There’s no racism anymore

writhhten by ARP editor Tami Winfrey Harris

…that’s what my stepson said to me last week when I told him about my new gig at Anti-Racist Parent: “There’s no racism anymore.” I was dumbfounded. Has he not heard his dad and I discussing the race bias in the 2008 presidential race? Did he not spend most of his life in Chicago (one of the most segregated cities I have ever seen) where young black men face profiling by citizens, shopkeepers and police officers? Is he not one of just a few children of color in his school…nuff said?

I offered my son a few examples of ways that racism most definitely does exist, including the fact that one of his teachers, though she grades him fairly, seems to treat him differently due to race. “Well, yeah, there’s that stuff,” he retorted. “But not real racism.”

Now, I don’t want my stepchildren or my nieces and nephews to grow up believing that their race is a barrier to anything.  I don’t want the children in my life to be hypersensitive about race or uncomfortable in situations where they are the minority. But to believe that racism doesn’t exist?

I blame myself a little, or my generation (X), rather. I once discussed this in a blog post:

My generation has to bear some of the blame for the situation we are in. We black GenXers, born roughly 1965 to 1975, are the heirs of the civil rights movement. We thought our parents and grandparents risked their lives and reputations, faced hoses and dogs, shouldered indignities and limitations, so we wouldn’t have to. And for the most part, we don’t have to. We are free to go to prestigious law schools that our parents would never have been allowed into. We can frequent restaurants that would have forbidden service to our grandparents. We can freely exercise our right to vote; hell, some folks are talking about NOT voting in the November election. You know you are free when you can toss away a privilege your ancestors would have died for, that some in fact did die for.

But that’s the point isn’t it. One of my dad’s favorite admonishments to my siblings and I is: “That’s the problem with you all. You think you’re already free.” Now, my dad is not trying to limit my sister, brother and I. He and my mom raised us to believe that we could achieve anything we wanted to. What he is trying to remind us is that while we are enjoying the considerable fruits of his labor, and the labor of others who were involved in civil rights, we shouldn’t falsely believe the battle is won and be lulled into complacency.

And my generation has been far too complacent.

We have failed to take the reins of the civil rights movement, leaving it in the hands of men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and organizations like the NAACP that have failed to adequately address new challenges faced by the black community. We have allowed the old voices to be the only voices heard.

We have failed to fight for our history to be accepted as American history, so that slavery and egregious racism and their continued affect on black Americans is not forgotten.

We have failed to speak up about overt and covert racism and its impact on the lives of African Americans, and we have too often let both “isms” be seen as anomalies in a largely-colorblind world.

I think my generation has been too busy reaping the benefits of the anti-racist work of our parents and grandparents to fight our own battles.

On the other hand, is my situation with my stepson, a matter of differing generational experiences, sort of like the differences between second and third-wave feminists that have been highlighted by the presidential race? Many women like me have scratched their heads as women of our mothers’ generation have railed against sexism in the media and political sphere. We realize that gender bias most definitely exists, but we don’t exactly agree on where and what it is. On “The Today Show,” when Geraldine Ferraro pointed to Barack Obama brushing his shoulders off as an example of sexism against Hillary Clinton, fellow guest and third-waver Rachel Maddow explained that many younger women viewed the gesture as simply a pop culture reference harking to a popular Jay-Z song.

And anyone who has visited the black blogosphere knows that many folks of my generation, while sincerely grateful for the efforts of the civil rights movement of our elders, also believe that many of the previous generation’s views and tactics are no longer relevant in today’s world.

Of course, in both these cases, the disagreement is over the degree of the “ism” and how best to combat it, not whether it exists at all.

I worry about my stepson thinking racism doesn’t exist. He is a teenager and it won’t be long before he faces the world as an adult. I worry that his attitude may put him in harm’s way.  But I could be wrong. I assume his beliefs are based on his experiences and his reality. I have to honor that. Maybe, though I can’t see it now, my son will raise his children in a post-racial world.

What do you say to a teenager who thinks racism is a thing of the past?

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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