MAXWELL: White America, denial won’t erase racism

12/6/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


The United States will never fix its race problems because too many white people simply do not recognize white privilege and refuse to confess, yes, confess, that they, individually and collectively, have a race problem to begin with.

Instead of seeing racism for the evil that it is, the perpetrators blame the victims for the nation’s race problems. The bigot who supports Bob Jones University, for example, is not the problem. Instead, outspoken African-Americans, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, are blamed and cast as rabble-rousers, instigators of the nation’s race problems.

How absurd. No, how utterly stupid.

Solving race problems is made even more difficult because a handful of well-known black Republicans, such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts and California businessman Ward Connerly, pretend that racism no longer matters because they are successful.

Tens of thousands of other black people succeed without aping the lie that racism is a figment of the imagination of whining blacks and bleeding heart white liberals. These blacks succeed while acknowledging racism and fighting it directly. Racism is a nasty reality that continues to bar people from jobs, business, real estate, education, intimate relationships. And it needs to be acknowledged and discussed. Racism makes black life unnecessarily tough.

The 2000 presidential election magnified the gulf between whites and blacks. White men overwhelmingly voted for Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Black people, especially black males, voted overwhelmingly for Vice President Al Gore despite Bush’s claim of “compassionate conservatism.” The 2000 election pulled the lowest percentage of blacks to support a Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign in 1964.

Why did white men, even Vietnam vets, vote for Bush _ a rich man who dodged service in Vietnam, a privileged child eminently unqualified for the presidency, a university legacy of weak intellect, someone who tried to hide his DUI arrest record, an executioner who courted the bigots of Bob Jones University, an empty suit who has no ethical problem with the Confederate flag topping off statehouses?

The answer: race. If truth be told, blacks and whites are from different planets and are treated as such. And the sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can find solutions to some of the tough race-specific problems.

Black people are not inventing racial profiling. It actually exists. Have you heard of New Jersey or Volusia County, Fla.? Black people do not redline themselves. White bankers and insurers do. Black people do not invite cops to beat and shoot them. Cops commit these acts on their own. Blacks do not advise white employers to toss out their job applications. White employers make such decisions on golf courses.

Let me, as a black man, try to understand a few things: Am I to believe that our nappy hair means nothing? That our black skin is equivalent to a zit on a white kid’s forehead _ a simple, natural growth that salve can erase? That slavery has had no permanent impact on our families? That the legacy of Jim Crow’s separate-but-equal public school system disappeared with passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act? That school busing is a colorblind promenade in the park? That our segregated neighborhoods are a matter of chance?

Whites regularly intone that blacks should stop using the term African-American and start being “just Americans.” One such letter writer, an Italian, conveniently takes great pride in belonging to the local Italian-American Club.

When I pointed out this fact and that he and most other groups (Irish-Americans, Greek-Americans, Asian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Polish-Americans, Jewish Americans, Swedish-American) always liked their hyphenated names until blacks hyphenated African and American, he hemmed and hawed in hypocritical fashion.

Indeed, when African-American came into vogue, other hyphenated groups suddenly wanted everyone _ read that black people _ to be “just Americans.” The racist truth is that many whites cannot stand the co-mingling of the terms Africa and America.

Anything else but that.

Whites want to forget about race. For sure, they want blacks to forget about it. But people like Jesse Jackson will not give white people a soft landing so long as the imprint of racism marginalizes innocent people, limits careers, blocks education and otherwise destroys lives. He and others will stay in White America’s face.