I often hear on TV and read in print that in the U.S. “we live in a racist society.” There’s no doubt that there are plenty of bigoted people in this country that hold back and mistreat minorities of all stripes. There’s also no question but that racism is a deep, dark, historic vein that permeates our society. But I deem it an obligation to take issue with the oversimplified broad brush declaration that we live in a racist society. Here’s why:
Claiming that we live in a racist society suggests that racism can be found around every corner, that it soaks our culture to the core, that almost everyone is a racist. To counter that claim, I suggest you look at the community in which I live in Philadelphia called Mount Airy. Historically, Mount Airy is known as one of the earliest integrated communities in the U.S. Blacks and whites and people of all colors, and all religions including non-believers, plus people of different sexual orientations live happily side by side. Most people that live in this community came here because they wanted an open, tolerant, and welcoming place to live that fulfills the ever-evolving promise of America. I am certain that there are thousands upon thousands of other communities like Mount Airy in every state of the Union.
And so when I hear on the news that we live in a racist society, it is a painful affront to the many millions of us throughout the nation that are not racist. Moreover, and more importantly, when our minorities hear TV broadcasters and other commentators say we live in a racist society AND even when we who are white hear that pronouncement, it seems to unjustifiably confirm their/our suspicion and experience that this is a racist society. This pronouncement then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, a vicious cycle of misbelief from which it is hard to break free. How is it possible that a society that is labeled racist elects by a majority vote an African-American president? Something doesn’t add up. So the question is: does hearing daily that we live in a racist society actually perpetuate and make indelible the fragments of racism that still exist in our society?
Do we have a largely racist past? Yes. But we do not have a racist history that has been carried forward unchanged. That history today does not permeate our society through and through. That assertion is a falsehood even though it seems unfortunately that we have been retrogressing of late.
Do we all harbor fears and concerns about people who are not like we are. Sure! That’s human. It’s natural. But to go from fears and concerns about a few people to the claim that the nation is racist does a great disservice to all of us who are trying to live a better life and create a better, more just and harmonious society. Jumping from the observation that there is one bad apple in the bunch to a dismissal that the whole basket is filled with bad apples is itself the essence of bigotry. It is fallacious logic.
For society to improve, we must begin to switch from speaking erroneously about homogenous groups to speaking about individuals. Throughout history, speaking in generalities has always been a risky mindset . . . but it also is a dangerous, backward looking mindset that has lead to much pain and the subjugation of many people of great promise. What troubles me about how racism is how it is portrayed in the media; it’s a fractional truth that is peddled as a pervasive truth. In that respect, the media portrayal of racism poisons the collective perception and keeps the nation shackled to a partial, counterproductive vision.
Some interesting facts can be found at: http://www.citylab.com/housing/2012/07/how-suburbs-gave-birth-americas-most-diverse-neighborhoods/2647/