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The Bipartisan Shame of Racism

Posted on January 12 2010 2:00 pm
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I am a white woman (technically, translucent without a tan, but, that’s a personal problem).  There has never been a time when I’ve felt the sting of judgment over something so irrevocable as my skin color.  Not once have I sensed that someone was uncomfortable with my racial identity, even in ethnically diverse situations.  I have floated along in my peaceful oblivion, assuming all traces of racial disunity and prejudice were relegated to the past best forgotten: a distasteful and shameful (national) indiscretion.  While I wanted to keep the memory of tragedies such as Nazi Germany and 9/11 alive so as to never forget the lessons of history, our racist past seemed safe to lock away.

It isn’t. Furthermore, it’s a problem both the Right and the Left, blacks and whites, contribute to.

Allison Samuels, in a poignant Newsweek essay, has responded to Harry Reid’s racist remarks:

Talk about words that sting to the core. Harry Reid’s recent comments about President Barack Obama’s light skin and acceptable non-“Negro” vocabulary and speech brought back a rush of memories that I’m sure most African-Americans would like to forget […] Reid’s recent controversial and disturbing statements prove that no matter how hard we as African-Americans try to move past a racial stigma that’s haunted us for far too long, mainstream America just won’t let us let it go.

My own racial myopia was illuminated by an older African American woman who carefully, yet painfully, “took the roof off” my presuppositions.  She, being a conservative Republican, has had her own complicated issues within the black community.  However, her overarching experience was remarkably similar to Samuels’, as detailed here:

Ironically, I first encountered the light skin/dark skin debate while attending Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college. Prior to that, black was pretty much black in my hometown of Augusta, Ga. But in the big city, skin color─and all of its perks and disadvantages─became painfully obvious, even to an 18-year-old girl. Our class presidents were often of a lighter hue and the campus beauty queens were without doubt those with fairer skin, straighter hair and finer features. Was this what I came to a black college for?

I am certain Samuels and I disagree politically.  It appears she is an Obama supporter; I most certainly am not.  The election of Barack Obama was an eye-opener.  Every cognizant Republican was burned by Leftist racism.  We struggled to repeat, daily, that our vote was issues-based amidst a tide of irrational, irresponsible reporting.  By refusing to cast a vote based on misguided historical sensitivity, we were castigated as bigots too many times to count.  I maintain that it is expressly non-racist to vote on issues and experience, not historical precedent.  This holds true for female politicians as well.  It is the quality of their actions and ideas I consider before voting, rather than race, gender, or social stratification.

Yet, yet…this does not excuse the Right from actual instances of racism. There are entirely too many tongue-in-cheek remarks and images, forwarded emails, blog wars and prominent right-wing pundits surrounded by one too many suspicious clouds for my comfort and our collective credibility.  I say this to the Right, with all due respect: CLEAN THIS HOUSE.  Truly, how can we continue forth as a political party or a free nation, particularly in a world with so many ethical challenges, without opposing racism with all the strength of our convictions?

Again, I am a white woman and there has never been a time when I’ve personally encountered racial discrimination.  My experience is both valid and worth noting.  But, if my experience is valid, is not the experience of black Americans valid as well?  Let’s not be so quick to dismiss something as resolved in our not-so-distant past merely because it’s uncomfortable to wrestle with.  As seen in Harry Reid’s remarks, the past election cycle, on the Right and the Left, racist attitudes still persist.  Rather than avoid, would it not be beneficial to root it all out once and for all, never giving it safe harbor again?  This is a burden we all share.

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