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Why white people won’t talk about race

Why white people won’t talk about race

You may have noticed “the look,” that flash of discomfort on white faces anytime a conversation turns toward race. Not long after the look, you may hear “I’m not a racist, but,” or the great white classic, “I have a lot of black friends…” as a prelude to some fantastic expression of bigotry. In general, white people would rather talk about their bowel movements than engage in an honest conversation about race.

A post at Forbes today explores this evasion in the context of recent protests over police brutality and Confederate monuments. Here’s the anchor for that piece:

White people with the best of intentions still struggle to engage on racial issues thanks to two fears. First, an honest assessment of our racial history threatens to tarnish cherished national icons, a danger often expressed as an attack on our “heritage.” Perhaps even more powerful is the looming fear of a kind of open-ended liability, the “white guilt” so spitefully derided by cynics. Even a superficial exploration of race stirs in white Americans a sickening dread, the sensation of a chasm opening beneath their feet which they are willing to avoid at almost any moral price.

Both factors are on display in the debate over Confederate monuments. Deep in the barely conscious corners of white culture lies a lingering terror. General Lee may be dead, but his brass figure rides on, a continuing bulwark against a long-overdue reckoning. To many white minds, any honest assessment of what Lee did, and what our great-grandparents, and grandparents and our fathers did, or what our friends or family members serving as police may be doing tonight, threatens to unleash an endless settling of accounts. Beyond our fear of that reckoning sits the most frightening prospect of all, a glimpse inward into our own contemporary privileges and choices.

Nice people don’t talk about race. It’s a white cultural convention that rendered Republicans impotent against an onslaught of racist rhetoric from figures like Donald Trump and Roy Moore. It’s a idea that has to die before it kills us.


  1. EJ

    …and in the UK, Theresa May looks as though she’s going to lose power, while it is not yet clear who will succeed her. The knives are out.

    May was the great pragmatist, but Europe nowadays is a place of idealism, and she comes off looking like she has no ideas and no plans, just treading water and hoping for a better tomorrow.

  2. I attended a World Affairs Council program last night and heard author and journalist, Robert Worth, discuss his 14 years as a NYT correspondent and Berirut bureau chief (2007-11). His new book, A Rage for Order, (a 2016 NYT 100 Notable Book Winner) looks at five countries in which the events of the Arab Spring have been significant. Principally, the Arab Spring was a spontaneous well-spring of desire from the young people in these countries to bring more “order” to their lives – hence the book’s title. Order to them means more institutions that help regulate and introduce stability in the lives of the people.

    I asked him if he saw any parallels between the desire to create institutions while in America, there is an effort to destroy or greatly reduce the power of institutions. He said the one factor that he noted is common in America and in the Middle East, is polarization, which is becoming more extreme.

    How very sad that America which has long been a beacon of hope through our Democratic successes, is struggling to survive. It gives people of the world much to think about as they strive to stabilize their countries and their lives.

  3. HEY, KAY RAY: Here’s a quote you might appreciate from the late Tom Petty, from 2005:

    “As you’re coming up, you’re recognized song for song or album for album. What’s changed these days is that the man who approaches me on the street is more or less thanking me for a body of work—the soundtrack to his life, as a lot of them say. And that’s a wonderful feeling. It’s all an artist can ask.”

  4. Just an off-the-cuff comment about how the halving of open-enrollment to the ACA exchanges from 90 days to 45, including ‘maintenance shutdowns’ on Sundays, and cut-to-near-zero advertising and communications to inform people about it is a classic conservative Catch-22.

    If it succeeds at totally fucking enrollment, the administration gets to claim that the program doesn’t work.

    If the grassroots actions to inform people and keep them registered works, the administration gets to claim that the cut-backs weren’t a problem.

    ‘Liberals’ have to work twice as hard to help out half the people, and are still whiny self-entitled snowflakes.

    1. Of course, it’s what Republicans have done all along….defund or cut programs so drastically that they can’t function optimally, thus affirming the prediction that they “are” incompetent and unneeded programs.

      Groups I’m working with via FB are training community members to assist in place of the paid navigators. I’ve signed up to help as I can and the various resistance groups I affiliate with are posting notices about the changes on our FB pages daily. It won’t be enough but it’s something.

      I am so disgusted by this concerted campaign to drop people off insurance roles that I could scream. What kind of person can support this?

      Here’s what’s happening with health insurance premiums. Note that Congress (and T) will achieve through neglect what they haven’t been able to achieve through legislation.

      1. By the way, Congress is proposing to extend CHIP by using money currently in the ACA Prevention Fund. … which is around $930m. The Prevention Fund was integrated into the ACA as tool to identify, train, and support efforts by individuals and health professionals to prevent or more effectively treat, health conditions. Wellness services at annual health exams.

        We can’t have that, now, can we? Never the less, that is the funding source Congress is proposing as the “CHIP ‘pay-for'”.

        In addition, something that is flying under the radar is Congress’ plan (contained within their 2018 Budget Resolution), to cut $450 Billion from Medicare and Social Security.

        To be clear, changes need to be made for fiscal sustainability – but the most significant change is that the American people will have to let Congress know how much of a priority health care is to them. Another not so well known fact is that Veteran health care costs are also in fiscal red ink….$50 Billion of the $700B Congress approved for the Defense budget quietly went to health care benefits. I do not object to nor oppose funding health care for our veterans but I also think Congress needs to fund health care for other citizens.

