Am I Racist?

Short answer, yes. Am I mortal? Probably yes. In both cases, the point is what are you doing about it?

A gentle introduction by Oprah:

You don't call it race. What is an appropriate response to someone who takes the personal risk of calling our racism to our attention? What is an appropriate response to someone telling us our shirt is un-tucked, or makeup smeared, or that we are stepping on him or her?

bell hooks

Start here:
Talking to the opposition:

Accountability vs. blame:

African Elements

An on-line Black Studies course.

History of Racism

It is not about Black and White

As the above sources demonstrate, in essence racism is not about color (or the modern equivalent, the fast eroding concept of genes), though color takes on a life of its own and perpetuates the oppressive institutions it has served and gives rise to new ones. Racism is about hierarchy and domination. This is why there is no such thing as 'reverse racism.' As we see in the economics section, by its nature, people who have white skin privilege are also oppressed within the system of white supremacy.

How Liking Black People is Racist

Slave owners 'loved' their Mammies. They 'loved' compliant slaves. They painted a picture of their world of people whose options they had broken as if their submission was willing, even an aspiration.

If you were a supervisor, would you carry out retribution against an employee who defied you when you got out of line?

This attitude, forming humiliating roles and approving of people only as long as they can be viewed as fitting that role, continued during the Jim Crow and segregation era including in Harrisonburg: mar_23_1903yancey.png
What does it mean to be offensive? It means to aggressively attack, damage, brutalize, humiliate, as the above linked obituary does to this man even in his death, denying his life in freedom and writing him back into slavery. The authors probably thought they were being nice, just as we do when we check ourselves to see if we are saying something with a feeling of hate and claim we are 'not racist' when we find we feel normal, not hateful. In a culture where the norm is white supremacy, it may take moving beyond what feels normal to thinking about what effect we are having on the other person to see the violence. Thinking in terms of individuals prevents this, because it blinds us to the role of power.

It turns out, this Reuben Dallard was one of the founders of Newtown. He had defended himself with physical force when he gained his freedom, and the community apparently showed outrage over this obituary. See more at: resistance.

Compare this description of Elon Rhodes as someone whose example was more worthy than Dr. King's to the above obituary:

"He was the first Black to serve on city council.  ...  Elon worked for
the betterment of the entire community, both black and white.
His work and effort were significant and without drawing praise or
attention to himself. There are many who would do well of themselves
if they fashioned themselves after Elon and Elon's principles.  I have
been told that he did not want recognition, he certainly did not seek
recognition. ...  I guess you could say Elon Rhodes was my Martin
Luther King."
The statement was read by an opponent of renaming who was interrupted by the mayor after 10 minutes and was finally cut off after 15. She was followed by a little Latina primary school child who could only cry after a middle-aged white man tried to force his way ahead of her. The little girl was followed by an 86 year old woman who had been at the March on Washington, and powerfully finished in exactly one minute. She said:
"Mr. Mayor, council citizens of the city of Harrisonburg, my name is
Dorris Allen, I am a naive of Harrisonburg 86 years ago.  50 years ago
my son Robert Harper and I went to the march on Washington in 1963 and
we rode the buss, the two of us were the only blacks, and what a day.
And I well remember and when I talk to Robert, he does too."

"I am here tonight because I am proud of that fact and I stand before
you because I feel like naming Cantrell avenue after Martin Luther
King, humanitarian to all man kind would be an enlightenment
for James Madison University, would be an enlightenment for James
Madison University and would be a positive impact on our younger
generation of the friendly city of Harrisonburg Virginia, which shares
brotherly love, the love portrayed by Dr. Martin Luther King.  Two
minutes, thank you." [actually, exactly one minute.]
She walked back with an arm raised in salute.

She was followed by a young Latina, a young Latino and a veteran with his service dog, all speaking in favor, before the next man with white skin privilege, who dedicated to his wife his presentation in favor of graciously accepting the honor brought to the community by the re-naming-- reverently marked up to exactly 2 minutes in red pen as he stood in line.


Jonathan Alger on diversity as counsel for the AAUP:
"'Collegiality' is another criterion that is creeping into more
  and more faculty evaluation processes. Collegiality can be a code
  word for favoring candidates with backgrounds, interests, and
  political and social perspectives similar to one's own. This vague
  and subjective criterion can be used against faculty members whose
  work and ideas challenge traditional orthodoxy in their departments
  or institutions."
How to Recruit and Promote Minority Faculty: Start by Playing Fair

Angela Davis on diversity:

 "When people call for diversity and link it to justice and
equality, that's fine. But there's a model of diversity as the
difference that makes no difference, the change that brings about no
The difference that makes no difference.

Ready to act? From the organization Southerners on New Ground : Being an Ally/Building Solidarity

Scholarly Historical Sources

The classic picture of how things were from Reconstruction to the time of the cantral naming is W. E. B. Dubois' Souls of Black Folk. While he had weak points in talking about recent immigrants, just as many modern scholars do in talking about China, in the area he knew best his is a classic reference.

For an illustration of how African Americans felt economic pressure and of the diversity within the African American community, see Nina Banks on domesticity and uplift during the time of the great migration just after the period of the street naming.

And it continues today: see an illustration of the racist concept of 'culture of poverty' in an article by Steve Reich.

White supremacists are pleased with African Americans and others who stay in their place. The pervasiveness of white supremacy confronts individuals and communities with choices for survival that fall far short of freedom and justice. Do we perpetuate these attitudes?


An American world view connected to King and Dubois, likely founded on a Chinese world view: problem solving philosophy.

An African world view: Hunger for Culture.