What really is 'racism'?

I was born in 1963 in North-West Indiana.  I am white.

In 1968 there was a variety show on TV called, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.  Before commercial breaks, they would flash scenes of a party where go-go dancers, some of them black, were painted in bright colors.

One day my brother said, "Hey, have you ever seen a colored person?  There's one walking down the sidewalk right now!"  I immediately ran to the window expecting to witness a kaleidoscope passerby like the go-go dancers on Laugh-In.

They were just brown.

Racism wasn't a thing.  Maybe it had been.  Most of the black people in my home town lived in one neighborhood.  It centered on a bar called "Al's BBQ."  In the 1980s, all that property was purchased for a hospital expansion, and the crowd was dispersed into the general population.

That was commonplace in the 1960s.

Bill Cosby was hosting a game show and asked a contestant which side of the railroad tracks he could find "his people" on in his hometown.  Every town in the Midwest had a section where the black community was isolated.  But hatred of them was not prevalent.  Their segregation was merely acknowledged.  You couldn't help but notice that all the dark-colored people were congregated in the same area.

That's pattern recognition, not racism.

Racism might be real.  When I was a grunt in the Army, the best soldier in my unit was a black guy named Buggs.  When he got passed over time and again for promotion to sergeant, one of my colleagues told me, "You'll never see a [negro] promoted in this outfit."

I've also been on the receiving end of racism — in Hawaii.  As a general rule, Hawaiians don't like white people.  We're called "Howlies" or "haoles," and it's not a flattering term.  When I was stationed in Hawaii, I wanted to get a civilian driver's license.  When I took my road test, the Native Hawaiian evaluator made no attempt to conceal his contempt toward me.  He criticized my every word and action.  He directed me into a trap.  I turned into an intersection that had a speed limit sign, "10 MPH," at the corner.  I didn't notice it and failed the test.

I don't blame them for resenting us.

G.I.s are a magnet for the lowest forms of society.  Every military installation has a district near it that hosts strip clubs, drug-dealers, tattoo parlors, and whorehouses.  Decent people who dwell there don't want that influence in their neighborhoods.  Good for them.

But the concept of racism is deceptive.  I had a drinking buddy who was Arabic.  He was from Oman.  We were hoisting one night at a bowling alley, and he got deathly serious.  "I feel like everyone is looking at me," he said.  "They think I'm a terrorist."

I looked around.  No one was looking at him.  It was all in his imagination.

"Why would they think that?" he asked frustratedly.  "I'm not a Muslim.  Terrorists are Muslims.  Muslims don't drink.  I'm drinking beer.  How can they not know that I'm not a Muslim terrorist?"

Number 1.  Americans can't look at an Arab and tell whether or not he's a Muslim.  2. Nobody was looking at him.  There was no tension brewing.  It was all in his head.

That raises the question: how much of the racial tension in our culture is real, and how much is presumed?  You may step into a room where everyone looks different from you and think, "Oh my goodness, I'm out of place.  What will they think of me?  How can I modify my behavior to fit in?"

Meanwhile, as you're having your adaptive dilemma, none of them notices you.  Nobody else notices that you look different from everyone else.  Nobody else cares.  How much racial tension in our culture is imagined?

There is a stigma attached to blacks.  When I was a construction worker 40 years ago, my crew was from Moline, Ill. and the quad-city metroplex.  One day my foreman told me, "You'll never see a [negro] work as hard as we do.  They'll never buckle down and do this kind of work."  He based that assessment on his observation of inner-city northern black men.  But I was in the Army Reserve at the time, and when I traveled to Georgia to train, I couldn't help but notice that all the construction crews consisted of black men.  I watched them.  They were bust-ass, hard-charging meat-eaters.

Men.  Good men.  Skilled, talented, drink you under the table, beat you at arm-wrestling men.

Inner-city black boys give the rest of their culture a bad name.  I've got a buddy who married a Korean girl while he was in the Air Force.  They recently traveled to Texas to visit one of their children.  Upon their return, she said, "Did you notice that there wasn't one black man who had his pants draped below his butt?"

"Right," her husband replied.  "They're not all gangsta."

"And the one black man actually held the door open for me and called me 'Ma'am.'"

She was astonished that black men could be virtuous and righteous and exhibit chivalry.  I am not.  My experience from the military is that black men rock.  I wish that those whom I have known would plant their boots squarely in ass of the boys from the inner cities and teach them how to be men.  Real men.

White men can't do it.  We're privileged.  We can't relate.  We're the oppressors.

Black men — and only black men — can jack this s--- up.  For the love of God.  Please.  Amen.

Mike VanOuse is a retired Factoryjack and Bible-thumper. His biblical commentary can be found on Substack, and his books are splayed at vanouse.com.

Image: Jim from Richmond, Virginia, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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