Why Racism Still Makes Sense to White People

How did white people justify racism for so long in this country? Heather McGhee, the co-chair of Color of Change, the country’s largest online racial justice organization, talks with Rev. Jim Wallis about the legacy of racism in the United States and the lies that allow America’s original sin to be perpetuated to this day.

“The whitewashing and posthumous glorification of our society's agitators allows for contemporary people to pretend that they back in that time would have had a clear moral stance,” says McGhee. “And that, I think, is a temptation that allows people in the contemporary moment to justify their own ambiguity or hostility towards the agitators of today. So often in conversations with white people about Jim Crow and about slavery, they act as if, of course they would have been one of the good guys back then.... What is lost is how much the justifications for the status quo always evolve and change.”

“There were reasons that good, upstanding, moral white people gave themselves and their children for why segregation made sense,” continues McGhee. “It was about crime. It was about poverty. It was about God's will. It was about the natural order of things. And when you focus on what the possible justifications could have been, as opposed to just saying, ‘old people in the past were evil,’ then you might start to recognize some of those same justifications for the status quo today.”