It's such an ugly word, with so much baggage. Some use it for political gain; some dispute its very existence. Most of all, we ignore it.
Last week at a Washington State Supreme Court meeting, the "r word" poked its head out of the sand yet again, as justices Richard Sanders and James Johnson shocked some participants when they stated that African Americans are overrepresented in the state's prison population because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes. They also disputed the view that racial discrimination plays a key role in the disparity.
Before I get all emotional about how my state's most powerful jurists feel about crime and punishment, I'd like to break things down, using some logic:
If what they're saying is fact, that would imply that African Americans are committing more crimes because either they're inherently more evil than other ethnicities, or because they've learned that crime is more lucrative than attempting to find "legitimate" work.
If you believe the former, go ahead and log out of this blog and turn on FOX News, because Glenn Beck's coming on in a few minutes. If you lean toward the latter view, you may be right, but doesn't this shine a harsh light on our society and its disenfranchisement of a huge chunk of America?
Now let's assume that the justices' stance is merely ignorant conjecture, and in reality, the criminal justice system is unfairly stacked against African Americans. This would acknowledge that "institutional racism" is alive and kicking, and these judges don't want to cop to it.
I'm not a sociologist. I'm just a middle-aged guy who lives in the upper left corner of the country, trying to make sense of my surroundings. My city, Seattle, prides itself on its liberal politics, its open mindedness. We love to think that we're some of the most inclusive, tolerant people in the nation.
But really, things are no different than they were fifty years ago. Black people still live predominately in the lower elevation areas of south to south-central Seattle. The white folks live everywhere else, plus any areas with views of water.
We hear people like Rush Limbaugh spouting off about racism having been rendered moot sine the election of our first African American president. And, granted, we no longer see cereal boxes like this:
or restaurants like this:
But here's an indisputable fact—every position I've ever attained has been the direct result of a relationship with a friend or an acquaintance putting in a good word, dating back to my first job as a dishwasher in 1979. And you can say all you want about bootstrap-pulling and earning everything you've gotten, but isn't that just an easy way out?
If we can rationalize that we're all given an equal opportunity to succeed, that we're all viewed by our economic and legal systems as colorless and classless, then we never have to acknowledge that there's a big problem with race in America.
Maybe we can all dig a little deeper.