Sunday, August 09, 2015

Recognizing and Reducing Racism

August 9, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Note: This column was written as a part of one of the Gazette Writers Circle projects; in this case, the concept of "privilege." As the editor explains in the online and hard copy sections containing the columns,
When people talk about “privilege,” they are referring to rights, immunities or benefits enjoyed by some demographic groups over others. Members of The Gazette Writers Circle met last month in Iowa City to discuss the idea. Some of the questions we considered were: Is this something we see in Iowa City? Is it something we notice in our own relationships with others? If so, what, if anything can or should be done to counteract this tendency?
Given both the necessity of a narrow focus for such a broad subject, and the importance and tragedy of racism (primarily but not exclusively involving African-Americans) that is the subject of the following essay.

Six Writers Circle writers chose to write on this subject. All of the columns (including mine) can be found in The Gazette's online edition here. They also appear in the "Insight & Books" section of the hard copy edition for Sunday, August 9, 2015, pp. C2-C3.

Given the number of writers, and the length of the submissions, the Gazette's editor was required to make some cuts. Text below [in brackets] was submitted to The Gazette, but omitted from its hard copy and online editions. -- Nicholas Johnson
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Recognizing and Reducing Racism

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, Gazette Writers Circle, August 9, 2015, p. C2

I am about as familiar as an Iowa white boy can be with the evil consequences of racism, as a result of spending most of the 1950s in Texas and throughout the South. There were still the poll tax designed to keep blacks from voting, black and white water fountains and restrooms, "No Colored" signs in restaurant and store windows, and the need for a lawsuit to open a law school to blacks. Crosses were burned in the yards of the U.S. Court of Appeals judges with whom I worked in their efforts to right these wrongs.

Such experiences helped shaped my reaction as an F.C.C. commissioner upon discovering that the broadcasting industry the Commission was supposed to regulate "in the public interest" was one of, if not the, country's most racist and sexist. I pushed for, and the Commission achieved, increased employment of African Americans and women in front of the cameras, in broadcast management, and ownership.

But there is no comparison between being a compassionate observer and being an unwilling target in such a world.

Make no mistake. The offensive Confederate flags may be coming down, but racism is still with us[, [south, north, east and west. Today’s black lives are more likely threatened by a bullet from a gun than a rope from a tree, but their churches are still burned by a match from an arsonist.]

The Southern Poverty Law Center's annual measure of hate groups in the U.S. indicates that while their number ranged from 131 to 149 during 2001 to 2008, during President Obama's presidency, from 2010 through 2014, the number ranged from 824 to 1360.

For those blacks able to avoid death, more common are the daily reminders of the painful ways in which they may have been negatively judged solely because of the color of their skin.

In a study, thousands of resumes were mailed to employers, identical except for the applicants’ names. Black-sounding names were 50% less likely to be called back.

Black people are charged prices roughly $700 higher than white people when buying the same cars.

Multiple studies show black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over for the same driving behavior.

Realtors will show black clients 18% fewer of the available homes than they show whites.

Although blacks and whites are roughly equal marijuana users, black people are four times more likely to be arrested.

Black people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people.

In another study, doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about an important heart procedure.

White legislators –- from both major parties -- did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names as whites.

So what is meant by “white privilege”? It’s what stand-up comic Louis C.K. is talking about when he says, “I've got a lot going for me: I'm healthy, I'm relatively young, I'm white. That is a huge leg up. Are you kidding me? I love being white. Let me be clear, by the way. I'm not saying that white people are better. I'm saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue?”

Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji reports that even young black children absorb the social construct that white skin is prestigious and black skin isn’t.

But to truly understand the consequences of the systemic racism in the lives of our African American friends and neighbors, we must do more than merely acknowledge its existence. We probably need to feel it emotionally before we will act.

[Here are some videos that may help: two TED talks, each watched over one million times, plus a powerful poet’s presentation.

Start with James A. White’s experience trying to find housing: http://tinyurl.com/oanhvnm.

Then watch and listen to the passion of poet Crystal Valentine’s “On Evaluating ‘Black Privilege’" -- http://tinyurl.com/nmz9tts.

Follow that with what diversity advocate Vernā Myers urges will make things better: http://tinyurl.com/pvltkob.

And then do your own search for the numerous additional videos on the Internet -– and the opportunity to know and enjoy the people and benefits of living in communities with rich racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.]
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Nicholas Johnson is a native born Iowan in Iowa City, who maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org and http://FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org.

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