Racial discrimination both irrational and immoral

Racial discrimination both irrational and immoral

The teachers’ magazines and psychology journals narrate the experiment a fifth grade teacher in California did several years ago to convincingly teach the volatile subject of human dignity. In her classroom, with the seats arranged the old-fashioned way, rank and file, she placed her chair around in front of her desk. She had the children come forward single file toward her, seated in her chair. This put her on eye level with each. As they approached, she looked directly at each and assigned them to either her right or left. After all had come forward, a large group was to one side and a small group to the other. The children did not know why they had been separated this way.

Then she told the larger group they would have no homework that night, they could come tomorrow dressed casual, and there was a treat waiting for them in the cafeteria. They cheered but were as mystified as the other children. These were told they would have homework, they had to come dressed in the usual required way, and there was no treat for them. They groused, wondering why they were being punished. What did they do to deserve this? It was unfair!

Then she told them she had discriminated on the basis of the color of their eyes, favoring those who had her brown eyes and disfavoring the minority blue-eyed students. The cheering continued among the larger group but the wailing rose to a higher pitch among the others. Every student could see that eye color was a silly basis for favoritism.

So they were ready for the key question: then why do you discriminate against some people for their skin color, which is just as unimportant as eye color?

At this, we adults scramble for rationalizations, trying to feign an answer for what we all do. We charge that minorities allow their houses to fall into disrepair, affecting the whole neighborhood. But we are not so quick to deal with the fact that majority employers refuse to hire minorities to the same extent, or pay them as well as their own kind. Minority unemployment is twice that of the majority. Minorities don’t get what they need to keep up their properties. We claim that alcohol and drug abuse is worse in minority communities, passing over the fact that substance abuse is an effect, not a cause, since people driven daily to quiet desperation seeing their children punished for their skin color resort to the temporary relief of the induced high.

Majority members do not want to hear “sob stories” like the 4,600 lynchings before 1950 of African-Americans, or the budget differences between inner-city schools and those of suburbia, or the cool aloofness of society honchos found everywhere from country clubs to churches. There are Caucasian-Americans who in large numbers believe that government grants enacted by liberals give huge amounts to blacks for which whites must pay. Why do you think the word “liberal” is held in such contempt? Just ask such misinformed people whether they would be willing to live for a month or a week or a day as a minority person, enjoying all those free things, and you will bring the complaints to silence.

A century and a half ago majority people considered slavery as natural and moral as sunshine. It took a civil war and the deaths of 620,000 Americans north and south, casualties greater than all American wars before and since, to pass the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing the immoral practice thought to be moral because it is found in the Bible.

Cain killing brother Abel and reactionaries killing Jesus are also in the Bible, but we await their being used to justify homicide, even if the argument is still used to justify wars of aggression. Maybe in 150 years war will be as unconscionable as slavery is to us today, but let’s not bet the ranch on that one yet.

Charlottesville, Virginia tells us how bad things are in the not so United States. White supremacists gathered there with police permit the way they do across the country. Murderous violence is what publicized it. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies hundreds of extremist American klaverns, populated by majority men and women resenting the descendants of kidnapped blacks forcibly brought here by their white ancestors. Racists vote, misusing democracy to keep the poor poor and to make permanent the disgrace of white privilege. May God forgive us.