Good Intentions, Racial Sophistry
Having just read Julian Weissglass’ essay (“Racism and the Achievement Gap,” Commentary, Aug. 8, 2001), I must admire his sincerity and his continuous commitment to speak out and work for what he believes in. I am in total agreement with his reasons for the persistence of racism, especially what he calls “the tenacity of belief systems that advocate superiority and inferiority based on race.” (I stumbled across Social Darwinism while writing my thesis for my master’s degree.)
However, some years ago, I attended one of Mr. Weissglass’ training sessions in Southern California. I asked to be allowed to leave, because I do not believe I need to listen to your story, or tell you my story, about how it feels to be treated in a racist society. Nor do I feel that having a racist or victim-of- oppression cry about racism will solve the problem.
Since I have been in California, I have been introduced to, and in some cases trained in, many programs and methods aimed at addressing these issues. Yet, not much in the way of teacher attitudes seems to have changed. It just seems that people now feel really bad or really good about “minorities,” but when 3:30 p.m. comes, they retreat to their communities where they can forget about how they feel.
I have two questions for Education Week and Julian Weissglass. My first is, why do people of color have to wait until whites feel like treating us equitably? Can’t people treat others equitably whether they feel like it or not? Can we not learn to act equitably and let our feelings catch up later?
My second question is this: Though racism is defined by Mr. Weissglass as “the systematic mistreatment of certain groups of people on the basis of skin color or other physical characteristics” through social institutions, the emotion involved is hatred. Is it realistic to believe that by telling each other stories we will eliminate this emotion? No hatred? No love? Do we have to be violent in our response to groups we don’t like?
When people today will look you in the eye and tell you that the Holocaust didn’t really happen, or that slavery is a myth, or that white people are superior and should be in charge because blacks and Latinos just aren’t capable, I find it hard to believe that everything will be fine if we just sit down and tell each other stories and cry together.
Maria Pryor Herndon