by Sally Kohn
The Daily Beast
White folks went to great lengths in the last weeks to denounce the overt racism of figures like Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. At the same time, a lot of white folks—especially conservatives—continue to deny there is implicit or structural racial bias in America. One example surfaced just days later on Time magazine’s website, an essay by a young white male college student who not only denies racial bias, and thus white privilege in America, but also basically accuses those pointing out such bias of being racist.
According to my experience (and my Twitter feed), this young man’s perspective is not unique. It’s also not correct. So I offer some (hopefully helpful) clarifying thoughts for my fellow white folks, especially those struggling to come to terms with the idea of persistent, implicit racial bias in America today.
1. There is more than one kind of racial bias.
Suggesting that, except for a few overt racists like Cliven Bundy, prejudice is a thing of the past in America is, if you’ll forgive the pun, too black and white. In an interview with Salon about his book Dog Whistle Politics, Professor Ian Haney Lopez said: “We have to get away from this idea that there is one sort of racism and it wears a Klan hood. Of course, that is an egregious form of racism, but there are many other forms of racism. There are racisms.”
We can’t have a thoughtful discussion about the modern reality of racial bias in America if we can’t even acknowledge these nuances. When Gov. Mike Huckabee used the phrase “Uncle Sugar” as a stand-in for a federal government that gives people things, I called it an “obviously offensive dog-whistle-esque racialized characterization.” The conservative Blaze said I called Huckabee racist. I did not. I wrote a clarification, saying there’s a difference between accusing someone of overt and deliberate racism versus saying that a phrase someone used “consciously or unconsciously reflects and reinforces implicit racial bias.”
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