Glenn, it’s good to have decent conversation where there’s mutual respect and intentional listening. There’s nothing wrong with a long reply as long as it makes sense and doesn’t browbeat or castigate, you’ve done neither. It’s apparent that we’re not divergent on the major stuff, but it’s the finer points where we differ in opinion. I’m glad we can engage one another this way.
Please, don’t consider any of my writing as a rebuke. I see this as exchanging ideas with the purpose of broadening one another’s perspectives. When I talk to people about racism I try not to engage in finger pointing. I try to steer clear of the people warranting that type of communication as it’s simply not my style. Plus, there’s plenty of other people who are far better at getting their message across via that mode.
I intentionally took my example straight from your writings, specifically for the purpose of making my point: if the folks in your town are disparaging the very people to whom they offer charity, it undermines that very act of charity.
That said, on to this —
“Sure, we’d swap the n-word jokes and all the old accusations and allegations about blacks as soon as the blacks were out of earshot, but we didn’t think there was anything wrong with that, ’cause surely the blacks did he same about us, right?”
Now stay with me on this. Given the whole slavery thing, living at Ground Zero for southern culture, whites holding all the power — social, economic, educational — and perpetually maintaining that power structure such that it kept the blacks under foot (“in their place”), the lynchings, segregation, Jim Crow, et al … do you think the blacks folks in your town might have cause to have racist thoughts about the white folks?
It’s not so great a stretch, right?
Tell me, how on Earth can any accusations or allegations of that town’s black residents be equated with the racist acts (see above) perpetrated by the town’s white residents? There is no comparison. The blacks in your town had every reason to hold racist beliefs about the whites.
I agree with you, it is a very human thing that those who do wrong have a strong tendency to assume others are doing the same. But it’s a worldview that makes for very incomplete and inaccurate assessments in that it conveniently omits context.
I brought the Nazi point because it needed to be made. We can agree that people are neither all good nor inherently good, but all people have an inherent sense of right and wrong. That’s called a conscience. For people to simply go along with and ultimately embrace sending Jews to concentration camps is evil. Racism is a steep and slippery slope with a downhill speed that rivals the speed of light. And that downward slide starts with ignoring the little things.
Here’s an example, ripped from headlines.
This current wave of racism began to manifest itself with the acceptance of referring to Mexicans as murderers and rapist, then it became okay to refer to them in less than human terms, next seeing them as less than human. This gave way to eventually not seeing them as human at all. With the advent of them being dubbed the enemy, brown people became the scapegoat for all that’s perceived wrong in America. You see, it’s so much easier to do horrible things to people when they’re not seen as people. At that point, justification for ripping brown children from their parents and keeping them in cages in warehouses wasn’t tough at all. All this in less than two years. That’s a disgrace.
The path to racism never seems to begin with volitional racist behavior. I bet those “very fine people” in Charlottesville with their golf shirts, khakis, and tiki torches didn’t intend for things to get that far out of hand, but they did. Their intentions still don’t negate the racist nature of their actions. Mob mentality, talk about a genie in a bottle … [shudders]
The best way to avoid being dubbed a racist is to avoid racist behavior.
There’s no way anyone can convince me that the people who attended lynchings — the public murder of black people with the expressed purpose of keeping black folks “in their place” via terrorism — and treated said event as a family outing were actually good-hearted and well-meaning people. That’s a crock. They can believe they were well-meaning people all they want, but believing didn’t make it so. It just made them flat-out delusional on a historic scale. The townsfolk failed to see the inherent humanity of their victims because they were blinded by bald-faced racism.
I think we might be saying a few of the same things, until we get to this part. If I understand you correctly, you’re of the mind that acting out of sheer ignorance or blind faith justifies one’s actions as pure and/or just (my words, not yours) and absolves them of any culpability. “I killed him by mistake, but I’m no murderer.” “I have a swastika tattoo, but I’m no Nazi.” “That statement I made is untrue, but I’m not a liar.” “I took my family out to watch a Sunday afternoon lynching, but I’m not a racist.” If that’s true, your point of view is still patently mistaken.
Racism is not a blindspot. It’s a space where decency, compassion, empathy, and humanity disappear without a trace.