As an old, white man who watched a black high school classmate, previously known as a quiet, accomplished multi-letter athlete, rise up and hold the school together following Martin Luther King’s murder, I felt the guilt a great number of white Americans surely felt, during the Civil Rights era, the Viet Nam era when student deferments spared us from that inconvenient little war, and now the Trump Make America White Nationalist Again, in accord with the designs of Woodrow Wilson’s Jim Crow law advancements of a hundred years back.
I’d like to hope that empathy, the simple human capacity to see and feel the world as another does, is the only way any one can relate honestly to the fears and concerns of another, even if in only a small sense of the totality of the experience. I can try to listen and get an idea, in all my earnestness, and I can feel real despair at how so many of the promises from the sixties have failed so many, and have even backslid again. I can sincerely feel all these things, which is as it should be, especially compared to blatantly embracing the new polite vernacular that cloaks the most vicious, venomous racism of the past. But, at the end of each day, I can go home white; I go to bed white, in a predominantly white part of a majority white city. I will wake up white, and not even for one moment give that a thought before getting on with my day. As much as white privilege exists in practically every aspect of society, politics, and business, it is purely by accident of birth. Any political organization which strives to disguise, underplay, or dismiss this fact is undermining, even subverting the principles of this country — not just the Originalist concept, but the abstract ideals that allowed the government to advance above and beyond the human failings of the founding fathers. Our country became better because the imperfect men designed a system that actually moved the bar above what those men themselves could do.
The worst kind of ignorance is willful — ignoring by choice facts, ideas, opinions, evidence that challenges one’s preconceived notions. Our brand of racism is popular, because it is so damn easy. Scapegoating is older, but problematic, measuring nose shapes or hair color or curl and such. Skin color, now, there it is — just really light, and everything else. Done. Sure, assign elaborate pseudoscientific associations with purported traits, like specious I.Q. tests, lower moral behaviors, etc. But always, first, it’s about the skin, as practically no one is totally color blind. I see little promise that humankind is capable of evolving beyond this failing, the need and instinct to discriminate.