It is Black and White – and Multicolor
Written by: Joe Morris Doss
It is politically incorrect to say so, but yes, racism is still the biggest problem in the United States and racism is the dominant political issue in the Presidential and Congressional campaigns of today. That is because racism did not end with the Civil Rights Movement’s successes, and because, gulp – gulp, each of us who is white suffers racism – personal and systemic.
I think Americans deny this most sincerely. They deny it because they believe that racism is not something real, and inside us, unless we choose it and feel it and intentionally act on it. A standard has been set that approaches that of WWII Nazis or the White Supremism of the KKK, and most of us know we are free of those levels of prejudice and racism. It is necessary to challenge the idea that there are few Americans who actually experience that level of racism, but let’s assume that we are talking about white Americans like you and me – not others at whom we may be willing to point fingers.
Let’s begin with the fact that racism is an inherent part of our makeup, whether it is culturally induced or part of our “wiring.” One of the shocking discoveries that came of World War II psychological studies, the first time in history that the discipline of psychology was used to gather in-depth evidence about soldiers at war, not only those with problems but “G.I. Joe.” The evidence established that human beings have a much greater “built-in” inhibition against killing than had been conjectured. But beyond that the evidence concluded that it was harder for an individual to kill someone like themselves than to kill those who were different. The most important similarity and difference was defined in the most obvious terms of race. Soldiers in Europe, on both sides, found it far more difficult to put the sight of their gun on a fellow Caucasian and pull the trigger than did soldiers in other theaters of war (on both sides), as in the fighting between Japanese and Americans.
The second reality to face is the reality of racism that is systemic and culturally induced. This too, is inescapable for participants in our society. One of the most important spiritual, emotional, intellectual breakthroughs in my life was my realization and self-confession about my own racism – and the insight that, while this would be the fight of my life, the fight for my soul, I would never completely be free of racism. Am I suffering the sins of our fathers, as the biblical saying goes? Well, so are you; be honest with yourself.
In watching this summer’s Olympics did you, like me, find yourself noting how many of the American athletes were of color? Did you, like me, find yourself quietly “cheering” for the success of an athlete, only to recognize, painfully, that it might just be because that was the white one? Does that happen to you, like me, when watching the NBA – or other public events and gatherings? Have you found yourself, as I have, listening to a crime report on the news, looking to discover that the suspect is white, and having to admit to yourself that you had already pictured someone of color? Do you still identify more easily with a white person that you don’t know than strangers who are black, or Hispanic or Asian?
My racism is a given. My own personal experiences, observations, pastoral and counseling expertise, and studies all come together to conclude that yours is too. Perhaps especially this is true if you, like me, were raised in the South during a time when racism was a given, indeed when it was a virtue instead of a fault, when the very air you breathed was charged with the reality of white supremacy. But, in fact, I believe that this is so for all Americans of my generation, even where there were few people of color.
I long ago predicted (for what little that is worth) that our country was going to go a little crazy when we got to the point where we could not longer feel that we are fundamentally a freed English colony – one that allows non-Western-Europeans to enter but with the expectation that they will assimilate, that is, became like us. I believe that is what we are experiencing a sort of socially-emotional breakdown as the reality sinks in: white people are no longer the majority, the standard makeup, the defining norm. What I didn’t anticipate is globalization. Given our reaction to both radical adjustments, it becomes somewhat understandable that the threat of where someone like a Trump would take us has become a reality.
I marvel, find it hard to believe, and pray in gratitude that my children do not suffer the same racism. But they are American and so I don’t know how they can escape it even if to a much lesser degree. Seeing them and their friends gives me great hope for America’s future. I am thankful beyond saying that America is proving solid enough to deal with the White nativist nationalist strong man threat.
Nevertheless, if we have to face honestly why Americans feel a lack of agency today, it is necessary to focus on the racism that remains our biggest challenge. This must begin with an admission on the part of each White American. We are racists and so we must get over denials and do something about it – in our hearts, yes, but even there the first step must be in confronting the racism in our society.