Thoughts on Race and Racism

W.J. Astore

I’d like to say I don’t see race or color or ethnicity and so on, but of course I do. We all do, once we’re alerted to it. Racism exists in our society, and in fact I’ve been an instrument of racism myself.

At my first job, when I was about seventeen, a Black man came into the shop where I worked. He was looking for an apartment to rent (there were rental apartments above the shop). He asked me to check on a listing he’d seen. I left the counter and asked the boss in back. The boss peeked out and saw who it was — that is, the color he was — and told me to tell him the apartment had been rented. I did so, and the Black guy looked at me and said, “I just called a few minutes ago and was told you had an apartment.”

I felt ashamed and used; the boss later told me he’d rented apartments to “them” before and had had trouble. The Black guy I’d talked to was the epitome of class; he just shook his head at me and walked out. I think he understood, from my apology (“Sorry — my boss told me it’s been rented”), that I was merely a messenger boy, an instrument of another person’s racism.

Three other small episodes from my high school years. I recall a race riot in my high school (there were about 6000 students at my school), and I remember one of my white friends told me he’d talked to one of his Black friends who’d said, “I’m not your friend today,” during the riot. Second, I recall a friend (white) who got into a fight with a Black kid in school, after which he told me one of the white teachers had complimented him. (Imagine a teacher complimenting a student for fighting simply because the student had punched a Black kid.) Finally, I remember taking a school bus that I didn’t normally take. I tried to sit next to a Black kid and he told me I couldn’t sit there. This was repeated again until a Black girl told me to come sit next to her.

The shock of being told I couldn’t sit next to another student because of the color of my skin stayed with me. I have no resentment against the kids who said it; indeed, it made me realize, in a small way, the prejudice these kids faced every day from white America. I gained a little empathy that day.

All this is on my mind due to this remarkable interview between Daryl Davis and Jimmy Dore, which is frank and moving in its discussion of racism and some of the ways we can fight against it and overcome it in America. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on Race and Racism

  1. I went to a blues fest in Mississippi in the mid 90’s. Tents all around. I remember going to sit under one with mostly blacks and the wary stares I received. Really bummed me out but said the same thing. Can you blame them. That has stuck with me ever since and makes me sad.


  2. The video with Mr. Davis was quite powerful. It reminds me of a conversation I had this past August with a veteran and retired police officer who is African-American. He said “We need to have conversations. Protests are not conversations. A protest tells you that you need to have a conversation but then the conversation needs to happen.” I think Mr. Davis would agree.

    In order to stop racism we have to identify the processes that lead to racism, and the other -ism’s, and replace those with more constructive processes.

    Mr. Davis has done a good job in identifying those processes: ignorance, fear, hatred.

    Unfortunately I have read statements by people who claim to be “anti-racist” using these same processes against those who they describe as racist. Somehow those processes are OK for them to use against “racist” people. If a process is destructive then it is destructive no matter who uses it. Humans have this distressing pattern of thinking they are justified in using destructive process because they are “right”. The result is more destruction.

    Listening, having a conversation, dialogue are processes that are different and constructive. They may not yield results quickly but they are constructive. Mr. Davis’ words “If you are talking you are not fighting,” are critically important. The challenge as a listener is to keep my own fear and ignorance from interfering with my ability to listen, to engage without agreeing, to connect without an ulterior agenda.

    I will note that his approach would probably serve as a model for a less militaristic foreign policy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I especially note your last statement, JPA. I keep reading more and more about “the China problem,” for instance, and I can’t help but wonder what the real problem is. I’d assume it has as much to do with the U.S. need to have an enemy as anything else. But without a dialogue, who knows where, exactly, the differences lie. We know, for exampje, that diplomacy worked in the case of Iran, until the former President threw a wrench into the works. Getting one’s idea across with force shouldn’t be a first resort, as you point out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A great video. Though it is true that anything learned can be unlearned, it isn’t balanced. The concrete is poured when the mind is young, open and willing. To break that hardened concrete in adulthood when the mind has largely closed for most people, is far harder a task. Jimmy Dore was very fortunate that reality struck him at a young age. He got a little emotional because I think he realizes that he became the author of his life at that moment. This is what Richard Dawkins means when he tells us it is wrong to say of a youngster that he/she is “a Christian (or Muslim or Jewish) child.” No, only Christian, Muslim or Jewish concrete is being poured.

