Saturday, October 27, 2012

Racism: whose problem is it?

Thanks (?) to John Sununu, racism has become a topic in this election once again and Charles Blow used the opportunity to point out how racially polarized this election has become.

Right on cue for that conversation comes the release of a poll by the Associated Press suggesting that racism has actually increased since President Obama was elected.
Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly.

In all, 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48% in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56%, up from 49% during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
There are people who take this information and assume it is somehow President Obama's fault or that he should have been the one to fix the problem.

I don't happen to agree with either of those assumptions. When I read that article, I immediately thought of a blog post by my friend Robinswing titled We Can't Fix Ya! I hope she won't mind if I quote a good bit of it...we need the reminder.
The blackwoman has been thinking it might be time to seek out some solutions for eliminating racism. A more difficult project than I imagined.

Race is a problem for white people to solve. If black people or brown people could have made racism go away it would have long since disappeared back into the nothing-ness from which it came.

Nah, it’s on white folks to make the necessary moves to kill and bury, once and for all, the notion of race. I think in a generation or two this just might happen.

For one thing no small part of the fear rising in the hearts of some our finest race-baiting carbon units is the realization that within a generation they will be the minority. This idea causes folk like Pat Buchanan to go to sleep at night clutching at his gonads. He’s been ringing the white folks we’re about to be outnumbered bell for a really long time. With the election of America’s first black president, many of the dull-normals suddenly got it.

In the America they grew up in, such a thing was not possible. A black president was not a notion the mouth-breathers ever considered. It couldn’t happen...

Settling the question of race must fall on the shoulders of those who have most benefited by racial divisions. It’s called white privilege and if you are white you have enjoyed this privilege whether or not your parents are recent immigrants, held slaves, didn’t hold slaves, ancestors fought for the Union or the Rebels...White privilege belongs only to your race and only your race can call back the privilege by extending it through law, institution and practice to everyone. So far there has been no real effort in that direction. We got law. We understood you cannot legislate feelings. Only behavior.

We took what we could get...

White people have to come up with the solution to racism. Some of these folk are family. Some are neighbors. Some are friends. Talk to them. Don’t let them get away with the stereotypes. Challenge them on privilege. Point out that as long as this privilege exists, racism has a home.

If all else fails, remind them that they are soon to be the minority and that karma is a bitch.
President Obama is one of those black people who "took what he could get." The fact that in doing so he made some white people uncomfortable is THEIR problem - not his. What he is responsible for is to continue being the president of ALL of America and doing that to the best of his abilities - just as he has done the last 4 years.

The people who continue to harbor fear of the imminent loss of their privilege are just going to have to deal with it.


  1. I am humbled that you saw fit to use my words.Due to health issues (now resolved) I have not written much lately. Issues with webhost necessitated a change of address to The whole article is there for anyone who wants to read it. This way no traffic to 'that' site. Thanks sistah for your support through time and space. I read your blogs everyday. I do wish commenting here were easier. Keep fighting the good fight!

    1. I updated the link so that it goes to the posting of the article at SistahSpeak. Thanks!

    2. Robinswing, I've read your work before and have found it very helpful. You are certainly quotable. I am pleased to hear that you've worked through your health problems.

    3. But Robinswing, I imagine this was not intended to describe what you imagine a future might be:

      "If all else fails, remind them that they are soon to be the minority and that karma is a bitch."

      I've not encountered anything in my life that gave me any indication that people of color were biding their time until they got their turn to screw white people, as a group, in the same way white people, as a group, have historically screwed them. This idea is certainly a mainstay of paranoid white fantasy, though.

      I've only ever heard white people talk about people of color paying white people back for the last 500 years. That's a fact.

  2. I don't buy the results that show racism has increased. People who are racists now have always been racist. They're just more willing to admit it now because the media has normalized being racist. Or given people new terminology. We all know what Arrogant Muslim is in right wing code speak.

    1. Yes, you nailed it. There is a big logical flaw in the AP's presentation of the study, and, typically of our media, the AP skews toward white privilege when it simplifies a more complex argument. The study documents the expression of racist sentiment, not the thinking of it.

      What is clear to me is that we have developed a culture where it is more OKAY for white people--only white people, of course--to express racist ideas. Why might this be? I would suggest the example of our disloyal opposition has a lot to do with it, and our right-wing media culture that repeats racist tropes endlessly. This stuff has an effect. It loosens people up and they let fly.