My wife and I had dinner with a friend recently. She was talking about the conflicts she feels as a liberal living in the SF bay area.
One thing she discussed was the more or less unconscious bias she often experiences when she interacts with black and brown people. Especially black and brown people who don't appear to share her socio-economic position.
What is that?, she wondered. Where does it come from? She has no animus or malice toward black or brown people, very much the opposite. But still, the noticing of skin color, and the adjustment of how to interact with them.
I suggest that it is, quite simply, racism. If you respond to people differently because of their skin color, that is racism.
But I don't like to use that word, she says. It implies hatred.
And that, says I, is the problem. If we can't call it racism because that means we're some kind of Nazi or Klansman, then what do we call it? If we can't give it a proper name, how do we address it?
IMO racism isn't about hating people, although some folks will add that in for good measure. It's about making assumptions about people, responding to people, interacting with people differently based on the color of their skin.
Does it matter, if there isn't hatred involved. Yes, I think it does. Because people perceive how you perceive them. And being perceived as different in a way that needs special treatment - whether it's animus, or the kind of weird walking-on-eggs deference that Liberals Like Me often adopt, or whatever form it might take - it harmful to people.
Not harmful like the imminent threat of bodily harm kind of harmful. Harmful like undermining your sense of being a person harmful.
But wait, doesn't this make almost all of us racists at some level? Yes, I suspect it probably does. I can't imagine how anyone could grow up in the US and not imbibe at least some of our historical legacy with their own mother's milk. I don't know how you'd escape it.
So, if everyone or almost everyone is sorta-kinda racist, does it even matter? Yes, I think it does.
IMO we need to stop thinking about racism as being solely about nazis and Klan rallies. I.e., solely about hate. We need to recognize it as our legacy as Americans, and perhaps as humans. We need to see it in ourselves, when it's there, which it probably is. And we need to acknowledge it and stop trying to pretend it ain't there.
If we can get that far, maybe we can even get beyond it. But getting beyond it is not in the cards as long as we can't own it. And we can't own it if we can't acknowledge and talk about it.
And we won't be able to acknowledge and talk about it if it automatically carries the stigma of hate.
It's not that hate isn't part of it, and it's certainly not that hate doesn't deserve it's own measure of approbrium. But hate surely is not the whole of it, nor is hate the only source of harm in it.