Tue, Jul 19, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Whites ignoring the truth in US

White Americans need to accept that black lives have for years been seen as less precious than white lives

By Nicholas Kristof  /  NY Times News Service

In 1962, 85 percent of white Americans told Gallup that black children had as good a chance as white kids of getting a good education. The next year, in another Gallup survey, almost half of whites said that blacks had just as good a chance as whites of getting a job.

In retrospect, we can see that these white beliefs were delusional, and in other survey questions whites blithely acknowledged racist attitudes. In 1963, 45 percent said that they would object if a family member invited a black person home to dinner.

This complacency among white Americans has been a historical constant. Even in the past decade, almost two-thirds of white Americans have said that blacks are treated fairly by the police, and four out of five whites have said that black children have the same chance as white kids of getting a good education. In short, the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward race has always been one of self-deception.

Just as in 1963, when many well-meaning whites glanced about and could not see a problem, many well-meaning whites look around today, see a black president, and declare problem solved.

That is the backdrop for racial tensions roiling the US today.

Of course, there have been advances. In 1939, 83 percent of Americans believed that blacks should be kept out of neighborhoods where white people lived. However, if one lesson from that old figure is that progress has been made, another is how easy it is for a majority to “otherize” minorities in ways that in hindsight strike us all as repugnant.

The evidence shows black delusions, too. However, what is striking in looking back at historical data is that blacks did not exaggerate discrimination, but downplayed it.

In 1962, for example, a majority of blacks said that black children had the same educational opportunities as white children, and nearly one-quarter of blacks said that they had the same job opportunities as whites. That was preposterous: History has not discredited the complaints of blacks, but rather has shown that they were muted.

My hunch is that Americans will likewise look back and conclude that today’s calls for racial justice, if anything, understate the problem — and that white America, however well meaning, is astonishingly oblivious to pervasive inequity.

As it happens, the trauma surgeon running the Dallas emergency room when seven police officers were brought in with gunshot wounds was a black man, Brian Williams. He fought to save the lives of those officers and wept for those he could not help. However, in other contexts he dreads the police: He recalled how after one traffic stop he was stretched out spread-eagle on the hood of a police car.

Williams shows his admiration for police officers by sometimes picking up their tabs at restaurants, but he also expressed his feelings for the police this way to the Washington Post: “I support you. I defend you. I will care for you. That doesn’t mean I will not fear you.”

That is a narrative that many white Americans are oblivious to. Half of white Americans today say that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks. Really? That contradicts overwhelming research showing that blacks are more likely to be suspended from preschool, to be prosecuted for drug use, to receive longer prison sentences, to be discriminated against in housing, to be denied job interviews, to be rejected by doctors’ offices, to suffer bias in almost every measurable sector of daily life.

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