Racism Alive in a New Form: Blatant Ignorance
In Wednesday's edition of The Daily Targum, Jenna Greenfield offered her thoughts on race in American society in her article, "Racism alive in a new form." What troubles the author is that "some black people refuse to let go of racism that plagued their ancestors, channeling their resentment toward white citizens in what is easily identified as racism." She believes that although there are still a couple of racists in America, "we have risen above the … issue of unequal rights and undeserved discrimination, [so] we should collectively dissolve our differences and focus on the grounds of our shared humanity."
I agree with the author that the country has made significant strides, having long abandoned the institution of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed it in order to blossom into a society where blacks and whites are not legally prohibited from attending the same schools, shopping in the same supermarkets and playing on the same streets. I also agree that it is unfair to characterize the vast majority of white Americans as being one and the same with Eugene "Bull" O'Connor, the poster boy of U.S. racism who fought against integration by using fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful black protestors. With all this being said, however, I do believe that race is still an issue in American society. Race is still a divider, no matter how invisible it has become to the untrained eye. Although black people are allowed to go to the same schools, shop in the same supermarkets and play on the same streets as their white counterparts, many of them are still suffering from the effects of centuries of economic and social exclusion from opportunities that have existed for whites. As a result, they cannot afford to live in the same neighborhoods. This means they cannot attend the same high-quality schools or play on the safe streets of their white peers. One needs to look no farther than New Jersey in order to see that racial inequality survives despite the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Schools in Camden are predominately black and poor, and have a graduation rate of 51 percent. Schools in Moorestown are only 10 miles away and predominately white and wealthy, with a graduation rate of 98 percent. One can also compare Newark to Summit, and Manhattan to East New York, and one sees that race is still a divider.
The author claims that because "we have risen above the … issue of unequal rights and undeserved discrimination, we should collectively dissolve our differences and focus on the grounds of our shared humanity." By "we," of course, it is clear that the author more specifically means blacks who just cannot seem to let go of past racism. As much as I wish that blacks could overcome the social and economic exclusion that they currently face — and that is a result of past exclusion — through a thinking exercise in which they focus on their "shared humanity" with whites, the truth is race will matter, no matter how much they focus on their shared humanity. We do not live in a post-racial society.
Unequal rights and blatant racism are no longer the major issues of race in American society; instead, an unequal opportunity structure has become the defining aspect of racial difference. And although our nation is no longer a nation of blatant racists, it is a nation in which many individuals feel no remorse for blatantly ignoring the problem of racial inequality. Many feel perfectly content five minutes after passing by the homeless black man who sleeps on the sidewalk next to the trash bags that contain all of his clothes. Many feel no urgent need to push their elected representatives to improve the conditions of low-quality schools where young minority children walk through metal detectors every morning in order to read out-of-date textbooks from 1996 under the instruction of teachers who have already given up on them and pass them through the educational system, not for their academic achievements but only for simply being quiet. Few deeply question why black people make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. prison population but only 13 percent of the nation's total population; and even fewer ever wonder why the University's faculty is not nearly as diverse as its student body, a truth reported to The Daily Targum Wednesday in the article titled "Faculty diversity not on par with student demographics."
It is clear that the racism that plagued the ancestors of blacks in the form of economic and social exclusion continues to have real-world effects today. It is for this reason that I must criticize Greenfield's criticism of the "black people who refuse to let go of racism that plagued their ancestors" as naïve. It is also clear that although the problem of racial inequality persists, the vast majority of white American citizens have little knowledge about it and are apathetic about learning more in order to solve it, even when confronted with the most blatant examples of it in their very own states. For this reason, I must criticize the author's call on black people to focus on their shared humanity with white people in order to move America into a more positive direction as ignorant. We need to truly address the problems of racial inequality and weak opportunity structures in poor black neighborhoods instead of asking blacks to ignore them. Instead of criticizing blacks for voicing their complaints about the social and economic exclusion that they continue to face, we should criticize the broader American public that votes for not learning about and making it a national priority to address the inequalities that continue to plague many black people and other racial minorities.
As you read this, you may wonder, ‘What can I do to learn about and help address racial inequality?' I would suggest that you take a course or two in the social sciences during your time at the University in order to gain a richer understanding of racial inequality than popular explanations will offer you. Your time at the University offers you a unique opportunity to understand the world around you, so please take advantage of it. Furthermore, I would urge you to join organizations that seek to address the social and economic exclusion that black Americans face, such as Teach for America and New York City Teaching Fellows; supporting organizations that seek to advance the lives of poor racial minorities, such as the United Negro College Fund and the University's very own Equal Opportunity Fund, once you actually have an income; and by electing representatives and supporting policies that seek to address the social and economic exclusion that cause racial inequality in the first place. The question is not whether or not you can make a difference; rather, the question is whether you want to.
Ben West is a University senior majoring in political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.