Is America Racist?

A friend sent me a WSJ article by Shelby Steele: “Why The Left Can’t Let Go of Racism.” It begins with a question, “Is America racist?’’

In the wake of Charlottesville he wanted to know what I think of the article and question.

I responded that even though racism exists in structures as well as individuals I wouldn’t describe America as racist. That is not a helpful generalization.

I prefer the word “racialized,’ used by Emerson and Smith in their book “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America.” They describe America as a “racialized society” since “race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.”

Given our history of slavery, segregation and discrimination they argue that our culture continues to “allocate economic, political and social rewards to individuals and groups along racial lines.”  

We form opinions, often unconsciously, about people by racial categories before we know them.   Thus there remains among us a tendency to pre-judge people by racial stereotypes regardless of their character or abilities.   That leads to prejudice, racism and injustice.

People of color, by internalizing these stereotypes may be as much influenced by these categories as the dominant white population.

None of us can escape the influence of our racialized culture.   The best we can do is recognize and resist its effects in ourselves as well as in the public square.

I don’t care for Shelby Steele’s stereotyping people as being left or right, liberal or conservative on racial issues.   Labeling one another with a single political identity ignores the complexity of each individual.

I have ideas that some would consider liberal, others that might be characterized as conservative.   This is true with almost everyone.   Few of us are single-minded ideologues.

In his book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Jonathan Haidt cites research demonstrating that we all want one thing: to be treated fairly.

Working for racial fairness is neither liberal nor conservative, or perhaps it is both.


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1 Response to Is America Racist?

  1. James Woody says:

    Your excellent blog resonates with me on many levels (not surprisingly). For example, I was struck by your comment about not caring for “Shelby Steele’s stereotyping people as being left and right”. Sadly, this binary categorization seems to be a central theme of the narrative of politics, religion and much of the social discourse that’s covered in broadcast and print media these days.

    The dividing line has been drawn and increasingly, we are encouraged to “choose a side”. Just the other day I tuned in to Fox News in a sincere attempt to gain some perspective into how the “other side” thinks and after a few short minutes I was so frustrated and dare I say, angry, that I returned to a channel that tends to align more closely with my thinking, which provided some immediate emotional comfort, but did nothing to help me more fully appreciate the views of others whose experience, perspectives and viewpoints are different than mine. Until more of us can find safe places to mix, mingle and hear opposing views expressed in a civil manner, I fear we’re in for a protracted period of turmoil — not something I’m looking forward to.

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