Hi, white people. Let’s talk about race. Black people, you’re welcome to read this, of course. I write for everybody. But talking about racism in America is typically a hard thing for white people to do. I want to make the topic a little more palatable up top here. In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, who is absolutely, 100 percent, hands-down the whitest comedian I could think of to parody—and trust me, I’ve heard Dane Cook—here are a few bits that might help describe racism a little more thoroughly:
—If you’ve ever said, "You know, I just don’t like black people," you might be racist.
—If you voted for Donald Trump because The Crusader (the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan) endorsed him, you might be racist. (Bonus joke: If you knew what The Crusader was without me having to explain it, you might be racist.)
—If your neighbor has ever asked, "Got any plans for the weekend?" and you replied with, "Yessir, off to a cross burning," you might be racist.
—If your response to Black Lives Matter is "No, they don’t," you might be racist.
—If you’ve ever started a conversation with, "I’m not racist, but ..." and then said something racist, you might be racist.
Thank God that’s not you, eh? In all honesty, it takes some doing to be a hardcore, puredee, dyed-in-the-wool racist. Think a neo-Nazi who marches around Podunk public squares heiling Hitler. That sort of racism gets a person out of bed in the mornings because s/he looks forward to inflicting pain. Lynchings, cross burnings, church bombings, et al. Hatred as lifestyle choice. But in relation to the overall population of white people in America, there aren’t many who practice an intentionally racist lifestyle. One person living that way is way too many, of course. I’m just saying it’s not every day you run into a punk with a swastika tattooed on his face.
A much bigger problem for white Americans is how many of us are racist-ish. Now, keep reading, fellow white people. There’s a different kind of racism that hardly any white people recognize because, frankly, we exist comfortably smack-dab in the middle of it. Sure, the laws are off the books that ensured black people got the short end of the societal stick, but laws or no laws, if you’re white in America, you still come out on top these days—just by the happenstance of skin color. Ever think about that? It doesn’t look like neo-Nazis. It looks like us, white people. Let me use the Foxworthy thing again:
—If you’ve ever said, "When did slavery end, like 150 years ago? Can’t we all move on?" you might be racist-ish.
—If you voted for Donald Trump for any other reason, you might be racist-ish.
—If you don’t think you’re racist, but you take a look at your neighbors, friends, workplace and place of worship and there are no black people to be seen, you might be racist-ish.
—If your response to Black Lives Matter is "All Lives Matter," you might be racist-ish.
—If you’ve ever started a conversation with, "What am I supposed to do about it, anyway?" and then quickly changed the subject, you might be racist-ish.
Racist-ish-ness is a blissfully ignorant state of being for American white people, a sort of safe space of our forefathers’ devising, in which the tribulations of American black people, from slavery to Ferguson, don’t have to affect us. And by the way, white people are the only ones in America who have this option. Racist-ish-ness assumes that all races are truly treated equally in America, that skin color couldn’t be a factor when it come to things like traffic stops, shopping experiences and homebuying. Racist-ish-ness assumes that poor black neighborhoods are like that because the residents don’t care, must be lazy and milk the system. Racist-ish-ness assumes racism is an individual thing, that, at least in 2016, it couldn’t have collective, systemic roots. Observe the operative word—assumes. Assumes, in the end, a version of race in America with the truth cleaned off.
By the way, white people, I want to assure you, it’s OK if this stuff is hard to hear. Maybe it even sounds too challenging or too dumb or too liberal, though in truth, politics should have nothing to do with it. After all, the subtext of me describing racist-ish-ness is that we white people should figure out how not to be racist-ish. Ultimately, that involves completely and permanently shifting our long-engrained, automatic paradigms of race in America. That is seriously difficult. But let it be difficult. Still, make the paradigm shift because it’s the moral thing to do, the American thing to do, really. Allow some vulnerability. Put away the stoicism, the stubbornness. Then, honestly consider yourself in the context of other Americans. Whose skin is a different color than yours.
Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, "Animal Heart," is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.