It does not come from television – though that does not help – it comes from the past.
It comes from the days when whites had blacks as slaves. For whites to feel good about keeping them as slaves they had to believe certain things about black people.
If they believed that blacks were their equals then making them into slaves would be a crime. But if whites were better than blacks then making blacks into slaves was a good thing. White people made that argument back then.
So it became a convenient lie, a lie that much of American society was built on.
Skin colour was not used as an excuse till the 1660s. Before that it was religion. So having slaves came first, the lie came second.
The trouble was only half of America was built on that lie. So in the North you had people like Lincoln and others who wanted to free the slaves. They saw it for the crime that it was.
But the slaves were freed long ago and, besides, most white people come from families that never owned slaves – either they are not from the South or their families were too poor back then to own slaves. So why did the lie live on?
It lived on among whites, and lived on most powerfully among poor whites, because it kept them from being at the bottom of society. If blacks were not at the bottom, they would be. So the lie helped them. It helped them to find work and feed their families.
It lived on among well-to-do whites too, though not as strongly. They needed the lie not so much to feed their families but to feel good about living in a country where blacks were at the bottom.
By and large people do not sit down and come up with their beliefs about society for themselves and then go out to right its wrongs. Instead they barely think about it at all – they just believe whatever their parents and teachers and television tell them. But their parents, teachers and television have already made their peace with society as it is – and its lies, which they pass on to the young.
Some whites have experiences growing up that make them question such beliefs about race, but most do not. Their world is too white to begin with for that.
Racism does not seem to be as strong among young whites as old ones. That is because the civil rights movement made white America question its beliefs and change to some degree. The growth of the black middle class and unskilled labour pouring in from Mexico and elsewhere also makes the lie less necessary than it was. But it is far from dead.