Why do we keep insisting that racists are a tiny, insiginificant minority?

Yeah, I know. Yet another thread about race and racism. One of our favorite subjects. I promise this isn’t just about Republicans.

My question is genuine, though. Throughout this campaign season the media (including YouTube) has provided us numerous glimspes into subtle and not-so-subtle racism. One that packed a wallop for me was this segment about Democratic West Virginians and their reaction to Obama. More recently we’ve witnessed scenes like this and this and this. No one says the n-word in any of those clips, to be sure, but the level of vitriol and hatred seems so over-the-top that it makes you wonder if the “n-word” is nonetheless in those people’s hearts and minds.

But I suppose reasonable people can argue that none of the above is evidence that racism is widespread.

Yesterday, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR, which has been doing a series of conversations on race with voters in York, PA. One of the voters said this:

*“I don’t want to sound racist, and I’m not racist,” Moreland says. “But I feel if we put Obama in the White House, there will be chaos. I feel a lot of black people are going to feel it’s payback time. And I made the statement, I said, ‘You know, at one time the black man had to step off the sidewalk when a white person came down the sidewalk.’ And I feel it’s going to be somewhat reversed. I really feel it’s going to get somewhat nasty.”

Moreland says she doesn’t think all black people will “want payback.” “I’m not talking about you, and I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the people that are out on the street looking for trouble. Putting a black man in the White House — and if he gets there, he gets there; I’m going to live under his presidency and everything. And I’m still going to be friends with anybody black that wants to be my friend and everything. But I really feel there’s going to be a time of adjustment. I really feel it. I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong.”*

None of the other panelists chimed in agreement. But damn. It’s not like they pulled these people out of the backwoods somewhere. All of them seem like pretty normal, mainstream, fully functioning adults.

On a daily basis, I read on the Straightdope about someone’s racist coworker/brother/mother/next-door-neighbor/boss/etc. And then I’ll go to a thread in GD and someone will say something like, “Of course, racism isn’t a problem now. Racists are only a tiny, insignificant minority.” They’ll use this as a reason for why we shouldn’t have Affirmative Action or why most discrimination complaints are bogus.

I dunno. It seems to me if everyone’s got a racist uncle and I can turn on the news and hear about Obama Bucks or jerk with “Obama” monkey and someone’s on the radio telling me that I’m going to be uppity if Obama gets elected, then why the holy hell shouldn’t I believe racism is still a major problem? Where do the people who say racists are a tiny, insignificant minority get their evidence from? And what would it take to change their minds? An Obama assassination?

Who really says this? You’re setting up a false premise. The arguments against AA are not that “things are all better now” but that it’s not really constitutional to create a preferred/protected class based on race.

What face is describing is extremely common here, astro, and I’m sure before long many people will show up to defend their position that racism is a vanishingly insignificant problem in this country. (Also, the majority of people who benefit from AA are white women, so it might be more accurate to say ‘a protected class based on social and biological traits’). We even have a few posters who claim that the only racism left is against white people.

Would you care to define “racism”?

There are many arguments against AA. One that is frequently brought up is that it’s not necessary since racial discrimination is not a serious enough issue to warrant corrective policies. Or are you saying the opponents of AA actually believe racial discrimination is rampant, but feel Affirmative Action isn’t the right policy to handle it?

Just a few days ago, this thread was active.

And the archive is full of instance of posters downplaying racism or racist incidents. For a long-time poster like you, I’m sure you’ve participated in at least one or two.

[quote=“Ensign_Edison, post:3, topic:469512”]

What face is describing is …

Even in a virtual community I get confused with my sister. And our names look nothing alike!

I totally called you by your sister’s name. Sorry, monstro.

Edited: And I posted this before I saw your post, I swear!

And so the hand-waving begins.

We know what anti-Semitism is.
We know what classism is.
We know what sexism is.
We even know what terrorism is.

But when it comes to racism, we suddenly start looking for our dusty dictionaries. The concept just goes right over our microencephalic heads.

(Or maybe we damn well know what racism is, but we just like to feign ignorance so that we don’t have to talk about it.)

Let me pose a question to you, brazil. Can we agree that the woman quoted in the OP, despite her silly disclaimer, harbors racist beliefs?

How is that handwaving? I’m just asking you to define your terms.

:shrug: Reasonable people could define these terms differently. If you asked me how common I thought sexism is in the United States, I would first ask you to tell me what you mean by “sexism”

Sure. Now please define your terms.

I would like to point out that a thread about how you encountered no racists today, yesterday, and for the prior three months would be a very boring thread. I am trying to think of the last time I heard an honest to OG racist comment made in real life Not you tube or whatever. I honestly can’t recall.

