Essay: Modern Racism in America

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Racism in America is not always obvious. The way African-Americans were treated in the South during the Jim Crow era -- separate drinking fountains (one for "white" and one for "colored"), bans against Blacks at lunch counters and segregated schools -- is just, for most people, a bad memory. But there are new kinds of racism -- institutional racism, rejection of affirmative action, and cultural bias that adds up to modern racism -- and this paper will delved into and critique those forms of racial bias.

The Literature on Modern Racism in America

Professor James Waller lists three "…interconnected beliefs underlying modern racism" (Waller, 2001, p. 120). The first belief embraces denial, Waller explains; racists in the modern era assert that "…racial discrimination is a thing of the past" (120). The second belief underlying modern racism entails "…a clear antagonism toward the demands of racial minorities for equal treatment"; that is, the modern racist is upset that minorities keep complaining and demanding something "that they already have" (Waller, 120).

The third group resents the "special favors" that minority groups get from the government; these "special favors" (including affirmative action) are only granted these minorities because they "whine" so often that things are not fair, the third group asserts (Waller, 120). Interestingly the modern racist in America does not think of himself (we will use the male gender in this paper) as racist, and does not define his own attitudes as racist. After all, to the modern racist, real racists are those people who supported segregation, or blatantly question the intelligence of black folks, or think some blacks deserved lynching.

The modern racist is engaged with "reasonable racism," Waller explains (121). Reasonable racism is illustrated in the person that believes that "all black men" should be viewed with suspicion because statistics show they are "more likely than white men to be involved in violent crime" (Waller, 121). In terms of social relationships, psychologist Thomas Pettigrew's experiments show that when African-Americans and Caucasians interact, "…whites tend to sit farther away than they do with other whites" (Waller, 126). Moreover, whites tend to use "less friendly voice tones, make less eye contact, and terminate interactions more quickly" -- hence, the modern version of racism is on display when these interactions are studied (Waller, 126).

Another kind of modern racist that Waller points to is the "symbolic racist"; he is different than the "old-fashioned racist" in that he believes in integration and is opposed to "discrimination" but on the other hand he is "…opposed to special programs or policies for racial minorities" (127). The symbolic racist is also in favor of restricting immigration but is opposed to bilingual education and affirmative action, Waller continues.

Meanwhile author Gertrude Ezorsky points out the difference between "overt racism" and "institutional racism" (Ezorsky, 1991, 9). Of course in this context overt racism would be the employer who refuses to hire an African-American simply because he is black. Overt racism is "irrational and negative" (Ezorsky, 9) but institutional racism (think modern racism) is quite different. To obtain a certain position with a company, a potential employee needs "specific training or skilled work experience," Ezorsky explains (9). And if African-American applicants do not have those qualifications, they are thus "…excluded disproportionately from employment" and yet the job qualification standards are absolutely free of any bias (10).

This is a classic case of institutional racism / modern racism. The job criteria in this instance has not one vague suggestion of bias and yet those doing the hiring have an understanding (subtle or open) that few blacks would have had the specific training to quality for the position. Two other examples of modern racism offered by Ezorsky include: a) "selection by personal connections" (the foreman has a Caucasian neighbor looking for a job and so the neighbor gets hired, leaving a qualified African-American outside looking in); and b) "selection by seniority ranking" (while this is on the surface bias-free, it elevates those already with longevity and tends to leave minorities behind) (Ezorsky, 10).

The author reminds readers that although these aforementioned instances of modern racism are discriminatory, it doesn't mean the administrators of these polices are themselves racist or have racist attitudes; it's the system, the institutional policies that discriminate, Ezorsky asserts (10). Ezorsky (11) points out that in the thirty-two states that have the death penalty, "…the killer of a white is nearly three times more likely to be sentenced to death than the killer of a black" -- a clear example of modern racism.

Also, surveys and studies (like "A Common Destiny: Blacks and American Society") reflect the fact that "discriminatory behaviors by whites, especially in areas involving close personal contact," are continuing in the United States (Ezorsky, 12). For example, highly educated African-Americans "face barriers to living in the same neighborhood with highly educated whites," Ezorsky goes on, and moreover, it is a statistical fact that black school districts in the "black-belt states" (Mississippi, Alabama, etc.) receive significantly less funding and provide an "inferior education" in comparison with "economically similar white districts" (12).

Recruitment by word of mouth also services to discriminate against blacks, Ezorsky continues. Because many blacks do not have ties to white people -- as "family, friends, fellow students, neighbors, or club members" -- African-Americans are outside the loop and outside the channels "…leading to well-paid jobs controlled by the predominantly white referral unions that recruit by word of mouth" (Ezorsky, 15).

University of Southern California professor Laura Pulido explains that "environmental racism" is based on "white privilege" which is a "highly structural and spatial form of racism" (Pulido, 2000, p. 12). In the City of Los Angeles, for example, Caucasians have "…secured relatively cleaner environments by moving away from older industrial cores via suburbanization" (12). This is clearly an example of "white privilege" and it makes a profound contribution to environmental racism, Pulido explains (12).

The professor of American Studies and Ethnicity asserts that whites "…do not necessarily intend to hurt people of color, but because they are unaware of their white-skin privilege, and because they accrue social and economic benefits" by consistently bolstering the status quo of Los Angeles, "they inevitably do" (hurt people of color) (15).

White folks can easily "exonerate themselves of all racist tendencies" because they do not view themselves as having "malicious intentions," Pulido explains (16). A polluting company, for example, decides to locate near a black neighborhood because the property is not expensive. "This is not a malicious, racially motivated, discriminatory act," Pulido goes on, and yet it is "racist" because the decision is made possible "by the existence of racial hierarchy…and undermines the well-being of that community" (Pulido, 16). Hence, environmental racism is another offshoot of modern racism; not blatantly intentional, but profound nonetheless.

President Obama and Modern Political Racism

Granted, as all politicians expect to be attacked, it's an unfortunate part of the electoral process, but because President Barack Obama is African-American, some of the political attacks smack of racism, what one might call modern political racism. Since his election he has been harassed by rumors that he is "not really an American by birth" (Nittle, 2011). The "birthers" (those advocating the idea that Obama wasn't born in America) believe (or profess to believe) that Obama was born in Kenya. Indeed, his father was an African, a Kenyan national, but his parents met and were married in the United States.

Why, after producing a bona fide birth certificate showing clearly that he was born in Hawaii, do his antagonists persist with the rumor that he's not really an American? Nittle quotes New York Times columnist Timothy Egan in this article. The birther movement "…has little to do with reality and everything to do with the strangeness of Obama's background -- especially his race" (Nittle, p. 1).

Former… [END OF PREVIEW]

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