. Racism is not as simple as hating a particular group-say, black people. Racism is the prism through which those who practice it see the world. It does not necessarily indicate hatred. But it always indicates unnecessary and usually un-called for recognition of the race of an individual when the situation at hand does not require one to do so.

Examples of racism that do not require overt hatred include the suggestion that Jews are good businessmen, or that blacks are better athletes than whites, or that Muslims are more pious, or that Koreans are very industrious. Other variations on this theme suggest that Mexicans like working in the hot sun, Brazilians are hyper-sexual and that the French are very stylish. I know that not all these characteristics are used to define races, per se, in that many are used to define ethnic groups, nationalities and religions, but the sentiments are the same, as are often the results. They are the result of stereotypes and biases based on what is usually very limited knowledge of the group being described. I’m sure if one were to ask a Mexican whether he prefers working in 100 degree temperatures while mowing your lawn or in an air conditioned office, you and I both know what the answer would be. Similarly, I’m certain that there are Jews who have failed in business, non-athletic blacks, Muslims who don’t face Mecca five times daily and lazy Koreans.

Racism is simply when someone sees the race, or ethnicity, of another person as a definer of everything else. Describing someone as a smart Mexican, a cute black chick, or a friendly Arab suggests that the adjectives smart, cute or friendly were required to distinguish these people from what we perceive as their normal traits. It suggests a vain attempt at being complimentary, when the only compliment we’ve offered is to suggest that these characteristics somehow place these people above the others in their particular group. Calling a Mexican a “smart Mexican” is tacitly suggesting that most Mexicans aren’t.

I don’t need to spend much time describing overtly negative racist comments, since virtually everyone knows them when they hear them. We all know the negative traits that are assigned to various groups. There are however, other, more subtle traits that various groups have been tagged with over the years. Traits like Italians all being members of the Mafia, Scots being cheap, Greeks being homosexual, Poles being ignorant, Jews being crafty, Arabs being violent, Canadians being docile, Japanese being sneaky and overly obedient, Germans believing in their own superiority, and Russians and Irish being alcoholics.

I’m going to limit what I discuss in this book to one quite particular form of racism, that being the unrelenting racism between blacks and whites in the United States. I will refer to these two groups only as blacks and whites, in an effort to dispense with any spurious niceties or more politically correct form of either word. In the US, and elsewhere in the world, when you refer to people as blacks or whites, everyone who is living above ground on the planet Earth knows that you’re referring to what are commonly referred to as African Americans and Caucasians. If any of these terms offend you, or appear to be simplistic, reductive or displaying any bias, I will simply tell you that that is not my intention, and leave it at that. I will let you and your personal experiences inform your thoughts about my sincerity.

I will also say that this book will not conclude with some platitudinous assertion that blacks must “help themselves” or that whites must “learn to see past race” or any such politically correct solutions to racism. There are serious mistakes being made by both sides. There is no possibility of reconciliation between the two races unless both groups get off their ideological pedestals and acknowledge not only their culpability, but their far from perfect attempts at solutions. I think that both races have missed out on the benefits that they can offer each other. I further believe that they have both, though not necessarily in a symmetrical manner, shot themselves in the proverbial foot when it comes to understanding each other. Until both races understand that their respective histories are just that, and of no use in the future other than fodder for textbooks, there can be no solution. Greeks and Turks still fight over slights from hundreds of years ago. Sunni and Shia continue hatreds for decades. Arabs and Jews as well as the Irish and English maintain pathological hatred over ideological and historical offenses that have lost all consequence, yet continue to kill each other over them. These groups have been expressing their racial, social, tribal and religious hatred toward each other for much longer than blacks and whites in America, so one would presume that they have perfected the manifestation of those hatreds. Yet, with all the centuries of practice behind their detestation for one another, none have found a way to prevail. They fight the same battles, recall the same affronts and insults, remind one another of the same painful episodes when those who were revered on either side were brutally killed or forced into various forms of servitude, poverty or humiliation. They fight the same fights as American blacks and whites, and neither has prevailed.

