DEAR ABBY: I am a teacher. One of the first things I tell students when we discuss examinations is, "Answer the question!" Your reply to the question, "Why is it OK to be a racist if you're black?" had nothing to do with the question. Want to try again? -– CINCINNATI EDUCATOR
DEAR CINCINNATI: All right. Racism is never "OK," regardless of the skin color of the bigot. Not all people are alike, and it is ignorant to assume that you can prejudge a person because of skin color. You can't. There are no shortcuts. You have to get to know people before you can make intelligent judgments about them. To do otherwise is narrow-minded and shortsighted.
The letter from "My Kid's Mom" generated some thought-provoking responses. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I am now retired, but during my 33 years of teaching American history at four universities, my primary research field was the history of race relations in the United States. One of my books, "The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America From the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century" (Knopf, 1990), was selected for the Cleveland Foundation's Anisfield-Wolf Award, and the publisher nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize.
Racism is a complex idea and can mean different things to different people. The definition that has worked best for me is: "A belief in an innate inequality among races, and conduct in accordance with that belief." Civil rights laws can control conduct but they cannot legislate belief. Changing beliefs comes only with education, and that takes time.
"My Kid's Mom" said her daughter wondered why it "... is OK to be racist if you're black." Well, it's NOT OK. Discrimination by blacks toward whites is no more acceptable than the reverse, but it might be helpful if more people understood why it exists.
I know of no dark-skinned people who believe they are innately superior to light-skinned people, at least not those living in Western societies. But for five centuries, Europeans (and later Americans), driven by religious beliefs and supported by economic and military superiority, systematically oppressed –- including enslavement and extermination –- the aboriginal populations of undeveloped cultures. Today, dark-skinned people have the power to retaliate. As long as white racism exists, they will exercise that power. -– FORREST G. WOOD, BAKERSFIELD, CALIF.
DEAR FORREST: The subject of bigotry is an emotional one for me, and I thank you for putting it into a scholarly perspective. I agree with your conclusion. Viewed from a historical perspective, reverse racism is understandable. But that doesn't make it any the less unfortunate. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: As a proud African-American man, father and citizen, I wish to respond to the letter from "My Kid's Mom." There is no racism in the African-American community in the United States. What you see is the anguish of being black in a white country. What whites see as racism is, in reality, the pain of being discriminated against on a daily basis because of our color. It's a defense mechanism in order to be ready for any contingency that arises.
Oppressed people do what they have to do for survival in a hostile and unfriendly, dangerous country like we have here in America. I teach my kids to be tough and smart, for a black person is always surrounded by whites with racist attitudes. Never let your guard down. -– THOMAS ANTHONY JONES SR. IN GEORGIA
DEAR THOMAS: You have laid it on the line, and the message is clear. However, I recall a wonderful statement attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "We may have come here on different ships, but we're all in the same boat." Wise words, indeed!