Most white Americans are blind to their racism. At least seven out of ten. And even those whites who do see it, most think it is not all that serious. Most whites live in nearly all-white neighbourhoods and see nothing racist in that. And when blacks do complain of racism, most whites do not believe it.
So why are whites so blind to their own racism? There is a short answer and a long answer.
The short answer is that they are not directly affected by it. They are never at the receiving end. Because they are white.
So when blacks talk about racism whites either have a hard time understanding it – because it is not something they have ever experienced – or they think blacks are making a big deal out of nothing: they are being too sensitive, they are living in the past and all that.
That is the short answer. The long answer is this:
America was founded on two crimes: taking the land of the red man and bringing the black man in chains to work it. To feel right and good about that whites had to be racist. They had to think of themselves as far better and more human than others.
So not only was the country built on racism, so were the hearts and minds of white people.
Back then racism was open, naked, violent and respectable. So respectable, in fact, that any white person who was was not racist, who related to blacks as equals, was called names or worse!
But then all that changed.
Starting in the 1970s racism became a sin among white Americans. It became kind of like how sex used to be: something you did not talk about openly and when you did you felt uncomfortable about it. It even had dirty words to go with it, especially the n-word. “Racist” became one of the worst things you could call a white person.
Because racism was no longer respectable it weakened considerably. But it was still there, it was still a part of how whites saw themselves and the world – but now they could not admit to it!
So then it got strange:
On the one hand, to hold on to their unfair position and advantages in society, to their white privilege, and feel right and good about it, whites had to believe racist lies. Like that blacks lacked brains or a willingness to work hard.
And yet, on the other hand, they knew that racism was wrong.
So in the 1970s whites reached a fork in the road: either give up racism and its advantages, in pride, position and wealth, or hang onto racism by becoming blind to it.
As it turned out, they gave up some of their advantages, like places at universities, but by and large they became blind. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too.