 

[]The “N” word

Please accept my sincerest apologies for this, but the refusal of people to use the word nigger, when in fact referring to that specific word (and not addressing someone as such), is not only childish but cowardly. O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden called it the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language. This, I assume, means that cocksuckingmotherfucker is not as bad, nor, presumably, is Nazi baby-killer, (I could construct many others).

I respectfully request to be spared the histrionics. The ridiculousness with which people refer to this word has gotten so far out of hand as to make it laughable. It has gone so far at times that an aid to Washington DC mayor Anthony Williams, a man named David Howard, in 1999, used the word “Niggardly” to refer to the city budget. The word niggardly is an Old Dutch word meaning stingy, or cheap. Howard, even after fully explaining himself, was forced to resign in the ensuing maelstrom, with no consideration given to the etymological difference between these two words. Columnist Tony Snow remarked that Howard had received a “linguistic lynching” and that those who attacked him were expecting him to apologize for their own ignorance. This is indicative of the extreme sensitivity to any word starting with the prefix nig. It is obvious that there is always someone waiting in the wings for the opportunity to be “shocked, just shocked!” at the use of an ostensibly insulting word, meaning and context notwithstanding.

It is not the word which insults, but the sentiment behind it. One problem with this particular word is that the historic sentiment of disdain, condescension and hatred is so firmly attached to it as to appear inseparable. I do understand, however, when and by whom it can be used and not be considered an insult. Even as a non- black, I’m able to grasp why it is used by many in various parts of the black culture, but not allowed elsewhere. It is used by some blacks as a form of insider endearment. It is a symbol of shared oppression, to be used only by them as a kind of a wink-and-nod to their shared history. It is a way of taking the word away from white people by embracing it; thereby saying to the low-rent whites who still use such antediluvian expressions that it doesn’t hurt, even though it might. The only other rule about the word should be that it can be used by white people only when discussing the word itself-not when discussing the people to whom it has historically been used to refer.

There are hundreds of examples of the exact sentiments and words used within a community that are not allowed to someone outside the community. I am affiliated with my local theater and many times will hear some male gay members of the same theater refer to themselves, jokingly as “ladies”, as in, “it’s time to go ladies”. They will also call each other “girls” or “bitches”, or even “fags”, yet I am certain that, since I am not one of their inner circle, it would be offensive if I were to refer to any of them in a similar manner. These words are used in a similar manner to nigger, in that the references are by members of a particular group to others within the same group. This has been true for many years and in many cultures. I’ve heard Italians call each other Guineas, Wops and Dagos many times, but I would expect them to take offense if I referred to them similarly. I would never call a person of Irish descent a Mic, but they certainly do to each other. Every group has its insider quasi-insulting terms, which they use as a method of ribbing each other or identifying a shared suffering among them, but those terms are generally not taken in the same spirit when used by others outside the group.

There are many who will trace the history of the word, its historical meanings throughout various periods, or its true or imagined origins, in an effort to somehow justify its use by those outside the group to whom the word has historically referred. None of this matters. If the general consensus that a word is considered insulting to a particular ethnic group, other ethnic groups should simply be courteous enough to avoid the use of the word! It is easy to not say words in certain circumstances. I’d bet most people wouldn’t say fuck in church (among many other words), cocksucker in a corporate board meeting or cunt in front of their mother, but strangely we never hear people on the radio or cable news rationalizing why they should be able to do so, just because they once heard someone do so. I’ve yet to hear anyone say that any of the aforementioned social mores which restrict the use of some words in these circumstances constitutes a restriction on their First Amendment rights to free speech. But I have heard it about nigger.

The word has been hatefully defined by hateful white people after hundreds of years of abuse. For that reason, it no longer belongs in the lexicon of white people, and those who miss the days when they could use it need to have their true motivations questioned. If black people want to use it, it should not constitute license for whites to mimic them.

I submit that the use of the word nigger when describing another person, by those of any skin color, has more negative connotations for the user than the recipient. Its use suggests more a dearth of vocabulary than a cleverness or membership in some exclusive club.

