Can Black People Be Racist?

This afternoon I met a White, presumably upper-middle class, presumably heterosexual Chicago couple.  Today was the woman's 50th birthday.   The woman mentioned that they'd just been to a movie.  I asked: "Which movie?" and she replied Creed (and indicated that it was pretty good).

I mentioned to both of them that I had recently seen: (the movie) Green Book and that it was excellent.  I mentioned a little about the plot of the movie (see my review of the movie on this blog).  I noted that the plot focused upon a Black virtuoso piano player traveling, performing over a two month period in 1962 with his White driver/assistant.

The woman paused a little and then said:

"I'd like to ask you a question.   Can Black people be racist"?

I replied:

"That's a somewhat loaded question for me because my wife is Black, my two step-children are both Black/biracial.  In my immediate family, I'm the only White person."

She indicated that that made no difference to her.   I told her that I believed that Black people couldn't be racist.    She asked me whether it was racist if individual Black people spoke very negatively to her because she was White.    I told her that Black people could be prejudiced against White people, but that would not be being racist.

She said: "Aren't racism and being prejudiced the same thing"?

I said: "No, to me, they aren't the same thing.

I said that racism, where White people treated Black people poorly, solely because they were Black, persisted today (despite significant efforts to end it).

I said that when my wife faces certain situations where she's treated poorly, she has to guess whether it is because: 1.) she is Black, 2.) she's a woman, 3.) she's often outspoken, 4.) of her physical appearance or 5.)  just because the person has chosen to be nasty to her.   I said that I don't face such situations because I am White, Male, and upper-middle-class.

I made an analogy related to sexism.  I told her about the first female head of the Wisconsin State Senate, speaking out about being female.   She said that despite her political power, when she stepped into the adjoining parking garage at night, she was on her guard.  Despite her political power, she could easily be raped, like any other woman.

I then had to leave.  I gave them my card.  I said that I'd be happy to continue a dialog with them further via email or by telephone.   I hope that they will read what I'm writing below.

Racism to me relates to two important things:

1.     Solely or significantly because of race, a person (or multiple people) treat another person (or multiple people) negatively
and
      2.  Those treated negatively are of a race (or perceived to be of a race) which is commonly viewed as "inferior" to the race of the perpetrator(s).

Black people are commonly viewed as "inferior" to White people.
White people are rarely viewed as "inferior" to Black people.

So, why does it make a difference that White people are commonly viewed as "superior" to Blacks or others people of color?

1.) Why is it that generally only White people are racist?
2.) Isn't it the same when a Black person yells at a White person or insults them or does similar things to them solely because they are White?
3.) Doesn't this definition of racism totally normalize and accept Black individuals treating White people negatively, when the behavior would be racist if it was the White person doing the identical thing to the Black person?
4.) Are White people each responsible for the horrific treatment of Black people during slavery
5.)Can't you (a White individual) honestly say:   "I don't see race, I only see people".  
6.) Isn't our lack of racism apparent when we have good relationships with Black friends and co-workers?

I will attempt to address these issues.

It is very important they we White people are frequently viewed as "superior".   How can we be "superior" when many of us are:  weakened by age or otherwise in poor health, disabled, mentally impaired, living in poverty, gay/lesbian/trans, significantly impacted by traumatic things in our lives such as: shootings, sexual/physical/emotional abuse survivors or face other things that make our lives very difficult.

Black people commonly face all of these things and more.  

I remember my (first) wife telling me, in the mid to late 1980's, of walking in the dark on the campus of The University of Wisconsin, Madison.   She came upon a large, Black man.   She initially non-verbally showed how scared she was of him.   He did nothing.  She saw how well-dressed he was, relaxed and both of them smiled, never saying a word, as they passed each other.

B, my wife, walked into a boutique in Kauai.   The store owner saw her, but didn't engage with her.   A few minutes later a White woman walked into the boutique.  They immediately began talking with each other.   Was this because B is Black?   Was it because the two women knew each other?   B never knew but was bothered because of how frequently similar things happen. 

