The racist conundrum
by Janie B. Cheaney
Posted on Monday, December 8, 2014, at 3:56 pm
As a just-past-middle-age white lady, I probably don’t know much about race, but here’s my impression: White people generally don’t think much about it, while black people think about it a lot. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. As a child riding to downtown Dallas on the bus, I used to watch African-Americans get on board and move straight to the back rows, looking neither right nor left. The bus was just about my only contact; I never saw them at the Texas State Fair because they were only supposed to go on “colored day.” I graduated from high school only a year or two before desegregation, so I never sat beside a black student in public school.
If all that is within my living memory, I understand why it festers in the collective memory of African-Americans. The Facebook post by New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson that went viral is instructive this way. Most of the attention has focused on his conclusion: that the basic problem in Ferguson, Mo., is sin rather than skin. But we shouldn’t skip over his conflicted feelings on the way to that conclusion: anger that he himself has been judged on skin color, embarrassment for lawbreakers reinforcing racial stereotypes, offense at racist comments, sorrow for loss of life. The sudden death of a young man is always tragic. The sudden death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer, no matter the circumstances, is something more—it’s electrically charged; no one can safely take hold of it. Great progress has been made in racial equality, but in the matter of racial equity, the road still looks long and bumpy.
And yet … here’s an interesting map compiled by Max Fisher of The Washington Post of the “world’s most and least racially tolerant countries.” The World Values Survey has been asking respondents from 80 different countries what sorts of people they would not like to have as neighbors. “Members of another race” were among the choices, and when the answers were compiled, it seems that English-speaking countries (Canada, Australia, the UK, and the United States) were among the most racially tolerant, with India and Jordan the least. These results have already been challenged, and there may be too many variables for it to mean anything. And yet, it’s interesting.
Probably no issue is more complex than race relations in the United States, with our peculiar heritage of liberty for all and injustice for some. And yet, I live in an area with a history of racial intolerance, but I see old guys in overalls sitting down to breakfast together at the local Golden Corral—one black, one white. I see kids in a backyard jumping on a trampoline: two white, one black. And to the left is a photo of my extended family taken six years ago. The dark faces are all blood relatives: three great-nephews, one great-niece, and one granddaughter. Will we ever “get over” racism? Not politically, but maybe this way: one relationship at a time.
Janie B. Cheaney
Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.