I would never, whether to a good friend as in insider kind of joke or hated foe as an insult, refer to any human being as a nigger. Those who do use it in that fashion say more about their poor education and upbringing than they do about the person to whom it is directed. But, once again, that doesn’t mean that I can’t use the word itself when discussing the word itself.

One conundrum, however, is that those who would actually call black people nigger do the least harm. It is the angry white man, likely angry at his own lot is life, who may be looking for a scapegoat for his own underachievement and, not finding enough genuine reason to disparage others, reverts to cowardly, simplistic, unspoken racism, and merely thinks it without outward expression. It is he who will never reveal his hatred, but will likely act upon it every chance he gets. It is he who will never say the word, but actively wishes he could. It is he who argues why he should be justified in doing so, for rationales so old, time-worn and universally discounted as to make one wonder if he has watched the news or read a book anytime in the last 30 years. It is the person who longs for a time when whites could bolster their personal feelings of inadequacy by rendering others inadequate. It has been said for many years that the way to politically control downtrodden, low-class whites is to persuade them that there is a race of men of even lower status than are they, and lead them to a fabricated hatred of that race, in order to appear to be as one with them, and subsequently cause them to follow you into other endeavors, due to a perceived camaraderie between them and those who would manipulate them. When someone refers to someone else as a nigger, he is revealing himself to be exactly what he believes the word to mean.

While on this subject, I cannot avoid discussing a comedic monologue which, in my view, is one of the most brilliant to have been uttered on a stage. It was a subject of enormous controversy; both for the man who delivered it as well as others, including causing the producers of the television show The Office to have done an entire episode about someone who repeated it in its entirety in their fictional office. The name of the episode was Diversity Day and it was written around the fact that Michael Scott, the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin, recited it in toto during a coffee break.

The routine in question was done during Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain special on HBO in 1996. The most controversial part of this routine is quoted below:

There’s a lot of racism going on. Who’s more racist; black people or white people? It’s black people! You know why? Because we hate black people too! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people, and there are two sides, there’s black people and there’s niggas. The niggas have got to go. You can’t have shit when you around niggas, you can’t have shit. You can’t have no big screen TV! You can have it, but you better move it in at 3 in the morning. Paint it white, hope niggas think it’s a bassinet. Can’t have shit in your house! Why?! Because niggas will break into your house. Niggas that live next door to you break into your house, come over the next day and go, “I heard you got robbed.” Nigga, you know you robbed me. You didn’t see shit ‘cause you was doing shit! You can’t go see a movie, you know why? ‘Cause niggas is shooting at the screen, “This movie’s so good I gotta bust a cap in here!” You know the worst thing about niggas? Niggas always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A nigga will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A nigga will say some shit like, “I take care of my kids.” You’re supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? “I ain’t never been to jail!” What do you want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!

Chris Rock has subsequently refused to repeat this routine. He has never once uttered it again in public. His rationale was that it appeared to give license to white people to use the word nigger, since they, apparently, felt that they had been validated in doing so by Mr. Rock. I believe Chris Rock to be correct, but, as white man, it embarrasses me to admit it. The premise that so many whites are on a perpetual hair-trigger, waiting for someone to give them permission to say nigger in public, speaks volumes on the state of race relations. Why anyone would actively seek permission to use a word that society has so well established as insulting to so many people is, to me, remarkable. Does one go through life looking for as many opportunities as possible to insult others, waiting only for permission in the form of one of those people choosing to use a particular word themselves? Does the fact that Chris Rock makes derogatory comments about certain members of his own race indicate, firstly, that he is justified in doing so, just because he’s black and, secondly, that he, a single black man, speaks for all? Is there any possibility that a white person could condemn Chris Rock for perpetuating a stereotype-one typically applied to members of his own race? Would any white person have the courage to chuckle at the jokes, but still cringe at that at which he is laughing? Do white people always need to look for reasons to justify their inherent racism, including accepting tacit permission from those against whom it is directed? Does white racism have so weak a defense mechanism that a black comedian, doing one of his hundreds of routines, can trigger it on a whim? Why do white people think it’s OK to say nigger as long as a black person gives them permission?