B has talked with a person and then meets them in person.  They comment:  "You don't look like I pictured you".   After the Nth time of this happening, it is obviously saying:  "You don't sound Black".

"Translation" and being "the translator" is totally foreign to me.   I do not need to spend time reading body language, as to whether a White person is comfortable with me when we meet. If B does not read the situation correctly, the other (White) person may well not support her work.   They may not become someone she can rely upon.   This is totally because B is not White.   This takes a tremendous amount of energy that could otherwise be focused simply upon the task at hand.  In complete contrast, most White people will immediately presume that the Black person such as B will follow everything.  No additional energy is expounded because B is Black.

Shopping while Black means being followed and watched carefully by security personnel including people of color.   It usually doesn't matter how nicely one is dressed or how polite one is.

I am reminded of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s arrest for attempting to break into his own house near Harvard University (where he is an esteemed professor) in 2009 - see:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/20/AR2009072001358.html?noredirect=on .    

Gates was a "suspect" because Black men don't live in nice neighborhoods.

D, my White friend used to co-lead anti-racism workshops with a Black man.    When they would drive separately, D was always there first.   D had no need to "drive while Black".   There was no need to drive well below the speed limit to avoid a ticket.   He didn't need to anticipate upcoming yellow lights and clearly avoid going through an intersection while the light was changing.   D rarely, if ever, had been stopped by a patrol officer while driving; a clear contrast to his co-worker's experience.

B tells me more than infrequently of how she has somehow been "passed" in line by a well-dressed White woman.    After this happening multiple times, it seems obvious that as a Black woman, she is perceived as being different (and inferior).   At other times such as when one or both children were with her, it was clear that she was viewed as being "another welfare mom".

Black people in the United States pay a heavy price for the artificial construction of being labeled as "Black" as is best typified below.  For example: 

U.S. Non-Hispanic Mothers' death rate of is 12.7 per 100,000 live births. 
Black Mothers have a similar rate of 43.5 per 100,000 live births.

A direct quote related to the data above from this site states:

Numerous studies show that after controlling for education and socioeconomic status, African American women remain at higher risk for maternal and infant mortality. Indeed, one study showed that after controlling for income; gestational age; and maternal age and health status, the odds of dying from pregnancy or delivery complications were almost three times higher for African American women than they were for non-Hispanic white women.21 Relatedly, another analysis, controlling for the same factors, showed that college-educated African American women were almost three times more likely to lose their infants than their similarly educated non-Hispanic white peers.22
(Source:   https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/02/01/445576/exploring-african-americans-high-maternal-infant-death-rates/  )

The experiences I have described above are mostly limited to upper-middle class Black people.   No doubt there are far, far more such types of negative experiences that poorer Black people face. 

 47,411,470 Black people in the U.S. are  different from us White people.  We, White people, see occasional differences as I have described.   We do not see or feel the totality of what Black people face because they are Black.

Some Black people are helped by attempts at inclusivity (diversity) such as through affirmative action (though the U.S. Supreme Court has nearly gutted all such policies in the public sector).   Those helped, still face prejudice and potential harm simply because they are Black.   The relatively small perks some Black people get, in my estimation, are far, far countered by all that they face being Black in the U.S.
 
I am unaware of any substantive ways that I, as a White man am discriminated against because I am White.   Yes, my son was rejected as a potential undergraduate student by Harvard and Stanford Universities despite great grades and test scores.   If he had been Black, he would have had a much better chance at acceptance.

Unfortunately for him, my son "suffered" through four wonderful years at Cornell University, where he excelled as a student.   He then taught in a Chicago public high school for six years, went to law school,  and now is beginning his career as a well-paid lawyer.
 

You may ask: “Why is it that a White person is generally presumed guilty of racism”? 

First of all, I don't believe that the statement is true.

Assume for a moment that it is true.    What are its consequences?  Few are fired as has happened to some prominent men related to the "Me Too" movement.   Much, much more commonly, where the consequences are potentially serious, White people can easily get good legal representation, character witnesses, and use contacts that they have (due to White privilege) to avoid substantive harm.

