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We know that two examples are not decisive proof. Not even close, right? Yet the recent racist slurs by white male American stand-up comedians, Michael Richards and Andy Dick, against blacks reveal one thing quite clearly to me.
Such public examples of white racism cannot be understood and overcome by blaming white elites in business or government who profit by keeping the races apart. According to this line of thought, the upper class infects the white working class with racist ideology . . . and laughs all the way to the bank.
I have issues with this approach. What it fails to consider is the point that the white comedians who slurred blacks spoke as active agents, as countless others do in ways big and small across the U.S. on a daily basis, with no particular incitement or involvement on the part of the upper class.
White folks are not empty vessels with merely less pigmentation than their non-white country(wo)men, into whom the upper class pours racism in order to mentally manipulate them by making them bigots. Such a theorizing of race relations misses the mark, in my view. Why? Mainly, it fails to put on the table the choices that whites, whatever their stations in life, make as to whether they reinforce or resist racist ideology.
As I see it as one who has been white all his life, Americans who share my skin color, as the saying went in the vibrant 1960s, are either part of the problem or part of the solution to homegrown racism. Silence on this little matter among my fellow white U.S. citizens today — and you know who you are — is deafening. Maybe this is merely an indication of how the current culture and politics of white anti-racism is a fragile flower.
If my assessment of this part of national culture and politics is accurate, then now more than ever is the time to push for an open and honest discussion of it, first of all. Up next would be action. To treat the two comedians’ racist speech as aberration would make us part of the problem, indeed.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper http://www.bpmnews.org/. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.