I am posting what will likely be the introduction to my new book, Reluctant Racist: A White Man’s Perspective. I will likely post other portions as time goes on. I’m currently about 2/3 way through it and have found a couple of publishers who appear to have an interest. I’d be interested in your comments.
The “soft bigotry of low expectations” is a phrase attributed to Michael Gerson, a speech writer for George W Bush. It is, in my mind, a much more pervasive attitude than many will admit. We try to train our brains not to hate, convincing our intellects that racism and bigotry are wrong, but our biases and stereotypes remain, like a jar of old salsa on the bottom shelf of the fridge, way in the back, almost unreachable. We see it, but ignore it because there are more pressing things to do at the moment than clean out the fridge. Yet it remains until our sense of responsibility reminds us of it.
Modern racism, for many, is so profoundly intrinsic yet so publicly distained that the evidence of its existence is often in inverse proportion to its vehemence. The deeper our racism goes the better it is hidden. We’ve gotten good at that.
There are many forms of what some refer to as racism, bigotry, stereotyping, bias or discrimination, but they all lead to the same thing. They lead to one’s imagined superiority over another, for reasons not well defined, other than those used to bolster already-formed beliefs that rarely have a basis in fact or historical record. These feelings tend to flow from past injustices, real or imagined, perpetrated on ourselves or our ancestors, for reasons that matter less with the passage of time. Chronology diminishes the rationale, but the feelings of superiority perpetuate.
I grew up in a racist household. When I say racist, I don’t want it to sound as if we were Klan members. My parents never really had to courage to “walk the talk” and fully identify with a racist organization-but their sentiments were aligned with those who did.
When I was an adolescent I dated a girl, Jennifer, who was, shall I say, not from the best family in our Bronx NY neighborhood. Ok, she was a bit of a slut, or at least came across that way to my parents and everyone else on our street. When my parents found out about our little romance, they admonished me, in the strongest of terms, to stay away from her, not because she was less sexually scrupulous than they would have preferred, not because she wore short skirts and tight tops, not because she wore too much makeup for a 13-year-old, but because she had been seen holding hands with what my mother referred to as a nigger. This was in 1969.
I remember wondering where that kind of dislike for, not only a member of another race, but someone who would do something as innocent as hold hands with a member of that race, could have come from. My mother had grown up in Manhattan in the 1930s, gone to a Catholic school and had a rather normal upbringing for a city girl. Her formative years were not ones that were pock-marked by the civil and racial unrest that had plagued the 1960s. She had spent no time, say, in the south, where racism was a way of life. She was a northerner, raised in a moderately sheltered manner, among others of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, with no reason, that I could discern, to hate those with whom she had probably spent little time. Something or someone had taught her, the daughter of Greek immigrants, to hate black people and feel perfectly comfortable referring to those of a different skin color than her’s as niggers, even to her own children. Her hatred of these people was so profound, so embedded in her bloodstream, so a part of her bone marrow that she felt no embarrassment in displaying this weakness of character. In fact, she was slightly proud of it.
Anyone who has read this far should understand right away that the only way someone like me can write this book is to dispense with any fear of accusations of racism. My sole intention in writing this book is to have an honest talk with all who read it based on the perspective of a white man who considers his own racism to be a personal failure. That is the fundamental impetus for the research and effort involved in writing this book. Anyone who imagines, or artificially constructs, any other motivation on my part is welcomed to do so as he or she sees fit. But those who do will simply be wrong. I don’t fear the accusations and vitriol of those who don’t believe that white people are qualified to discuss black people by simple virtue of the fact that white people haven’t had the black experience. To suggest that the “walk a mile in my shoes” argument overrides all others suggests that men can’t have opinions about women, Christians can’t have opinions about Muslims, or, to go all reductio ad absurdum on you, tall people can’t possibly have the imagination to know what it’s like to be short. I reject those blanket assumptions as simplistic to the point of being imbecilic. Anyone who disagrees with my conclusions is certainly within their rights to do so. But no one is entitled to question my motives or my ability to interpret that which I see. I am not attempting to look through the eyes of others. I am communicating what I’ve seen through my own.