In our day, it is not only people that are categorized according to race, but ideas. If recent history is any indication, even my attempt to broach the subject of the double-standards common in discussions on racism will be met with (at least) skepticism by some who consider my pigmentation inherently disqualifying. After all, how might a white man understand the plight of blacks (1) who feel ostracized on account of their race? The answer is simple: racism is an ideology, which means it cannot be the prerogative of any particular race, and therefore does not operate in only one direction .
That the U.S. has been guilty of pervasive official discrimination against blacks in the past is an incontrovertible fact, and it is praiseworthy that those unjust legal biases have rightly been eradicated. However, though there still exist fringe groups that openly profess racial prejudice (e.g., the Klu Klux Klan), the kind and scope of persecution alleged to occur against the black community today is, I aver, not of the KKK brand. (Nobody attributes any credence to anything issuing forth from the obtuse mouths of the Klan members, anyway.) I submit that it is not the prevalence of melanin in a person’s skin alone that fosters a tendency to form possibly unjust preconceptions, but that in conjunction with the perpetuation of what is called the “black community” or “black culture” (2). Discrimination against blacks, when is does actually occur, is rarely an aversion to the color of their skin, but often the result of a distaste for the substance of what is understood to be the associated subculture. This is not really racism, but a sort of anti-culturalism. Just what constitutes “black culture,” I do not presume to know; I know only that it is the subject of volumes of literature and consistent media attention, and that if the term were meaningless, it could hardly receive the press it now enjoys.
Even granting that there does exist such a thing as black culture, it is, of course, not technically correct or appropriate for the average person (3) to presuppose of any other with very dark skin their membership within that culture. This is true of any kind of stereotype one might be inclined to attribute to some race. However, recognition of the fact that black culture is the recipient of much positive advertising in the media—particularly from prominent rap and hip hop artists and television (e.g., BET)—ought to diminish the swiftness with which blacks fire allegations of discrimination. Were I to don a tee-shirt emblazoned with only the word “Cornell,” a person might be forgiven for falsely assuming that I actually attended there.
Examples of the deliberate effort to cultivate this cultural distinction are numerous. There are nationally recognized organizations that specifically promote a kind of racial distinction: Miss Black USA, Ebony Magazine, Black Enterprise, and the—dare I say infamous—National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Likewise, at my own undergraduate alma mater, there were at least two black interest groups: the Society of Black Engineers and The Society of Distinguished Black Women. That such groups exist simultaneously with loud efforts to end discrimination makes it difficult to avoid the sense that there is a glaring double-standard. I can vividly imagine the kind of vitriol I would inevitably receive, the innumerable accusations of hatred and prejudice, had I tried to start a parallel group in which I only exchanged the word “black” for “white.”
Though making racial distinctions is not necessarily wrong—after all, there are niche groups for almost everything—it is at least exceedingly counterproductive to the stated aims of such groups as the NAACP. If the ultimate goal is really a pervasive social “color blindness,” it is difficult to see how having a sort of “black pride” is in any way helpful. Such a sentiment is understandable in the context of the 1970s, when America was still plagued by the lingering prevalence of an anti-black milieu, but the circumstances now hardly resemble that unfortunate state of affairs. Having a black president was at that time unfeasible; now, the first black president is well into his second term. Whatever its current manifestations, racism against blacks is hardly what it once was.
The kind of rhetoric bandied about by the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of this country would seem to lead one to the opposite conclusion: that racism in America is still as prevalent as ever. Given the great improvements in the understanding of equality that have been made in the public consciousness, one tires of the impassioned speeches that predictably attempt to channel the moral indignation of the honorable Martin Luther King, Jr. The compelling desire to be needed, to spearhead a fight against an injustice which on a grand scale no longer exists, has the unfortunate effect of creating the very problem that needs solving—the purveyance of racism, albeit in the opposite direction. This achieves in effect a sort of counter-racism. Some blacks have even gone so far as to suggest that it is impossible for them to be racist. This is quite simply because racism is in their minds a one-sided endeavor in which they are the sole victims.
The most prominent example of this divisiveness is witnessed in the circumstances surrounding the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. In large part, many people (blacks in particular) instantly accused George Zimmerman of having committed a racially motivated crime, well before the full facts of the case had been made public, and have since artificially manufactured the case as a civil rights issue. For many blacks (though certainly not all), Zimmerman is guilty and will remain so in their eyes even if he is acquitted. In a continual barrage of callow extortion taking place in the sophisticated realm of Twitter, Mr. Zimmerman has received numerous open death threats from some blacks claiming to be willing to take justice into their own hands—hardly an effective way to win acceptance in the public eye. If respect and acceptance is truly the goal of the black community, the volatile outrage that Trayvon Martin’s death ignited therein is achieving exactly the opposite effect, and it must therefore be condemned.
Further evidence that the purveyors of black culture are ideologically entrenched can be found in the strained—and, frankly, outrageous—lengths to which some writers have gone to defend Rachel Jeantel’s abysmal testimony in Mr. Zimmerman’s trial. Not only was Ms. Jeantel found to have lied on several occasions (at least once while under oath), her openly disrespectful attitude is hardly becoming. Her genuine ignorance and incivility can certainly be forgiven, but they cannot be respected. In an article titled, “Why Black People Understand Rachel Jeantel,” author Christina Coleman begins, “If ever I thought myself objective and unbiased, the George Zimmerman trial is definitely not that moment.” (I suppose we must thank Ms. Coleman for saving us the trouble of detecting her bias by having to read the entire article.) She goes on:
“But maybe the reason white people don’t understand Rachel Jeantel has something more to do with white privilege then [sic], what they would call, Rachel’s capricious nature. / Let’s for one second try to understand why Rachel is “angry” (read emotional), “hood” (read blunt), and “unintelligent” (read multilingual).”
That Ms. Coleman categorically attributes Ms. Jeantel’s faults to “white privilege” and understands the word “unintelligent” to be synonymous with “multilingual” is, I think, telling. The straw-grasping in an attempt to defend any member of the black community, no matter the apparent transgression, is precisely the best way to undermine any sympathies people may feel towards blacks. If I may be so bold, engaging in constructive criticism or condemnation when it is warranted would perhaps constitute a more effective PR campaign than hurried attempts to wave away any and every apparent vice.
Racism, if it is to go the way of smallpox and Dodos, must be attacked wherever it is manifested. There is no one who may by virtue of their race consider themselves immune to even subtle prejudice or, worse, justified in engaging in open racial hostility. If America is to enjoy the richness that may be had as a result of being a true melting pot, no subculture may consider itself above pointed self-criticism; for by fancying himself invulnerable a man chinks his own armor.
(1) I use the term “black” in distinction to African American, since it is possible to be an American with very dark skin and yet not necessarily be of African decent, as is the case with Belizeans.
(2) It must be noted that, wherever they find their origin, these terms have been adopted and perpetuated proudly by certain demographics within the black community.
(3) A case for racial profiling for purposes of security, as in an airport, can in my opinion be made on the grounds of valid statistics. The success of Israeli security, for example, is in no small part due to the fact that they unapologetically employ profiling techniques.