"How much racism is there in America?" & Other conversations

by Joyce Dowling

When asked, “How much racism is there in America?” and told that they haven’t heard any direct racist remarks for 40 yrs., I commented as follows.

The problem is that people (well, white people) think there is no racism if it isn't in their face - if it isn't obvious & overt. That's part of our present problem - denial. The overt stuff is easy to point out; it's still all over the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 762 active hate groups in the United States in 2004 (which increased to 939 in 2013).

It's the subtle racism that's harder to see. How many people of color do you know? How many hold top positions in the company you work for? Have you been in a conversation with them about racism and if so, do they think it's pretty much over?

Yes, things have improved, but... Not being able to see that most people of color do NOT think it's over is a big part of "white privilege". There are several books about it; I suggest you read some (see Antiracism resources).

When told that it was more a problem of poverty and that people who are "well-educated and of above average intelligence" are the privileged ones, I replied as follows.

I am against all kinds of oppression. Poverty is oppression and so is racism. Misery is not limited to those in poverty, though. Misery is definitely not limited from those who are "well-educated and of above average intelligence". There are many intelligent people who feel misery. If that were not the case, we wouldn't have the suicide rate that we have among middle and upper class people.

Poverty is also not limited from those who are "well-educated and of above average intelligence" though it is often the case. I know about poverty first hand. I once lived in a building that wasn't much more than a cardboard box and struggled to pay the rent for that. I still know people in poverty since I help out in an inner-city community ministry, substitute teach, and have friends who are unemployed and struggling. Poverty doesn't always mean "misery" since there are many people who are low or low-middle class who are happy or at least have a generally happy life. Struggling is not necessarily equivalent to misery.

I agree with working together for social justice, but that doesn't mean we have to ignore racism. Most African American people can't ignore racism, because they are a direct recipient of it or have been in their recent past. It creates distrust. We need to recognize that our past was unkind to people of color - it may not have been you or me personally but it was a system of white supremacy and overall that system is still in place. Knowing this can change our relationship with people of color and build a deeper caring, trustworthy relationship that will help rid our community of racism for the future.

We will never see a total end to poverty because there will always be those on the bottom financially. But since race is a social construct based on ideas made to put people of a different background and appearance down, we CAN work to get rid of it. We might not see it in our lifetime, but hopefully we will be much closer in another couple of generations.

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