I’m racist. It’s important that you know that about me. I feel that it’s even more important for me to verbalize my racism, given my constant urge to keep up appearances. As a white American living half a century after Dr. King, I have internalized the rhetoric of racial equality without materializing the reality of it.
I like to think of myself as a “good person” and “not racist” but the fact is that neither of those statements is true. I’m actually a bad person and I’m racist.
I live a fairly insulated and isolated life in a just about all-white bedroom community in upstate New York. I can’t name a single African American family in my neighborhood, but I can show you who proudly flies Confederate flag on shirts, hats, trucks, and houses. The church I pastor previously had one African American teenager attending for about six months before he finished high school. The membership currently includes one mixed-race family. I founded an ecumenical outreach ministry in a nearby city that is currently mostly made up of white, liberal Christians in their late twenties to mid-thirties. The clientele of my favorite café, bagel shop, and book store are… you guessed it: mostly white.
The only time I come into regular contact with people of another race is in my teaching job at Utica College, where I’ve noticed that my non-white students regularly (but not always) get lower grades than white students. I don’t know why that is. Have I gone to great lengths to find out what’s wrong with my teaching and/or grading practices? No. Why? Because I’m too busy with all the other stuff going on in my life to put something so big on my plate at an institution where I’m just an adjunct lecturer. I would rather keep my schedule as convenient as possible than work to adjust an imbalance that benefits people who look like me but potentially damages long-term opportunities for people of other races. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty racist to me.
I am racist because I presume that racism was a problem for previous generations, but thank God Dr. King came along and fixed it all for us with one amazing speech in 1963. I am racist because I think having black friends makes me not-racist. I am racist because I think racism is confined to my personal feelings about black people.
I am racist because I benefit from living in a country where the following facts are true:
- Black youths arrested for drug possession are 48 times more likely to wind up in prison than white youths arrested for the same crime under the same circumstances.
- Black and Latino men are three times more likely than white men to be stopped by the police and have their cars searched – even though white men are four times more likely to have weapons or drugs.
- White men with a criminal record are more likely to be called back for a job interview than black men with no record, even when their education and experience are the same.
- Students of color are far less likely to be put in honors courses even after you take test scores and grades into account.
- Students of color are more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school even though they are not much more likely to break school rules than whites.
- Black college men end up just a few dollars ahead of whites who went no further than high school.
- 45% of black children live below the poverty line, compared with 16% of white youngsters.
- From 1939 to 1959, the earnings of black men relative to whites improved by over one third. However, from 1972 to 1992, the relative earnings of black men tapered off—and this was the period of affirmative action.
- Black unemployment rates, for as long as records have been kept, have been at least double those experienced by whites. Today, the definition of unemployment has been sufficiently restructured (the figures no longer count people on welfare, those whose unemployment benefits have expired, those in jail or in the military) to become nearly meaningless. However, it is reasonable to claim that unemployment levels among urban youth exceed 60%.
- Black professors hold less than 5% of faculty positions. Less than 5% of the K-12 teaching force is black. About 85% of this group is centered in urban areas.
- Of all the doctoral degrees awarded in 1990, just 3.5% went to black men and women.
- The attrition rate of black university students at many prestigious universities is greater than 60%.
- Most NCAA universities refuse to release attrition rate for athletes. An NCAA study showed that nearly 75% of Division I black athletes failed to graduate.
- While black students represent 16 % of all public school students, they make up nearly 40% of those classed as learning disabled.
- There are more black men in jail than in college.
Note – I compiled this list from two sources:
All of these facts are true but I have made no effort to change a single one of them. That’s why I’m racist.
Because I’m racist, I don’t have the right to accuse African American people of “playing the race card” when entire communities are outraged at the verdict of a trial. I can’t even tell them to stay peaceful and not get violent. That would be like me slapping you across the face and reminding you that it would be immoral for you to slap me back. As it turns out, I have a “race card” of my own and it’s an ace that’s permanently up my sleeve: it’s called being white and it gives me a distinct, unfair advantage over others.
As a racist person, I have an ethical obligation to shut up, listen, and be ready to repent when there’s an outcry. I don’t get to offer my two cents. Not yet. Not while circumstances remain the same.
Yet, here I am: still writing and speaking, still spewing out a thousand or so words that will be read by dozens, if not hundreds, of people in the next few days. I still have this urge to say my piece in public when I should be listening. Why is that? Because I’m racist.