In case you’re wondering, racism isn’t dead
Do you believe racism still exists? Recently we’ve seen the video of Oklahoma University Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members chanting a horribly racist anti-black song that also included references to lynching. Also, Univision host Rodner Figueroa was fired this week after making racially insensitive remarks about the First Lady. And the Justice Department served up a damning report of Ferguson, Missouri officials showing a large racial disparity in law enforcement. Police and court officials shared racist emails and developed fines that may not be legal and levied them mainly to black folks.
This past week the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart mentioned the recent incidents of racism, including past episodes like rancher Cliven Bundy’s remarks that blacks were better off under slavery and former Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racially offensive remarks about African-Americans. Stewart made the point that too many racism-deniers see these episodes as isolated incidents in a post-racial America.
They’re wrong about that. But also, the problem is too many non-minorities think racism looks like the drunk fools on the SAE bus video. It’s practically religion to the right-wing racism-denying talk radio crowd that A) racism has to be overt to be real, B) President Obama’s election means racism and discrimination in America is over and C) minorities just want free government stuff so they invent racism.
The problem with racism and discrimination is it’s not nearly as obvious as it used to be. It was readily apparent before because the law codified it and the culture condoned it. You don’t have to go back hundreds of years to slavery. No, go back to Selma. Go back to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Loving v. Virginia in 1969 and decades of work since trying to enforce those laws and fight against their repeal. From racial profiling to redlining to the explosion of hostility to America’s first black president to the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson – battles are still being fought.
Now it’s harder to see. It’s no longer socially acceptable to wear your racism on your sleeve. Recently I went to a store with my girlfriend, Cathi, a beautiful white baby boomer. There were two cashiers working side by side with the store manager standing between them. The checkout line was one long line and the next person would go to the next available cashier. Cathi went to one and I went to the other. After I handed the cashier my MasterCard, the store manager said to the cashier, “Make sure you check his ID.” The cashier asked for my drivers license and I produced it, paid for my goods and left.
Outside I asked Cathi if she had to show her ID when she paid and she said no. Now I’m not saying the manager was a racist or she racially profiled me. The truth is I don’t know. And that’s often the case. I do know that instances like this happen way too often in my life. No one is going to say, “Since you’re a spook and we think you might be a thief, we need to check your ID.” It doesn’t work like that. Often we’re left wondering if we’ve been discriminated against.
This is how racism impacts a minority’s life. Who gives a shit if some drunk white fools sing a racist song on a bus? What I’m concerned about is that guy on that bus starting a business and deciding there’ll never be a black working for him. I’m concerned about that boss throwing away applications and resumes with ethnic sounding names. Or a guy on that bus is renting a home and when a minority shows up to see it, suddenly the home has “already been rented.” We have more to be concerned about from the bank that won’t lend to minorities or the ones that will seek to exploit them through predatory lending. Or maybe they’ll hire one black to avoid suspicion but make sure that employee doesn’t advance. This is how racism affects minorities. It’s also how sexism affects women. And it’s how homophobia affects the LGBT community.
It’s real, no matter how much anyone wants to deny it.
Now, most people I know are busy staying on their grind. They’re not wringing their hands in despair or looking for an excuse if they fail. But those isms are out there in the small minds of people with the power to affect other people’s lives. In some sectors, it’s institutional with glass ceilings waiting to be shattered. America has gotten much better since the events of Selma fifty years ago, but don’t get it twisted. Racism isn’t dead.