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Listening to non-white communities (part one)

Eighty seven percent of the black community reported dissatisfaction with George Zimmerman being acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Black authors, poets, musicians, and comedians tell us, through their respective art forms, that racism is alive and well. Research continues to find that racism negatively affects the black community today. Yet, there are debates about whether racism still exists. The question arises, why is there still doubt about the existence of modern day racism?

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 19: Kelauni Cook waits in line to ask a question during a town hall style meeting hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton to address gun violence that is plaguing many of the city's African American neighborhoods on December 19, 2013 in Chicago,
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

In his book Race, Studs Terkel interviewed a Japanese American couple who were sent to internment camps during the Second World War. The couple speaks of racism in the United States,

'I think racism today has gone underground. It’s more covert…harder to detect. In the Japanese community…. white people were viewed as being dominant, someone you learned to cope with…. I get a strong whiff of racism directed toward other people, because they recognize me as not being black. They (whites) feel free to express their opinions…We’re considered the model community. When we were being put in camps, during the war, a substantial number of us said, ‘We’re opposed to discrimination, but if the government orders us to be put away, we’re going to support it and cooperate.’ This is an attitude the white majority loves. What could be a better, more American attitude, to say ‘Please don’t discriminate against us, but if you do, it’s okay?’

As white people, we will not be able to see the racism that exists today unless we determine to look for it. However, we do not want to look. We don’t want to see. It’s disheartening. We feel powerless, or ashamed. We think to ourselves, ‘We are busy. Other people are working on it. The laws have changed. Maybe the black community is just making it up. Maybe it’s just an excuse. At some point people are just going to have to get over it. What am I supposed to do about it, I am nice to everybody.’

In other words, facing racism can feel paralyzing. After all, that is what racism does, it paralyzes. It traps. It divides. We cannot remain paralyzed. We have to continue to look. We have to find a way to move through it.

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