On “Soft” Racism

On “Soft” Racism

Hi, my name is Mike and most of my life has been lived in a culture of “soft” racism.

“Soft” racism is my phrase for the mindset of people — like me — who grew up in a homogeneous white culture.

I was raised in the Midwest, northern Illinois to be precise. Small town America. Surrounded by farms and endless countryside. As white as a sheet of typing paper.

My only exposure to people of color was through the sports and music I watched and listened to.

Dale Kelley, from Galesburg IL, when he played college ball at Northwestern

When I was a boy, we had an all-state basketball player in our little railroad town of Galesburg, Illinois (home of Carl Sandburg). His name was Dale Kelley, and he averaged 27 points a game in 1966, leading the Silver Streaks to the championship game of the Illinois state tournament. My dad took me to home games, and for those I didn’t attend I kept score while listening to the broadcasts on the radio. Kelley went on to have a good career at Northwestern, played in the ABA, and was admitted to the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. Dale Kelley is a person of faith, who eventually became a Methodist minister on the southside of Chicago. He is black, he was a black athlete in the midst of lily-white Galesburg, Illinois. I don’t remember any others.

We lived for a time in my dad’s hometown of Dixon, Illinois (home of Ronald Reagan). I remember when the Harlem Globetrotters came and played in our high school gym. The great Negro League baseball star Satchel Paige was with them, and I got his autograph. It may have been the most black people the town had ever witnessed together in one place at one time in Dixon.

Our family moved into a new housing development in Chicago’s southwest suburbs in the late 1960s. Nary a black or brown face anywhere to be seen.

But few in my generation — me included — were able to resist the sweet sounds of Motown or the grittier records out of Memphis. I was too young to participate in the marches of the Civil Rights era, but I dug Sly and Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and the Temptations. I went to the movies and watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? I vividly remember the night Dr. King was murdered.

However, in fact, I don’t recall ever meeting a person of color my own age until I was a senior in high school, after we’d relocated to the suburbs of Baltimore.

The Bible college I attended was 99% white, and those who weren’t were from other countries.

I moved to Vermont, where the joke used to be that integrating the schools meant one bus taking the two black children in the state around to all the schools in Vermont so they could say they weren’t segregated.

Every church I’ve ever attended or pastored was almost completely made up of white folks. Even in the city of Waukegan, Illinois, which is in one of the most diverse counties in the country.

Now I live south of Indianapolis, the side of town some black people I’ve met have told me they’re afraid to visit.

There are many people who could write a resumé like this. We shudder to think of ourselves as “racist.” Most of us never heard a lot of direct bigotry expressed in our families or communities. It wasn’t so much that we were against people of color — we simply had no experience of relating to them, of living with them, of interacting with them in personal and meaningful ways.

They weren’t the enemy, they were the other. As foreign to our way of life as a businessman in China, a farmer in India, a burka-wearing woman in Saudi Arabia.

Manasseh Cutler, Massachusetts minister instrumental in opening the Northwest Territory for settlement.

This state of affairs in the midwestern United States was initiated at the outset of our country. I’m currently reading David McCullough’s book, The Pioneers, the story of those who settled the Northwest Territory, which now comprises the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota.

This land, the “Ohio country,” was given to the fledgling nation by the British in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783. The charter for this “backcountry” was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed by the Confederation Congress two years before the U.S. Constitution. And one of its chief tenets was this: no slavery would be permitted in this territory.

From the beginning of the United States, a region was carved out that would never be desecrated by the institution of slavery. I’m proud that this is my geographical heritage. However, this commendable decision also had a (not so) unintended consequence: the Midwest became wholly the land of the whites for nearly a century.

Not until the 1860s did African-Americans begin migrating into the region. The flow increased after the Civil War and then multiplied during the Great Migration of the 20th century (1916-1970). However, the black cultures that developed were primarily urban, as blacks and other people of color came for industrial jobs and a new life away from Jim Crow oppression in the rural south.

In those settings where people of color came, settled, and worked, the north proved as inhospitable as the southern states from which they fled. There was a great deal of hard racism: direct bigotry, prejudicial practices such as redlining, discriminatory laws, and hateful xenophobic crimes that kept most blacks on the margins and held them back from building generational stability and wealth.

But for most of us, away from the cities and industrial centers, life remained pure white culture. The soft racism I have lived with most of my life was mostly just ignorant of people who were different from us. No developed theory of white supremacy. Few statements of outright prejudice. We simply lived in a different world — a white world. We weren’t exposed, except through the increasingly invasive power of television and other media, to anything other than the world we knew and loved.

Thankfully, I’ve had opportunities to overcome this ignorance in my own life. Overseas travel and cross-cultural engagement has been the most potent remedy. Time in Haiti, India, and Brazil exposed me to the wonders of cultural diversity and enabled me to have experiences and make friends among people I never would have met otherwise. Working in hospice with and visiting people of different races, religions, backgrounds, and cultures has been transformational for me. I feel my world is no longer so closed off, separated from the versicolor ocean of humanity that surrounds the little island where I’ve been isolated far too long.