Well some of us are old enough to remember when racism was a huge problem in this country. Go look up freedom riders, bus boycotts, and some of the other things that happened in the 1950s and 1960s, then tell me again that racism is still a huge problem.
True story, I went to school with a African-American student. He went to a stationary store in Glendale California (which at that time was so white that the American Nazi Party was headquartered there) When he walked in the lady that ran the store told him “I don’t know what you want, but I am sure we don’t have it.” :eek: This was 1967.
Picture a store keeper trying that today without getting their ass handed to them.

This is an outsider’s perspective. I have never lived in the United States. I have visited on numerous occasions which makes me qualified for nothing other than a personal opinion. Another thing, there are problems with racism in Ireland too and in many other societies…

Anyway, I have encountered numerous instances of racism in the United States. I’ve had Ohio Dems telling me they’d never vote for Obama and a Connecticut industrialist telling me he never hires black people because they steal from him. I’ve encountered the Chris Rock inspired spiel about “niggers and black people” from white racists trying to justify the shit they’re spouting. I’ve had to explain to a 70-something year old man that when a black man holds up a convenience store it is not the fault of the entire black community no more than when a white man does the same thing. I was in a bar in Iowa with a black friend of a friend and she said she was terrified to be there. Regardless of reality versus perception the fact that she thought her race would be an issue at all in that setting stood out to me. I’ve also been treated differently while travelling on Greyhound, the only reason I can think for this was because I was the only white person on a packed bus. The people I’ve mentioned above would however be nothing but courteous to anyone in a public setting.

Generally speaking, I don’t know if Americans are more or less racist than most Europeans but Europeans have to live in closer proximity to others. Ethnic enclaves, gated communities et al are less numerous here. I am not conflating people who live in gated communities with racists, just pointing out that there is space in the US to separate oneself and ones peers from the wider community. I also think the issue of race is bound up with that of class. Recent arrivals from South Asia etc. seem (in my limited experience) to integrate more smoothly into American mainstream/white? society than African-Americans.

I fixed the coding in your links, monstro. The quotes were causing all of them to malfunction.

As for the issue of defining terms, I’ll have to admit that it was the first thing I thought when I saw the thread title. I could easily come up with a definition of racism that includes an overwhelming majority of people, and just as easily come up with one that includes only a tiny minority. I’ve been called a racist for opposing racial quotas at workplaces, and I think it’s the quotas that are racist. I think almost everyone would agree that David Duke is a racist, but what about Louis Farrakhan?

Some people see racism everywhere they look. Some don’t see it right in front of their faces. I looked at the Obama Bucks and thought, “Yeah, so?” Obama’s a Democrat, so what’s wrong with putting his face on a cartoon donkey body? It wasn’t until I read the comments that I caught the significance of the watermelon and ribs. And I still don’t get the Kool-Aid reference. And my black friends say that KFC isn’t even real fried chicken :wink: Once it was pointed out to me, yeah, I could see it, but some woman cried for 45 minutes over it? I think that’s an overreaction.

I agree with the OP that the argument is commonly made, not only by conservatives here, that racism is no longer part of the mainstream in this country. And like the OP I don’t think the evidence supports the assertion.

One observation supporting the counterassertion is how common those popular truisms are that emphasize behavioral differences between ethnic groups. I see these truisms used at least as much by members of minority groups as by the majority, but I think in both cases it’s a natural reaction to the extreme social segregation we still see in this country. And whether the segregated social groups exist through choice (I’d say pretty often) or by geographical enclaving (I’d say more often), segregation does still exist within the larger society.

And it’s social integration of minority groups into formerly exlusive occupations and positions which was the goal of the Great Society legislative and executive actions of the 60’s. School busing and AA weren’t intended to suddenly “cure” racism, they were intended to force social interaction and equality of opportunity. Ending racism may have been a desired consequence, but the explicit intention was to eliminate institutional inequality, regardless of popular prejudices. This was unabashed “social engineering”, and still rankles many conservatives and moderates as unfair and possibly unconstitutional uses of governmental powers.

The fact that we’ve seen as a direct consequence of these programs so many improvements in minority access to institutional positions once out of reach to particular groups is often perversely cited as evidence for the “out of the mainstream” argument and used to support the assertion that desegregation efforts are relics of an older America and no longer needed. But few who use these arguments would advocate a return to “separate but equal”, and there’s a very good reason for this, IMO. As long as the separation exists in society, the equality part is unworkable.

