Racism is alive and well in America. Although civil rights laws were passed thirty years ago, too little has changed. The United States should have learned that morality cannot be legislated, and that legislation must be moral. Civil rights have helped people to change, but no amount of legislation can change the heart of human society.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term: “A strong feeling for or against something formed before one knows the facts; bias. Irrational hostility toward members of a particular race, religion or group.”
Gordon Allport, in his book, The Nature of Prejudice, offers a Jesuit definition based on Thomistic principles: “Prejudice is thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant.” He continues his definition:
An aversive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to the group…Prejudgments are prejudices only if they are not reversible when exposed to new knowledge.
One might ask, “But what if a person does not seek, or resists, new knowledge?”
Ruth Benedict, in Race: Science and Politics, gives this definition: “Racism is the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to hereditary inferiority and another groups is destined to hereditary superiority.”
UNESCO‘s definition follows: “Racism is antisocial beliefs and acts which are based on the fallacy that discriminatory inter-group relations are justifiable on biological grounds.”
Racism is a faith. It is a form of idolatry…Multitudes of men gain their sense of the ‘power of being’ from their membership in the superior race…racism is a form of idolatry, for it elevates the human factor to the level of the ultimate. The God of racism is the race, the ultimate center of value. (pp. 9, 27)
Racism exists when one race or color group intentionally or unintentionally refuses to share power, distributes resources inequitably, maintains unresponsive institutional policies and procedures, and imposes ethnocentric culture on any other race-color group for its supposed benefit and justifies its action by blaming the other race-color group.
to any theory or doctrine stating that inherited physical characteristics, such as skin color, facial features, hair texture, and the like, determine behavior patterns, personality traits, or intellectual abilities. In practice, racism typically takes the form of a claim that some human ‘races’ [a concept scientists seldom recognize as a legitimate biological category] are superior to others.
In terms of legislation, some would say our country is antiracist; but the spirit of that legislation is not in the hearts of most people. America continues to be an extremely racist society.
Dealing With Racism
Racism does not occur only on an individual level; the biggest problem with racial injustice is corporate. The United States, as a whole, benefits whites over all minorities, especially black Americans. White Americans usually think of racism in terms of prejudice; black Americans consider racism in terms of power. Racism, in fact, should be viewed as prejudice plus power.
In order to combat racism, society must look for solutions that affect the way America operates. Blacks and other minorities continue to be on the bottom of society in education, jobs, and income, and they comprise a disproportionately high percentage of the prison population. And the church, as Martin Luther King noted thirty years ago, is still one of the most segregated institutions in the country.
Many are “race weary”-tired of talking about and dealing with the problem. Many whites fail to recognize that the problem still exists, while blacks become more angry and frustrated with the bleak reality of any future equality. Many in the black community have given up on looking to government and white society to solve the problem. These people try to build up their own self-sufficient communities, attempting to elevate self esteem by teaching black superiority through religion, politics, and education.
All in all, it is a bleak picture. In fact, why even talk about it? If it will not go away, why bother with it at all? American society must deal with it. William Pannell, in his book, The Coming Race Wars, predicts that the anger and frustration building on both sides of the race issue will eventually erupt into chaos if something is not done. More importantly, racism is a basic justice issue; eventually, injustice defeats a society.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What is your definition of racism? Can you share a personal experience of racism?
How much of a problem do you think it is? On a scale of one to ten, how important a problem do you think it is in America? In your life? In your school? In your church?
Do you have any close friends who are from a different racial background? How did you become friends? What is hardest about your friendship? If you do not have any such friends, why not?
The majority of the prison population is black, although the majority of the country is white. Why do you think this is so?
What is one way that you contribute to the problem of racism? What is one way you could contribute to the solution?
In 1903, W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “The issue of the twentieth century is the color line.” This article assumes he was right, and that this seems to be true of the twenty-first century as well.
If racism is unjust and justice is a necessary ingredient of a healthy society, then dealing with racism must be a goal of every social system-especially family, school, church, and youth groups.