Tag Archives: racism

After Bundy and Sterling, What Next?

“As a general rule, things don’t end well if your sentence starts, ‘Let me tell you something I know about the Negro’,” President Obama observed in skewering infamous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during Saturday night’s White House correspondents’ dinner. With Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling recently having been exposed for even more inane remarks on race than those of Bundy and President Obama’s approval ratings at an all-time low, it’s as good of a time as any to consider race in today’s society.

National research shows that racism is on the decline. It is by no means eliminated, but clearly racist views continue trending down. The percentage of whites stating they would oppose a close relative marrying a black person has declined from nearly 70% to about 25% just since 1990. Fewer than 10 percent of white Americans say they would not vote for a black President, according to data pulled from the General Social Survey conducted since the early 1970s by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. (Note: A small, but statistically significant difference in racial attitudes exists between white Republicans and white Democrats, according to data pulled from the Social Survey and worth reading at FiveThirtyEight.com.)

While some elements of multi-directional racial fear and hatred continue, ignorance remains one of two core racial problems. Affinity bias is its often-neglected and attention-deserving counterpart.

Ignorance can, of course, be eliminated over time by education, including the ability to live, work and interact with members of various races. Continue reading

Zimmerman, Trayvon, Segregation and A Gun in My Back

I watched parts of the George Zimmerman trial and read about more, but didn’t see the full trial. Still, I was not at all surprised by the not guilty verdict, even while sensing that both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman could have acted differently to avoid the conflict that turned deadly. I learned as a youth that appearances can be misinterpreted and situations can turn wrong quickly. I’ve tried to keep that in mind throughout my life.

At 18, a group of friends and I went digging for golf balls in the Fox River aside a golf course in St. Charles, Illinois. When we returned to our cars with buckets and boxes of wet, muddy golf balls, a half-dozen police cars came screaming around the corner and officers came running out of their cars with guns drawn, throwing us up against the cars. Only after substantial discussion and dumping all our golf balls did the police realize that we were not really in the neighborhood to burglarize homes. We had cut through a yard on our way to the river. The owner had called police. But we were teenagers in dark clothes and fatigues. Our dress helped make the owner and police nervous.

That same summer, many of these same friends and I were chased through fields near a St. Charles movie theater by police again running with guns drawn. We had no idea why we were being chased, but didn’t want to wait around to find out. We were playing war with toy guns at the time, which we quickly dropped and did our best to avoid capture. It was only just before friends sang Happy Birthday to me on my 18th birthday in the St. Charles jail that we learned one of the game players had climbed the roof of the theater to gain a sight line and had scared moviegoers and management into believing an armed robbery was underway. Appearance put our lives at risk that day in a way none of us had anticipated. A police officer was actually sanctioned for not shooting one of our friends when he turned with his toy gun drawn when he was told to freeze, thinking it was someone else in the game trying to get him out.

Two days ago, my son and I were playing golf in Port Marnock, just outside of Dublin, Ireland. On the 15th hole, a group of 10 young, drunk teenagers ran up, surrounded our cart, tried to steal a golf ball and began badgering us. One sat down in the cart and tried to take control of it. Another started snooping in so I grabbed my wallet and cell phone, then took the cart key. After five minutes of politely suggesting that the kids needed to just get on their way, one turned to us and asked, “Do you know what it feels like to have your head smashed in with a golf club.” The lone girl in the group egged the boys on to be men and fight. My son and I kept our cool, but became insistent that the kids needed to just get on their way. Perhaps we had the good fortune that neither of us was particularly scared even though we were outnumbered substantially. The kids appeared to be 13- to 16-year-olds and none were individually imposing. Finally, the kids grew tired of us not giving in to letting them take our cart or nearby golf ball and ran off to steal another of our golf balls further down the fairway. I can’t help but think how badly this situation could have gotten if the kid threatening to hit us with golf clubs had reached into the bag just two feet away from him and started to come after us. There would have been no winners from such a confrontation, regardless of the outcome. Would we have acted only to deflect blows coming at us, or attacked back to avoid taking a golf club beating? I have little doubt we wouldn’t have just stood and taken whatever blows came our way.

