Wednesday, May 11, 2005


What is racism ignored?

Judging from the choice of topics on most blogs it would seem that most participants are middle class, better educated, majority-ethnic persons. Thus the choice of topics reflects their concerns and interests. Everyone is concerned with aging and health, for example.

However, much of the tensions in the US can be traced back to ethnic intolerance.

I was brought to these thoughts by having just finished reading "My Bondage, My Freedom" by Frederick Douglass. This, combined with two books by James Weldon Johnson: "The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man" and "Along the Way" provide a good historical framework for examining discrimination in the US.

For those not familiar with these works, Frederick Douglass was a slave who escaped to the North in 1838. He became an important abolitionist, speaking and writing about the topic of slavery for the next 30 years.

James Weldon Johnson was a multi-talented man whose interests ranged from writing Broadway musicals in the early 20th Century, to being a US consul in South America, to an important official in the NAACP.

They both had extremely insightful things to say about discrimination in the "liberal" North as well as in the South. These were based upon personal experiences and their unyielding attitude towards accepting a second class citizen status.

It is common nowadays to assume that since the laws concerning discrimination have been removed from the books the problem must be over. However, this would not seem to be the case.

For example, the Dixicrats that resisted integration, voting rights and other civil rights issues in prior days have now morphed into Southern Republicans with practically the same social attitudes as previously.

The attitude towards drug offenses has led to the disproportionate punishment of minorities for similar acts. As a consequence we have a very large black and latino prison population with the associated societal issues of single moms and unemployable ex-felons.

Even the changes in the welfare system seem motivated by the unspoken discrimination against minorities: the prototypical black, inner city, single mom. This, even though most poor people in need of assistance are white.

During the slavery period the attitude of the Southern churches was to lend support to the slave system. This is extensively documented in Douglass's book. How many of these churches are now fundamentalists with the authoritarian outlook transformed to new social issues?

Discrimination is still a factor in the US. Tests of employment and housing availability consistently reveal that minorities are turned away in favor of whites. Without bringing these issues back into the light we leave the political dialog open to the coded appeals to racism that are suspected, but hard to prove.
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