Viewpoint: Work to recognize covert racism

Jonathon S. Platt |News editor
Jon Platt | Reporter

By Jon Platt

While back home over Thanksgiving break, a local business owner told me that for the past 20 years African-Americans had committed all crimes in our area of East Texas.

He even specifically told me that the killings of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin in 2014 and 2012, respectively, and the beating of Rodney King in 1991 by police were justified, simply because of the color of their skin.

I was so appalled that my jaw physically dropped.

I fully understand and agree that racism is alive and well today. But rarely ever do we hear such staunch and overt hate speech.

This was someone I trusted and respected. This was in my hometown. I thought we were further along the moral arch than this.

You never think hate is hiding in your backyard.

Maybe I’m just what Anne Lamott calls “the oversensitive child.” I see things that aren’t really there or respond too emotionally to small, isolated acts of humanity.

But personal experience would suggest otherwise.

I watched in Ferguson, Mo., as a white police officer glared at a group of middle-aged and elderly black women who were crossing the street in front of me. The same officer smiled and waved at me, a white college student.

“Do you see your privilege now?” a friend from St. Louis asked when I recounted what happened. “Your skin. It’s a shield.”

That was the first time I truly realized what it was like to be white in America, as opposed to being a minority. It was sickening.

But some say personal experience isn’t proof. So here are some statistics, surveys and observations that also suggest racially insensitive bigotry is alive and well.

In August, a Pew Research Center survey found that 47 percent of white Americans think the issue of race receives more attention than it deserves, while only 18 percent of blacks agreed with this.

This directly contrasts the attention CNN gives to racial issues, such as protests in Ferguson, Mo. Fox News and TheBlaze spend near equal amounts of time condemning the coverage. And I see nearly an equal number of posts on Facebook and Twitter against reporting on the activism as I see actually covering the incidents.

In addition, the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 1 percent of a white American’s friends are black.

Is it any wonder that few whites can sympathize when minorities cry out in oppression? The majority is not surrounding itself with people of the minority. Cultural beliefs and backgrounds aren’t shared, so groups cannot understand one another on equal levels.

In my research, I found just how far racial insensitivity is extended. It went beyond my wildest beliefs: Research performed by faculty of Harvard and Tufts Universities revealed that, on average, white Americans believe anti-white racism is a larger occurrence and more serious problem than anti-minority racism.

The worst part is that this lack of understanding translates from our internal conversations to our external actions.

We see someone with a hood and instinctively think of a gangster. We use language like “thug” or “ghetto” to describe persons that we’ve never met or groups of people, in general. Or we disengage when someone doesn’t look like or doesn’t act like us.
All in all, the problem is not that racism exists; the true evil is that we’re doing next to nothing to stop its spread.

Instead of moving outside our comfort zones, we cocoon up and critique how others handle race issues.

Enough is enough.

The open and evident racism of previous generations is mostly gone.

The physically visible ramifications – dogs being set loose on demonstrators, houses being bombed, crosses being burned – made it easy to target the prejudice because these incidents were in newspapers and on news broadcasts. Witnesses were there. The stories were told.

But covert racism – condemning looks, anonymous hate speech online, muttered words of bigotry behind closed doors and unjust uses of the judicial system – is just as bad, yet few in the majority see this.

So, yes, we’ve come a ways since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but we have not come as far as many white Americans believe.

The first step to healing is admitting the problem: Racism is alive and well, and few are doing anything to combat it.

Things will never get better if we don’t individually take on more healing roles. I have hope, though. I have faith.

Jon Platt is a junior journalism major from Kilgore. He is a reporter and regular columnist for the Lariat.