Who’s the Racist?

The interviewee was an attractive black woman who had a PhD in something or other.  She was being interviewed about the problems of young African-Americans, directionless, with a tendency to violence and police confrontation.  The schools should do this.  Churches could do that.  We should have a national conversation about it.  “Civil rights leaders” have a role to play.  The message should be tolerance, dignity, respect.  With this combination of efforts, our ongoing racial tension might be lessened.

Enough.  Enough.  In every word from this font of pablum, the underlying premise is this:  Racism is the root cause of every problem faced by black Americans.  You know what?  It’s time to get past this.  This attitude is wrong, but not just wrong.  It’s pernicious.  It perpetuates the very problem we’re supposedly trying to address.

The well-educated lady (it was she herself who mentioned the PhD and the relative immunity she personally had from overt racism) went on to suggest that the problems of race seem to escape the notice of whites, or perhaps leave them perplexed, because, as she put it, they believe they live in a post-racial era.  “We’re beyond race,” are the words she ascribes to whites who just don’t get it–People whose perspectives are invalid because they originate from a position of white privilege.

This perspective, that we’re “beyond race,” is shared by cultural elites as well as by the average joe going about his everyday affairs.  They clearly desire that society be race-blind.  And, their observation is true:  for all but an irrelevant few, as a society we’re “beyond race,” though a negative legacy of racism may remain.

And yet, this idea of being beyond race is rejected, because those who subscribe to it are said to operate from a position of “white privilege.”  They cannot see from the black person’s perspective, so they just can’t understand.  Racial divides, we’re told, are still very much an immediate concern for African-Americans.  The problem is necessarily subtle racism that they’ve all experienced, and that they just know underlies every circumstance involving woes particular to black people, or felt disproportionately by them.

The interview was about as routine as it gets, in the middle of the public conversation about racial matters, most recently the Ferguson riots and the issue of police shootings generally.  It’s the kind of blah-blah-blah that gets trotted out every time we resume this tired old “national conversation” about race.  But this racism-colored lense that we see everything through is itself the problem, not real racism.

It’s probably true that the predominant white perspective on race in America is that “we’re beyond race.”  Imperfectly, of course.  And not that racism is eradicated in its entirety; that will never happen.  But those who say we’re beyond race presuppose that getting “beyond race” is the goal.  That’s a good thing.  Perhaps there is such a thing as “white privilege,” but what is the attitude on race among those who have it?  In the most important ways, they’ve ceased to think in racial terms (except, unfortunately, insofar as a word or action might be wrongly interpreted “racist”).

So here’s what we’re being told.  Those uncomprehending people who speak from “white privilege” do so because they cease to think in racial terms.  But isn’t that the goal?  Isn’t this a good thing?

Still, we get these commentators and opinionistas suggesting otherwise.  Identifying “white privilege” is a means to invalidate any attitude about race not held by an African-American.  Instead of saying the attitude is wrong because it comes from “white privilege,” we should ask if it’s wrong, period.  Are we “beyond race,” or not?  The predominant attitude inside this supposed bubble of “white privilege” is that we are.  The predominant attitude among white and black race-baiters is that we aren’t:  that a great division exists between races.  Those in the first group see the world without racial divides.  Those in the second group insist on racial divides.

Which of those perspectives is racist?

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