By Jay Kirell
The way we see racism today in America is, in a lot of ways, like how we see icebergs.
The Cliven Bundys of the world, the Donald Sterlings of the world, the Paula Deens of the world – those type of folks occupy the visible part of bigotry and racial superiority. The tiny portion of the wealthy and famous who somewhere along the line said something in front of a microphone that they normally reserve for private conversation.
These type of individuals make it so easy to all of us to feel better about ourselves because we can look at them and see living, breathing caricatures of what we’ve been conditioned NOT to be like. Then we all watch as their public trial drags them through the dirt, we toss a few stones at them and once their punishment has been handed down we high-five each other and go back to debating sports or politics or tv shows until the next unlucky fool decides to open their mouth.
All the while the real bulk of the racism iceberg just floats right on by, silently, under the surface.
Because for every Cliven Bundy opening his mouth and waxing poetic on the virtues of slavery, there are thousands of hiring managers nobody knows the names of who stuff job applications from minorities into the trash in favor of white candidates.
Because for every Donald Sterling caught on tape airing his discomfort around black people, there are hundreds of CEO’s around America who sit in all-white board rooms.
Because for every Paula Deen fumbling through longing memories of the old south, there are dozens of election officials in various states who are perfectly content to let minority communities wait in line for hours to vote…as long as they have a valid ID when they eventually get to the front of the hours-long line.
Because while Bundy, Sterling and Deen are the tiny Billboard Racists that make up the tip of the racial iceberg – it’s the structural restrictions, the day-to-day interactions minorities experience from non-famous people and faceless institutions, that make up the bulk of the problem.
This iceberg is huge and stretches from coast to coast, and on so many levels it is criminal that its allowed to be such a huge part of our lives, yet willfully ignored by the media and national leaders until the Billboard Racists catch national attention.
It is criminal, but unlike most crimes, investigating racism without the benefit of a tape recording or video evidence is rather difficult.
If you want to investigate a burglary, you look for fingerprints.
If you want to investigate a rape, you look for DNA.
If you want to investigate a murder, you look for physical evidence.
But if you want to investigate racism, there usually is no physical evidence, there’s no DNA match and the only fingerprints the really skilled racists leave are usually in the form of individual anecdotes by their victims.
This leaves us with a system set up to keep racists in power and camouflage the structural racism from the Billboard Racism. In the process, many people begin to only see the Billboard Racism and are left with the impression that this is what is means to be racist in 21st century America.
This leaves too many believing that as long as they don’t sound like Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy, then there’s no way they could be a racist.
Because when we discuss racism in this country, extreme views are oftentimes confused with standard views. And if someone like Sterling or Bundy is considered the standard for racism, then pretty much everyone can appear a beacon of tolerance and respect in comparison.
Which is absurd, but also what seems to pass for the serious conversation on race America always appears close to getting around to.