Racism in, and on, America

From the musical “Avenue Q,” the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”:

Everyone’s a little bit

Racist, sometimes.

Doesn’t mean we go around committing

Hate crimes.

Look around and

You will find,

No one’s really


Maybe it’s a fact

We all should face.

Everyone makes


Based on race.

Is it true? Is everyone a little racist, sometimes?

And if it is, what can we do about it?

First, we have to define racism.

For me, it is making judgments about a person based on his or her race. Those judgments can be made by a person of any race about a person of any other race.

In other words, contrary to a popular academic views, Black people can be racist. Just like everyone else.

As a matter of fact, African Americans sometimes discriminate against each other on the basis of color, with the lighter-skinned people feeling themselves to be superior to their darker brothers and sisters. That’s called colorism, and it was a theme mined by Spike Lee in his movie, “School Daze” in the animosity between lighter-skinned “Wannabes,” and the darker-skinned  “Jigaboos.”

Lighter being better, and blacker being ugly, is a subtheme in “The Bluest Eye,” which Toni Morrison blames on a white superiority that is unconsciously internalized by Black people. The book was published in 1970, and it is set in the 1940s. Does the self hate continue today, after the “Black is beautiful” movement?

Next up — level, or intensity, of racism. 

As crime is divided into felonies and misdemeanors, we should recognize degrees of racism. A song lyric, or a verbal “micro aggression,”  isn’t the same as a lynching. 

If actions physically hurt someone, that’s a felony. If only feelings are hurt, that’s a misdemeanor.

Felonies include denying someone a job or housing, or anything else, on the basis of color. Those are actually crimes. Stereotyping Black people as “lazy” is provably wrong, but permissible free speech, which is protected.

When do racist ideas take root?

We are not born with them, as you can see any time you put toddlers of different races into a tot lot. They all play together. Bigotry is not internal.

So where does it come from?

The answer was supplied by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their 1949 ground-breaking musical, “South Pacific.” Specifically in the song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” to hate:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

This is sung by Naval Lt. Joe Cable, who falls in love with a Polynesian girl, who he knew would not be accepted in his native Philadelphia.

Navy Nurse Nellie Forbush falls in love with a French planter on the South Pacific island where she is stationed, and falls out of love with him when she learns his late wife was a native woman and his children are mixed race.

Both Cable and Forbush unlearn the hate they were taught.

Yes, that is fiction, of course.

“South Pacific” was produced 74 years ago, and America has changed greatly since then.

Public accommodations and voting rights laws have been passed, and segregation is on the ash heap of history.

There are Black mayors and chiefs of police across all of America, which has had a successful Black president. 

America has seven Black billionaires, and its worlds of sports, film, and recording are dominated by Black stars.

In the most telling statistic, intermarriage reported at 3% in 1967, rose to 7% in 1980, and doubled to 17% in 2015, according to the reliable Pew Research. In 2015, Pew found 6.9% of Americans claimed to be multi-racial, and their numbers are growing.

It has been proven that each successive generation exhibits less bias than the generation it succeeds.

Does this mean, eventually, there will be no bias, no discrimination, no race hatred?

I wish.

It is a sad comment on the human condition that some of us can’t feel good without feeling superior to someone else. Sometimes it’s wealth, sometimes it’s athletic, sometimes it’s religion, sometimes it’s race.

There will always be racism. No government can prevent that.

Effective governments guarantee that someone’s bias can never be used to block the progress of anyone else.

If it is true that everyone is a little bit racist, our job is to keep it under a rock, where it can do no harm.

More Americans feel that way than ever before. More Americans took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd than did the same in my youth to protest segregation and racial injustice.

It is a cause for hope.

19 thoughts on “Racism in, and on, America”

  1. Stu, what you say is true. I fear that those whose careers depend on the existence of pervasive racism won’t tolerate your opinion.

  2. Excellent Stu! Love the quote from South Pacific “You have to be carefully taught.”

  3. We’re getting there slowly, generation by generation, almost imperceptibly to many. We’re not there yet, but we will someday when we’re all gone. That’s my hope, anyway.

  4. Two incidents stick in my mind: Many years ago I had to sign up for Blue Cross in Philadelphia. The place I went to sign up had five clerks (all women) working. I was helped by a Black woman, got the paperwork signed, and left. The next day I noticed something was wrong on the form (it was my fault) so I called the Blue Cross office I had visited. The person answering the phone asked me the name of the clerk who had helped me, and I told her “I don’t know her name but she was a Black woman.” The person on the phone yelled at me, chewed me out royally for saying the clerk was Black. I told her “I’m just identifying her as she was the only Black woman working when I was there — every other clerk was white. I thought it would help you identify her.” Did not matter to that person — I was a racist, pure and simple. Now, many years later my number four son Micheal, who was about six years old, asked me if he could play with Edward (or whatever the boy’s name was). I asked, as any Father would, “Do I know him?” Micheal went on and on identifying ‘Edward’ by height, weight, clothing he word, etc. When I finally met ‘Edward’ I was astounded to see he was Black, for not once did Michael use color as an identifying visual clue. Yes, there is hope. Things are getting better day by day, but the race hustlers are still out there, fomenting crises that exist only in their fevered imagination.

