Americans have become more aware of the presence of racial discrimination in recent years.
In January 2015, a Monmouth University Poll found that just 51% of respondents said it was a big problem. That percentage had jumped to 76% by June of this year, another Monmouth poll showed.
However, 29% of white people still say racial discrimination is not a big problem, and 7% of people say it’s not a problem at all.
Systemic racism can be difficult for white Americans to see; we can be blind to overt racism, as well. Many of us move in circles where expressions of racial prejucide rarely surface. Or, at least, we don’t detect the ripples.
Some white people even believe that Black Americans fabricate or merely imagine instances of overt or veiled discrimination.
For other white people, jolts of reality strike here and there that remind us that, yes, overt, individual racism is very real and very distressing.
I received one of those jolts last Monday morning when I opened a voicemail message.
The message, from a man who sounded middle-aged or perhaps older, at first seemed like a garden-variety complaint about our Commentary page. “Just wanted to know why your paper is so one-sided,” the man said. “All Democrat. All Democrat. That’s all you run in that editorial page. That’s all the people you let write letters to your rag. All the hate this, hate that.”
Next, the caller turned to another common, recent complaint from some conservatives — the idea that our newspaper is favoring Black people in its coverage.
“How come you haven’t reported anything about the little boy in North Carolina getting shot in the head? Huh?” the man demanded, his voice rising. “’Cause he was white and it’s a Black guy? Now, if it had been the other way around, I’m sure you’d have reported it.”
The caller, I believe, was referring to the death this month of 5-year-old Cannon Hinnant in North Carolina. A Black man has been charged in the fatal shooting.
Some conservatives have undertaken a social media campaign to draw attention to Cannon’s death because, they argue, it has received too little national media attention compared to coverage of the deaths of Black people at the hands of police.
We often receive complaints that our news judgment diverges from the conservative agenda, so this criticism was no surprise.
What came next was.
“I think it’s time to bring back the Klu (sic) Klux Klan,” the man said. “Oh, yeah. We armin’ up. We armin’ up.”
The caller was on a racist rant now, and he turned his attention to the Democratic presidential ticket and his Second Amendment rights.
“And I’ve already said if that stupid geriatric Joe gets elected with that stupid Aunt Jemima, half n-----Jamaican, I’ll tell that n- — — to come and get my gun,” he seethed. “Come and get it, n-----.”
The caliber of the caller, laid bare now, was reinforced by his conclusion.
“Your rag ain’t worth crap. Neither are you,” the man sneered. “Anyway, go drink a can of Drano.”
Racism is alive in the Madison County area. It is both systemic and personal.
For some, like me, shocking reminders come irregularly. For others, racism is a daily jolt of life-altering reality.