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.