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In bigot versus bigot, white racist is winner

Published Thursday, January 10, 2002

In bigot versus bigot, white racist is winner

''Black people cannot be racist.''

It's been maybe 20 years since the first time I heard some member of the black intelligentsia say that on an afternoon talk show. Naturally, all hell broke loose.

Years later, all hell still awaits repair.

I base that assessment on the response to something I did in a recent column. Namely, I defined racism as ''this practice of demeaning and denying based on the darkness of skin.''

Man, what'd I want to go and say that for? The flood of letters has been unrelenting, dozens of aggrieved Caucasians wanting your poor, benighted correspondent to know that racism, thank you very much, is also felt by those whose skin is not dark at all. Several folks figured I must be one'a them black folk who considers black folk incapable of racism. One individual went so far as to contend that yours truly, like most blacks, hasn't a clue what racism really is.

Well, golly, where to begin?

First, my take on the ''blacks can't be racist'' argument: Unassailable logic, unfortunate rhetoric.

People who make that argument reason as follows: Yes, blacks can be prejudiced or bigoted, but not ''racist'' because racism involves systemic oppression -- the wielding of power. As blacks neither wield power nor control the system, the reasoning goes, it's beyond their ability to be racist.

I get impatient with people who make the argument in those terms, terms that seem, frankly, calibrated to produce more confrontation than insight. Most people who hear the point framed in that way are, understandably, unable to get past those first inflammatory words: ''Blacks can't be racist.''

So let's frame it another way. Let's allow that black folks can, indeed, be racist. Or prejudiced, intolerant, biased, bigoted or any other word that floats your boat. Black people are, after all, members of the human race and, as such, are heir to all the idiocy by which human beings are beset.

But with that established, let's also say this: It's an affront to common sense to suggest there is equivalence between black-on-white bigotry and its opposite. This is the point the black intelligentsia's rhetoric has obscured and people like my correspondents have denied, avoided and ignored. As an aggregate, bigoted blacks have much less power to injure whites than vice versa. They also have less history of doing so. These are incontrovertible facts that render hollow the yowling demands that the racism of blacks be accorded a place in the national consciousness commensurate with that of white people.

Hey, when you find a black bigot, feel free to censure and ostracize him or her as the circumstance warrants. I don't care. Just don't pretend the transgression is what it is not. Don't claim it represents a significant threat to the quality of life of white Americans at large.

Because if it represents such a threat, then where are the statistics demonstrating how black bias against whites translates to the mass denial of housing, bank loans, education, employment opportunities, voting rights, medical care or justice? And please, spare me the anecdote about Jane, who couldn't get into school or Joe, who lost his job, because of affirmative action.

Not the same. Not even close. There are, in fact, reams of statistics documenting that racism has fostered generation after generation of Joes and Janes -- not to mention Jamillas, Rasheeds and Keshias -- in the African-American community. And those numbers come not from the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the Congressional Black Caucus or any other group with an ax to grind but, rather, from the federal government and from university think tanks. Yet even with those bona fides, some people find evidence of white racism's power dishearteningly easy to ignore.

They have to, I suppose. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to continue pretending an equivalency that does not exist. And somewhere inside, even they must recognize that fact.

Put it like this: If given the option of going through life as a white man suffering the effects of black racism or the reverse, I know which one I'd choose.

I bet every one of my correspondents does, too.

Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column runs in Living & Arts every Thursday and Saturday. Call him toll-free at 888-251-4407.

© 2002 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

© 2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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