      1. That’s why small “d” diversity matters. I grew up in a strange neighborhood where our school was about 30% Jewish, 30% Asian (almost all Japanese), 25% Hispanic (almost all Puerto Rican) and about a 15% mishmash of Irish, Italian, Appalachian and WASP. After we moved away when I was in 5th grade, I was literally shocked to find out that there was prejudice against Asians. “But they’re just regular people” I remember saying. A Hispanic friend of mine had moved away a couple years earlier, and he had been surprised to find out that most “Anglos” weren’t Jewish! Who knew, right?
        It’s true of course, that this stuff has to be learned. I didn’t know what it meant or to whom it referred, but I brought the “N-word” home from my YMCA swim class at the age of 7 (as in “last one in the pool is a …” Don’t know how the swim instructors took it; they certainly didn’t say anything) I got quite a talking to from my mom (who had done sit-ins to desegregate lunch-counters in the 50s). Long after I’d learned to throw around other “bad words”–that one I never said. Where did the other kids get it from?

  5. I think a greater input in the early grades of what genetic testing can show our collective history along with a clear explanation of what the reasons for pigmentation are and that at one time we all are from Africa and were black at one time. As Professor Thomas Sowell stated there is no empirical proof of systemic racism only propaganda like the Germans used in the thirties.

  6. Stu—- You need to look closer at certain facts:

    First Black President (even though he’s half White—-we never hear about that side).
    Black Entertainment Network
    allblk Streaming
    Black Coaches Association
    United Negro College Fund
    Historically Black Colleges and Universities
    Black Lives Matter

    If any of these had “White” in front of them they’d be labeled Racist. If everybody is looking for equality why the double standard?

    1. Without going too deeply, the “double standard” existed FIRST to benefit whites, so Blacks started parallel organizations. Jews created the Catskills, for instance, when they were banned from Christian resorts.

      1. I think that is a good observation. What American immigrant group did not form self-help, business-help, and educational institutions? If you look at Blacks as an (involuntary) immigrant community facing barriers to the mainstream economy and society, these institutions are no different. In this context white is no more the opposite of Black, than Italian is the “opposite” of Irish or Jewish.

        In other words, the entire comparison is apples to oranges. It does not work. Take for, example, Catholic schools. They were established because anti-Catholic sentiment–as one writer observed:
        “Within the common schools in New York City – and elsewhere – daily scripture readings from the King James Version of the Bible were required. Prayers, songs and general religious instruction at odds with Catholic belief were the norm. Anti-Catholic sentiments extended throughout the curriculum with references to deceitful Catholics, murderous inquisitions, vile popery, Church corruption, conniving Jesuits and the pope as the anti-Christ of Revelation common place. In the face of such bigotry within the common schools, Catholic parishes had begun to develop their own Catholic schools in response….” https://www.catholicleague.org/anti-catholicism-and-the-history-of-catholic-school-funding/

        Since that’s not a problem any more, why should explicitly “Catholic Schools” still exist? We’ve come a long way from “No Irish Need Apply.” [One origin story for the “Fighting Irish” name for the Notre Dame teams–it’s murky– is that: ” the “Fighting Irish” refers to an altercation between Notre Dame students and the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1924, students and klan members engaged in a two day street fight. The Klan, being very present in Indiana at the time, journeyed to South Bend to terrorize Notre Dame’s catholic students. The Irish fought and prevailed. https://www.irishcentral.com/sports/the-history-of-the-university-of-notre-dames-famed-moniker-and-mascot-the-fighting-irish-leprechaun-200858341-237576881%5D
        Irish, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Jews and doubtless a lot of other immigrant groups formed their own social-service and educational institutions. What’s wrong with Blacks doing the same?

  7. Just the fact that you capitalized “Blacks” and addressed “whites” in lower case shows the hypocrisy.
    We’re dealing in 2023. The Catskills were 70 years ago. The “double standard” is being driven by the “Black” side of the discussion.
    When do we move away from “parallel organizations”?

    1. I believe capitalizing Black is stupid, and have said so, but it is not worth fighting about.
      As to the parallel organizations, I explained why they arose. Why are you do angry about it, how do they impair your life?
      Check Monday’s column for more on race and preferences.

  8. Stu, I view racism as pure hatred for another. I tend to think most people are more prejudiced than racist. I know I am. I have preferences in people I meet,
    for example, being Italian American I tend to associate with the same. I do have
    friends and acquaintances of other nationalities and colors. I don’t hate them for being that. I just feel the word racism and racist are over used by politicians and the media to keep stirring the pot.

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