      2. I am becoming a reluctant supporter of Chris’ suggestion to let the GOP pass its plan and have to take responsibility for it. The effort to continue to oppose each and every parry by Republicans in their commitment to destroy the ACA is wearing. It is also disheartening and infuriating.

        Maybe the time has come to say – sure, go for it, and OWN IT!

      3. I halfway concur that letting the R’s pass their legislative package will force them to take responsibility for their own messes and pay the price at the polls. However, even if they pay the price, it’ll take years to undo the damage. Furthermore, they rarely pay the price, since they are so good at shifting the blame to others. Remember, It took a large portion of Obama’s administration to partially reverse the tax decreases on the upper income people, that Bush II slipped through by misrepresentation and under cover of the 9/11 paranoia and the resulting wars.

      4. Republicans may be trying an “end-run”. Scuttlebutt has it that the Budget Resolutions (House and Senate) are broad enough that they can do: tax reform, tax reform + repeal/replace, or simply cut $1.5T as they authorize themselves to do in the resolution – “as and where they deem appropriate”. We all know the “where and what” they deem appropriate. Read this today by Dylan Scott with VOX. I have high respect for his balanced, serious reporting. Here’s his “working” opinion on what may happen.

        Republicans may not care about mid-terms as it frankly is highly unlikely they will lose their majority in either house given how many Dems are up for re-election and through the benefits of gerrymandered districts. So, they may take the calculated gamble to go for everything they want, thinking that their base hates Obamacare so much they will forgive the “temporary” health care system chaos, and pursue their life dream: repeal ACA; tax cuts; tax reform. The hell with everything and everyone else.

      5. In case there was ever any doubt about who calls the shots on the GOP agenda, please read this piece. Then, gird yourself, because the Republican’s Tax Resolution that outlines the parameters of what it can do under tax reform and the accompanying tax budget, just became more significant.

        The GOP is in a position of having to: repeal/replace the ACA (options to do so are incorporated in triplicate in the resolution); cut $1.5 T in spending (with targets in the old standbys – Medicaid + now Medicare and Social Security (which was always in the long term plan, now it’s current); impose the 20% Border Tax that failed legislatively; use Reconciliation thereby passing with NO Democratic votes; cut taxes with the upper 1% benefiting far more than the other 99%; pass tax reform with closure of loopholes that help middle class Americans; repeal the Estate Tax a major source of revenue for the Treasury; and more.

        Every political analyst I have read (who I respect) predicts the Budget Resolution to pass – easily. Then, it’s on to limited committee hearings to work out the enabling legislation. I believe Republicans are going for the gold. They have everything to gain and everything to lose if they fail. Why do I say that? Because their donors are closing their wallets and speaking out publicly. The GOP is in the cross hairs of time/opportunity/demand. If they can’t/don’t get it all done now, 2018 midterms will not only become much more expensive to finance, but more vulnerable to a wave election – which is the ONLY way Democrats can overcome the math and re-take Congress. It’s “put up or shut up” time for Republicans, and they know it. They will pull out all stops rather than risk alienating their Real constituency – their big donors.

      6. The Politico column sums up the predicament of the Republicans rather well. I also note that the House Budget Resolution passed with a vote of 219-206 with 18 Republicans voting no in addition to all Democrats.

        Now the resistance is going to have to give it everything we can to defeat the actual budget. This will be the battle royal of the remainder of the 115th Congress. As you state the R’s are placing all their chips and more on getting their program through. Essentially, I believe they are betting the entire future of the party on this agenda.

        Off subject, but I will be off-line for the next two weeks. We are leaving for SW Utah on a hiking and tourism trip with a group of friends in many of the national parks in the area. Keep the fort womaned and manned.

  5. Greetings, fellow outraged Americans! In today’s latest episode of Congressional Hypocrisy, Republicans wanted to let you know that they’re never too busy with actual tragedy and suffering (they’re not) to miss an opportunity to tell a woman what to do with her body, ’cause that’s exactly what the House did when they passed a 20-wk abortion ban. To raucous applause, I might add.

    Never let it be said that the ‘pro-life’ party missed an opportunity to stand on principle. Good thing there’s not a children’s health insurance program languishing in the congressional ether that DESPERATELY needs a vote. No no, that would be a stomach churning display of hypocrisy and negligence that this Republican Party would never stand for. Couldn’t possibly happen.

    1. This is the second time Repubs have passed this 20-week abortion ban. It is unlikely it will pass the Senate. I guess Repubs had to find a way to stoke and distract their base given what’s happening in Puerto Rico and Nevada. Paul Ryan announced he would delay the vote on silencers for a couple of weeks….out of consideration….

      T meanwhile, blunders along and no one in his base cares. They appear to love that he is “sticking it to people”.

      I have been attending a 5-part series on Diversity and Racism, sponsored by an area Presbyterian Church. The panelists have been outstanding but the most touching part of the program occurs when the audience participates. There is so much hurt and suffering out there that has been caused by callous disregard and disrespect for people of different color or ethnicity. Black people and Jewish people have been enduring abuses for so very long. I value their stories and commentary.