The New Testament epistles of Paul have been of invaluable help as well, with their insistence that Jesus came to break down all walls between people that separate, divide, and create ignorance, suspicion, and tribal hatred. I’ve come to think that Paul was much more concerned about the inclusion of the Gentiles and other excluded people into the promises of God than he ever was about most of the “theology” we attribute to him.

I’m convinced that Jesus won’t be satisfied until he welcomes

…a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands, crying out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7:9-10)

A multitude who not only luxuriate in the love of God but who also embrace one another with deep pleasure and appreciation.

I want that. I want to want that more. And more.

• • •

See also:

The Disorder of Dismantling Racism (Richard Rohr)

93 thoughts on “On “Soft” Racism

  1. Which explains why church congregations more than 150-200 people are useless, and explains why if you ask any career military officer, their most enjoyable command was when they were a company commander or equivalent. Which is right around that 150 person number and is very hand-on. Battalion command is OK, but far less personal. Larger than that you are driving a desk.


  2. Speaking of the Bee Gees, here’s Kenny Everett with “The Instant Bee Gees Kit”:


  3. Troop-size limit.
    On the average, over 150 people and you stop seeing them as individuals.
    Get big enough and they’re just a number.

    “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.”
    — Josef Stalin, dictator


  4. “Stellenbosch”…
    I know that name from a Rudyard Kipling poem (Boer War vintage).


  5. I went to an engineering university (Georgia Tech) in the late 80’s, so the male to female ratio was 3:1, but I hear it is now down to only a 2:1. Mine was Materials Science and Engineering.


  6. What type of engineering did you study? May I ask where you went?

    Electrical. That bastion of world renowned engineering study, University of Kentucky.

    For a bit more perspective, while there in the mid 70s, one year there were 9 women undergrads out of over 800 total. 5 were in ChemE which means they spent most of their time in the chem physics building. It was a very unkempt collection of very white young men. (A non trivial number of Viet Nam war vets helped keep the dress code in line.)


  7. It did suck.

    Actually it was the required clothes that really sucked. Plus those leisure suits DID cause cancer.


  8. Like everything about this situation, averages mean nothing. A friend who is a realtor with 9 or so full and part time agents working for her is having a great last 6 months. See my earlier post for why. At the same time folks who have a job that’s bee wiped out due to the situation are in the shorts. And many of them are renters so they don’t impact the sales market for housing. I suspect that housing markets in Las Vegas, Orlando, etc… are in the tank and thus take the average down.


  9. Minor typo there: Kraftwerk is the name. HT for mentioning them.

    They were truly an innovative and influential bad.


  10. My only question about country music is if you play it backwards, does your wife come back, you get rehired at the plant, and your dog is magically resurrected?


  11. Burro:

    You said:”I guess I’m racist and bigoted. I can live with that.” I do not know you well enough, so I will ask are you being serious?


  12. Very true. Rock is passing away, but the inheritors of disco’s legacy continue strong. “Rock and Roll can never die” might indeed have been a false prophecy.


  13. They crossed over many styles, but disco was definitely one of them.

    Btw, did you know that Kratwerk, the German industrial “robot pop” band made up of four very white German guys, produced one of the most popular “disco” songs of all time? Their song “Trans-Europe Express” was a very popular standard in disco clubs in the mid 70s.


  14. Mule, you don’t believe that white business culture has been among the most exploitative and dishonest global ventures that have existed? Really? For example, the British absolutely fleeced India economically. Is it possible that Indians and India learned some of the bad and dishonest business habits it has now from trying to eke out existence under the exploitative Raj? Btw, France and Greece are both known for the widespread prevalence of similar practices.


  15. I must say that I agree with you 100% on the toxic business practices. Nothing is ever cheap enough and you must always somehow lose a negotiating battle. Homey don’t play that game. You know I am a house painter and I often quote a higher than normal price just so that I don’t have to go through the hell of it all. When I say the hell of it all I’m talking about real life experience. Perhaps this is racism and its formative stage but for me it’s pure business and I am in business for one reason, to make money. None of my work is done for love or kindness. I want the money. Then I can use the money to share and give to those in need but my customers are not gonna dictate to me how giving I’ll be allowed to be.


  16. Here’s some pieces I’ve still got on 45 RPM period licorice pizzas:

    From my early Classic Traveller days:

    And something a little more Classical and Funky:

    And the Novelty Type Example:


  17. I heard a lot of “Disco sucks!” in the 1970s, even said it myself.

    Like this little momento from Dr Demento:

    From True Believers of “Both Kinds of Music — Country AND Western!”

