Full disclosure - I'm white. I spent most of my youth surrounded by ordinary and decent midwesterners. And they were all white too. Never thought a thing about it. When I went to school, there were few minorities, but I was friends with them the same as I was friends with other white kids. For the longest time, skin color didn't matter - longer than gender didn't matter, actually.
When I got to a certain age, adults wouldn't be so careful watching words around me. At some point I guess this hit me, so I started paying closer attention to what they were saying. Most of the time, I'd hang around my dad, and his friends would talk about typically guy stuff that you'd talk about at barbecues. Sports, beer, women, dirty jokes, weather, lawn maintenance - all the important stuff. And eventually, politics would come up somehow. Usually right around when the topic of money came up. Then they'd talk about welfare for maybe a minute, and the door to their latent racism was wide open.
What I heard was typically either complaining or inquiring about "their" culture. Simple white people can't figure out why black people are happy living in housing projects and accepting welfare, but they all assume they must be happy, because simply driving by poor inner city areas that appear 100% inhabited by blacks is the same as taking a personal census of everyone who lives there every single day. To them, nobody ever got out, and it never seemed to bother anyone that their houses were dilapidated and that drugs and crime were off the charts.
These same white people probably had black friends at work, or through other social circles. They never considered those black people "black"; a common phenomenon, which gave birth to this brilliant midwestern philosophical gem once uttered by "Steve" of the "Steve & D.C. Show" in St. Louis some 15 years or so ago.
Originally Posted by From memory; Steve from Q106.5
"alright, ma'am, now you sound like a nigger. I'm sorry, but it's true. And let's be clear, there are black people, then there are niggers, and niggers come in every color."
It sounds idiotic. It largely is idiotic. But beneath all of that horrible mental baggage is a kernel of truth. It gets masked, distorted, and is the root of lots and lots of problems, and what I learned during my last visit home, is that those problems have absolutely nothing to do with race.
To the regular everyday midwesterner, racism means something like "someone who dislikes or hates everyone of color, or of a certain color". By that definition, none of them are really racists. They almost all have exceptions - at least the ones who aren't skinhead white supremacists, which these folks aren't. They know black people with whom they get along very well. I'm guilty of it - I used the term "nigger" when having a conversation with a black DJ I knew fairly well, lamenting the state of affairs in one particularly poor and crime-ridden suburb. He didn't buy into the distinction between blacks and "niggers" so much, it appeared, but probably wrote it off to my youth and inebriation rather than to take offense to it (since none was meant, odd as that sounds).
What I now firmly believe is that this phenomenon of "white flight", which is rooted in a type of racism, isn't a fear of black people at all; it's a reaction to the invasion of a particular class of people. Specifically, stupid people.
It's not blacks they hate - it's stupid people. The "customs" and behaviors of stupid white people and stupid people of other races vary - sometimes wildly - but at their core, it's the same people. The difference is in culture.
Stupidity is a breeding ground for divisiveness. And unfortunately, not even Obama can fix stupidity.
For example, stupid people may well be content to live in squalor, because it's easier than working. They may have sex at age 14 without birth control or protection, because it feels good. They lack long-term vision, and the understanding between action and consequence. They lack "common sense", and in some cases, they appear to lack a survival instinct. They may dress and act in public without regard to others, and without a sense of themselves.
In blacks, these features manifest themselves in the form of guys mowing lawns in 100 degree heat wearing new baggy pants fastened above the knee and new white sneakers. In whites, these features manifest themselves in the form of toothlessness, tattoos, mullets, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fandom.
But make no mistake, they are the same, ignorant, stupid simpleton.
Worse yet, stupidity begets stupidity. A cycle develops, where stupidity grows virally and begins to spread. Soon, it reaches critical mass - all the smart people who can't stand stupidity leave - and the community is doomed to mediocrity forever. It can never pull itself out of the hole, because no-one who can see the way out will spend the two or three generations it would take to fix the problem. So it gets further entrenched, and becomes acceptable. People give up, because the problem is so huge. Rather than fix the root cause - stupidity - they apply band-aids and dole out consolation prizes (in the form of the always controversial aid programs like Welfare, Affirmative Action, etc).
Well, I believe the first step to fixing a problem is to recognize it. Maybe, one person at a time, we can recognize that it's stupidity at the core of our dislike for our fellow man, and recognize that stupidity can be infectious. If we recognize these things, maybe we stop casting these blankets over swaths of people who are only superficially the same. Black, white, latino, etc. Rules are useless if tons of exceptions need to be made...the rules by which we judge others - based on skin tone - are useless.
Maybe it's more difficult to judge each and every person individually. I know it takes me a few more seconds to do so - you know, actually observe them and hear them speak. I think it's stupid not to
gauge people individually. That way, you're not so shocked when you find yourself getting along with someone of another color. You get to a point where you realize you're just getting along with a person. When they go home, their life won't be much different than yours. They have the same goals, aspirations, fears, reservations, opinions, beliefs, etc. There's no difference. There really is no difference between people.
That's my personal race revelation.