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Activating White Racism

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 are not something that can be understood and transcended 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 then laughs all the way to the bank from the halls of power.

I have issues with this approach. What it fails to consider is the point that the white comedians who slurred blacks in particular and general spoke as active agents, as countless others do in ways big and small across the U.S. on a daily basis. In sum, Richards and Dick activated white racism apart from any upper-class involvement in their thinking and speaking.

White folks are not empty vassals of humanity with less pigmentation than their non-white country(wo)men, upon whom upper-class whites mentally manipulate to be 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 make, whether entertainers or service workers, as to how 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, to use some language of the vibrant 1960s, are either part of the problem or part of the solution to homegrown racism. The lack of dialogue on this little matter from my fellow U.S. citizens, 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 conclusion on this part of national culture and politics is accurate, then now more than ever is the time for an open and honest discussion of it. Up next would be deliberation and decision. To stop at the two comedians, public apologies for their racist speech would be a failure of the imagination, indeed.

SETH SANDRONSKY is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter. He can be reached at: bpmnews@nicetechnology.com