Did Trayvon deserve what happened to him? Of course not, but it doesn’t mean that George Zimmerman wasn’t justified in responding in self-defense. Since the war-game arrest and golf-ball gun in my back, I’ve been careful to avoid unnecessary conflict and tried to be aware of when others might see me as threatening, crossing the street if necessary to allow others to feel comfortable that they are safe. That restraint served us well in Ireland as well, and may have made a difference in the lives of some of those kids. I don’t know if race played any role in the Zimmerman/Martin confrontation. But I do know that conflicts can develop, impressions can be inaccurately created and situations can go wrong even when everyone involved is of the same race.

P.S. — Everyone else in Ireland was delightful and we enjoyed dozens of great discussions with people around the country. I highly recommend a visit to anyone looking for a friendly destination. I also genuinely appreciated the concern shown by golf course management after the incident.

Is Multiculturalism a Failure?

In the past two weeks, a soldier in London was beheaded by Islamic terrorists, a soldier near Paris was stabbed in the neck by an angry immigrant and immigrants rioted in Stockholm. As these events built, social media platforms lit up with exchanges on whether multiculturalism is starting to fail — or has already failed. At question are policies that bring in immigrants from Islamic nations to stave off population decline and associated economic calamities.

Is Multiculturalism a Failure?

The issue, from what I have seen, is not that diverse peoples cannot live together in harmony. It is that diversity requires integration for long-term success. Many advocates of multiculturalism suggest that is is culturally insensitive or racist to require immigrants to learn a common language, adapt new societal norms in the new country and otherwise take part in the broader society. I believe the opposite is the case.

One of America’s current failings is that we are stepping backward in implementing Brown v. Board of Education. Continue reading

Admiring 42 and 46664: Robinson and Mandela

Two numbers of critical importance in the global battle to end racial segregation are on my mind today.

I just watched the first screening of “42” and suggest that everyone should see the movie or read one of many books about the pain Jackie Robinson endured for the simple right to play baseball. The movie displays how Jackie’s Brooklyn Dodgers teammates came to accept him as one of their own, though for most this acceptance came only once they knew him as a man. The stereotypes and fears that flourish in a segregated society come tumbling down when people get to know others as human beings, particularly once all involved accept that others share equal rights. To ensure enough time passed to reach that point, Jackie had to endure horrific taunts, threats and other abuse. Endure he did, and the world today is a better place for it.

Robben Island prisoners had their meals segregated by race
Among the many injustices endured by Nelson Mandela, even the food available to him at the Robben Island prison in South Africa was segregated by race.

I am also thinking of the number 46664. That number was the Robben Island prison number of Nelson Mandela during the first 20 of his 27 years in prison. His segregation, for advocating the simple idea that race should not define a person or his or her rights, was harsher and lasted longer than the pain suffered by Jackie Robinson. Like Jackie Robinson, he choose not to lash back at those who wounded him so grievously. When he became President of South Africa, he refused to seek revenge. Millions are likely alive today because he was willing to absorb his pains rather than seek vengeance. I only hope that his health holds out and he can continue to bridge racial divide in South Africa.

I was fortunate to have the chance to visit Robben Island a few years ago, and to be led on a tour of the prison outside of Capetown, South Africa by a man who was imprisoned with Mandela. Among the many horrors of seeing the prison was a list showing that even the amount and quality of food prisoners received was determined by their race.

I was asked by a student during a recent speech what I was thought was the greatest threat to America’s future. At the time, I answered terrorism. In hindsight, segregation seems the better answer.

Finally Integrating Prom

My first reaction was simply: Why is this still an issue?

It’s remarkable that, in 2013, teenagers are finding they have to overcome objections of adults to engage in an integrated activity. Societies in which races, ethnicities and languages are allowed or required to operate separately never reach the level of integration and understanding necessary to develop harmony and national continuity.

