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johnmcwhorterJohn McWhorter, in his Forbes.com article, “Racism In America Is Over” (December 30th 2008), says that the election of a black man as president proves that racism against blacks is no longer a big issue in America. I expect white people to say that sort of thing, yet McWhorter is black.

McWhorter is not saying that racism has gone away completely, that no white person will ever use the n-word again, say. America will continue to be imperfect. But a racism that allows a black man to become president can only be so bad – and, in practice, not bad enough to matter much. It certainly cannot be the main issue or even one of the main issues that affects black Americans. Those who truly want to help blacks should give their attention to other, more important things.

I agree that America has come a long way in the past 50 years and the election of  Obama is a big step on that road, but that does not mean racism no longer matters.

McWhorter’s argument turns on this passage about backward racist white people:

But with Obama’s election we saw that one thing these backward people cannot stop is a black family ending up in the White House. And really, what else were we worried about them affecting? Wasn’t it mostly their effect on elections? Surely we do not care how such people feel about black people, just in and of itself? I don’t, and I can do without a white person worrying for me about how bohunks feel about me. I doubt my feelings are unusual.

What McWhorter assumes: The feelings of white people only matter in so far as it affects their vote and therefore the government and its laws. Racism, the kind that matters, is only the kind that can be outlawed. And since that sort of racism was outlawed in the 1950s and 1960s and since the law is upheld and applied fairly by the courts and the police, racism is no longer a big issue.

A white person or a rich (or very young) black person might be able to believe all that. And it does sound nice on paper. But in practice America is not like that. Certainly not in my own experience in and near New York.

By law employers are no longer allowed to use race in making hiring decisions. But they do.

By law real estate agents are not allowed to show you houses according to your race. But they do.

You can outlaw racism all you want, but if the courts and the police who uphold the law are themselves racist – as they often are – then what? White people might think the courts and the police are pretty much fair, but many black people do not. Who is right?

Also, how many blacks who experience racism, the kind that is against the law, have the time and money to press a lawsuit?

McWhorter lives in America, but it is not the same America I live in.

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