Monday, October 31, 2005

Am I a Racist?

I’ve been thinking about this idea that I could be a racist ever since yesterday. This came up in a discussion with Rebecca where I said that I resented it when African Americans played the slavery card and asked for special consideration because of their past. I pointed out that Asians and Hispanics are faced with many of the same obstacles to their advancement and they aren’t crying out about what happened over a century ago in this country. She reminded me that they weren't the slaves.

Rebecca seems to think that black people are entitled to fall back on this dark time of American history and call it up whenever they choose to do so. She feels that denying this right would be like telling Jews not to dwell on the Holocaust. WHEW! Put in that light, I have to think about this.

I grew up in a family that was unique in our small town in northern Florida. My parents were from the north. We supported integration, while virtually everybody around us for miles was ready to draw blood to keep segregation in place. In the Sears & Roebuck store we had three bathrooms – men, women, and colored (as if there were not colored men and women) and we had two water fountains – white and colored. I remember always wanting to drink from the colored water fountain, thinking that they might have something different to drink. I liked to think of myself as being unencumbered by the baggage that conveyed from the Old South to the descendants of the slaveholders.

I must confess that the only black people I knew growing up were those who came to clean our house. My mother was often chastised by her friends for allowing our maids to sit in the front seat of our car instead of being relegated to the back seat.

In my job I have always thought of myself as color-blind. I would look at a person’s credentials and experience without factoring in the color of his/her skin. But if I used Rebecca’s logic, perhaps I should have been adding some extra weight to the resumes of black applicants.

In issues of affirmative action, I have always thought that everyone should have an equal shot at whatever it was – job, college admission, whatever.

But the real question here is whether we must continue to pay back the present generation of black people in this country for the wrongs that were committed against their ancestors in the past. I suppose it is something akin to the German reparation policy, whereby the German government continues to pay out to the survivors of the Holocaust. However, those payments stop upon the death of the survivors. At that point, the German government considers them paid in full, not owing a cent to the descendants or spouses of the survivors, even though those persons are inevitably scarred as well.

When will we feel that the wounds of slavery have been sufficiently salved in this country? How many generations?

I have tried to put myself in the position of a black woman my age in the US today. Would I have been denied an education or a job based on the color of my skin? Would I have been singled out in a security interview while waiting to board a plane in Israel because no one could believe I could be both black and Jewish (as happened to my friend Sabrina)? Would I have had trouble buying a house in the neighborhood of my choice? I suppose as long as the answer to any of these questions is even “possibly”, then we owe something more to the black population of this country.

Maybe this is a wake-up call to at least pay attention to the plight of African Americans in this country. Maybe I need to feel sympathy instead of anger the next time someone plays the race card. I don’t like thinking of myself as a racist.


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