Barack Obama, when President, bent over backwards time and time again to show that he "cared" about White people.  He could not afford to be seen as an "angry Black man".   The consequences would be substantial  lost White support.   Despite the racist predictions before he took office, he rarely significantly pushed legislation or helped with executive orders that helped the needs of a majority of Black people.  

Donald Trump is often angry and readily shows it.   He belittles Black People (,women and especially Muslims,) without evident fear that he will be perceived as racist and pay a price for such a label.

When Black people are singled out for (negative) attention, it often appears that it’s because they are Black.    I rarely, if ever, hear of White drivers being shot by police officers after being pulled over.   Strangely, nearly all those killed are young Black men. Certainly young Black men are more likely to be "criminal" than young White men - due to socioeconomic class (as well as other factors, related to racism).   This, however does not fully explain the differences in who is perceived as a threat and killed.

When I lived in Oakland, California, my (White)  neighbor Mike deliberately came outside  and intervened with  police officers who had stopped a young Black man in front of our houses.    The young man was released by the police after they found nothing after  searching for illicit drugs.   He was about 19-20 years old and drove an older, worn car. He told Mike that he was a local college student.  I believe that he was honest with Mike.

How many times will such a student be stopped by the police before he learns that it is solely because he is Black?   How many such Black young men will "turn bad"?   Won't being presumed to be "bad" and not being able to avoid being told this over and over and over again through police actions (and other such things) inevitably seriously hurt these young Black men?

It is amazing that more Black People don't speak out against the racism that they face!   At the same time I must remember; who will believe them?   Who will listen to what they say and take their accusations seriously?

Certainly, there are cases where Black People try to use being Black to their advantage.  It seems obvious that the numbers of Black people who are treated poorly, without redress, easily dwarfs the “White victims”. 

Similarly, it is said that it is very easy for women to accuse (innocent) men of rape.   In fact it is very, very difficult for women to accuse men of rape.   Commonly they end up victimized a second time with all the accusations that they face.  We do hear of those (few) cases where lying occurred, as with the (privileged) Duke University lacrosse team and one poor Black woman who may have falsely accused them of rape.

Isn't it identical when a Black person acts aggressively towards a White person solely because the person is White?    Doesn't this definition of racism totally let Black individuals off the hook?   It sees racism only in a single direction.

No, it isn't the same.    Once I was harassed by a young Black man on a Chicago Transit Authority subway train.   I presumed that it was because I was White and Male.   While I felt threatened, it was different.   If something criminal had then taken place, I would have likely had a lot of forces on my side, seeking to punish this young man.    He would have had little support opposing the legal system and police as well as others I might get assistance from such as a lawyer, if I needed one.  Thankfully, the young man's companion helped calm him down.  I'm guessing that he was not sober when this happened.  I presume that violence is unlikely nearly always, because rarely do I face it. 

I have been held up at gunpoint twice in my life.  In both instances those attacking me were Black males.    The first time I was held up, I was outside of Florence's, the "home bar" of noted Chicago blues musician Hound Dog Taylor in West Englewood, a neighborhood where the average income is under $20,000.   The second time I was held up I was in North Oakland (CA) near my home, walking on the street in the very early morning, also in a "not great" neighborhood.

After the second incident,  I clearly suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.   For several months, I saw shadows at various times, turning around rapidly, looking for someone who I thought might be attacking me (again), though I was never physically touched in either assault.   I was strongly negatively affected.

This was the closest I have ever gotten to feeling what it must be like to be "Black" in the sense of being vulnerable.   Despite the fact that both of my assailants were Black, I wasn't afraid of Black people/men (thankfully).   When I asked a worker in my building (a Black man) if he'd ever been held up at gunpoint, I knew, before he said a word, what the answer would be.   I didn't pursue the issue when he said: "yes".

