Thursday, May 14, 2009

Racism in America

Two stories have attracted my attention to this issue.

Maggie and John Anderson's "Empowerment Experiment" is an attempt to go an entire year only buying from black-owned businesses. Maggie, quoted in a Fox News article, says: "It's like, my people have been here 400 years and we don't even have a Walgreens to show for it."

The movement is apparently spreading. The article goes on:

Plans are under way to track spending among supporters nationwide and build a national database of quality black businesses. The first affiliate chapter has been launched in Atlanta, and the couple has established a foundation to raise funds for black businesses and an annual convention.

This raises two questions for me.

Isn't this racism? Surely it would be racist for white folks to refuse to patronize black establishments. Now I get that it's overly simplistic to just swap "white" and "black" out as though the two were interchangeable due to the fact that the country is roughly 80% white and only about 10% black (off the top of my head). Perhaps, due both to their minority status, uniquely tragic history, and continued disadvantage, African Americans can engage in the kinds of activities that would be forbidden for whites. But on the other hand, it doesn't seem right to say that because of those factors anything goes. Surely there are some forms of racial discrimination that can't be excused?

Is this one of those things?

Secondly - I want to know what the end goal is for those who seek racial justice and empowerment for minorities. To me - and I may be naive - I had assumed that the end goal was a society where racial differences didn't matter. Maybe I am just clueless, but wasn't that Martin Luther King's dream?

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Implicit in this dream of racial color blindness is a goal of integration. But racial integration is something that can't be achieved by refusing to buy from one race or another. And so it seems to me that certain kinds of racial empowerment sacrifice the vision of Martin Luther King for an integrated society in order to achieve short-term gains through divisive tactics.

How can we come together as a society of Americans (unhyphenated) if we insist on measuring everything by race, testing everything for racial equality, and making polices based on race. Why have race-based affirmative action when affirmative action based on income or family history (e.g. scholarships for the first generation in a family to attend college) would seem to be reach the same goals without perpetuating racial divides?

If the "Empowerment Experiment" wasn't quite enough to get me to ride this short piece, news that a black executive was fired for failing to support a black candidate pushed me over the edge. The New York Post reports that Joyce Johnson was booted from her position as president and CEO of the nonprofit Black Equity Alliance by the board of directors after she endorsed Bloomberg in March. Bloomberg - who is white independent - could find himself running against Bill Thompson, a black Democrat. Adding fuel to the fire, Johnson claims in her suit that the board of directors objected to her support of Bloomberg not just because he was white, but because he was Jewish.

And so the spectre of black racism is raised again. Tense relations between some black activists and Jewish groups are well known. Hispanic/black tensions are on the rise as continued immigration (legal and illegal) creates an ever growing Hispanic minority in the country. And according to many historians, the LA riots of 1992 became essentially an anti-Korean pogrom.

And so there is one more set of questions I see in addition to the first two.

The "Empowerment Experiment" illustrates an obvious fact: you can't choose to buy from one race without refusing to buy from another race. And so I have to ask: Will all attempts to seek racial justice through segregation by race inevitably lead to racism rather than equality?

The firing of Johnson for supporting a white Jew over a black poses the question in another way: Is it possible to pledge allegiance to one race without declaring war on every other race?

And, on the most broad level, is the lesson here that there are no true alternatives to Martin Luther King's dream of integration? Are the choices we face only between integration and a perpetual cycle of reciprocating racism?

5 comments:

Anonymous,  5/15/2009 7:08 PM  

An interesting link for you:

http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

A little jargony, a lot of overlap and some repitition, but not as polemical as it could be.

Damien Coran,  5/27/2009 12:02 AM  

I have to respond to this. Simply put, black people in American are not and can not ever be racist. That does not mean they will not sometimes engage in prejudiced activies or beliefs, but the fact remains that to be racist you have to have the power to oppress. There is not a black person here that has the power to truly oppress anyone.
The desire to shop in black-only businesses is just a response to the overwhelming amount of money we have had to spend in non-black businesses over the years.

Brian,  5/28/2009 6:47 PM  

I have to respond to Damien Coran. Please do yourself a favor and read some books and articles by Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, two of the greatest thinkers of our time (who happen to be black). Systemic racism has ended in this country. Only in America could a member of a racial group that was enslaved only 155 years ago and subject to gov't sponsored discrimination for many decades thereafter rise to the pinnacle of power and become president of the US. Successful blacks are all around us (Hollywood, TV, 95% of the NBA, 50% of the NFL and MLB, and on and on and on). Only 2 things hold back the blacks as a group today - 70% illegitimacy rates and a cultural bias against education. Pardon my candor, but the White Man is neither forcing you to impregnate so many unwed black girls nor fostering a pervasive dislike of learning. By the way, there is also a direct correlation between poor performance in schools and single parent families . . .

the Stormin Mormon 6/05/2009 12:15 PM  

Damien-

I don't buy your assertion that "There is not a black person here that has the power to truly oppress anyone." That, quite frankly, is bullshit. There are plenty of places where blacks are the majority and have the power to oppress. There are also plenty of examples of race-baiting and the race-card being used to single out white people for unfair treatment because of their race even when blacks aren't in the majority. Just ask the Duke lacrosse team.

More importantly, however, we have different definitions of racism. You think racism is something only a majority can do. I believe racism is whenever any person hates people of another race because of racial differences. Period.

Elkym 2/10/2010 9:16 PM  

Damien, I think you have a point, but it's one that can more easily be resolved by being careful with our definitions. I'm going to have to agree with the others here-- although, I will mention that there may be more subtle systemic conditions that persist that could be altered to allow cultural divides less 'room to screw things up'. Legislation, in my opinion shouldn't have to ALWAYS force change down the people's throat-- but instead, alter conditions so as to allow cultures room to change for the better. I wish I had a concrete analogy that suited the topic at hand. Oh well.