White racism toward blacks has so little foundation and is based on so little evidence or justification that those who claim to have overcome it are perfectly happy to resurrect it if just one black guy gives them permission. Just a solitary black man, who uses the word nigger, especially in a comedic manner, can cause millions of white men to surreptitiously smile and feel justified in reanimating their long-dormant hatred of all who are of a different skin color than they.

I realize that Chris Rock was engaging in that which makes a brilliant comic, as he is certainly brilliant. He, and those of his caliber, can use surprise incongruities to make us laugh. No one in his right mind expects a black man to stand on stage and start complaining about and humiliating members of his own race, just as no one expects Jewish comics to make fun of Jews, a comedic technique at which comedian Jackie Mason was so brilliant. No one expects a comic, whom you’ve paid to see, to insult nearly everyone in his audience, but Don Rickles still fills Las Vegas shows by doing so. No one expects a nerdy comic to stand on stage and make fun of his own shortcomings, but self-deprecating humor like that of Steven Wright has always been popular. The point I’m making is that comedy requires surprise and the questioning of assumptions and forgone conclusions to be funny. Chris Rock can tangle with the best of them in this regard. But it appears that even he, a savvy, seasoned comic and overall entertainer, learned that there are some, or many, depending how you count them, over whose heads the irony of a black man using the word nigger goes. They just don’t get it. They think that using the word nigger just become OK, for the simple reason that a black guy said it. Well, it appears that Mr. Rock learned what some of us have known for a long time, that inherent racism, although sometimes asleep, is always looking for a reason to get up and have a party. It is always looking for justification, for validation, for approval. But racism is not proud. It doesn’t care where its sanction comes from, and will use every opportunity to climb out of it slimy recesses and remind us all that it’s there.

The use of this word by blacks appears to be for the ostensible purpose of distinguishing non-assimilated blacks from those who have presumably sold out to the white man’s society and culture. Whites have been justifiably accused of usurping black’s cultural identities over the years but blacks know that nigger remains off limits to whites and so retain it as unassailably theirs. The difference between a white man calling another an asshole and calling him a nigger is to reveal an inherent hatred of an entire race as compared to a hatred of just one man…or of anuses. If a white guy calls another white guy a nigger, it is no less racist than if he referred in the same manner to a black man. It suggests the same level of distain that emanates from the same place, that of niggers being beneath he who is using the word. Even when the word is prefixed by white, it changes nothing, because it is merely identifying the white person with that which defines nigger, which means, alternately, dirty, low, useless, lazy, poor, uneducated, beneath the rest of us and, oh yeah, black. It is the fact that the word nigger, itself, has such terrible connotations for blacks that those connotations are not successfully modified by the addition of the word white. It’s little different from the expression white trash. The modifier “white”, only serves to suggest its own necessity. It is the exception that proves the rule, as if just regular old trash should be assumed to be black, and so the word becomes an adjective, rather than a noun.

One must remember, however, that people are quite complex. There are many, shall we say, unreconstructed white racists who avoid using the word nigger, yet do everything in their power to hurt and subjugate blacks. These are the people who know that their utterance of the word is either wrong or, at least, uncomfortable in polite company. There are also those who have worked tirelessly for civil rights and the overall advancement of black people who have used the word, in public and with little shame, for their entire lives for no other reason than mere habit. Lyndon Johnson, a staunch proponent of civil rights legislation, repeatedly called the Civil Rights of 1957 “the nigger bill”. Harry Truman, who desegregated the armed forces, was quoted as saying, “I think one man is as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman”.