      I attended a two-hour class today on the Holocaust, which was outstanding. I learned much about the five years (’32-39) that Natzis conducted a very well planned persecution of Jewish people through laws they passed….Jewish people couldn’t: join choirs; take field trips in groups over 20 people; have their own vegetable gardens; belong to fitness and social clubs; teach; children were forbidden from going to public schools….and then began the period of overt intimidation when neighbors reported on their former Jewish friends….and so much more. It was sickening to hear. Then, I read this which is happening in America, right now, under the auspices of “our” government:

  6. Another proud moment for ‘Merika. We joined countries such as Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in voting against a UN ban on using the death penalty on homosexuals and children. Specifically “as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations, as well as criticising its use on minors, mentally ill people and pregnant women.”

    We are a first world economy with a third world set of values.

  7. David Leonhardt offers a more nuanced study of professional athletes who kneel in protest. He does not dispute their “right” to do so under Freedom of Speech, but he does question whether this is tactically effective or playing into T’s agenda. It’s a different look at an issue on race.

    1. From the article you posted: “Because most Americans respect the country’s symbols and because standing is a simple sign of respect. You stand to greet someone. You stand at weddings and in church. You stand for ovations. Sitting while others stand sends a different message.”
      I know this is about the national anthem, but I often wonder how I would greet our new President. Out of respect for the office of the presidency, I would definitely stand, and if he extended his hand to me I would accept it and shake it, but I would only applaud if I agreed with what he happened to be saying at the moment. If I didn’t agree, I would not applaud, but I I wouldn’t boo or hiss, either. I wouldn’t get up and walk out, either, because that would just draw unwanted attention. In any case, I doubt I would ever seek out his presence, so all these questions are moot.

      1. I believe what Leonhardt was attempting was to present both sides of how people feel about this particular act of Free Speech. We don’t have to agree with it, may not feel the players achieved optimal results from their gesture, but it is important to try to understand the respect for flag, country, anthem in a larger context. If I were a Black person who had witnessed the many disrespectful and fatally dangerous experiences of so many of their race, I might feel as the players do. Regardless, as long as the players are respectful in their kneeling, I respect their right and the dignity of the choice they are making. Again, the real tragedy is that we are focused as a society on the act of kneeling without giving enough thought and attention to “why” they are making this plaintiff, public gesture.

        As for Trump – I hope to never be in proximity to him and, like you, feel that is highly unlikely. But – I have no respect for him as a person while I do respect the office. I would likely not put myself in a position to have to touch him because my inclination is to turn my back to him because of how he has disrespected the office he holds in behalf of the American people.

    2. When I read Leonhardt’s piece this morning, I thought of my favorite topic, rhetoric (sometimes called persuasive communication).

      If the athletes are to be persuasive, Leonhardt recommends they provide an opportunity for other Americans to feel affiliated with them, to affiliate with them to support change.

      A shared visual respect for American symbols might could do that.

      But as one if the article’s commenters noted, those patriotic symbols have been weaponized by the right. So they no longer symbolize only the aspirational aspects of our nation.

      I find I agree with that observation. When I was a federal contractor, I had many opportunities to say the pledge of allegiance. I made a conscious decision to go silent for the ‘under god’ phrase and substituted allegiance to the constitution rather than the flag.

      Symbols are just too easily manipulated.

      1. I think this is the inherent problem. In my mind, the only improper protests are

        1) Protests that do not accomplish their goals or end up being counterproductive; or
        2) Protests that cause harm to persons or property (which is just the most common form of #1).

        Can the NFL Players protest police brutality by kneeling for the flag? Sure. I can even understand the logic behind why they chose this particular method. But, should they have?

        1) The controversial method of protest was a distraction to the point that we’ve spent the whole time talking about the First Amendment and free speech and no time making any constructive progress on police-public relations.

        2) The method of protest used was such that it did not work to persuade anybody else that was either on the fence or opposing substantive work on police-public relations. The only people supporting the actual protest (rather than the right to protest) are people already on the players’ side. In fact, the method of protest almost assuredly put off the specific groups of people (moderate Democrats and Repubs) that are key to getting anything done.

        3) There is no indication that this has done anything to make police reform more of a priority. In fact, this has spun out to the point that it might actually hinder getting work done.

        TL;DR: Good intentions are never a guarantee of good results. As usual.

      2. EJ

        I don’t often find myself quoting Slavoj Zizek, but it seems relevant here:

        “Don’t try to avoid offending people when you protest. No matter how meek you are, they will be offended because it isn’t your opinion that they disagree with – it’s the fact that you dare to speak your opinion at all. If you offend them, good! Offense alone isn’t enough, but without it you’re nothing.”

        Taking a knee isn’t about persuasion or the politics of respectability, so much as the politics of visibility. That seems to be what the outrage is over; and to that end it seems to be extremely effective.

      3. EX ACT LY! How dare these ungrateful, highly paid Black professional football players take a knee on “our” field in “our” stadium”!

        These same people will never ask “why” these Black players are taking a knee, because if they have to think that deeply, they might have to think about racism.
        Can’t go there.

    3. I’ve often wondered how I would treat 45, too.

      My fantasies rip around a lot and include convoluted exercises that magically display respect for the position while delivering a stinging insult to its current occupant.

      Currently, I’m pretty tired of the whole mess and think I would just say, “Sir, you need to go now.”

