Wednesday, July 05, 2006


You don't fight racial stereotypes with more racial stereotypes. You fight racial stereotypes by making clear you recognize people of all races as individual human beings, and by setting an example for others to encourage them to do likewise. Indivividual human beings are responsible for their own actions, but the race they are a member of is not responsible.

June 21, 2007


We all are fundamentallly members of the human race more than of any individual race. Growing anthropological and DNA research suggests common ancestors with the unlikeliest people: Al Sharpton, for instance, appears to be a cousin of Strom Thurmond. That the 1948 States Rights Party candidate, Thurmond, is likely related to the 2004 black insurgent Democrat makes for one of the oddest political family dynasties on record or imaginable.K. Leroy Irvis--the wisest and most articulate and most eloquent of the one thousand or so legislators with whom I have served in the Pennsylvania legislature and a leader of civil rights demonstrations in Pittsburgh while Martin Luther King was a student--was a big proponent of the theory of The Human Race. He had researched his ancestry long before it was fashionable to do, and had learned he had Dutch, English, and Indian ancestors as well as African ones. Irvis gave numerous speeches while in the legislature and in his retirement about The Human Race and the problems it faced, but I cannot remember a single instance where his theme was picked up by others. The vast majority of people seem comfortable with their racial identities, and are reluctant to even subtly challenge them.But race is to a major degree a social construct. Around the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries--and long before that--people in the United States often considered Jews, Irish, Italians, Poles, and others to be members of separate races. What we now consider to be religious intermarriage--a generally boring topic today--was considered by many to be very similar or equivalent to the then hot topic of racial intermarriage.A whole field of sociology asks and seeks to answer the question of how diverse ethnic groups then considered to be separate races gradually over time came to be considered to be white. The intriguing subtext of these inquiries is whether or not it is possible for black people to someday be considered white.


A racist is not an amateur sociologist who studies the prevalence of different traits among members of different races.A racist is a person who believes that one race is composed of superior people who are entitled to special rights and privileges by virture of their race and other races are composed of inferior people who are entitled to neither legal rights nor respect from people of the best race.Racists see people as stereotypes and not as individuals.Racists look to make a case for the inferiority of the race or races they dislike, without much if any attention to reality.

September 17, 2006


I have no doubt that there is more friendly interaction and mutual respect between people of different races than there used to be. Racial polarization in elections is at an all-time low. More white people are accepting the idea that there might be desirable housing in predominantly black neighborhoods than ever before, and far fewer white people desire to sell their houses because a black neighbor moved in than ever before.That being said, there still are obvious signs of cultural differences and mutual discomfort. I continue to be struck by the large numbers of events that I attend that are either virtually all white or virtually all black--from professional events to lobbying events to community events to funerals. There clearly are a good number of people who feel uncomfortable attending events where the vast majority of the crowd will be from a different race, or that are held in a neighborhood generally populated by people of a different race.Both white people and black people have complained to me about the general officiousness of various sales clerks. Sales clerks are often temporary employees who are under great pressure to see that there is no shoplifting.Many black people believe that they are under suspicion the minute they enter various stores, and that they are made uncomfortable by pressure from sales clerks. I would hope that stores would recognize this and in their own interest find other ways to discourage shoplifting without discouraging shopping.

June 14, 2006


Judging all of Northeast Philadelphia by the attitudes expressed by some is as wrong as judging all people of a race, religion, national origin, etc. by the worst behavior of some group members.People of different races share many common problems and have many common aspirations. Focusing on the common good for all people can unite people of different races, incomes, occupations, neighborhoods, etc. Generally speaking, Northeast Philadelphia--like other Philadelphia neighborhoods--could use more leadership focused on problem solving and a lesser focus on scapegoating for existing problems.

May 11, 2006

Focus on Racial Differences Rarely Leads Anywhere
Throughout my life, I have known various people of different races who were at least extremely focused--and sometimes obsessed--with questions and grievances about the behavior of people of one or more other races. When they were in this mode, they had very limited effectiveness in doing much about their grievances.To the degree they were able to surmount a fixation on racial differences, they were able to have a much greater positive effect. Treating people of other races as people--as opposed to treating them as targets--can allow one to influence their behavior to some degree. It can also allow one to find allies of all races to deal with problems such as rundown housing, excessive noise, kids running around without adult supervision, etc.Forty and fifty years ago, when a black family moved into a white neighborhood, dozens of houses would quickly go up for sale; when a second black family moved, scores more would up for scale; when a third black family moved in, there would hundreds more up for sale. This kind of panic selling undermined real estate values and led to massive and virtually immediate changes in the composition of neighborhoods.This is not happening in Northeast Philadelphia today. Neighborhood change is happening at a much slower rate, and is influenced far more by deaths and job-related residential changes than by the fears that motivated so many in the past. We should use the time that we now have to work to build bridges among the ever-changing composition of groups in Northeast Philadelphia. The fact of change is nothing new: there were few Jews or people of Italian descent in Northeast Philadelphia before World War II, and many veterans of Northeast Philadelphia can recall with great specificity when the first person of many ethnic groups moved into their block.

Post Date 5.11.06


Dissident74--in post 15--had the best one-liner I have ever seen on the subject of racism, when he said that "Racism is misdirected anger." I think he is absolutely right on this.We can all go to dictionaries to get definitions of what racism is, but many interactions of daily life do not fit clearly either inside or outside the various definitions. Being justifiably angry at any person is not racism, but extrapolating that anger towards an entire race of people is. There is not a tremendous need in our society for people to become what could be called "racism police." What there is a tremendous need for is people willing to make a determined effort to get along with, come to understand, and be friends with people of other backrounds, including, but not limited to, people of other racial backrounds.There is a lot to be angry about in Philadelphia. The genuine problems of Philadelphia are a key reason why there has been significant middle class flight out of the city, and out of other cities. Introspection about one's personal attitudes can be personally useful, but an accusatory tone towards others is generally less useful than finding ways to work together, play together, and live together, and encouraging others to do likewise.There have been vast improvements in my lifetime. When I was a young man, many people used to express great fear of miscegnation (racial intermarriage) and use that fear to justify racial hostility. Today, I would guess that many people on this blog never even heard of that term.People are conflicted about issues of race. Period. People know people of other races who fit racial stereotypes, and people of other races who do not fit racial stereotypes. Knowing people over time usually leads to the discovery that sometimes they view things in a stereotypical way, but most times they do not.The late Philadelphia Mayor and School Board President Richardson Dilworth occasionally used inflammatory language himself out of his frustration with racial problems. In the mid-1960's, when people were talking about quick solutions to racial problems, he warned that racial problems were so serious that "it could take 30 years to solve them." Of course, his dire prediction then seems wildly optimistic today.Around the beginning of the 20th century, when my grandparents were getting their naturalization certificates, race was a far more inclusive concept than it is today. People from Ireland and Italy and Jews, for instance, were all considered to be people of different races. Gradually, over time, it came to be accepted that people from Ireland and Italy and Jews were, in fact, white.My hope is that, sometime in the future, people of all races will somehow be considered just to be people. My legislative hero, the late House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis, used to talk repeatedly of "the human race." It is time for moreand more of us to start thinking in these terms rather than becoming what centenarian African-American leader Samuel Evans refers to as "warring tribes."

May 12, 2006


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