Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005  

Commentary: Everyday bigotry

I write about organized hate groups often because they are important. Though most people who are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted, are not members of such organizations, people who are make the problems of prejudice clear. It is easier for everyday bigotry to travel under the radar. But, today, let's consider the kind of typical act of bigotry one doesn't need to visit an Aryan Nations event or neo-Confederate chat site to witness. Trey Smith wrote about an incident at an Oregon public school on his weblog, The Rambling Taoist.

Dribbling While Black

In an all too frequent occurrence in our society, it has been reported that students from a predominantly white high school -- Lake Oswego -- engaged in racial taunting of a black studen/athlete during a basketball game this past weekend. As Lincoln High School senior Omar Leary prepared to attempt two free throws, chants of “You can’t read” and “Sixth-year senior” were heard from the partisan crowd.

It is certainly not surprising that, in a society still deeply divided along racial lines, racism would play a role in high school sports. Though we might like to think that the days of Jackie Robinsonare far behind us, it is more than evident that the vestiges of that era still remain intact.

One telling comment came from a Lake Oswego senior. While he felt the chants were “thoughtless [and] classless”, he didn’t consider them racist. Obviously, to people like this young man, a racist slur needs to be more explicit, like referring to this black high school student-athlete as a “spear chucker” or “nigger”.

Yet, as this example illustrates, it is the implicit comments that can prove to be most insulting. Comments like these show extreme -- and possibly unconscious -- prejudice. Without explicitly mentioning the player’s name or race, these chants underscored to many in the crowd the belief that blacks, as a race, are not very bright.

What could be more racist than that?

[Slightly edited.]

The high school student's evasion is not an uncommon one. By defining only a small set of behavior as racist, people give themselves a pass on most racist acts. Though apparently no one yelled the slurs Smith describes, or waved a copy of The Bell Curve, the students' belief -- that African-Americans are inherently unintelligent -- was communicated just as clearly as if they had. The evasion is pretext, a way to pretend that the intention of behavior is something other than what it actually is. The youth, and others like him, do not consider the behavior to be racist because they believe its message to be true.

Where do children learn to engage in evasion and pretext as a way to get away with bigotry? From adults, I suspect. Not that long ago, I was given a lesson in how the process works.

I stopped visiting a 'liberal' blog about a month ago because of similar interplay of bigotry and pretext. Blue Oregon is the warped brainchild of self-described political consultant Kari Chisholm. He envisions himself as a progressive. But, despite the site being a cheerleader for the Democratic Party, race and class prejudice abound there. Discussions of topics such as unemployment or the digital divide are opportunities for remarks about lazy welfare recipients and minorities too stupid to know how to use the Internet. The participants, overwhelmingly white, seem oblivious to the fact that the very people they are insulting are the most loyal supporters of Democrats.

Curious about how much a perverse situation developed, I asked Chisholm (pictured) about it. His response was to refuse to discusss bigotry at his site. Instead, he switched the conversation to drinking beer. Over and over again. I had a flashback to playing games of 'Quarters' and 'Bob' in college.

The youngsters at Lake Oswego have learned that behavior like Chisholm's is the 'correct' response when their prejudiced beliefs are questioned. Instead of addressing the issue, ignore it or try to rationalize the behavior. That's everyday bigotry.

Reasonably related

Kari Chisholm is a principal in an Internet services company, Mandate Media. Its motto is "Internet strategy for people changing the world."

posted by J. | 11:00 PM