Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Can we Get Rid of Racism?

Even thought my politics are center-right, I consider my self a Mainline Protestant, which tends to be more liberal. While I support their stance on social justice and caring for the poor, one of the things that bothers me is the insistance of some who are involved in race relations to think that we can one day get rid of racism. I tend to look at them as starry-eyed idealists who think that racism can just be easily removed from the human race, like purging a bad computer virus. I sometimes think my co-religionists tend to forget that we humans are imperfect and will always be susceptible to hurting others and ourselves. I don't think we are ever going to get rid of every bigoted thought about someone, not because people are so far gone, but because if we got rid of racism, we would be getting rid of the entire human race.

So what does a black person do? Well, for me, it means that we have live with it and press on. I have long accepted the fact that I will probably face some kind of racism. Yes, we have laws that allow people like me to do things my father who grew up in Louisiana back in the 30s and 40s couldn't do. For that, I am thankful for those who marched, faced the dogs and the water cannons and even gave their lives for me.

But the fact is, a government can't change a human heart. It can help, of course, but it's not going to change everything. And because of this, because racism is entrenched in this culture, black people have to learn to deal with the fact that someone, somewhere might not like them. We are going to face people looking at us. We are going hear the occasional racial slur. We might not get a job because of our race. In the face of this, we press on, learning and growing.

David Schraub has an fascinating post about Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court justice views on race. It's funny how they mirror mine:

Many people, left and right, think that Thomas believes racism is over in America. Conservatives believe it because they believe it and think of Thomas as one of them. Liberals believe it because they can't otherwise fathom why Thomas seems so uninterested in the fight for equality.

But they've got it precisely backwards. Thomas doesn't believe racism is gone in America. Thomas believes racism is irrevocably ingrained in America. In this respect, he draws from a deep Black Conservative tradition that sees little hope in the full-frontal assault for civil rights. Rather, they think the only way equality will be achieved in America is by absorbing everything racism has to throw at you, and still excelling. What this means differs for different theorists (the Black Conservative tradition contains men as widely varied as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey), but the strain of thought tends to accept racism as a fact and demand Black people succeed anyway.

Thomas has faced an incredible share of racism in his life--as a child, as a seminary student, in law school. He considers the affirmative action (that he admits he received) to be a form of patronizing racism as well. In the face of that, Thomas still has risen to be one of the most powerful and most influential men in the country. Were he not so famously quiet and reserved (another characteristic of Black Conservatives is self-discipline), you can almost hear him taunting: Is that the best you got?

As a black conservative, I tend to agree with this viewpoint. Black leaders like Booker T. Washington, believed that racism was always going to be with us, so we might as well work for self improvement and not wait for White America to get a clue.

I think one of the problems with white conservatives is that they tend to think we had a few marches and presto, racism was gone. Well, it's not that easy. Yes, things are better, but there are still barriers that need to be worked on. The problem with liberals is that they think racism they can just make racism and every other ill go away when sometimes what has to be done is overcoming the problem, not trying to think you can erase it.

If conservatives and Republicans are serious in courting blacks, then they are going to have to realize that a lot of black folk still see racism as a problem. The don't have to subscribe to the liberal viewpoint, but they do have to come up with ideas that can help "uplift the race." For example, GOP leaders could support school vouchers and charter schools as a way that black children can improve themselves and stay out of poverty. I know my left of center friends tend to detest that idea, but it is something the GOP could do.

As a black man, I am always going face some idiot who will not like me because of how I look. No it's not fair, but then life isn't fair, it's just something I have to deal with. Sometimes, you just have to hold your head up high and not let the idiots get to you. As Langston Hughes said in his poem, Mother to Son:

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

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