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Good, racist people

Good, racist people

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, writes in the New York Times as a guest columnist on the frisking of actor Forest Whitaker.

Whitaker, an African American, was accused of shoplifting at a deli by an employee and promptly frisked, when in reality he had done nothing.


The owner of the restaurant later apologized, claiming that the employee was a decent man who, in doing his job, made a mistake. Coates, who believes the owner, has been agonizing as to whether or not to continue patronizing the deli that just happens to be in his neighborhood:

The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.

But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.

I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

The other day I walked past this particular deli. I believe its owners to be good people. I felt ashamed at withholding business for something far beyond the merchant’s reach. I mentioned this to my wife. My wife is not like me. When she was 6, a little white boy called her cousin a nigger, and it has been war ever since. “What if they did that to your son?” she asked.

And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.

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Doug

I think the real racists are the ones who don't realize their own racism. I know that even though I really try, and I feel that I would like to not be a racist, I constantly catch myself with ideas that I deem to be racist, or homophobic, or any number of less than progressive idea.s. I think the difference is that those (like Stephen Colbert? 😉 who say" Oh, I am not a racist. are the ones who are more likely to be so. It is much easier to point out the splinter in someone else's eye than to recognize the mote in your own!

Doug Spurlin [added by ed.]

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Toepferblue

Be sure to read his follow up post on the Atlantic site too:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/03/good-people-racist-people/273843/

He writes: "If we accept that racism is a creation, then we must then accept that it can be destroyed. And if we accept that it can be destroyed, we must then accept that it can be destroyed by us and that it likely must be destroyed by methods kin to creation. Racism was created by policy. It will likely only be ultimately destroyed by policy.

"That is hard to take. If Forrest Whitaker sticks out in that deli for reasons of individual mortal sin, we can castigate the guy who frisked him and move on. But if he -- and others like him -- stick out for reasons of policy, for decisions that we, as a state, have made, then we have a problem. Then we have to do something beyond being nice to each other."

Laura Toepfer

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Rod Gillis

Prophetic article. It strikes a chord. Canada has a major set of issues around racism and First Nations Peoples (Native North Americans). We've got our own apartheid thing going here. The many issues in the media related to First Nations issues has really drawn out the racist rhetoric.

"The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion."

True indeed.

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