This week a high school kid in Florida is being debased on social media for making light of cotton picking slaves. Last week, it was a Starbucks employee calling police on two men hanging out in the store. In San Luis Obispo, university administrators, students and parents are in a feud over a photo of a fraternity member in blackface.
If those are the worst examples of America’s “racism” today then we ought to celebrate our progress as a society; as those are quite benign and harmless examples compared to the overt and institutionalized racism underlying the Tuskegee experiments, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and Jim Crow laws.
Racism does still exist, and likely always will even after humanity blends into a shade of soft tan, but those every-day examples on Instagram are not it, and not worthy of national hysteria. We need to stop confusing excusable ignorance for malicious bigotry. Reacting viscerally to every instance of the former is akin to vacating our homes every time the fire alarm chirps, despite the obvious lack of heat or smoke.
Growing up in the San Diego suburbs in the ’80s, I was one of just a handful of immigrants at my high school. Except, I wasn’t an immigrant. I was born here. We used to joke that there were only two black guys at my high school, and I was one of them. In a sense it was true, there were only a few of us non-white-skinned students back then on campus. That some kids thought my brown skin meant I was not an American was ignorance, not racism. In playground angst, I was once or twice called a “sand-N-word” or “Ahab.” That was ignorance, not racism.
Even though it offended and hurt me — and sometimes the memory still stings — that does not make it racism, nor those boys and girls racist.
As a society, we run the risk of losing the signal in the noise when we take every instance that is possibly offensive and tasteless in reference to a minority and line it up in the public square for beheading.
Those kids at my school were not racist then, nor are they now. Their juvenile thoughts were easily reformed. Ignorance is like Play-Doh, soft and easily reshaped through any sort of handling, whereas racism is hard and solid like a kiln-dried ceramic vessel. Any attempts to reshape the racist are…