On the other hand, there are people who have exploited the stigmatization of the word in order to make false charges in an effort to garner either sympathy or guilt. One well-known example is that of Tawana Brawley, a teenager who claimed to have been raped and smeared with feces by 6 white men, while being called nigger as well as other racial epithets. After many months of testimony and investigations, championed in part by the Reverend Al Sharpton, all charges were dropped and Ms. Brawley was discredited as having fabricated the entire story. Another instance was when a woman named Tisha Anderson and her husband complained that they have received messages such as “niggers don’t belong here” and had their possessions vandalized by whites who didn’t want them in their apartment building, when it fact it had been they who had caused the damage and fabricated their story in an effort to get out of lease by claiming that the building was unsafe. Instances of these types will serve to give racist whites an opportunity to suggest that these anecdotal events are indicative of a larger conspiracy to create a sense that blacks are victims of white hatred, whereas in fact, according to those who cleave to these theories, it is mostly blacks who victimize themselves. This is further borne out by the repeated references to “black-on-black” crime. Many will quote made-up statistics indicating how often blacks commit crimes against one another, once again in an attempt to suggest that most of the victimization of blacks is by their own hand. These people rarely quote similar statistics showing that white-on-white crime is by far more frequent, both statistically and numerically.

 

[]Background

From the perspective of a white man in his late 50s, having grown up in the aforementioned middle-class family of recent immigrants, I have seen what I consider to be three forms of racism between blacks and whites. These three forms have been, in my mind, promulgated by the media’s description of blacks, to whites, over these last 50 some-odd years. When I say “of blacks, to whites”, I am describing the pastoral scene of an all-white family, sitting in front of the radio or television, starting in about 1930, and the images, both verbal and photographic, that were portrayed to these white people, regarding blacks. I am talking about how black people were portrayed to white people through virtually all forms of media, such as Broadway plays, radio broadcasts, movies and television.

I am also referring only to racism of the current and the last century. The type of racism that led to slavery in the 19th century is so abhorrent, so un-natural and so profoundly disturbing that I can only wish that it is remembered as a distant anecdote of a time when America was simply too ignorant and greedy to know better. In this book I’m speaking about racism in a time when we believe ourselves to be sophisticated, informed and beyond the barbarism that occurred during that regrettable epoch in American history. I’m speaking of what I will loosely refer to as Modern Day Racism.

One other thing that I’d like to address is the question, likely to be raised, especially by those who disagree with my conclusions, about my qualifications to write this book. There are many who believe that you can’t understand a black person’s life if you’ve never been black. That may be true, but they are missing my point. I am not here to explain black people to anyone. I am here to explain, in the most forthright terms possible, the reaction of a white man to years of seeing black people depicted as something not of my caliber, not of my station in life, not of the same value as me, not worth concerning myself with, unless one is breaking into my house. I am here to explain the reaction of a white man to seeing certain citizens of his country treated as guests who have stayed too long, and should “go back to Africa”, since we are now, presumably, done with them. This book is the written account of a realization, after years of struggling with my own latent racism, of the genesis of that racism. It is written in the hope that by reducing it to textual form, others may read it and see themselves in ways that they’ve not considered before. It might, just possibly, inform a white man of the true reason he has these feelings. It might, just possibly, inform a black man of the true reason that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot get past seeing racism nearly everywhere he goes.

I’ve always been that guy. The white apologist, or, to some of my less evolved acquaintances, the “nigger lover”, the guy who appears to be displaying white guilt when discussing race with white people. The guy who is looked upon by white racists as confused about my own race, overly sensitive, giving in to the “other side”.

Are some of my best friends black? Nope. My best friend is. Would I let a black guy marry my sister? Well, I don’t have any sisters, but my daughter dated more than a couple of black guys when she was a teenager. Do I wonder why there aren’t more black hockey players and fewer black basketball players? Yes. Have I wondered why, in nursing homes and hospitals, the orderlies are usually black and the doctors are usually white? Yes I have. Yet, do I see past the color of a person’s skin when I first meet them? Nope. Even though I am “that guy”, I certainly do see race. I certainly do stereotype those of different skin color than my own. I certainly do attach certain characteristics to skin tone and facial features. I certainly do expect less, intellectually, from a black guy who cuts me off in an old broken-down car than a white guy in a Beemer. And I know that every time I do it, I’m channeling my parents and many of the people with whom I grew up. I know that is wrong, unfair, and just plain stupid. And yet it is built into my muscle memory. It is my go-to reaction. It is my instinctual rejoinder when I’m faced with someone of a different race than am I. And I’m damned tired of it. I also think that I know where it comes from.

