Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Racism is Never, Ever Going Away

Last night, Bill O’Reilly and Bob Johnson, founder of BET, talked race and what the unemployment rate of African Americans can tell us about the state of the black community. The unemployment rate of African Americans is about fourteen percent, nearly double the unemployment rate of whites.

O’Reilly started out by wanting to know why blacks are so enamored of President Obama considering this statistic, and Johnson answered his question but then made another point—the disparity in employment rates between blacks and whites goes back fifty years.

O’Reilly sort of listened, but really he wanted to make his point—that in his opinion the “primary problem in the African American community is out-of-wedlock birth,” which drives poverty.

No doubt there’s some truth to O’Reilly’s view, but as Johnson countered, out-of-wedlock births don’t tell the whole story. Instead, Johnson said, “To me, the principle drivers are the failure of corporate America to hire enough African Americans who are qualified, failure of African Americans to get access to capital to start small businesses, which are great engines for creating employment, and also a legacy of long-term institutionalized racism …” He then cited a statistic that median income for blacks is one-tenth that of whites.


O’Reilly responded, “Do you really believe it’s a skin color issue rather than a performance issue?”

And when I heard that, I got so damn mad, I wished O’Reilly were sitting in my living room so I could ask him, “O’Reilly, do you really believe your stuff is that hot?”


“O’Reilly, do you really believe that whites are so superior to blacks that our median income compared to yours is a mere reflection of our efforts? Do you really, really believe that O’Reilly? Because if you really, really believe that O’Reilly, you are out of your ever-loving mind.”

It’s story time, people. And once my husband reads this he’s going to be good and upset with me, but it won’t be the first time.

Many years ago, I held a birthday party for one of my sons, and of course, his grandparent, my husband’s parents, were invited.

Things were going swell. And then, from all the way across the table, I heard my white father-in law express his anger that his daughters could not find good jobs but that people “like me” were doing fine.


I don’t remember what I was talking about, but I know I stopped talking about it right then and there. I said to my father-in-law, who remember now, was across the room at the other end of the table—

“How dare you? You don’t know anything about the kind of employee I am. You don’t know anything about how competent I am, how much I know, how well I do what I do, or how hard I’ve worked. How dare you suggest that somehow I’ve taken something from your daughters that I don’t deserve?”

And he said, “Maybe I should go home.”

And I said, “Maybe you should.”

And he did. And the next time we got together, a few days later, we pretended that nothing had happened, because that’s how my husband’s family rolls, and that’s okay. Perhaps it’s better than the alternative, even.

But my point is, I’ll admit it. I am very tired of some white folks trying to feed me some horse manure about how black folks only have anything because of affirmative action or quotas or what the hell and those of us who don’t have anything don’t want anything and won’t work for anything. That’s some self-serving bull that keeps certain white people content and feeling good about the status quo. They won’t come right out and say it, but the underlying message is therethey have more because they’ve earned it. They’re better.

No. They. Aren’t.

Am I saying that O’Reilly hasn’t worked for his success? No, I am not. But I am saying that plenty of black people have worked very hard, and they still don’t have much. Worse, some would be willing to work real hard, but they can’t get hired. Or they can’t get promoted. They can’t get a damn break, period.

O’Reilly, you can’t tell me that the unemployment rate for blacks is half that of whites and that’s just the natural order of things, the way it ought to be because whites just got it like that. Please. Tell that crappola to someone who hasn’t worked twenty-five years in corporate America as the only black editor, the only black manager, and the only person of color in the room, often surrounded by many people who didn’t know their rear end from a hole in the ground.

Or, you could just tell it to my father-in-law. He might actually listen.


  1. I somehow happened upon your blog and I love it so far!!! And I absolutely love this post. I experienced a similar situation where I had to counteract the white privilege mindset. I was walking with a friend through her very own neighborhood. I began a conversation about the neighborhood and the living places in our city of black and white people; I especially brought up this topic because I like to probe and provoke the rationale out of people and challenge them on their basis of reason. At one point my friend made a comment to the effect of, "they're just taking over the city." She didn't mean it in a rude way (her privileged mindset has simply never been challenged and I'm sure there is some implicit racism she would deny). So as we walked through her "lower" middle class neighborhood (that had pretty gardens, nice cars in the driveway, clean yards, etc.), I began to point out to her that within every single house that we were passing, lived black families. She was amazed and asked me how I knew. I knew because of how frequently I walked through that neighborhood for many years and gave attention to my surroundings. I challenged her then and asked her, what makes you think that this is YOUR neighborhood, as if they have taken something from YOU? Is this your neighborhood to claim? Only for whites? As if black people ruin the communities they move into? I was so upset but challenged her gently. I will say that it is very hard to change the privileged mindset of a white person because they are so unaware of the privileges, and they are quick to deny it because they have never felt marginalization. The slow change of the mindset is agonizing for me, especially when I see it in my friends who I love dearly.

  2. Hi Kaila!

    I'm thrilled that you're enjoying my blog. That's great to know.

    This issue is indeed a tough nut to crack. Everyone has biases and deeply ingrained beliefs. For example, most of us are students of the "pie" theory of economics, which proposes that resources are finite, not expandable. So if I have more, then by definition you will be left with less. I don't know how true this is. I really do believe that it's possible, through innovation and creativity, to create NEW wealth. I think it's harder than it used to be but still possible. But if you believe differently (and it's a very compelling theory) then you'll begin to think that whatever I have is at your expense.

    Thanks for stopping by, and come back often!