Is The Us Confronting Racism? That’s the title of an article I read today at Alternet.org. The piece is by Tammy Johnson, the Director of the Race and Public Policy Program (RAPP) of the Applied Research Center (ARC). In it, Ms. Johnson recounts the words of Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. Mr. Diene points to the nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for President as evidence that the US is confronting its issues with racism. I agree with Ms. Johnson’s point that in the face of this amazing occurance in our political landscape, “… there is little evidence of this transformation leading to better living conditions for communities of color.” She goes further to say, at the end of her piece, “Until we can raise the discussion to the level of dealing (with) systemic inequity, we are in great danger of navel gazing and getting nowhere fast.” I encourage you to read the entire piece.
Obama’s candidacy has engendered much discussion for being both a symbol of hope for people of color and a symbol of acceptance for mixed race families. Sure. We cannot, however, be content with the symbolism. There is much work to do in this country on the issue of racism. And I, as a white woman, don’t know the half of it, I’m sure. I know the racism I see when, in the comfort of the white community, folks let their guards down and say what they really think or let loose the joke they think is funny. I know the racism I see when other white folks assume that I am a member of that club whose other members ardently profess not to be racists, but who whisper, when the kids who threw the rocks that broke the gas station window are caught, “well, they were black,” as if to say, “well, duh.” I know intimately the endemic racism I have seen when a black family showed up at an all white church on Sunday morning for worship. Sure, the congregation made a nice show and claimed to be so happy that “that nice black family felt comfortable” in their church, but everyone knew the truth and “that nice black family” would soon get smart and stay away. Having President Obama in the White House won’t make those types of racism disappear anytime soon.
I have a black friend (not African-American … “don’t hyphenate me, we’re all Americans”) who has two young sons. I hope that by the time they are my age and candidate Obama has, hopefully, become President Obama and his term(s) have come and gone, the kind of racism I see in the white community will have begun to fade. The reasons why one people teach their children to hate another people are, to my friend and me, bizarre, at best, and horrific, at worst. But if more people like us cement friendships and open honest dialogues on race, perhaps we can move out from there and forge more tolerant paths in our own communities. After all, Obama’s candidacy has never been about what he would do, but about what we can do together.