In the wake of recent events there has been a flood of commentary that is ignorant, wrongheaded, or racist. But I've tried hard to avoid getting too caught up in that. I think it's better to focus on broader data so we can see that this is much worse than a case of a few prominent pundits saying offensive things.
The Washington Post has some new polling data on how American view the justice system. Here's the question: "Do you think blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system or not?" A majority of Whites, 54%, answer yes, while only 41% answer the question correctly.
As Tim Wise has noted, this is a pattern among White Americans, and it's been going on now for generations. For over 50 years Gallup has periodically asked Whites if they think Blacks have as good a chance for education and housing as they do. In 1962, when White supremacist schooling was still explicit in much of the country, 94% of Whites said Blacks had equal education opportunities. As of 2008, when White kids continue to receive higher funding on average, 80% of Whites continued to claim equal opportunity. On housing, it is the same story, with 85% of Whites saying Blacks do not face more discrimination than they do. Even on the question of police practices, only 36% of Whites said Blacks are treated unfairly.
The point of all this data is to show that the pundits and media figures who have said so many false and racist things in recent weeks are not the problem. They represent the problem. The great majority of Whites are in denial. A society in denial is not equipped to recognize, much less fight, racism. If this data is accurate, though few Whites admit to being racist, 80% or more are not anti-racist. Put another way, when 80% of us look at racist practices and profess not to see them, we're demonstrating pretty conclusively that we're not actually against racism.
And we shouldn't stop there. Those of us who at one time another have been in that 80% must ask ourselves why we believed such blatantly false things. Sometimes, of course, people are simply mistaken. But we usually don't believe truly absurd things unless there is something in it for us. We're usually trying to protect something. If nothing else, it certainly is a lot more comfortable for Whites to believe that we don't have more opportunity than others.
As I've said before recently, for people caught in that denial I will not offer statistics to try to break it. That's not my job any more than it's my job to argue with people who think we didn't land on the moon. Because these basic facts about racial inequality infringe on our view of ourselves, our history, and our country, there is a strong incentive for us to embrace lies. Becoming free is a matter of experiences and learning and repentance over a period of years. It's not a matter of being clobbered over the head with statistics.