  8. As if Puerto Rico wasn’t enough of an ensuing tragedy, a shooting has occurred at a music concert at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Los Vegas. Witnesses have described as of yet unconfirmed multiple shooters with potentially full automatic weapons. Possible worst-case scenario is that this is a planned attack by multiple individuals.

    What has been confirmed is that multiple people have already been shot and been taken to the hospital. Number of fatalities have not been released nor confirmed, though some are circulating second-hand information that upwards of 50+ have been shot with fatalities numbering in the twenties, so far at least.

    Stay strong, Las Vegas.

      1. So a single guy kills or injures about 5% of the amount of people killed or injured on 9/11. CNN is saying 50 plus dead/ 400 plus injured, 9/11 was 9000 dead or injured.

        The U.S. spent over a trillion dollars to level 2 countries and created an entire set of laws and enforcement team over one of these events. The one last night will be pushed off the front pages and out of memory in 2 weeks, with zero changes to any laws, other than to perhaps loosen gun laws.

        While I have never personally experienced tragedy like this, I think I can empathize with the victims and their families. But I will punch the first person who says “our thoughts and prayers are with the families, but our gun laws had no part in this”.

      2. This was posted on another blog that posed the question to our foreign friends and neighbors on their opinions of us after this last shooting.

        “Our thoughts are that if you didn’t do anything about the military grade semi-automatic assault style weapons being freely available to your citizens after the Sandy Hook massacre of all the little children, then you aren’t going to do anything about it now. We gave up on you after Sandy Hook.

        Our thoughts are that you are a violent gun loving nation and this is exactly what you want. The NRA will spin this so it comes out that more people need guns somehow, politicians will pay lip service to the NRA, everyone will wring their hands and there will be a few fake platitudes and then you will all wait with bated breath for the next one to happen.

        Nothing will change. Never. Ever.

        And that’s exactly the way you all want it.

        —Rest of the world.”

        The Sandy Hook shooting was brought up many times as the turning point when when we became irredeemable.

    1. Since we’re about to be deluged by “thoughts and prayers” and little else from NRA supporters, I thought now would be a good time to repost Sen. Chris Murphy’s Twitter post from a few years ago:

      Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing — again”

      1. While it may not help the Vegas victims, I’m now taking the opportunity to take an emergency preparedness class under FEMA’s CERT program so that, if there is an emergency here in Atlanta, I know what to do to help.

      2. ^

        With all due respect to Mr. Fallows, I have to disagree that this is “who we are”. We’re not, at least not all of us, and we’re going to get past this someday. Giving up and just conceding that this is our reality is the absolute worst thing we could do.

        As Winston Churchill said, Americans will always do the right thing after we’ve exhausted all other possibilities. We’re going to get this done, no matter how long it takes.

  9. Left off the radar with all of the other crazy, asinine shit going on is the fact that CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) just expired. Hatch and Wyden in Congress had actually agreed on a bill to extend the program for five years, but then Graham-Cassidy happened and everything got tossed out the window like so much trash.

    9 million children potentially thrown under the bus because Congress couldn’t get its act together, AGAIN.

    1. Under ACA rules, some of the funding for CHIP continues past the 9/30 deadline as does some state funding, but it varies. I’m with you – this really sucks as CHIP is one of the most effective healthcare programs out there – both in terms of cost and quality.

      Here’s some info provided on another blog on CHIP that is informative:

      Although CHIP is authorized through 2019, federal money for the state portion of the program is NOT. Federal funding for CHIP is set to end Sept. 30. In fiscal year 2017, federal $ to the states = about $16B.
      Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., would run out of their federal CHIP funding by December. Virginia runs out in March but starts winding down in January. 121K children are covered by Virginia program including 1100 with cancer. 70K would be in danger of losing coverage in January.
      CHIP is a federal-state program provides health coverage >8M low-income, uninsured children whose family incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid. CHIP has had bipartisan support in the past. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., UT), now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was a chief sponsor of the 1997 CHIP legislation along with the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy D-MA. Hatch is now working with fellow lawmakers and the Trump administration to find a way to ensure the funding.…/pressure-grows-to-fund-childrens-heal…

      1. It appears the Republicans are going to play games with CHIP funding. Lots of “stipulations”…especially in the offsets to pay for it. Silly me, I thought the quality of the program would for once by-pass this crap. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that these programs do have costs; it’s just that I don’t seem to be able to align myself with how they prioritize the programs they fund. I mean, poor kids?

  10. Three names: E. O. Wilson, Robin Dunbar and Benedict Anderson

    Here’s a theory: If I read him correctly, Wilson in “The Social Conquest of Earth” posits that colony (group) competition was the true engine of biological/ecosystem evolution.

    Robin Dunbar (Evolutionary Anthropologist) complicates this for humans by showing that human collectives are built on trust developed by familiarity and proximity. If I grow up with you I know you and your life story and can predict your behavior which is a necessary prerequisite to trust. Our brains can only hold about 150 face/life story associations (called the “Dunbar number” see ) upon which this prerequisite for trust and cooperation depend.

    Benedict Anderson in “Imagined Communities” shows that humans get past this to build larger cooperatives through shared myth and symbols ie. culture. We dress similarly, share religious practices, share gender roles and assignments etc. If you look and act like me while wearing a flag pin in lapel then I can safely assume your behavior and can import “trust” through association. It gives instant familiarity; we are both “Americans” therefore I can cooperate with you because we share the same goals and I can predict your behaviors. You are a safe person with whom to cooperate.

