The Difference Between Racism and a Racist

With all that this national Democratic primary race has come back again and again to the issue of race, there have been some undeniably deep wounds created in the process. There are a lot of hurt feelings going around, especially among those people in the Clinton camp who believe they’ve had their core values questioned. In the interest of perhaps bridging the gap between Clinton and Obama supporters, it is worth noting that there is a difference between racism and a racist.

Geraldine Ferraro does not consider herself to be a racist. This much is – to the Clinton campaign’s enduring chagrin – painfully obvious. And after all, Mrs. Ferraro has been a long-standing, good Democratic/Liberal soldier. I am sure that, if a bill came to the floor that sought to redress the injuries of black Americans, she probably voted for it. If a minority sought office where there had never been a minority, I’ll bet she encouraged them. Whatever the interpretation of her words about Obama, I am sure Mrs. Ferraro quite believed that she was celebrating the age of opportunity into which we may hope we are now passing.  It is certain in the way she went out again and again to defend herself that she was genuinely perplexed by the offense taken to her statement.

Indeed, I am sure Geraldine Ferraro is not a racist, and neither are most people racists who have been accused of making offensive racial statements. David Duke; Strom Thurman; these men are racists, and it’s actually a fairly high bar (or low, if you prefer) to pass if you’re looking to qualify. But just because you don’t walk around with Nazi symbols on your jacket does not mean you know everything there is to know about what offends people of other races and ethnicities. Just because you have not gone out of your way to disenfranchise someone of a different ethnic background does not mean that you have not unwittingly done so somewhere along the line, nor that you are incapable of doing so in the future.

Because racism – like sexism, like age discrimination, like religious discrimination, like a lot of things – is born more often than not out of the simple, everyday ignorance of which we are all guilty.  Sometimes, it’s genuine ignorance of fact, other times, it’s boneheadedly-clumsy speech as in the David Schuster “pimping” comment or Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson monolouge.

And in either case, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes or assumptions.  However unwitting an act of racism may be, it does harm.  In either case, it cannot go unaddressed.

But to be called out for saying something racist is not the same as being called a racist.  Had the Clinton campaign or Mrs. Ferarro chosen to take the criticism and moved on, the charges of racist statements would doubtless have been less damaging to the campaign.  To instead defend yourself as not being a racist just misses the point.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

7 replies on “The Difference Between Racism and a Racist”

Tom, that was a very nice piece. We do have a huge race problem in the country, but as you said – the main problem stems from each of our ignorances the the big picture. I know a lot of people who say a lot of racist shitty things, but who are not racists. They’re just ignorant, or they’re trying to sound cool or funny. I’ve only come to know a small number of people in my life who are truly racist.
The problem that I wrestle with personally, is how to deal with them.

Say the racist a family member that you love and respect, but who sometimes says things that shake the very core of your beliefs – and you dare not get into an argument over it because you might never speak again.

What if it’s someone you’re not related to but it’s someone you work with and otherwise have no problems with…

Dealing with race is hard – but as a quick look into history shows, that’s fairly obvious.

I guess I just wonder how long it will take before the issue isn’t really an issue anymore – and that’s coming from a white guy…

Racism is not caused by ignorance. Again, racism is not caused by ignorance.

Whites racists are that way because of the experiences they have had with blacks. It’s not because Whites are ignorant of blacks or black culture. Instead, it is because Whites are keenly aware – from experience – of blacks’ contempt for Whites. Blacks routinely commit crimes against Whites – that’s another reason Whites are racists. It is a natural, rational reaction to the treatment Whites have put up with from blacks.

To dismiss racism as solely Whites abusing blacks is ridiculous. Most other ethnic groups in the U.S. distrust blacks, too. No matter if it’s Latinos in Texas or Asians in California, people who live around blacks want to move away as fast as they can. And it’s not because other groups want to copy Whites’ attitudes or actions. Rather, it’s because from experience other groups have learned that blacks have contempt for all people and will victimize anybody and everybody.


Thank you for reading and thank you for your comments.

However, to simply lay all blame at the feet of the black population of this country is at least as wrong as to lay it at the feet of all white people. By the way, I did not blame white people at all in this article. If you got that impression, it is likely because you feel attacked. You are not alone.

You point out that, “Most other ethnic groups in the U.S. distrust blacks, too.” All people of those ethnic groups? Or just some of them? And do you distrust other ethnic groups? Do they distrust you?

Trust is something you earn. I wouldn’t ask you to trust a black person or a hispanic person simply because they’re of a given ethnic group. It would be folly to think that you can *distrust* a person simply because of their ethnic background. You may never realize that in your life, but I hope you do.

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