The Mythology of Racism

alex atkins bookshelf culture“I recognize that the mythology we have in which racism is something that happens to bad people is destructive and false, and it allows us to think racism is gone because bad people from history are gone. If I recognize that you can be a good person and that racism is in the oxygen we breathe, it allows me to have a lot of compassion to let them metabolize that racism differently. There’s a false mythology that in the days of segregation, the majority of white people were bad, evil people and no one today could hold that position if they were fed the same images and stories of why black people deserved it. … Where did Southerners get the belief that there was something so wrong with black children that they shouldn’t drink from the same water fountain? It wasn’t inner malevolence; it was images and messages that justified black people’s lower position in society. I think it’s important we let individuals who are brave enough to say they want to be a better American understand that our entire society sets them up to accept a lot of negative stereotypes of people of color…

Social scientists know that bias against people with darker skins is widespread, and yet we haven’t had a conversation about what to do about that. People of good conscience haven’t led a good conversation about that… White people want to choose a side; they want to be on the right side of history. But we’ve lost the muscle to work through the reality of our distance from one another and the pervasiveness of unconscious bias…

The first thing to do [to help reduce racism] is [to] exit the denial phase… and then take it as a national imperative for us to create a shared sense of history, to acknowledge the sins of our past that still structure economic policy… enroll people of all races in this project out of a sense of patriotism that America’s greatness comes from our diversity. But we’ll only be fulfilled if we do the hard work to find the human capacity within all of us across races.”

From an interview with Heather McGhee, president of Demos, a progressive public policy organization that advocates for equality, on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal show (air date: August 21, 2016).

Read related posts: The Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.
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