    The myth of race was built on easily distinguishable physical dissimilarities to sanction and explain the brutality of slavery. It enables a God-given rational to explain why the world is the way it is. The myth derives it’s power and longevity from our biology. Unlearning the myth requires sustained positive life encounters with members of other groups which is precisely the promised power of desegregation.

    The social/political conflicts (I’m thinking specifically of God, guns, gays and immigrants) we experience today are all centered in the E. O. Wilson/Robin Dunbar/Benedict Anderson conundrum. Our shared stories that make trust and by extension “imagined communities” possible are under tremendous stress. This is especially true of rural America where exposure to dissimilar “others” is particularly thin. The material, business and civil rights (read legal) culture are changing but our shared myths and for many our experiences of “the other” has not.

    BTW: to complicate things just a bit, Robert Wiebe in “The Search for Order: 1877-1920” shows that we have been this before.

    1. The advent of television and computers add layers of intellectual challenges to the theories above. There certainly seems to be a case for history repeating itself vis a vis return of individualism through populism, stoked by technology.

      There are interesting commercial developments happening with digitization and organization of data as observed by the expansion of a London-based IT company, Signal Media, to the U.S. The 2016 election has been a powerful teacher that data manipulation and control is the new front in the war against our democratic institutions and principles.

      Of interest and concern is the recent change by the FCC on duopoly of TV media ownership.
      Sinclair Broadcast Group is rushing into action buying up television stations and exercising their right to control broadcast content – including partisan focus.
      “Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, a media advocacy group: “The concentration of that medium in the hands of a few companies, such as Sinclair (Broadcast Group), would erode the diversity of opinions and the diversity of antagonistic sources of opinions that Americans need in order to have effective democracy.”

      I did a little reading on Robert Wiebe whose work certainly appears to be well respected over time. I wonder what he would think of the fall of today’s middle class that was so important to his theory of the the creation of social order? I suspect he would appreciate that change is ever with us. Goodreads had some very interesting reviews of Wiebe’s seminal work. I particularly enjoyed reviewer Mark Bowles analysis.

  11. American citizens are dying of exposure and cholera without electricity, hospital services, or aide, while the billionaire American president sits on a golf course and Tweets attacks on a mayor for asking for help.

    Sometimes my anger goes beyond just fear for the future and I want a law passed through Congress that allows every single of the 320million American citizens to be lined up to get their chance to punch the guy square in the face.

    1. I truly thought that Tweety could not get any worse but after his tweets to the mayor I’ve come to the conclusion that this creature (I will not call him a man) is not just a stupid, psychopathic narcissist but there is something much, much more wrong with him. He is a true scumbag. Anyone who voted for him should be horsewhipped in public and put on display.

      People who voted for him and continue to support him are the same as he is. Something far worse than deplorable.

      1. The ship departed Norfolk on Friday afternoon and as of 1942 ET, Sept 29 was underway off the North Carolina coast. The crew of the ship did their job well and was able to depart in less than 4 days from receiving the deployment orders on Tuesday.

        It is quite possible that they are still receiving supplies and personnel via helicopter while in transit.

  12. May offer a Mea Culpa on a long held secret relating to race? Throughout my long life I’ve harbored a (false) pride that I have no racial prejudice, blah blah, but way back in my callow youth, as a recent M.A. grad from the segregated U of Tennessee, I (not a genuine southerner) somehow decided to become ultra-conservative a la Ayn Rand, and re-fight the “War between the States).

    I found myself with a job in Detroit at one point, and during the de-segregation battles in the early ’60s the Free Press editorialized that the U of Mississippi should be forced to allow one James Meredith to enroll, even though he was Negro. I wrote a letter to the editor in objection, which was published under the heading, “One Man’s Opinion.” I never told a soul about it. Until now. This is my recantantation, my confession.

    But it’s not the end of the story. Nor is it the real sin. James Meredith, of course, was enrolled and did graduate, and that chapter of our sordid history is history.

    My sin of total omission came in 1968 when in the course of political events, I came to know the same Jim Meredith, quite well actually, first in Washington DC — he became a Republican and we both worked on — would you believe? — the Nixon Presidential campaign. Then we traveled to Detroit together; I had ample opportunity to talk with him about my unseemly action of the past; but I chose not to talk about race. Why? I dunno. At one point, Jim gave a highly acclaimed speech to a prestigious group of business leaders in Detroit — Gov. George Romney, sitting at our table, commented favorably on it — and we ended the day in a very fine social setting, I had ample opportunity. My previous incident had been on my mind, but never came to my lips. Only now do I ask forgiveness….

    1. It is fair to say that all of us have been on a life journey where the issue of race is concerned. White privilege so insulated people of my generation (I’m 74), that we didn’t realize there were two distinct life experiences because our interaction was so circumscribed by the times and culture. If we were fortunate, we were able to look beyond our own privilege. The truth is, that’s still a limited view for most people.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with Jim Meredith. It prompted me to google him where I learned much more about his life. Possibly you will enjoy this story about him if you have not already read it. It seems he has come to believe as an 80 year old that he hasn’t done enough to help the poor, especially poor Black people. I wonder if he has other regrets about how he lived his life? It is fascinating that he broke ranks with other black leaders of his time and invested his energy with the Republican Party.

