White people will tell you it exists, but that it’s true of other white people. Black people will tell you they’re victims of it. And Hispanic or Latino people – you know, ‘Mexicans’ to the uninformed – are being unilaterally threatened with deportation because of it. (And Syrians, and judges in Indiana, and…)
It is racism, or what the dictionary defines as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
I am a racist.
I believe black people are generally better athletes. I believe there are favorable odds for a Cuban being a better dancer than me. Those are some examples. Just because I’ve identified characteristics that would pass a more favorable racism sniff test doesn’t make me less racist.
This is important. Racism at its worst sits on the foundation of using color or culture to drive people apart – whether those qualities are innate from birth or aided circumstantially by location, education, income, etc. But even the positive-seeming distinctions are dangerous in that they reveal something we are afraid to say more literally for fear of being called racist – all men are not created equal.
I have white friends who will tell me that they believe Tyrone (yes, you correctly assumed he’s black) has the same opportunities to advance his education or career as they do. If he doesn’t achieve, then his failings are his own.
Many people feel the same way.
But those same people would tell you that the black kid in a pick-up basketball game will probably do better than the white kid. On a level playing field, why can’t the white kid drop 30 points and 10 rebounds when Tyrone can? Weren’t Timmy and Tyrone created equal? Don’t tell me it’s different. As Chris Rock once eloquently put it, “Black people are 10% of the population and 90% of the Final Four. We run this shit!”
These are different situational examples of racism. They are no different fundamentally.
The longest-running form of racism is perhaps institutional racism. Everyone knows where the city’s black schools and white schools are, and similarly where the Hispanic families live and where the Russian families live. In some instances, families choose to congregate in these areas – think of Little Italy – but in most cases, districting and city construction put them there in isolation.
Consider Miami’s historic (black) Overtown neighborhood. This is from a Miami New Times article in November 2015:
“Construction began on I-95 in Miami in the early ’60s, and the expressway soon ripped the heart out of Overtown. More than 20 square blocks were sacrificed for just one exit ramp; of a community of some 40,000, more than three-quarters ultimately lost their homes. As families were split and a wave of the displaced was forced to resettle throughout Miami, the composition of Liberty Square started changing, too…blue-collar jobs disappeared and lower-wage positions were increasingly occupied by new immigrants.”
This is no different a situation than pre-integration days. And the impact of demographic-based urbanization in the subsequent 50-plus years on the other side of I-95 is startling. Downtown and Brickell have thrived with everything from jobs, development and retail. Now, Overtown is hell. It has the fifth highest murder rate in the country.
The residents of downtown and Brickell have had access to transportation, development and careers that never returned to Overtown. Local government ensured that these cities were not created equal.
Let’s also make no mistake – if it was Donald Sterling outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge instead of Anton Sterling last night, the odds of there being a police murder story on the news today are slim. That’s not an inflammatory statement; that’s a true statement. Black citizens in the United States are killed by police at a rate 3.5x greater than their white counterparts.
With all that said, racism isn’t exclusively a burden for white people to bare. It also isn’t strictly a white and black issue, though it’s easily the most visible in our country. And I’m also not saying all of this to blindly induce guilt.
But ignoring the fact that people with certain skin tones have opportunities and access that others don’t should make us feel guilty. Acting oblivious to the fact that we all use color to identify good and bad qualities in others should make us feel guilty. And if we counter a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest by saying ‘All Lives Matter,’ you’ve also completely missed the point. Black people aren’t saying their lives matter more; they’re saying their lives should matter just as much.
If you disagree, so be it. But if you do, I’m going to ask you for a favor. I want you to go grab your basketball shoes. Head over to the gym.
And prove to me you can beat Tyrone.