As a nation, our integration progress has become more sporadic and demographic evidence suggests is even reversing in many areas of the country. Continue reading

Segregation Suggestion at CPAC Misses Mark

A controversy erupted recently when a Towson University student suggested that black Republicans should be segregated from white Republicans during a recent gathering of political conservatives. “We self-segregate as it is,” the student was quoted as saying during a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) session.  “I really don’t think we have any other choice, it’s just human nature.”

Recent U.S. demographic trends and other historical studies suggest his first statement is accurate. But the idea that we have no other choice but to segregate is wrong, ignores evidence of the value of integration, and weakens our society by separating each of us from others whose philosophies, cultures and ideas can enrich America’s melting pot and us as individuals.

While this article, and many others about the exchange, rightly call out those in the conservative movement who advocate racial intolerance, there is equal evidence that many liberals think race should be a determining factor in establishing a wide range of government policies. Both directions call for the population to be segregated. Segregation does not bode well for America’s future, and should be rejected in whatever forum the idea arises. Building a common language and common elements of culture are necessary pre-conditions to the nation’s long-term survival.

Baltimore Sun Article

Re-segregating America a Troubling Trend

The linked story below provides more evidence of America’s move to re-segregate, a trend that brings with it troubling implications for our future.

Families increasingly live in places where neighbors look and sound like they do. The absence of school choice in most of the nation prevents many children from pursuing better schools where they might experience multiple cultures. Race is used as a critical factor in drawing congressional and legislative districts. A troubling number of politicians use racially divisive tactics to win elections, often criticizing people who disagree on issues as traitors to their race.

Given all of this, can we be surprised that school segregation is becoming more pronounced than during civil rights days? Melting Point 2040 is a story of what the future holds if we don’t take action soon.



Is segregation ever the answer?

Tomorrow, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As we do, it’s worthwhile to also celebrate the man whose teachings guided Dr. King. Benjamin Elijah Mays was a minister, college president and Dr. King’s spiritual adviser. His life story and views are worth remembering. A quote on the importance of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, from the attached article, stands out as one of his many crucial insights: “Make no mistake—as this country could not exist half slave and half free, it cannot exist half segregated and half desegregated.”

Unfortunately, America is again being divided by politicians more intent on securing the advance of the Democratic or Republican parties than on finding common cause and uniting the nation behind it. America is resegregating – in the communities in which we live and the viewpoints to which we expose ourselves. For decades now, we have created racially segregated political districts, yet appear surprised that politicians act on the personal gain they accrue from fostering divisions. With today’s second-term presidential inauguration, it’s clear we’ve come a long way from the nation in which a young Benny Mays watched his father be forced at gunpoint to remove his hat, salute and bow to a mob of white men simply because they were white. But we still have a very long way to go to eliminate racism perpetuated by some people of every race.



Are Babies Racist?

A recent “60 Minutes” story explores whether babies are born with racial preference tendencies, quoting Yale University researchers who determined that children start to prefer items that are more like them even in their first few months of life.


While one of these researchers states that babies may be born as “bigots” because they disproportionately choose to be around those who are most like them, perhaps the real answer can be found by looking at how humans have behaved since the world started. Over the past 10,000+ years, people learned that those who don’t look like them or share their behaviors, language and views are more likely to destroy their life than those with whom they share many common bonds.

Does human genetic coding, perhaps the flight mechanism that causes deer to run away when I walk past them on hikes, predispose us to prefer those like us and avoid those with whom we have many differences? Interestingly, the Yale researchers found that early childhood biases are tamed as children grow up.

The lesson from this is that multi-cultural societies can work effectively as we learn to respect and trust those who differ from us. For this to happen though, we need to have enough reassurance — through education and/or interaction — to lose what the Yale research shows may be inherent tendencies. The need for interaction to reduce biases is one of the reasons I am greatly concerned with what I see as the re-segregation of America, where we increasingly live by people like us, listen to news that fits our existing view of the world, and rush to reject those who share a different perspective on an issue as being mean-spirited in having that view.