Though I’m generally reluctant to write about personal experiences, I feel that a recent confrontation might help to illuminate the seriousness of racism in America. Having been invited to Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, I was warned in advance that one of the other guests was a conservative. So I vowed to avoid politics. But as we sat down to eat, this white personal injury attorney announced that while working in a parking lot during his college years, he had been robbed by black men. He went on to state that most crimes are committed by black men. He said he has the statistics to prove it concluding that committing crimes is part of the black culture.
Where to begin? Do you confront such overt racism? Or, not wanting to disrupt a pleasant evening, do you simply let it slide? Before I detail my response to the situation, I should explain a bit about my background.
I am a white male who was raised in a nearly all-white region of the country surrounded by family and friends who often shared racist jokes at gatherings. In addition, my father often vehemently expressed his distaste for African-Americans – in particular Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders of the time. I don’t want to make excuses for these people, but I believe their comments simply showed a lack of knowledge and understanding.
As a young boy, I came to believe such behavior to be normal. But after attending a large university and making friends with people of diverse backgrounds, races, and nationalities, I realized that I could never again sit silent as someone made racist comments or told racist jokes.
Over time, I have witnessed rogue cops commit crimes and blame them on black activists. In my mixed race neighborhood, I saw a cop chain his attack-trained dog so that it could cross the sidewalk and bite any unsuspecting passersby. I learned of the practice of redlining in large cities to prevent black families from buying homes in white areas. I read studies showing that children of color routinely received more severe punishment in school than their white counterparts for the same offenses.
I read reports of corporations refusing to interview job applicants who had black sounding names. I heard my African-American friends tell of police harassment. And I personally witnessed six police officers take turns to brutally beat a black man who was handcuffed and lying on his belly in the snow and ice. (When I took my story to the Assistant Chief, I was told there were no arrests reported in the area on that day. I regret not pursuing the matter farther.)
Despite what many other white people believe, racism didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. Nor did it end when we elected our first black president. One need only read the Department of Justice report following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Or watch the many videos of black harassment posted online. Or watch the video of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Or watch “President” Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. Or watch the videos of kids in cages at our southern border.
So, yes, I confronted my friend’s dinner guest. I politely explained the racism I have witnessed. I detailed the harassment suffered by my black friends. I patiently explained that we are only a few generations removed from the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. (I personally met veterans of that war.) I explained that, following emancipation, the slaves had nothing. And that it would take many more generations for black people to achieve financial equality with their white peers.
What was the dinner guest’s reaction? He told me – rather he yelled at me – that racism no longer exists then stomped out.
Call me the Grinch who ruined Christmas, but I believe that failing to confront racism at every opportunity only serves to perpetuate it. I may have ruined a Christmas dinner and caused my friends some grief. But that pales in comparison to what many people of color face on a daily basis. And I vow to do more to confront it.