And while it’s certainly not just the majority groups who are responsible for the separation, or who must work toward integration, it’s a reasonable argument that the perceptions and expectations of different and scary behavior cited in the OP won’t disappear as long as we keep these racial social groupings alive.

Racism is the belief that a person’ racial categorization, whether by biological or cultural means, endows recognizable and permanent qualities on that individual’s character, intellect, and worth. Furthermore, racism carries the presupposition that individuals can be accurately judged and ranked based on their group affialiation, and that groups can be accurately judged and ranked based on the qualities associated with them.

The fact that you agree with me about the woman in the OP indicates that you already have a definition of racism. So I’m left wondering why you want me to lay out my “terms”.

(sorry the above is addressed to brazil.)

I don’t know how widespread racism is throughout the country as a whole; I just know what my own experiences are with it (very limited, even growing up in a rural part of the south). It’s been my experience, though, that racists usually aren’t afraid to admit to their racism. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think we’re going to have a Bradley effect here – this entire election has become a huge deal, and has brought folks from just about every social group there is out of the woodwork to speak their mind. IMO, we’ll see a result similar to the polling numbers out now, because the only true racists left are the ones who aren’t afraid to say so on camera, on the phone, or anywhere else.

YMMV, of course.

It’s funny you should mention this. I work for a state agency, and it’s not unusual for my coworkers to travel in very remote, rural areas. One of my coworkers (a white guy) was telling me how he went into a gas station once and while he was paying, a “swarthy” guy pulled up in front one of the pumps. The cashier looked him through the window anxiously and mumbled something about “goddamn spics”. Of course, if the guy had stepped into the store, he probably would have been met with a smile and a “Come back real soon!” But behind his back, he was a goddamn spic.

And it’s also funny you should say that the store keeper would get his ass handed to them. When was the last time you’ve read a thread in the Pit where the OP talks about handing a racist’s ass over to them? 99% of the time, the OP stays silent.

I once encountered a guy who called all the blacks in my town “niggers who just have sex and do drugs”. I stayed silent too. I was giving him a ride in my car and I couldn’t hand him anything except a shrug. And I’m black! What does that say about me? I don’t know, but I know it sure doesn’t say anything about racism not being a problem.

Because I’ve got one racist uncle, and lots and lots that aren’t racist. Okay, it’s a racist sister-in-law, and even the parents that raised her and her two brothers are all not-racist. We’re not sure how she got broken. So, of husband’s family and my family, we’ve got one racist and 20 not racists. Add in the people I hang out with on a regular basis, and we’ve got one racist and 50 not-racists. Add in the peers in my classes, and we’ve got one racist and 90 not racists. Almost nobody I know personally is racist, and so the problem *does *appear vanishingly small to me. Her racism stands out in my mind *because *it’s so rare in my experience.

Those reporters are looking for those people who are controversial and will say controversial things. It makes a better story. Newspapers don’t report on common things, they report on *uncommon *ones. For every racist on their panel, they questioned and rejected a dozen or more not racist people, I would wager.

But, I should also add, I’m working from a slightly different definition of “racist” than you are. As far as I’m concerned, what people think is their private business, and if they can work with, socialize with and be cordial to someone regardless of their race, I’m seeing them as not racist. Maybe they are all secretly attending Klan rallies in their hearts (or after hours when I don’t see them) but if I don’t know about it, it doesn’t feed my world view.

For one thing, it’s rather silly to argue over the prevalence of “racism” if we both have different, undisclosed definitions of “racism.”

In any event, the woman you quoted doesn’t appear to be making any judgment about the “worth” of black or white people. So by your definition, she would not be expressing a racist belief.

Racism is a part of human nature, so it’s very difficult* to eradicate. We can put lots of social stigma on things that are innately human, but that’s not necessarily going to keep them too far from the surface. So I would say that the nature of racism has changed significantly in my lifetime (I’m about 50), and it is much less dangerous, but it’s never going to go away.

*“very difficult” translated from the Japanese means “impossible”

Remember that thread Kim the Rhymer posted in grief about her husband Skald, being lynched after kissing her in public, on account of him being black and her looking white? It went on for 432 pages. The entire Dope mourned my death and the subsequent loss of my usually-snarky responses. At the end of it, no fewer than three female Dopers announced plans to commit suicide in grief, and the Tolkien brigade over in CS (led by Qadgop and his chief lieutenant, Malacandra) declared their intention to avenge me, sparking a renewed war between the Dopers and the Orcs.

Wait…I’m not dead, am I?

:: checks pulse ::

Never mind.


Racism still exists but is no longer socially acceptable in most contexts, and is generally hidden as a result where it still exists. Most people AREN’T racist. Bigots ARE tiny minority.