Someone left a noose inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post)
It’s time people stopped waiting for a conversation about race in America. We are not a country that likes to talk things out.
What would that conversation look like anyway? Would African-Americans get to sit in a circle and lash out at white people about all the injustices they have inflicted on us, beginning with slavery? Would white people then see the error of their ways and fall on their knees to ask for forgiveness? And when the conversation is over, would we all leave the room and live harmoniously ever after?
No. That’s never going to happen.
I commend LeBron James for speaking out about racism after someone spray painted the N-word on the gate leading to his mansion. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar reminded us that it’s tough being black in America and that no matter how successful blacks become, they are never able to shed the cloak of their race.
It was powerful statement but, in effect, he was preaching to the choir.
There is not a black person in America who doesn’t know that the odds are stacked against us. And the white people who agreed with James already know it too. The people who would benefit most from this revelation are the ones who don’t give a damn.
So where does that leave us? Exactly where we started.
I’m not saying that we should stop discussing race altogether or that we shouldn’t shine a spotlight on malicious acts of racial intolerance. Of course, it’s unacceptable when someone leaves a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture or defaces someone’s home with racial epithets.
And anyone who commits a race-related crime should be prosecuted. We must have no tolerance for incidents such as the one that occurred on a train last week in Portland, where a suspect fatally slashed two men and injured another who came to the aid of two young women being attacked with racial slurs.
Such instances are symptoms of a deeply rooted problem in America called racism. This is not a word I use freely. It’s a much too serious infliction to toss around every time something unfair or unpleasant happens to a black person.
Racism is cunning and pervasive, a sickness that can take on many forms and spread quickly if not put in check. It also is an illness that cannot be cured unless the sufferer chooses to be healed.
There is evidence that racism has peaked since the election of President Donald Trump. Perhaps some Americans have just become more aware of it. Whatever the case, it’s useless for blacks to keep harping on how painful it is. The racists aren’t listening.
Inflicting pain is exactly what they intended. Once we succumb to it, the racists have achieved their goal.
As for myself, I choose not to surrender to defeat. I don’t spend my energy lamenting the hurt of being called the N-word or any of the countless derogatory terms people spew at me whenever my column appears. I allow their words to flow off my back like the spray of water from a shower.
Words and graffiti, you see, are not our biggest issues. There are greater aspects of racism that deserve our full attention.
Like the soaring rate of black unemployment in America, at 8.1 percent by the end of 2016, almost twice the rate for whites. Illinois led the nation that year with 12.7 percent.
Judicial racism allows for sentencing disparities that land too many young black males in jail for minor drug violations. And when they come out and apply for jobs, they are denied because of their criminal records.
Educational racism allows failing schools to become a staple of low-income black communities, churning out poorly trained students who are ill prepared for life, much less the workforce.
Housing racism allowed cities to restrict minorities to certain parts of the city for decades, forbidding them from renting and buying homes in more stable communities. And racism is what continues to support that system of segregation, clustering crime and poverty in the most neglected neighborhoods.
Racism is what allows some people to pretend that racism doesn’t even exist. It is what convinces them that so many black people are jobless and poor because they are lazy. It is what allows some people to close their eyes to the systemic inequities in our country that sentence the most disadvantaged to failure while the most fortunate flourish.
If you are not African-American, I ask of you one thing: Do not pity me because I am.
Yes, it’s tough being black in America. But we are strong and defiant people — because we’ve always had to be.
We will never stop fighting racism. And you are welcome to join us if you like.