      1. Gosh, Mary, I read that with both interest and sadness — for what seems to me a lot of potential largely wasted, “but who am I to judge?” Thanks for commenting on my post, and updating the info, but part of me wishes I didn’t know about Jim’s later activities… be it….one wonders if his investment in the GOP was done of a sound mind? And in the early ’60s, the Goldwater era, white southerners were also flocking to the GOP for their own purposes. Therein lies another story.

  13. Two questions here. One is why does it bother some people so much about some football players kneeling during the anthem? I think Chris has at least partly answered that one here. The second one is what is it with white people? From the slaveholders of the 18th and 19th centuries to the German Nazis to Charlottesville, why is it that so many of us seem to be constantly trying to claim our superiority?
    We don’t see this from Native Americans, Latinos, Africans or Asians, so what is it with people of European descent?

    1. “We don’t see this from Native Americans, Latinos, Africans or Asians, so what is it with people of European descent?”

      That’s a-historical.

      Native American ’empires’ were in decline by the time Europeans started poking their head ins but looking at groups like the Incans, Mayans, and Olmecs, there are clearly ‘great society’ actions that resulted in war, slavery, and other dehumanizing attacks on other indigenous nations. One main reason why Native Americans today don’t have a leg up for racial superiority is simply because the European genocide of so many of them was so effective.

      “Latinos” are a lot of diverse groups that can’t be pigeonholed but for the most part they are the result of Colonialization and are mixed from European and indigenous populations. So they’re, ugh it hurts to say it like this, but could be considered a ‘byproduct’ of European Colonial subjugation.

      African nations were similarly destroyed by decades of slavery, Colonialization, and subjugation. Some African ethnic groups in power do, in fact, rule with a claim of ethnic superiority — see the Rwandan genocides, Mobutu Sese Seko, etc.

      The Asian continent wasn’t nearly so destroyed by Colonialization and as a result, their racial supremist ideologies you don’t have to go too far back or too obscure to cover. See: Japanese nationalism during WWII and their treatment of Korea, the Rape of Nanking, etc. Or before Hitler was the by-word for great militant dictator, the bugbear of history was Kublai Khan. Ghandi’s reclamation of national sovereignty for India came from a nationalist ethnic appeal and Modi’s current rule is increasingly looking bad for ethnic Muslims in the region. Check out what’s going on in Myanmar with the Rohingya’s — not only is there the genocide, but very few Myanmar people even think the Rohingya count as their country-men.

      And let’s not overlook the Middle East, and how many groups out there literally think that they’re The Chosen Ones and it’s everyone ELSE that’s the invading evil subhumans.

      Racial supremacist bullshit is the human condition, sadly.

      1. I have to concur with this comment. Racial supremacy is part of the human condition and has been with humanity since the very beginning. That was explored by Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (1991). His concept is that the demonization of others is what has enabled the human species to engage in warfare and our intra-species violence.

        That being true does not make it right. it is essential that the human species make every effort possible to overcome our animosity towards “others”, i.e. people who are different from us and the associated demonization. Mankind has now reached the point in our evolution that if our intra-species demonization continues without being checked the entire civilization could be destroyed. That would obviously be an evolutionary dead end. Perhaps, the next dominant evolutionary species would be insects.

        Chris’ column is a contribution towards that understanding. We need to understand our racial supremacist bullshit as much as possible. Generally speaking much of the industrialized world is making a sincere effort to overcome the demonization of others. That even includes China, despite its current xenophobia and intense nationalism.

        Unfortunately, our 45th President has chosen deliberately to participate in the demonization of people of non-white, northern European extraction. He is doing that partly for political and economic gain and partly because he was raised to be a racist and continues to be a white-supremacist to this day.

      2. Racial supremacy is not this thing that can never be overcome.

        I was raised as a grandmother’s child, like many ethnic Chinese children, by a very conservative Cantonese grandmother, and as such I do know that in traditional Chinese, the word “yen” that is “human” was reserved for Chinese people, and “gwai”, or “ghost”, demon” was used to describe everybody else. However towards the end of her life, my grandmother had abandoned that tradition, and all were given the honorific “yen”. Including the Japanese, who she had every reason to hate.

        Anyway, my point is, you can let go of race supremacy. You just have to want to.

      3. Hoonteo, Absolutely correct. Most of us do realize that race supremacy is wrong and we want to let go of it. For many the bias still remains in our thoughts, but we control that bias. That has been generally the case with our leaders. However, at this time the US has a President who is deliberately appealing to the lowest common denominator for personal gain. The national Republican Party has been doing that for the last 36 years.

      4. Trump is taking nationalism to a new level; however, Steve Bannon has elevated the frenzy among anti-establishment conservatives and he appears invigorated by his triumph in the AL senatorial race. Robert Costa thinks Bannon is just getting started, and he in no way has distanced himself from Trump.

        Nationalism may not be seen as strict racism, but isn’t it fundamentally working towards the same goal of greater dominance by white America? Germany and now France have recently seen the rise of the far right and are having to deal with these minority groups who have attained a seat at the table in recent elections.

        Why do white people feel so threatened by people of color or different ethnicity? We hoped that the passing of old, white (primarily) men engaged in discrimination would allow a younger, more inclusive group to restore social balance. Yet what we are witnessing is a different, younger generation not only picking up the banner of their nationalistic forefathers, but taking it to a whole new very public, loud and aggressive level.

