Friday, July 26, 2013

Has There Ever Been A Time When White Americans Weren't In Denial?

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.


  1. Hi, I've got one question:

    do you believe that racism is first and foremost a crime of white folks against other ethnic groups?

    Or could it be that every human being has some tendency towards in-group mentality and exclusion of out-groups, regardless of the color of his or her skin?

    I believe that every form of discrimination against an other human due to factor she's not responsible for is a grave sin.

    In an upcoming post, I'm going to explain how the refusal of so-called antiracists and antifachists in France to reecognize anti-white racism is fostering a climate of racial hatred and frustration.

    We should always fight injustice whoever the victims are.

    Be blessed!

    Lothar's son - Lothars Sohn

    1. This is an interesting point. I do believe that, in the American context, racism is primarily a White problem. I certainly don't know anything about the French context! Racism is not intrinsically White, but in the American context some people want to draw a false equivalence between, say, a White supremacist and a Black power militant. That's a little bit like saying the bully on the playground who won't let anyone else use it is no more at fault than the kid who says ok I'll go build my own playground then. Ok, lame analogy.

      But to your main point: I do think the sort of othering an in-group prejudice you describe is innate to humanity, but most scholars seem to believe that racism, in particular, is a social creation. It IS othering, but the key point is that it is more than the innate othering we are born with.

      It is the most brutal, dehumanizing othering there is. If you are "uncivilized" you can become civilized. If you belong to the "wrong" religion, you can convert. If you are poor you can become rich. But if you are the wrong skin color? God help you. That particularly brutal kind of othering I think goes beyond our innate prejudices and stems from a specific social and historical context in the early modern era. That's how I've made sense of it anyway. I checked out your blog; I like your latest post. Giving up on inerrancy is hard, precisely because of the question you note. Where does it leave us in terms of figuring out truth?