No Racism Immune System!

Recently a phone conversation with a newspaper reporter led me to reflect on an incident in the Boston area in which some highly visible, educated “liberals” were caught publicly with their collective racism showing.

The embarrassment became an occasion for shock, much finger pointing, and “yah-yahing.” Lots of people felt better because now they had proof that “liberals are not as great as they think they are.” The reporter would have liked me to add fuel to that fire.

I disappointed the reporter. She would have been happier if I had expressed great shock, surprise, and horror, and then proceeded to excoriate the “liberals” in appropriate, educated language and with a dose of street invective which would have made great copy.

I did neither.

Our conversation went something like this: “I don’t want to comment on the specific incident,” I said, “because I am unfamiliar with the exact details. All I know is what I have heard on radio and seen in the papers, and that’s not always the best source of truth.” (That didn’t increase my stature!)

On the larger, generic issues I was willing to comment: “That well-known, publicly-labeled ‘liberals’ might get involved in racism is not a surprise to me.” (Silence on the other end!)

I went on: “As a matter of fact those of us who are card-carrying liberals may have a peculiar vulnerability to racism. By definition we are assumed to be vigorously intolerant of racism, and this often may lead to a very subtle internalized assumption of being ‘beyond racism.’ When that notion gets acted out, sometimes the ‘liberal’ is especially vulnerable to getting caught up in doing something which is racist. Then the most common response is a combination of surprise and delight that the ‘liberals’ have incriminated themselves.” The reporter didn’t understand, and though I wanted to explore the thought a bit further with her, she was intent on terminating the conversation.

In the United States of America there is No Racism Immune System!

No one, no group, no class of people is immune to the presence and influence of enculturated racism. (Right now, I don’t want to argue whether or not people of color can be racist! As a white person, I am here addressing a conviction that no whites, not even “elite liberals” are immune to racism.) There was a time when I implicitly understood that highly-educated “liberals” were, of course, not racist. That notion went to an early death when a “liberal” law professor from a very “prestigious” university told me that there never was a civilization in Africa, and when a “liberal” teacher at an equally prestigious high school told me that Native Americans had no culture! Ignorance and racism feeding on each other and in the heart of liberalism!

Those of us who are often called “liberals” encounter some built-in risks which make us peculiarly susceptible to racist behavior :

  1. The fear based on assumptions that power is a negative dynamic, often blinds us to the reality of the power we have. Recently I heard a group of white people engage in discussion of what “empowerment” means, and I reflected that I had never heard a group with any significant number of people of color engage in such a discussion. I have heard people of color talk about effective actions for gaining power, but I suspect that discussion of the meaning of empowerment is a peculiar temptation for “liberal” whites who often don’t want to acknowledge that their use of power demonstrates a clear behavioral understanding of what it is.
  2. The love of ideas and verbal expression often becomes a propensity to circumlocution. We talk issues to death. In conventions we pass resolutions which are often filled with words that do nothing, that go nowhere. The love of words may be a disease among us.
  3. Our desire to hear all sides often leads to indecision. We want to be so “objective,” there is always more data to be collected, another point of view to be explored, and sometimes, rather than decide “this” or “that,” we end up straddling a fence, and our indecision becomes a form of passive racism.
  4. Our assumption that knowledge and information will answer every problem often traps us in a cognitive web. Guts, emotion, determination and passion must accompany what the anti-racist knows, and sometimes such displays scare the “liberals” away.
  5. There is a dangerous and subtle assumption that we are more progressive, more advanced than most when it comes to many social issues. Racism then becomes something that is “over there,” in “that other group,” and that “location” of the problem often leads to a failure to examine our own culpability for its presence.

In the United States of America there is No Racism Immune System!

  • No vaccination against racism.
  • No inoculation against racism.
  • No anti-racism “shots.”
  • No pills that prevent racism.
  • No anti-racist corpuscles.
  • No racism medicine.
  • No insurance policy against racism.
  • No cleansing agent that washes racism away.
  • No militia armed against racism.
  • No legislation that guarantees protection.
  • No ideas that all by themselves eliminate racism.
  • No communication tool devoid of racist tendency.
  • No place where there is insulation against racism.

There is No Racism Immune System in the United States! Not even for “liberals!”