Certainly, individual Black people can be and are prejudiced against White People!   I would guess, in most instances, that such people have had a lot of negative experiences with White People.   Are they justified in taking out their anger at White People on you, who has done nothing to them?  Of course not!

I try to understand such prejudice where it occurs.   Generally, I believe it is obnoxious, but not major in the life of the "victim".

Beginning April 20, 1999 (in Columbine, Colorado), there has been significant increased awareness of mass killings in U.S. public schools.    It is very, very strange when one looks at the media attention to such killings.

How often do we hear:   "Another tragic incident of young, White, middle class males assailants?   Why do young White men continue to kill"?  How often do we hear that the assault was directed at women or girls?

It is always seen as an isolated incident by the media, unrelated to White male privilege  There was a case in the Washington, D.C. Area where primarily one Black man, with an associate, was targeting White individuals and killing them over a period of time.   This wasn't a school killing.   This wasn't a single mass killing.

There was one killing at Virginia Tech University where the killer was Asian-American.  It was notable particularly because of his ethnicity.  More recently there was a Latino-American killing.

Such killings in our public schools are nearly always a part of White, Male Privilege.  It is only young, White men who feel entitled, and kill when they seemingly don’t get what they are seeking.   They are rarely, if ever noted by the media as: “young, White men”.

Are White people individually responsible for the horrific things that resulted from slavery?   No, nearly always, individual White people are not responsible.  

There is, however, an important point that needs to be made related to this.    White people often talk of how slavery ended in 1865.  They imply that Black People have had over 150 years to "bring themselves up" to White People.  This ignores a lot.

A lot happened in the U.S. between 1865 and 1965 which prevented Black People from living "normal" lives. There were a tremendous number of setbacks that occurred, particularly in the period starting in the early 20th Century.  They involved White people making things substantially worse for Black people.   There were riots where Blacks were assaulted and driven out of cities and towns.   There were other pressures forcing Blacks out of towns and smaller cities.

James Loewen, in his excellent book Sundown Towns, paints a devastating picture of American racism as it grew in the first half of the 20th Century, with and significant vestiges remaining today.
"Loewen (emeritus, sociology, U. of Vermont) exposes the history and persistence of "sundown towns," so-named for the signs often found at their corporate limits, warning African Americans and other minorities not to be found in the town after dusk."

Loewen does not focus upon the government sanctioned, discrimination in the South.    He does focus, instead on how Blacks were living, often in small towns and cities in the North such as in Wisconsin and Illinois in the latter half of the 19th Century.   They were the strike-breakers for large companies’ union busting efforts,  deliberately recruited to replace White workers during strikes.    They were driven out of small towns for many reasons, none of which were justifiable.  They were forced to move to inner city Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, etc.

Loewen speaks powerfully of the racism of the North which complemented the legal, powerful laws of the South dictating segregation.   He talks eloquently as to how Black people lived amongst White people in towns like Oshkosh or Appleton, Wisconsin.  They were neighbors, largely without major problems until, White racism changed everything.   He speaks clearly as to how riots in cities like Tulsa and Chicago as well as other incidents in smaller cities were unprovoked assaults upon Black people.

I clearly remember 1968 as a year of dramatic racial changes in the United States.   Prior to 1968 there had been indications that White People were supporting the efforts lead by Black People, moving towards equality in the U.S.   While there was much White resistance, President Johnson's efforts with civil rights laws was helping a lot.  Change seemed to be a positive, progressive force.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy dramatically changed things!   Riots in inner cities such as Watts and Newark and the massive, horrible destruction in Detroit in 1967 expanded greatly in Chicago and many other cities in April, 1968.   It never was the same again.

Civil Rights legislation and progress forward on racial issues became nearly 100% a "Black Issue", not a "White Issue" and not an “American Issue".   The problems were with Black People, not White People.  "Law and Order" was the new buzzword.     Mayor Daley of Chicago, a Democrat, was united with Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, two Republicans. in leading the efforts to blame Black people and let White people off the hook.

