None dare call it racism | WisCommunity

None dare call it racism


Back in the seventies, when comedian Richard Pryor was at the peak of his career, I heard a routine in which he talked about being pulled over by a police officer as he was driving his expensive sports car through a white neighborhood.

His flip, and funny monologue, was an eye-opener for me. It was the first time I became aware of the phenomenum of "driving while black". Sure, like most people I supported the concept of civil rights. Of course it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. But Pryor's routine raised my consciousness and sensitized me to the notion that racism is seldom overt. It is systemic.

My level of cynicism extends to the current controversies over one-percenter Donald Sterling and rancher/lunatic Cliven Bundy. They expressed their bigotry out loud. They have always been bigots. We just now found out.

Their outrageous remarks allows the rest of us to be self-righteous, especially those on the right, making it possible for bigots like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly to look virtuous.

Sterling and Bundy meet our common definition of racists. I would argue we are missing the mark. Racism runs much deeper than that. For some reason who are reluctant to assign the racist shingle to the more insidious forms.

There is only one degree of separation between Bundy, Sterling and Paul Ryan. It is all in how you couch the message. Yet we are reluctant to call Ryan a racist. Why is that?

How else to explain the southern states opposition to the Medicaid expansion? Officials in the State of Georgia are even voicing the same states' rights arguments against Medicaid that they use to fight the Voting Rights laws and de-segregation orders.

Our Supreme Court struck down section five of the Voting Rights Act under the premise it is no longer needed. Antonin Scalia called the law an "entitlement." I am willing to label Scalia and the conservative majority racists.

The City of New York, until recently, had a stop-and-frisk law in place that just stopped and frisked minorities. I am willing to call the NYPD racist.

Numerous states have instituted voter suppression laws which victimize minorities. Many of those initiatives occurred in southern states in the wake of the section five decision. I am willing to call those Republican governors and legislatures racists.

The Republicans in congress blocked the Dream Act, the immigration reform bill and a proposed fix to the Voting Rights Bill. They are racists too. (I will make an exception for Jim Sensenbrenner).

I should also mention the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision. On its face it appears benign. After all, the court simply upheld a state Michigan constitutional amendment which prohibits discrimination in college admissions based on race. Who could object to that? Even liberal justice Stephen Breyer signed on. But the court missed the underlying issues. They ignored the institutional sorting process minorities experience before they get to the admissions phase. Affirmative action policies were designed to overcome these built-in biases. Only Sonia Sotamayor seemed to get this in her dissent. I am calling the decision racist. Sorry Stephen Breyer.

Many people hold up the fact that since a black man was elected president that we have somehow put race behind us. I disagree. We are a long ways from an egalitarian society. Systemic and subtle racism has a cumulative effect and it has to be rooted out over time.

When my son was in high school he come home after a discussion of civil rights and affirmative action. He said he didn't understand why affirmative action existed, after all, isn't that a racial bias? Isn't that just reverse discrimination?

I explained it this way. My dad came home after the war and got a good job despite the lack of a high school education. He was on a career track that, at that time, was denied to minorities with the same lack of education. He raised a family, bought a house, put me through college with enough left over to sustain his widow in her twilight years. That in turn allowed me to do the same for my offspring and so on. We are the beneficiaries of institutionalized racism. I could see the light bulb go on as he grasped the concept.

So while we kvetch over Donald Sterling our schools are being re-segregated and no one seems to be alarmed.

It is time to take some of that outrage directed at Bundy and Sterling and turn it toward the real racists among us. And let's not be afraid to call them out for what they are.




April 29, 2014 - 11:07am