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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/30/13

I Wasn't a Racist as a Young Man but I Am Now.

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Robert De Filippis
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(Article changed on March 30, 2013 at 16:52)

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trayvonvigil_26_feb_13_DSC_0021 by Michael Fleshman

On March 7, 2013 the NY Times featured an Op-Ed Guest Columnist, Ta-Nehisi Coates. The title of his column was, The Good, Racist People.

In his words, "In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: "As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community."

He ends his column this way, "My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a n-word, and it has been war ever since. "What if they did that to your son?" she asked. And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.

I have two takes on this article. The first being that good and evil are not autonomous forces that can be ascribed to whole groups of people. They are assessments of individual behaviors and as such, should not be projected whole onto others.

The second is, I'm a mixture of good, bad and neutral, but most importantly, I'm guilty as charged. I'm a racist, albeit a recovering one.

But I wasn't a racist as a young man growing up in a small southern sundown town that had an attitude much like that of Mr. Coates' description of Levittown, PA.   The Negroes, as they were called then, had to be out of town by nightfall. They were not served in restaurants. They were not welcome except to shop and leave. Their money was good enough but they weren't. My high school had just integrated the year before I entered and a cross had been burned on the lawn. I don't think it was intended as a celebratory act.

You see, I knew Negroes were inferior, because I grew up in that community and that's the way it was in my world. And that was the only world I knew. At that point I was not a racist.

Then I went to college, my world expanded, Negroes became colleagues and I became a racist. Nothing had really changed but I could now see what I considered "the way it was" was really racism. As I matured, I learned to truly own my racism and eventually learned to manage it.

The point I am making is I believe most American's over a certain age are racists. Those who don't think they are, truly believe that their prejudices accurately describe "those people." So I think more useful distinctions when speaking about racism would be conscious and unconscious.

When we are conscious of our racism, we have a chance at managing it. When we are not, we can't see our prejudices and will argue to defend our world view as "the way it is."

As long as I'm being honest, there's this: My racism becomes more difficult to manage when I see the sacrifices made by people like Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King wasted by some of the young. Their memories are soiled by a segment of the communities they died for. And the responsibility to manage this belongs to someone else. A little honesty about that would be refreshing too.

That said, racism is a disease of the mind spread subliminally. Once infected, it's incurable. The only treatment protocol begins with conscious awareness and acknowledgment and ends in remission. So it can be managed. I'm in my seventh decade of living in America and I'm convinced it can't be cured. Because if it could we would have stamped it out by now.

In summary, I hold no one responsible for my racism but me. It's my burden to carry and believe it or not I do a pretty good job of it in spite of the fact that I'm still a racist. The good news is that my grandchildren are not.

Robert De Filippis             


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Author, columnist, and blogger with a long career in business management, management consulting and executive coaching. I've authored and published eight books: "You, Your Self and the 21st Century,"The Flowers Are Talking to Me," and "Faith (more...)

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