Opinion » Letter From The Editor

White is the New Black

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Yo, white people. We need to talk. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of Pinot Grigio or sweet tea or whatever. We've got a problem and it's going to take a while to get to the bottom of it. I'm talking about racism in this country.

Not your personal racism, of course. Or mine. We're cool. And not just in that hackneyed, "I have black friends" way. Though, of course, we do. And we've taught our kids not to hate, not to discriminate on the basis of race. They all have black friends, too. More than we do, actually. They're cool. Good, open-minded kids. We're not racists. It's not really our problem.

Yes, it is.

It's not enough to declare ourselves and our families non-racism zones. We need to look at what's going on outside our cocoons and take some responsibility for it. Too many black kids are still being born in situations where they have little to no chance of "pulling themselves up" by their bootstraps. They don't even have boots. Their schools are substandard. Their food is junk. They're trapped in a cycle of poverty and neglect and violence. It's not because they're lazy; it's because they know nothing else.

Yeah, I know, you hear it said all the time: Blacks need to take responsibility for single-parent homes, "black-on-black" crime, poor schools, gangs. That's self-defeating, divisive, and gets us no closer to solving the problem. The power to fix that situation lies with all middle- and upper-income folks, black, white, and brown — those who have escaped the ghetto and those who never had to worry about it. We need to work together to address the effects of institutional racism that still linger in the United States, and in the South, particularly.

And if we are going to insist black people take responsibility for "black problems," we white people need to step up and take of our "white problems." Problems like Dylann Storm Roof and the thousands of kids like him, and the thousands more adults who shape kids like Dylann. They're out there — ignorant and angry, raised on a steady diet of racism and hatred, waving the Confederate battle flag like a cudgel, listening to wing-nut radio, devouring Nazi/racist web propaganda. We white people need to call that shit out. Now.

Getting rid of Confederate flags is a symbolic start, but more is needed. When we hear — or hear of — someone saying or writing such vile things, we need to pull off their hoods (real or cyber) and push them into the light. If your kids' private school or your country club is not diverse, well, maybe it's time to speak up and push for a change. If your kids don't have interactions with other races, don't be shocked when they're caught on a cellphone video singing racist frat songs.

In a radio interview this week, President Obama said, "It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and that attitudes have changed. ... What is also true is the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives ... casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on. We're not cured of it."

No, we're not, as events in Charleston last week made clear.

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