        It doesn’t give me comfort to see the Bannon wing turn on the GOP establishment because destruction of that group will hardly be the end of their campaign.

      5. EJ

        Every nation and every ethnic group tells themselves that they’re superior, of this I have no doubt. The difference is that not every nation and not every ethnic group also has sufficient power to make this supremacy a reality.

        This, to my mind, is the difference.

      6. A quick look at history and the rise and fall of states/countries affirms that power and supremacy ebbs and flows. Remember the Romans? The British Empire?
        The present turmoil in the US and our economic divide are bad portents for America’s supremacy – not that I am a fan of American Exceptionalism.

      7. Let me add Steve Miller to the Bannon mix. Miller is a committed racist, is in his 30’s, and is still in the White House. He keeps a low profile so does not get the attention that Bannon gets. However Miller is very dangerous. He has been a committed racist since he was in high school.

      8. Bill Miller is the Bannon plant in the WH in my opinion. I would be interested to know what Kelly thinks of him, although I stopped trusting Kelly’s politics for social justice when he took over DHS. The memoranda he wrote are pretty clear evidence of his politics which, of course, syncs with Trump and Bannon’s agenda, so what’s not to like?

        Miller is flying under the radar and he is a bad actor.

      9. Trump is being very cynical and manipulative in his use of the class and culture divide. Trump’s father was a white supremacist and he placed Donald on construction sites so Donald would learn how to construction workers and the working class thought and talked. Donald has used that knowledge and an innate sense of showmanship, to build his business. He is now using that knowledge plus the white supremacy as a politician. All these controversies he is creating are designed to deflect attention from the various difficulties he is having. In the process he is enriching himself and his family.

        Time Magazine has an article in this week’s edition that is enlightening. The link is:

      10. Yep, we have ’em here to. To provide some context, for the most part Seattle and environs are very liberal and for the most part has reasonable diversity. We do not have a large African-American community. Most of the minorities are of Hispanic, Asian or South Asian extraction. We also have a fair number of recent arrivals from Africa and the Middle East. Seattle itself is largely white, but the outlying areas have many of the non-white communities and immigrants. That is because of the cost of living in Seattle. However the Indians are dispersed throughout the area because of Microsoft, Amazon (Seattle) and other tech companies. That’s not to say that there is not white supremacy – there is.

        The largest grouping of white supremacists is in NE WA, which is very rural, is fairly mountainous and is oriented towards ranching and timbering. That area is also adjacent to the Idaho Panhandle which is a notorious white supremacist hotbed.

  14. A character in Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” says:

    “Most people are not looking for provable truths. As you said, truth is often accompanied by intense pain, and almost no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from.”

  15. I’ve posted this Jesse Ventura quote with a few contemporary updates (mine) on a few other sites. It was about him vetoing a bill that would have required students to recite the pledge of allegiance, but it applies equally to this latest dust up over “patriotism”. I also don’t think Jesse would mind what I did, as when I was looking it up, I also found articles saying he supported the players’ right to protest.

    “I believe patriotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary. It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that is the result of knowledge and belief. A patriot shows their patriotism through their actions, by their choice.
    [Requiring players to stand] is not about choice. [By demanding that players stand], [Trump would] mandate patriotic actions and displays. Our government should not dictate actions. The United States of America exists because people wanted to be free to choose. All of us should have free choice when it comes to patriotic displays… a government wisely acting within its bounds will earn loyalty and respect from its citizens. A government dare not demand the same.
    There is much more to being a patriot and a citizen than reciting the pledge or raising a flag [or standing during the anthem]. Patriots serve. Patriots vote. Patriots attend meetings in their community. Patriots pay attention to the actions of government and speak out when needed. Patriots teach their children about our history, our precious democracy and about citizenship. Being an active, engaged citizen means being a patriotic American every day. No law [or rule change] will make a citizen a patriot.”

    I totally get that this “respect the flag!” “respect the troops!” response is a classic fallacy of distatraction for the reasons Chris has mentioned. But if they won’t talk about race, sometimes you have to shoot down the distracting arguments first from a different side.

    Is there a way to post pictures here? The Internet has some awesome memes out there on this issue I’d love to share.

    1. This is an old issue. During WWII West Virginia made the Pledge of Allegiance mandatory, and expelled some Jehovah’s Witness (who believe that the flag is a form of “graven image.”) The Supreme Court ruled that mandatory pledges were unconstitutional (West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette):

      “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

      1. Unfortunately, society “cherry-picks” their interpretation of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, we focus more on actions than on reasons. Unfortunately, we are all complicit in this regard. Words matter, so do actions. I wonder if we will ever look beyond what we see. I believe this is a fundamental contributor to our inability to discuss difficult issues, while failing to recognize that unless and until we do, we will never understand nor resolve our different points of view.

        Bubbles. They stop moral and cultural progress.

  16. Because I’d always assumed — but didn’t KNOW — syphilis came from Europe like smallpox, I was intrigued by your comment.

    Here’s what wikipedia says about its origin:

    “There are two primary hypotheses: one proposes that syphilis was carried to Europe from the Americas by the crew of Christopher Columbus as a byproduct of the Columbian exchange, while the other proposes that syphilis previously existed in Europe but went unrecognized.”

