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The new racism

We're having a national conversation about race right now and that's a good thing. And I haven't done any unfriending on social media, but I have done a lot of cringing. Especially the fair amount of "let's talk about the black community" full of unwed mothers, poverty, unemployment, poor parenting, and handouts.

This is the new racism.

I don't think many of my white friends intend to actually be racist. They don't see themselves as such. (Or they've gotten very good at hiding it behind secondary criticisms that mask their true feelings.) It's not the overt, intentionally-biased kind of old school race talk you'd expect from, say, that crazy guy with the Confederate flag on his pickup truck. (Though that still exists.) The reason our current conversation about race has gotten so complicated is that many Americans simply wish race would go away now. To them, skin color should no longer matter and we can now talk about character. The discussion, for them, is political-not-racial. And I'm not talking about the idiotic "are we post-racial because we have a black President" nonsense. Or even the equally-dumb "we should talk about race because by not talking about it to our colorblind kids we're failing" making the news rounds.

I'm talking more about the subtle way that whites have been primed to try to see past race to the point where there's almost an animosity now about the history of injustice against non-whites. In terms of politics, this often comes down to Republican/libertarian bootstrap-style resentment about years of welfare and single-mother cultural change that now blames black culture for black problems. Mostly, of not working hard enough. If you're still living in poverty, crime, and substandard housing it must be your problem. Certainly not (white) America's problem...because you've been given special treatment already. A lot of Americans don't want to talk about ongoing institutional problems of race because they believe racial experience is secondary to other characteristics.

When I see this type of racism it's...harder. It's the extra task of not just combating the racism, but convincing someone who doesn't see herself as racist that her propping up of continued injustice in minority communities is, at the very least, construed as racism. It's the same way that immigration becomes a convenient scapegoat outlet for frustration with the Hispanic population. "It's not that I'm racist, I just wish they'd learn English and come here legally." It's the same way it puts whites (or straight folk, or men) on the instant defensive if you try to discuss "privilege" (an idea I've been critical of for this very reason).

A lot of people, also, want to make this about Reverse Racism Doesn't Exist. In their minds, you can't be a female sexist or, say, Asian racist because, well, it's about the power structure being set up to have institutional inequality in the system. For them, it's a one-way flow of "ism" from society to individuals. But as a Stay At Home Dad, I'm here to tell you how sexist it is every time a woman asks a dad if he's "babysitting" or whether it's "mom's day off." (Our common response is that this is what it looks know, being a parent 24-7.)

And there's the problem. Whites are sensitive to the idea that racial divides will never be healed if we don't put race behind us. Then they overcompensate with the idea that it's now whites who suffer because minorities keep dragging race back into the conversation. It's often too far to build a bridge across. It denies both the everyday experience of my black friends and the institutional bias that still exists in everything from education to jobs to the prison/justice system.

Let's be realistic though. My experience as a white person when I, say, complain about the police improperly policing my neighborhood (which I've done) isn't a matter of race. It's a matter of citizenry that has nothing to do with whether I live in a rich or poor neighborhood...I should be treated the same regardless. But that's why we're still talking about race is that even as a white person complaining about bad policing in my own neighborhood it's a struggle sometimes. So should it surprise us that a disproportionate population of a race with a history of discrimination and disproportionate demographics living--at the same time--lower on the socio-economic ladder would be justifiably angry when they struggle to be heard at all? When they share the same basic right as me to ask the police to patrol their neighborhood in the manner they request?

When I first started this post awhile back, I couldn't decide if it was more trying to explain my white friends to my black friends. Or maybe explain my black friends to my white friends? But the more I read over it, I'm explaining my frustration with the race conversation and way it is playing out even in my own diverse, progressive community. And, certainly, in the pockets of friendship I have which are far, far less exposed to diversity on a daily basis.

It's one thing to have tolerance. We've largely reached that level in the United States, thankfully. But we're still not at the point where I see understanding. That goes for religion, sexual orientation, sexism, all the things we're still working through as a nation. On an individual level, it's much better than, say, 50 years ago. But on an institutional level, we're still behind...and sometimes having to be dragged into the 21st century...on matters of equality and discrimination. We still seem to have a default mode that fails to recognize that the experiences of at-risk populations aren't necessarily standing at the threshold of full pluralism and participation.

We're still on the road.