Sunday, October 5, 2008

What is Racism, Really?

Earlier this morning I read an Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof, NYT
that I found disturbing because I know it to be true from what I have personally discovered and experienced over the years. It is what a number of scholars call “racism without racists.” According to Mr.Kristof, “racism is difficult to measure, but a survey completed last month by Stanford University, with the AP and Yahoo, suggested that Mr. Obama’s support would be about six percentage points higher if he were white. That’s significant but surmountable. Most of the lost votes aren’t those dyed-in-the-wool racists. Such racists account for perhaps 10 percent of the electorate and, polling suggests, are mostly conservatives who would not vote for any Democratic presidential candidate.”

I would venture to say, and Mr. Kristof’s research seems to say the same thing, and that is that most whites who truly believe in equal rights will still recommend hiring white job candidates more readily that a black person with the identical credentials. Even though their folders may be totally the same except for one being labeled black and the other white, a white person making the selection will still choose the white applicant, but will think they are selecting on the basis of nonracial factors like experience.

It seems that conscious prejudice, as measured over time in surveys, has declined over the years, but the unconscious discrimination – what psychologists call aversive racism, has remained fairly constant.

Unfortunately, over and over again, I’ve found this to be quite true. Still on the other hand one could say that opposition to Obama is no more evidence of racism than the opposition to McCain is evidence of discrimination against the elderly. We are all quick to explain our reasons for voting for or against a particular candidate and I do believe that most Americans truly do not see themselves as racist or ageists, but how do they really explain the way they vote?

From the research that has been done it is very clear that racial biases are deeply ingrained within us. But at the same time, Mr. Kristof reminds us of a historical lesson on overcoming unconscious bias. That’s what happened with the decline in prejudice against Catholics after the candidacy of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Can we make this happen again? I don’t know, I hope so. It is time to move ahead and finally put prejudice of every kind behind us. I have said this before and I’ll probably repeat it several more times before this election is over, but regardless of the color of our skin, our age, rich or poor, educated or not, we all walk upright on two legs, we all yearn for the same opportunities, dream the same dreams for our future, for our children and grandchildren. It’s time to erase those lines that divide us so deeply and move ahead to help this country once again become the beacon of liberty, equality and hope that it once was. A belief, a dream that has been sadly damaged over the past eight years.

For the entire Op-Ed piece see:,

No comments: