I have a question for white people.
I will preface it with an excerpt from a recent email sent by a reader named James. He wrote: “It is the blacks who are by far the most racist of all people as they can’t seem to simply forget their damn color and move on with life, get more education and skills, manage their money, stay married, stay out of crime and live a good life.”
I share this email not because it’s surprising, but, rather, because it’s common. Indeed, it’s a rare day when I don’t get three just like it before lunch.
Which brings me to the aforementioned question for white people — or at least, for white people who, like James, fret about African-American bigotry. The question is this: How, precisely, does all this “black racism” impact your life?
Does it cause police to be called out while you are barbecuing in a park, swimming in a public pool, smoking in a parking garage, sitting in a coffee shop or otherwise minding your own business?
Does it cause politicians to close polling places in your neighborhood, or pass Photo ID laws demanding forms of identification you literally cannot get, in order to suppress your vote?
Does it impact your health? (“African Americans are routinely under-treated for their pain compared with whites, according to research.” — Washington Post, April 4, 2016)
Your wealth? (“According to a new study … median Black and Latino households will lose the little relative wealth they have by about the time people of color form a majority of households in the U.S. By 2053, Black households will have a median wealth of zero.” — Forbes, Sept. 11, 2017)
Your housing? (“A half-century after the Fair Housing Act became a civil-rights landmark, multiple studies show housing in America is nearly as segregated as it was when LBJ enacted a law designed to eliminate it.” — U.S. News and World Report, April 20, 2018.)
Your children? (“Racial bias against black students begins long before they get to their teens — it starts in preschool, according to a study released today from the Yale Child Study Center.” — U.S. News and World Report, Sept. 28, 2016)
Let me help you with the answers: no, no, no, no, no and no. Which raises another question: what are people like James whining about, then?
I make no claim of sainthood for people of color. It is entirely possible — and not uncommon — for blacks and browns to harbor racial antipathy. But the issue here isn’t antipathy. No, it’s the power to channel that antipathy in ways that impact lives.
For illustration, just look around. We live in a time when people of color are besieged by right-wing assaults upon our rights and dignity, all carried out behind fig leaf excuses about voter fraud and national security.
Our so-called president offers ample examples. There he is on Twitter, lashing out at imaginary “Middle Easterners” infiltrating a refugee caravan. There he is tweeting ominous warnings of voter fraud penalties, trying to scare people of color into staying home. At a rally, he declares himself “a nationalist,” a word favored, not incidentally, by gangsters like those who marched through Charlottesville with Tiki torches last year, screaming hatred.
America is unraveling along seams of color and culture. And James thinks our problem is black racism?
That’s sad, yet ridiculous, too. If they end up sorting through the wreckage of us someday, his words may inspire a fitting epitaph: Here lies America, where they worried about the wrong thing far too long.
And the right thing far too late.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.