    The past. It’s so dawlgone slippery.

      1. And we’ll never know for sure, but my information came from The Columbian Exchange, by Alfred Crosby, an authoritative book written about 40 years ago. It’s still available from Amazon (I just checked), but it’s not worth the price! Lot’s of interesting information, though, and syphilis did surprise me.

        Apparently it was completely latent among the native population, as smallpox was among the Europeans; thus when there was intercourse, no immunity had been pre-engineered into the genetic structure of the other culture. Or something like that! Thanks for the comment….

    1. What seems clear is that the old world diseases (smallpox especially) hurt the new world population far more than syphilis did the old world. The theory is that the old world domesticated animals much more extensively than the new, and diseases from animals (cowpox, in this instance) jumped into the human population. Old world populations acclimated over time (though many died along the way) but new world populations had no immunity.

  17. I recently had a funny conversation with current/former work colleagues (all people of color and colleagues not friends) during a dinner. This very topic came up and I get why its hard…really hard. I am also keenly aware that our demographics are pre baked. Without an odd pandemic or natural disaster to sway the current numbers we jumped the shark in 2014. Somewhere between 2038 and 2040 we will be a majority minority nation under the current definitions.
    I get that most of the real grievance is about current institutional remnants of racism, policing, criminal justice processes, buying real estate, employment etc but to defend statues to traitors and carry on about who stands during the anthemn…come on! I started by saying…here are the blind spots in myself I have found over the years..times where I behaved differently because of where I was or who I was with when it shouldn’t have mattered but it did to me at that moment because of someone’s race. Its fair and accurate and it was amazing what came out of their mouths about white people in response. Its hard, but we have to start somewhere…I just counsel being honest. We’ve lied to ourselves and kids for over 300 years about our story as a country. Time to start talking and hopefully never stop.

  18. As for White people who don’t want to talk about race, I think there are a lot of Black people who choose not to talk about race, either. They don’t deny it’s an issue, but they prefer not to see it brought up constantly and are probably tired and amused watching well-meaning progressives bending over backwards trying to say all the right things about race.

    1. But . . . since we are on the subject of racial inequality, I have always believed that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” not just as the slogan for the United Negro College Fund, but . . . I do think it’s a shame that a mind, a brain, something with so many possibilities– to create, develop, invent, imagine, organize, and plan — should not be utilized to its fullest potential.

      Imagine all the additional inventions, cures, ideas, and solutions we could have had by now had the mind of the Black person been allowed full and free rein. Those ideas would have added to, not competed with, our current deposit of knowledge.

      1. Exactly, Tutta. Chris framed his piece primarily with this thought but I would like to add another. It would make our society richer by embracing diversity. It would teach us “softer” truths – respect for others, the importance of equality to one’s personal and professional dignity, how to communicate and simply enjoy the company of people who are different from us – remove discomfort and fear from our relationships. Adults who model this behavior in their actions and relationships that cross racial and ethnic differences are not only happier people but they teach our children through example. After all, children have to be “taught” racism and bigotry. They aren’t born with these behaviors.

        Wonderful post, Chris. Another in the top tier for me to share. You contribute so much to shedding light and truth on important issues. Thank you for that.

      2. Mime: Chris presents it in terms of money and prosperity and you present it in terms of societal harmony.

        I think of it in terms of intellectual richness — the more ideas, the more perspectives, the better. Our body of knowledge should never be finite. Ironically, and sadly, Black people’s greatest contributions to art, literature, and music were born of the pain brought about by slavery and racism.

      3. Tutta – I just read this and it offers an intriguing question: Do people want equality or fairness? Fifty got me started following Evonomics and every now and then a piece appears that really makes me think (a good thing, no?) . This is one of those pieces.


    2. They don’t deny it’s an issue, but they prefer not to see it brought up constantly and are probably tired and amused watching well-meaning progressives bending over backwards trying to say all the right things about race.

      It could be that they are tired of the tripe they hear from those that defend the actions that caused segregation and the continued marginalization of Blacks today.

      1. If anyone was tuned into the TX Standard broadcast around 10:30 today, you would have heard a great discussion on this issue. The statement I liked best was this one from a female on the panel: There is a great deal of discussion about “what” the athletes did, but very little focus on “why” they did.

        That is the heart of the problem – right there.

        As for the three approaches mentioned on this blog: economic, intellectual growth, and “social harmony”, they are all important to a healthy society. They may appear to be separate and distinct choices but in fact, they are intertwined.

  19. Nice people don’t talk about religion, either. Or about sex.

    Or about the sins (oops, that word borders on religion–change it to the atrocious acts) of Chris Columbus — Cristobal Colon to those of us who live here in Latin America — and those explorers who followed him. They raped, pillaged and infected with smallpox every native they came across. In return, yes, they came away with treasures, but unbeknownst to them, they contracted syphilis, until then not known in Europe! Ah, free trade, in the flesh, so to speak.

    1. A very interesting book is “The Great Influenza: The Story about the Deadliest Pandemic in History “, by John M. Barry. Barry is not a virologist thus there is criticism of the accuracy of some of his scientific assertions even as there is appreciation within the scientific community for his telling of this historical occurrence. (Barry also wrote one of my all-time favorite books, “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America”. )

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