This horrific photo, taken in the 1940s, reminds me of when I was nine or ten, my neighbor friend used to yell the n word at the shopping news delivery man from his porch in our suburban Detroit neighborhood. I tried to get my friend to stop his taunting but he thought it was funny to hurl racial epitaphs at this man, who quietly went about his business. He had evidently learned to ignore the racial slurs in the community he served. After all, he wanted to keep his job. I imagined he had a family to feed. I thought of how brave or desperate he must have been to put up with all the ridicule he was subjected to every day, working in this all white suburb in the late sixties..
There was no apparent anger, or what we think of as hatred, in my friend’s taunts. In fact he seemed to enjoy himself immensely as he yelled the n word at this man.
Ultimately, I stopped being his friend. It made me sad because I really liked being his friend. He was funny and had a great house, filled with activity and fun stuff to do and play with. His family were evangelical Baptists. I don’t know if this had anything to do with their being racists.
I learned at a young age that sometimes we have to sacrifice important friendships on principals. Doing the right thing can be a terribly bitter and lonely endeavor.
His kind of behavior was very common where I grew up. People like my neighbors eventually learned to keep their racism to themselves, until trump came along and validated their hatred. Maybe, because of Trumps taunting, now is “The beginning of the End,” as The Atlantic postulates But currently, there seems no end in sight. More and more, people are open about being racists. At least now we know who they are and where they stand.
More insidiously, for many others, racism has become so ingrained into their psyches, that they don’t even realize they are racists. Somehow, they feel they can support a racist president, who is enacting racist policies and inflaming bigotry and hatred. They have convinced themselves that they are actually helping poor blacks by taking away their life line, their healthcare, keeping them in low paying jobs. They call all protesters “thugs,” because the president does. And they support a military crackdown to assert “law and order” in our cities, blaming peaceful protestors for encouraging the riotous and looters. They turn a blind eye to voter suppression, the for profit mass incarceration of blacks, a growing wealth disparity and the defunding of urban schools and neighborhoods. And still they wonder blithely, why BLM is making such a fuss, claiming with a straight face that all lives matter. They live in a white privileged bubble. It reminds me of The Truman Show. They actually believe their lives are the reality and these children, starving in the streets of our cities are a myth or at most a distant reality that doesn’t effect them.
To some extent, we are all racists. Those of us who have enjoyed and benefited from white privilege are all part of the system of oppression that binds our society. Until we all are free indeed, none of us will ever be free indeed.