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The Racism Papers

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It was the late Civil Rights champion, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that "Black Moses" of this people, who once remarked, "Racism occupies the highest throne of our land." Recent events where unarmed Black males where killed, in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Chicago, and all across the United States lends validity and gives credence to King's observation. King's statement is an undisputed truism and prophetic conclusion. That is in stark contrast to the "now narrative" about racism that posits that America is living in a post-racial society and that all of the tasks of King' Civil Rights Movement have been completed.

In these five essays I'll beg to vociferously differ. I'll set out to prove with hard, unadulterated evidence, that the opposite is true and that it's our jaundiced and corrupted view and understanding of racism that is to blame for today's confusion. I'll attempt to deconstruct racism and dissect its five essential parts that fit together to present a deliberately misleading and warped image of one racial picture.

Let me start by stating an unambiguous premise, no, fact: racism is alive, well, and getting stronger by the day in post-slavery United States of America. I say "post-slavery" because, in my view, the tasks of the Civil Rights Movement are not completed. There is a tendency, by many Black intellectuals, to see the Civil Rights Movement as a fixed, finite event that was only relevant during MLK and Malcolm X's heyday.

On this score I also beg to differ. For me the Civil Rights Movement is a continuum, a process that of necessity has had to adapt, change and refine its strategy and tactics in a new, hostile national American environment. But I also contend that the goals of the Civil Rights Movement - to end racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans and enforce constitutional voting rights to them -- has not been met or achieved. Indeed, today's events make clear that there is a real possibility that the gains of the Civil Rights Movement may be rolled back. At the core of this movement to neuter, roll back and adulterate the very limited gains of the Civil Rights Movement is one and only one thing -- racism.

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The first of racism's five deadly faces is the one that is most visible and demonstrative: interpersonal racism. Objectively this is racism that is the end result of the interactions between individuals at the personal level. It is "directly perceived discriminatory interactions between individuals whether in their institutional roles or as public and private individuals" (Krieger, 1999, p. 301).

By this definition racism must include the maltreatment of certain targeted "others" by individuals consciously and deliberately acting to perpetuate this maltreatment. This behavior can also be unconscious based on a learned or taught racial/ethnic bias by group interaction or family upbringing. What this means is that if impressionable little white kids hear and see their adult parents discriminate, verbally disparage and directly denigrate Black people, the likelihood that these children will grow up as adults believing that Black people are "coons, niggers, lazy and less than white people" is beyond dispute.

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Such interpersonal racism can occur in a wide variety of venues and can be communicated through a range of attitudes and actions (Taylor & Grundy, 1996). These actions and attitudes can include acts of social exclusion, stigmatization, unfair treatment, and/or threats and harassment.

Far more common today and easy to spot are social distancing and stigmatization. In liberal states like New York, especially New York City, a lack of social integration and entrenched social distancing are evident by the strict and rigid socialization of various ethnic groups of people and the deliberate, but covert, discouragement of racial mixing.

For example, for all the talk of a post-racial America, inter-marriage between many ethnic groups is still frowned upon and actively discouraged by social, traditional and, most significantly, religious edicts and norms. In many instances if these religious and social constructs are broken these groups, starting with the immediate family, subjects the violators to ostracism, discrimination, harassment and in extreme cases physical beatings and death.

Today, in New York City its common place to speak about a "Jewish neighborhood" or an "Irish-Catholic neighborhood" putting that down to neighborhood diversity that conceals involuntary and traditional racism. This "separateness" is packaged as "preserving the uniqueness of the neighborhood" and up to about 25 years ago Black Brooklynites were very fearful of visiting or to be caught walking in all-white neighborhoods like Bensonhurst or Bay Ridge. Thee are still considered "white neighborhoods" where streets are clean and well kept as opposed to Black neighborhoods where the ravages of institutional racism [not discussed here] are poor housing, filthy streets and sub-standard education.

Moreover, racist bank lending practices like "red-lining" that still persists today, illegally keep Blacks from buying property in white neighborhoods. I remember when the home of the first Black and immigrant family was firebombed and deliberate racist actions sought to force this family out of Canarsie, then an all-white neighborhood of Italians and Jews in Brooklyn. While such overt racism is not practiced these days, its economic racism that still seeks to enforce "separate and unequal" by overly high mortgage rates for Black people and other discriminatory practices that discourage them from seeking to buy home in predominately white populated neighborhoods and communities.

Today, racism is seen in the new Brooklyn gentrification where white, upwardly mobile young professionals are pushing out long-standing poorer African and Caribbean American homeowners and populations into more crammed, ghettoized all-Black neighborhoods. This "unconscious racism" suggests that whites only want to live near whites and not integrate and live near to Blacks because of the age-old bogey that Blacks are "drug dealers, rapists and thieves."

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Indeed, entrenched and long-held beliefs about the inferiority of different groups can lead to episodes of verbal and non-verbal behavior that communicate exclusion (e.g., failing to smile or engage, avoiding eye contact, or ignoring requests to participate) and/or rejection (e.g., physically moving away from the targeted individual, turning away from requests for help) and/or disrespect (e.g., name calling, non-verbal expressions of disgust or disapproval).

All of the above happen is cities across America on a daily basis. Enforced by legal, discriminatory laws, example, "Stop and Frisk," that deliberately targets Black and Brown people, interpersonal racism is reinforced, entrenched and bolstered by the racism of the legal justice system that is set up for the preservation and control of whites over Black and Brown peoples.

This kind of harassment of targeted communities to preserve and protect others in the quasi-legal construct is further manifested in the victimization of these communities that are denied the same protections under the law. Discrimination at work and school is commonplace in the most liberal and progressive of U.S. cities. Stereotypes and negative, spurious attitudes about competency, honesty or discipline can and oftentimes do conspire to block and fetter the creation of equal opportunities in employment and education.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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