Racism will NOT end until it is seen as primarily a WHITE and "general problem”, rather than being seen as it is as a "Black" issue.   While there have been a lot of White voices speaking up about Ferguson and police killings of unarmed Black motorists, the demonstrations have been primarily the efforts of Black People.    Racism can’t and won’t end until it stops being marginalized.  It needs to be vitally important for a majority of White people.

Today we face increasingly strong forces of "White nationalism", strongly raging against both Blacks and Jews.    Will many White people get involved in opposing White supremacists in the coming months and years?  This will determine whether the issues will persist.   This will encourage or prevent dangerous situations such as occurred in Charlottesville from happening again.

Can't you (a White individual) honestly say:  "I don't see race.  I only see people"?   

When we say:  "I don't see race..." we are innocently demonstrating our WHITE PRIVILEGE.    When we say:  "All lives matter", thereby minimizing the "Black Lives Matter" Movement, we are similarly demonstrating our White privilege.

Black People are NOT saying that "White lives don't matter".   They are noting that in the U.S. today, often,  Black lives do NOT matter.   

My wife B and many millions of Black people MUST see race every day in their lives.   IF they ignore that they are Black, they will pay a steep price for their denial and self-deception.
Isn't our lack of racism apparent when we have good relationships with Black friends and co-workers?

A lot of us have Black friends and co-workers.   I hope these Blacks are honestly expressing their feelings.   Hopefully they are confronting our racist statements.   Hopefully they are letting us know clearly when we don’t fully respect that they are Black.

Knowing and caring for Black people does not make us "non-racist".

I am ashamed of what I did many decades ago.   I spoke to P of M. I referred to this young, Black man as: “a boy”.   I told P that my words reflected his youthful age, not that he was Black.  P calmly, but firmly, told me that I should not use such a word, that it was racist.   I did listen to her and heard my own words from her perspective.

When you, as a White Person, hypothetically , voluntarily,  live in a community where you are living 99% of the time with only Black People, you may approximate an understanding of Black People.  In that rarely possible instant, you will still have the privilege of leaving that Black world; a choice most Black people do not have.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, my regular evening activity was going to some of Chicago's West and South Side blues bars.  Always in such situations I was a distinct minority, being White.   On a number of occasions, I was the only White person there.   People were incredibly friendly!   I still knew little of what being Black was.  I went home to my White world, when I drove home.   Recently I saw a Black circus perform in Chicago. 99% of the audience was Black  While this was a wonderful experience, it did not rid me of my Whiteness, including my racism. 

I AM RACIST . 

I have spent the last 16 years of my life in a primary relationship with a Black woman.  My two step-children are Black.   I have learned a lot about racism.  I have read many books related to Black people and racism.  B does not need to read books about racism.   B does not need to learn about racism.     She knows far more than I will ever know.

I am a White man.   I am not ashamed of being a White man.  Until the day that I die I will be working to decrease my racism, struggling towards an impossible goal;  ending (my) racism.   I listen repeatedly to B say:  "I hate White people" or similar.   I don't take it personally.   I know some of what she means.  I can’t fully understand her, because I am not Black.

I do not feel guilty that I am racist!   It does sadden me.   I try to support Black people when I can.   I know, though, that my "real work" on racism is with White people.     We all need to work more seriously at ending racism.

White people:   Please go and see the wonderful movies: The Hate U Give  and Green Book.
They are two movies that will educate you a lot about racism.  I cried watching both movies.   The former is a heavy, serious movie.   It strongly told me that 16 years of: being with a Black woman, being at Black family reunions, and being with B's close relatives has still left me with a lot to learn about Black people and racism.   Green Book is both serious and funny.    It is much, much lighter in tone.

In closing, I would like to share a brief story I heard circa 1981 from the DuPage County NAACP leader   He spoke of how the first Black resident of Oak Park, IL was working one day in his garden, soon after he'd moved there.    A White lady passing by innocently asked him:  "How did you get your job at this house"?, to which he calmly responded:

"By sleeping with the woman of the house".

Thank you!

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