Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.
I am a white woman asking a question. I am not racist–never have been. A person is a person to me and I have raised my daughter that way. My question is “Why are so many Black Americans racist toward whites?” My daughter goes to school in a mixed community. I could send her to private school, but I feel it is important that she learn to cope with the real world. In the school that she goes to, it seems that the Black students are aggressive toward the white students. Why? I know there is anger because of the past, but why treat whites the way they would not want to be treated and have fought against all these years? We made no decisions in the times when Blacks were mistreated [and] we believe in equality–so why can’t we be given the same respect? This is a question asked by many people I know. I was hoping maybe you could give me an honest answer.
Now don’t get me wrong–not all Black Americans are like this. We have many friends that are not interested in keeping racism alive in either direction–Black and white. So why do some choose to act in such a way? Do they not realize that this attitude is one of the things that keeps racism alive? Thank you.
Thank you for your question and the courage it took to put it on the table.
I would expect to find an equal percentage of Black-American bigots as white bigots. (Click here to read “Why the ‘B’ in ‘Black’ Is Capitalized at DiversityInc.”) What Black Americans don’t have, in most cases, is a societal, condoned way of expressing it–because white people are the majority.
This is why it’s more accurate to use the words “bigot” or “bigots” in your question than “racist” or “racists.” Racism is based on an oppressor/oppressed relationship. The majority culture can be racist toward the minority culture, but the opposite cannot be true. Everyone, however, can be a bigot.
Black Americans are more likely to understand that bigotry (and other forms of unjustified hatred based on a person’s identity, such as sexism, homophobia or discrimination against people with disabilities) exacts a reciprocal penalty. There is an economic penalty and there is a psychological penalty.
Frederick Douglass described the psychological penalty eloquently in his concise description of how the corrosive effect of living with slavery destroyed the lives of his white enslavers in Annapolis (in his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom). This is an extreme example but it works to illustrate the point.
I believe an intimate (victim’s) awareness of the destructive nature of hate is why the overwhelming majority of Americans who fought for equal rights (for all Americans) were Black. I want everyone to think very carefully about this: Retribution would have been a race war. Dr. King was absolute in his dedication to nonviolent protests!
Most white Americans would say that the civil-rights era mostly benefited Black people. It didn’t. By economic measurement, we can prove that the civil-rights era benefited ALL Americans by freeing the economic engine of formerly oppressed people–the growth in our consumer economy and the reigning economic supremacy of this country over 95 percent of the world’s population that ISN’T American over the past 40 years rests on those shoulders.
I’m sorry for the long preamble, but now I’ll get to your question.
What I think you’re experiencing is a system that has failed to punish bigotry and therefore has promoted it. Please understand that it does not take an active program to promote something in order to be successful in doing just that.
You SHOULD demand equal respect and demand proper management from your school board. I would enlist the help of your Black friends. There should be zero tolerance of race-based bigotry. Human nature is tribal–when a group reaches 20 percent, it begins to act as a (small) majority tribe. The blunt truth of tribal behavior is that our base instinct is to kill the competitive tribe. That’s why EVERYONE needs diversity training–and everyone, especially in a school setting, should be held accountable for biased behavior.
I will note, however, that you need to be very careful. Most diversity training I see is garbage. What is very possible, however, is to enforce behavior codes equally–and, in your case, I would suggest adjudication and/or advice via a very diverse committee.
* Everyone should watch both of the following videos. In the first video, the bigot is taunting a private person with a video camera–he’s really pleased about his little bigoted display of a child’s monkey doll with an Obama bumper sticker for a hat. In the second video, he’s being videoed by a CBS news camera. He takes the sticker off and hands the toy to a child. Think about this–it’s not the (all-white) crowd that’s expressing their disapproval; it’s the man thinking this might not work for his candidate.
Can you imagine the misery of being Black and having this creep as a boss?