A person who knew my story would probably say that I was naive about race when I was younger. At the undergraduate institution that I attended, I was taking a Winter Term class. I was arguing against affirmative action, saying that people should be hired based on their qualifications, not their race. My professor asked me, “Do you seriously think that an African-American woman has the same shot as you do in life?” I sincerely answered “yes.”
Years later, at a graduate school that I attended, I was talking about race with an African-American friend. The year 2000 was approaching, and Democrat Bill Bradley was running against Al Gore for the Democratic nomination for President. My friend was continually saying that he was supporting Bradley because Bradley was sensitive to the issue of race and racism. I then asked him, “Is racism still a problem?” My friend was surprised that I even asked that question, and he launched into a lecture about racism, the problems of the inner-city, hate crimes, and the list goes on.
I’ve thought to myself more than once: What exactly did I believe back then? I know that I wasn’t completely unaware of the problems of the inner-city. That wasn’t my world, but I knew about those problems, on some level. As a conservative, I supported school choice as a way to get poor African-American children out of inner-city schools, showing that I believed that inner-city schools were not particularly good. I supported enterprise zones, showing that I was aware that poor areas needed investment if people there were to rise economically. To believe that way, I had to be aware that it wasn’t easy for everyone, everywhere to pull himself or herself up by his or her own bootstraps, that there were places that lacked opportunities. Still, for some reason, when I watched a news special about African-Americans protesting outside of a Korean-owned store in their neighborhood, I wondered how they could persecute that nice, hardworking Korean man. I was unaware of their perspective: they wanted African-American-owned businesses in their neighborhood, not businesses owned by people of other races or ethnic groups.
Quite frankly, I cannot account for my worldview back then. Maybe I felt that there were African-Americans in the inner-city, but that the fact that many were not demonstrated that racism was no longer a problem. On whether or not I believed that an African-American woman had the same shot that I did, perhaps I thought that an African-American woman could be like Claire Huxtable, if she worked hard enough. After reading for Black History Month this year, it did interest me that African-American women on average do economically better than African-American men.
I also think that there was a part of me that saw racism as individual prejudice, not as something that is systemic. When my African-American friend was talking about the murder of James Byrd, I was definitely compassionate about what happened to James Byrd, but I did not know what that had to do with me. Of course it’s wrong to kill someone on account of his race! Most white people would agree that this is wrong! But what I did not realize was that individual prejudice could lead to systemic racism: people’s individual attitudes influence whom they hire, for example.
I’m kind of struggling to write this post, so I will call it quits here. I do not know what it is like to be black in America, but hopefully I learned more by reading the books that I did this month.