We have become a people afraid of labels—but not of the things the labels describe. We are a people who will do and say things that are sexist, but if you call us sexist—well. Then you are the one being mean. We are a people who will do and say things that are racist, but if you call us racist—well, we couldn’t possibly be racist, because we are nice people, and if you call us racist you are being mean.
As a society, we are more afraid of being called racist than we are of doing things that are racist. As such, we have become a society increasingly standoffish about calling out racism. Bernie Sanders’ recent comments about voters in Florida and Georgia’s gubernatorial elections are a case in point.
As reported in The Grio:
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Sanders classified obviously racist behavior as not “necessarily racist.” Sanders made the comment in reference to the lack of white support for Andrew Gillum‘s effort to become Florida’s first Black governor and Stacey Abrams‘ still on-going attempt to become the first Black female governor in the U.S.
“I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” said Sanders. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”
Actually Bernie, feeling “uncomfortable” about voting for someone because of race is racist and in these particular instances that “uncomfortable feeling” translated into the action of voting for the less melanated option. That is racism in action.
Our society as a whole is still so steeped in anti-black racism that it’s nearly impossible not to have bias or be affected by stereotypes. We have stigmatized racism without uprooting it. As a result, we have rejected only the label but not the reality.
We have also created an ahistorical view of our own history Today, white Americans celebrate and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. White America has turned Martin Luther King, Jr., into a sort of comfortable, unassuming black Santa Claus. We like to think that if we lived back then, we’d have been on the right side of history. Polls from the time suggest otherwise.And as columnist Jarvis DeBerry has pointed out:
King was a disrupter, a disrupter of the highest order. So if you have a problem with today’s disruptive activists, then you’d probably have a problem with him. If, for example, you’re among the 57 percent of Americans who expressed a negative opinion of Black Lives Matter in an August 2017 Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, then you’d probably be opposed to whatever King would be doing today.
“Do you approve or disapprove of what the ‘Freedom Riders’ are doing?” Gallup asked Americans in 1961, and 61 percent said, “Disapprove.”
From that same survey: “Do you think ‘sit-ins’ at lunch counters, ‘freedom buses,’ and other demonstrations by Negroes will hurt or help the Negro’s chances of being integrated in the South?” Fifty-seven percent said, “Hurt.”
Our broken narratives have allowed many white Americans to oppose ongoing civil rights movements, such as Black Lives Matter, while simultaneously believing that they are not racist and that they would have been friends with Martin Luther King, Jr.
And then there’s the other side of the coin—white progressives’ willingness to their white ideological opponents the benefit of the doubt, as Bernie does in his statements. We’re not saying they’re racist. We’re just saying they’re uncomfortable. Indeed, there are a million and one think pieces about how not racist rural white voters are. It’s the economy. Or fear of change. How can we really expect them to keep up with this level of change without some bumps along the way, after all?
I don’t have answers. I only know that in our national conversation on race, something is very badly broken.
One more thing before I close. It occurs to me that the people who are most likely to become upset if they are called racist are the very same people who like to talk about the evils of “political correctness.” Doesn’t that seem just a little bit odd to you?
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