Is That Racism on Your Shoe?

A straight-shooting white friend once commented that whenever blacks and whites are together it's like there's a "big pile of poop in the middle of the room" that everybody sees and smells but pretends isn't there. "Let's stop tip-toein' around it," he said, "get us some shovels, and start digging."

Parts of that still-stinking national pile get plenty of air time, and deservedly so: racial profiling, the explosion of hate groups, 25 percent of African Americans still entrenched in poverty, and persistent corporate discrimination symbolized by Texaco's $150 million settlement to black employees, to name a few. But other parts of the black-white pile are rarely faced. I'll step right into my own list.

Don't start with failure. The reason the civil rights movement and affirmative action have inspired every liberation struggle after them—from women's equality to ending apartheid in South Africa—is because they have been successful. Black married families now earn 87 percent of white married families' income. Black women with a college degree or higher earn more than white women with the same education. In his book The Ordeal of Integration, black Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson flatly states, "There does not exist a single case in modern or earlier history that comes anywhere near the record of America in changing majority attitudes; in guaranteeing legal and political rights; and in expanding socioeconomic opportunities for its disadvantaged minorities."

While the enormous progress continues to be a great ordeal, Patterson argues that lack of friction would be "the surest sign that no meaningful change has taken place," and that the viciousness and trauma of change are "side effects of progress, not signs of failure."

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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