There are those who’ve studied sociology, psychology and anthropology who will be viewed, by themselves as well as others, as more qualified than I to discuss this volatile and complex topic. To them I say, you may be right. But I will also say, with all of your knowledge and training, racism still exists, and to many it appears to be getting worse while at the same time becoming more surreptitious and clandestine, promulgated more often by a wink and a nod rather than burning cross.

There is another point that I’d like to address before proceeding. There have been many who would disavow their racism due to the fact that they engage, on occasion, with people of another race. One of the most blatantly racist yet culturally unaware people I’ve ever met, with whom I spent a lot of time talking about racism, was convinced that he couldn’t possibly be racist because he had family members who were black, and, presumably, hadn’t killed, maimed or insulted them due to this ostensible defect in their genetics. Sweet guy, this. The mere fact that he would allow black people to remain in his presence was all the evidence this clod needed to distinguish him from others who were, in his mind, true racists. When I asked him about the similarities between racists and misogynists (after I finished defining misogynists for him) he looked roughly as confused as hungry baby in a topless bar. I tried explaining that using the argument that family members being black precludes you from being racist is no different than a guy who repeatedly beats and demeans his wife, yet claims as proof that he doesn’t hate women the fact that he married one! The mere fact of your willingness to be around and engage with a certain group does not indicate your empathy with them. It might, and usually does, simply indicate your willingness to tolerate them, or see some other value in being seen with them. And in many cases those who do tolerate whom they intrinsically hate expect those whom they hate to be grateful that they were allowed to remain in the presence of the hater!

One cannot disprove racism by dearth of action. Having never called someone a nigger, at least not out loud, does not prove egalitarianism. Tolerating those who are different doesn’t make one culturally impartial. The only honest method to determine whether one’s default settings are toward racism is to be completely honest with one’s self and one’s feelings. That is the most difficult part of this entire journey, and the primary driver for my researching and writing this book.

One final thought for the first part of this book is to address the oft-repeated lament that since other ethnic groups seem to have become fully acclimated to what is defined as American (but meant as white) culture, the fact that blacks appear to have continuing difficulties with this must, by definition, be their own fault. This attitude, often promulgated by some on certain cable news channels and the like, is reinforced by the premise that Asian, South American and European immigrants do not appear to have had the assimilation problems that blacks have experienced-certainly not for as long. This proves, to those who are predisposed to this attitude, that blacks must be causing this problem on their own. This simplistic attitude doesn’t hold water for, among others, the following reasons:

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Black, White and Gray: A New Look at Racism Over the Last 50 years

The time has come to discuss racism in a manner that seeks to eliminate it, rather than to just determine who is at fault for perpetuating it. This book will likely anger those on both sides of the debate, since it calls out, in quite specific terms, what each side of Black/White racism is doing to hurt, as well as help, the cause. No group remains untouched, for the fault lies everywhere. No group is given any leeway, since both have had ample time to get their respective houses in order, yet, when one sees today's headlines, it is quite evident that they have not used that time wisely. The author offers specific, reasonable, actionable methods for beginning to heal the racial divide that has existed between Blacks and Whites for the last 50 years specifically, by concentrating only on that period, when our ostensible enlightenment, the repeal of Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was supposed to help us overcome this cultural chasm. No punches are pulled and there is no attempt a political correctness, yet, for those looking to find a reasoned, reasonable, answer to what the root cause of Black/White racial difficulties are in the modern era, this book may be the way to start. The book avoids bias (or admits when it is being displayed), and coddles neither group. Regardless in which group you belong, Black or White, you will be offered some firm suggestions that can be applied immediately, if only you are willing to do so.

  • Author: Jerry Zezas
  • Published: 2015-10-16 23:50:07
  • Words: 48865
Black, White and Gray: A New Look at Racism Over the Last 50 years Black, White and Gray: A New Look at Racism Over the Last 50 years