One problem with discussing race with white people (or people in general, actually), is that they take they view that as long as they are personally nice to a small group of black people, they are not being racist, even if they support political policies that disenfranchise black people as a group. To them, racism only exists among a small subset of people that one could call “lifestyle racists”: Klansmen, neo-Nazis, racist heathens, etc. Such a view ignores the fact that “lifestyle racists” are relatively rare in 2015, and most of them don’t live in mainstream society, because these delicate snowflakes can’t fathom the possibility of having to endure even casual contact with those they deem “lesser.” This view also ignores the fact that for a long time, the Klan was considered to be a fairly respectable organization that had the tacit support of the white population.
Back in 2001, I was a senior in high school in an institution that had a progressive pedagogy and an unusually reactionary student body. There entire school had about 120 students from three to eighteen, and there were never any more than twenty-two students in the entire high school at any given time. This meant that if you didn’t like those twenty odd people, you were pretty much SOL in terms of having a social life. One of those students was a boy I’ll call Z, who was a self-identified redneck, though he came from a well-to-do background. Z liked to wear t-shirts from a company called Dixie Outfitters that often had the Confederate battle emblem on it. I complained about it on more than one occasion, including during the weekly class meeting when these sorts of inter-personal issues were supposed to be hashed out, but Z kept wearing them. When I complained to a (white) teacher for the umpteenth time about it, she said, “You need to stop complaining about Z and his shirts, because he knows more black people than you and they’re okay with it.” I wish I had replied with, “I don’t care if Z is besties with Nelson Mandela, he will never have to live in as a black person in a white society,” but unfortunately, I just became upset and left the room in tears. The main lesson I learned from this experience — other than the fact that my high school was peopled with horrible individuals — is that for many Southern white people, racism is not a problem, but complaining about racism is. This brings me to yesterday’s AME church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina.