Today NPR had Michael Shermer on Talk of the Nation. On the show he echoed a lot of the things I wrote here about our reaction to Michael Richards. He also just wrote an Op-Ed piece for the LA Times. I’m not interested in Michael Richards, I’m interested in what people think of race in America.
One woman called in to Talk of the Nation to say how she wasn’t a racist, but that she did have prejudices. She said that having prejudices doesn’t make a person a racist.
It seems that for some strange reason people don’t like being called a racist, but they don’t mind admitting that they commit acts of prejudice. When we think racist we think of crosses burning and men marching like idiots while shouting “Sieg Heil.” Yes, those are racists! But are those the only kinds?
Is the store detective that follows the black kid who just walked in (instead of the white kid) a racist? Is she committing an act of racism? Or is she just prejudice? What is the difference? Really, I’m asking?
Does the black kid feel better if the detective just has a prejudice? How is that person not a racist or better than a racist? What difference does that distinction make? We don’t want to call our actions racist because we don’t want to belong to the KKK marching band (and who would?) but they are just the cheerleaders. We are the team.
Shermer ends his opinion piece in the LA Times with a Dostoevsky quote, which I will pass along here
Every man has [thoughts] which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind. (Notes From the Underground)
note: I’ve changed “reminiscences” to “thoughts,” because I think that reminiscences might be a bad translation.
As an interesting side note, there is a test on a Harvard website called Project Implicit which tries to test some of our real feelings. [edit: I seem to have been mislead, this is actually a pretty silly test and doesn’t seem relate to race at all.]