Another way of thinking about "racism without racists"

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A lot of folks have taken issue with the post below about excuse-making. Let me posit something a little different. Allow me the liberty of generalizing here--whites are most concerned about racial bigotry. That is, "I don't believe in interracial marriage" or "I don't want black people living next to me" or even "I think black people are prone to crime."

Black folks don't like racial bigotry, but they're mostly concerned--not about racism as bigotry--but racism as oppression. That's a loaded word, I know. But let's go to the dictionary--" an unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power." I think job discrimination falls under that category. I think redlining falls under that category. I'd hesitate to call the drug war "racial oppression," but with that definition, I think there is a case. So, as I've mentioned in comments, blacks aren't so much worried about whether white people like them, they're worried about the fact that in New York City, their job prospects are about the same as white guy with a record. In that world you can have a guy who isn't a racist bigot--but in fact is a racist oppressor. It may be "racism without racists" but it's still "racism with racist oppressors." Frankly, that terrifies me.

From a black perspective, the intent of white people is irrelevant--the effects are what matter. Thus we fear--I fear--this perverse self-congratulation over the fact that "racism as racial bigotry" has been banished, while "racism as racial oppression" lingers. I don't much care about Obama and white racism because he won't suffer any racial oppression. Heh, one could argue that white racists who vote against him could be contributing to the oppression of themselves.The "racial bigotry" fight is weird because, truthfully, only white people themselves can truly answer that question. It has to do with what's in a man's heart. But the question of racial oppression is much clearer. Certainly there's much much less of it today than there was a half a century ago. But it's still a big problem.

One final thing: I'd ask that you guys bear with me. I'm thinking out loud here. All of you made some good points in the comments thread below. I'm trying to incorporate, recast, rethink and respond.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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