The Lingering Impact of Racism, and The Difficulty of Discussion

From the “What are folk reading” thread,

I have long argued that even if you overlook how long it took for Santorum’s excuse-makers to cook it up and for him to even later adopt it, the “I actually said ‘bleah people’” excuse is not plausible:

Nobody in the all-white audience did a double-take or asked, “What did you just say?” They clapped. Note also that shortly before he started talking about “black people’s lives” and “them”, he referenced his audience as “you”. I’m sure that if not given the cover of, “Oh, he inexplicably said bleah people, and we all implausibly heard it that way”, the audience isn’t necessarily responding out of overt racism, but it is responding to the notion of the undeserving “them”, people of color who they perceive as getting for free what they believe that they earned or what they believe they’re paying for.

While (as with any concept) political correctness can be pushed too far, the right has largely used the concept of political correctness as a means of avoiding an honest discussion. In some cases it might be more accurate to say that they use it as a means of deflecting valid criticism for deliberate comments that range from insensitive to provocative.

Political correctness aside, though, a discussion of race in our nation is complicated by the fact that it is inevitable that at some point pretty much everyone will hear something that they don’t want to hear, at some point almost everyone is likely to be offended. And while (objectively) some of the reactions will be far more justified than others, there is no way to proceed with a meaningful discussion that won’t also trigger anger, indignation and offense. No matter how carefully constructed or moderated, the discussion is going to be met with objections from a number of directions to the effect of, “You’re doing it wrong”.

I wish I had the answers…

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I’m 68 and I grew up in the all-white Milwaukee suburbs. I now live in a Milwaukee central city neighborhood that is majority-minority (mostly black). I am always aware of race.

Besides being the odd one out in race, I’m also a higher economic class than the other people in my neighborhood. I’m always aware of economic class.

Besides race and economic class, I’m also much more educated than most in my neighborhood. I’m always aware of grammar and word choice.

Because of all of these differences, I’ve only been able to become close to one person in this neighborhood (an older white woman). But I am on polite and cordial relations with everybody else.

I have no complaints on how they behave towards me and I hope they feel the same.

It ain’t perfect, but it is functional.

I see the hackles rise on most whites when they are in high proportion minority crowds; those whites are feeling fear. I don’t know how to improve the situation, but I know the situation has improved over my lifetime. It is too slow a pace for sure, but at least the trend is in the right direction.

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