In his words, “In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”
He ends his column this way, “My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked. And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.
I have two takes on this article. The first being that good and evil are not autonomous forces that can be ascribed to whole groups of people. They are assessments of individual behaviors and as such, cannot even be projected onto whole personalities.
The second is, I’m guilty as charged. I’m a racist, albeit a recovering one.
But I wasn’t a racist as a young man growing up in a small southern sundown town that had an attitude much like Levittown, Pa. The Negroes, as they were called then, had to be out of town by nightfall. They were not served in restaurants. They were not welcome except to shop and leave. Their money was good enough but they weren’t. My high school had just integrated the year before I entered and a cross had been burned on the lawn. I don’t think it was a form of celebration.
You see, I knew Negroes were inferior, except in sports and music, because I grew up in that community and that’s the way it was in my world.
When I went to college, my world widened and Negroes became colleagues and I became a racist. Nothing had really changed but I could now see what I considered “the way it was” was really racism. As I matured, I learned to truly own my racism and eventually learned to manage it.
The point I am making is I believe most American’s over a certain age are racists. Those who don’t think they are, truly believe that their prejudices about their minority of choice are accurate descriptions of reality. So I think more useful distinctions when speaking about racism would be conscious and unconscious.
When we are conscious of our racism, we have a chance at managing it. When we are not, we can’t even see our biases and will argue to defend our worldview as “the way it is.”
Racism is a disease of the mind caught subliminally. Once infected, it’s incurable. The only treatment begins with acknowledgment and ends in remission. But it can be managed.
To be completely honest, my racism becomes more difficult to manage when I see the sacrifices made by people like Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King wasted by the young. Their memories are soiled by a segment of the communities they died for. And the responsibility to manage this belongs to someone else. A little honesty from that segment would be refreshing too.
Robert De Filippis