    I encourage everyone to engage continually online, not just in person, where you are unlikely to find people far different from you, but where you can’t help but come across anyone and, in effect, all of America is open to you. You need to voluntarily go into the lions den of trash talking without an attitude to match that of the other party. Remember the founders of our democracy were all about debate.

    I’ve made it my business to engage online with those who differ diametrically from me. I employ exactly what is mentioned in the video – RESPECT. I don’t let profanity and name calling deter me and do not respond in kind. I tell the other party I refuse to insult him/her and that I ask that the same be done with me as we are both strangers who don’t know anything about each other, making personal jabs pointless and a waste of time. This works. We end up talking about the subjects that matter, where we differ and why.

    I’m happy to say that I have never left an online exchange feeling anger from the other party and I credit that with what I believe is true – people do not want to be angry, because it is pure stress. Nobody wants to back down on an issue, but people definitely want to back down from being isolated in what I call the Tower of Anger, so one has to go first and admit a point or two, show some sympathy, but mainly show interest in the other person without ever expecting a concession. Their emotions will cool because they feel relief from stress when emotion subsides.

    I always wish what I think of as my debating partner well in closing. Though I may have no apparent success in changing the mind of the other person, what is said is not forgotten and third parties can easily read what is written, let them judge for themselves on the issues as they read. Profanity and insults are quickly forgotten. Good reasoning is not.

    Online comments are more or less permanent, unlike talking in person. I write with that in mind, putting down only what I can defend with facts/links/sources. Sometimes I will get a response to a comment months after I had thought the thread was closed, by a third party. Write as if you were creating a document because you are!

    I got a great feeling the other day on a comment board. Someone I had sparred with about carrying guns in public, over so many comments that the thread indented to the point we could only get a few words on a line, gave a thumbs up to a comment I posted on an entirely different topic a week later. I consider that success because I am now a real person in the eyes of that other, someone whose thoughts they will give a chance. A bridge has been built! Exactly as in the video, where the white man and the black man can relate to each as thinking human beings.

    BTW: for a marvelous study of human relations being changed, in particular bigotry and hatred, I can’t too highly recommend the Christian Bale movie, Hostiles.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. thank you, clif9710; you propine enlightened pause here on how one can more productively approach and engage in meaningful discourse w/ members of one’s own extended family whose attitudes and views are polarities apart. it is particularly relevant to the discipline one must exercise in order to disentangle oneself from past emotions and the concomitant acrimonies that denitrify in our rotting vegetable bins.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. When a person gets uncivil and/or irrational, there’s not much you can do except move along–for your own sanity.

        I’ve had my share of people who call me “un-American” and so on. Also people who try to tell me how to run my site. There’s not much you can do to reach people who are determined to diss you and/or boss you around.

        It really is about listening and respect and treating each other with generosity and dignity.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A friend wrote to me about some of his experiences in the Deep South and asked if much of this is tribal. I had this response:

    Part of it [racism, bias] is tribal. But much of it is learned. And some of it is deliberate.

    It’s often about “divide and conquer.” Keep poor whites fighting poor Blacks, keep people divided based on race and other differences, and it prevents them from uniting for social change and justice on issues like prison reform, higher wages, health care, etc.

    Think about how much energy is wasted due to racial animosities!

    And think about how that energy could be redirected for a coming-together for the greater good.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Observing pre-school children at play in the park; laughter and hugs abound
    There’s no awareness of designated space based on sensory physical characteristics
    We need to unlearn what we have been exposed to through unwise poisoned prideful training
    Our childlike minds have been mismanaged with great skill to perceive an other that is somehow dangerous
    That is a false archaic head trip that will always lead to bad karma
    Find someone who has been labeled a danger and wrap your arms around them and let them know you care for their well being
    That you want them to know they are precious and loved
    No matter what…
    We can turn this sickness into health
    It’s not hard
    All you need is love…
    And so do they…


    1. heart-arresting, utejack… the senescent lachrymals are threatening to send a cascade of tears down my withered cheeks. thank you for your unerring contributions to improving humanitarian behaviours and redressing the deleterious ones.


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