When Racist Acts Obscure Racism [Teaching Tolerance]

Written on 17 March 2015, 08:18pm under As Seen In

Talking about race and racism and racial bias is uncomfortable and uneasy and most white people would rather opt for a root canal sans novocaine than have an honest and direct conversation about the r-words and this country’s long, sordid history. So the national norm becomes obfuscation and a pattern of strategic distraction.

My latest at Teaching Tolerance unravels the absurdities. What leads adults to subscribe to the faulty logic blaming rap music for racism and all of the other mental gymnastics people go through to avoid reality. The piece also discusses how teachers and schools can play a critical role in checking this line of thought.

Prolific writer, civil rights activist and social critic James Baldwin never minced words on racism. His extended quote here is profound and relevant – 50 years later.

One wishes that Americans, white Americans, would read, for their own sakes, this record, and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives. The fact that Americans, white Americans, have not yet been able to do this – to face their history, to change their lives – hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.
For history, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.
And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror, one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror, because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history.
James Baldwin, “White Man’s Guilt,” 1965

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