    And here’s where “The Anti-Disco Army” blew up the outfield of a Chicago baseball stadium back in ’79:
    (Move over Cleveland, Ten Cent Beer Night has some SERIOUS competition…)

    “How much dynamite do you think we need, Bubba?”
    “Oh, maybe about twenty pounds.”

    But Disco had the last laugh; most of the club dance music around Y2K could trace its ancestry back to disco


  18. Something about a Caste System:
    You can Never Rise to a Higher Caste, but you can Always Fall into a Lower Caste.


  19. The Bee Gees were capitalizing on a musical style that had been around for a decade already, to restart their flagging career. They were to disco what smooth jazz is to jazz.


  20. Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chic, Sister Sledge, and a host of others were all disco artists, Black, and their music did not suck. Of course there were racially mixed disco bands, but the primary and earliest artists who created and gave shape to the music were Black, just like in so much American popular music, including rock n’ roll. It started in the 1960s in Black dance clubs, but didn’t hit the mainstream until around 1977.

    Abba was Europop.


  21. Well, in rebuttal…

    1) Disco was not “black” music. See John Travolta/Saturday Night Fever/Bee Gees/Abba.

    2) It did suck.


  22. I heard a lot of “Disco sucks!” in the 1970s, even said it myself. But now I’m embarrassed that I felt that way, and said that, since I recognize that it was a motto asserting the superiority of the tribe of teenage middle-class suburban white boy’s (to which I belonged) preference for rock music, and a slam at the influence of Black tastes in popular music of the time. There was more than a wee bit of racism in it, in the form of a tribalism that denigrated the other tribe’s preferences rather than just affirming one’s own. At best stupidity, but sometimes overlapping into bigotry.


  23. The New York Times reviewed a book in yesterday’s edition entitled “White too Long; The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” by Robert P. Jones. The book centers around the claim of James Baldwin who wrote in the Times back in 1968 the following:

    ““I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long.”

    Jones’ proposition is that this in particular applies to the white church and uses many forms of data and analysis to prove it. According to the reviewer Jones says: “…white Christianity has not merely been a passive bystander in the construction of this nation’s racial caste system, it has been the primary cultural and religious institution creating, promoting and preserving it.”

    “In the end, ‘White Too Long” seems to present a stark choice: Hold onto white Christianity or hold onto Jesus. It cannot be both.'”


  24. Regardless of skin color, I’m definitely in that lower half. This crisis isn’t an economic boon for me in any way, just the opposite.


  25. Thanks for the context and your command of the data. It helps me to stay calm about things that sound scary as you’re reading about them, especially since I don’t have anything like a good head for statistics and raw data, or a even a sense of where to find them.


  26. > It will result in more medium sized cities filling up

    That this **might** happen is what worries me. Because without extremely difficult regulatory change this would be disastrous for lower income households.

    Already, without any such event, analysis last month for my 200K souls Midwest Rust Belt city:
    – High-income households, 120%+ AMI, expected to increase by 30%, creating competition of housing.
    – With current policies the number of low income households will be reduced ~15% by 2025, due to a combination of consolidation, crowding, and displacement
    – 52% of renters are “Cost-Burdened”, 19% of Home Owners; that’s ~25,000 households

    It is very hard to be poor in America.


  27. Burro (Mule),
    You still live in the Atlanta area? What prompted the relocation from the Midwest to Atlanta, may I ask?

    David L,
    What type of engineering did you study? May I ask where you went?

    Michael Z,
    I presume exposure to other cultures is for all peoples (not just whites)? Because I am sure you are well aware of the stereotypes other countries and cultures have for Americans and for whites? As an Asian comedian once said, all Americans look alike to him.


  28. > It will result in more medium sized cities filling up, more like Memphis than San Francisco

    Which, adjusted for wages, are no more affordable than the mega-cities.

    And most of them are, themselves, already facing a Housing Crunch.


  29. > I’ve been reading about how many — I mean many

    Makes great headlines, it is mostly rubbish. Urban out-migration from mega-cities is @ ~3% currently. That’s not a tidal wave; and most aren’t going very far.

    Beware think pieces that don’t include contextualized numbers.

    > and it looks to be a permanent change

    We’ll see. People are making that assumption far to hastily.

    > they can move to places in smaller cities, suburbia, and exurbia

    Can they? If even 10% of New York residents exited you’d flat-line the housing market EVERYWHERE else in America.

    > I fear that this flight from cities

    I don’t worry about it. There is no evidence of significant out-migration.


  30. I would like to share some music from my own country that reflects a heritage of the Celts and Scots:


  31. I’m from a later generation. I was born in 1975 and there were always 1, 2 or 3 black kids in each of my classes as far back as half-day kindergarten. My dad was a Baptist preacher and racism of any kind was absolutely not allowed in our home. Use of the n-word, particularly if making jokes of a derogatory nature, would have brought out the black leather belt. I’m not sure what clicked that caused that change because my grandparents were in fact racist, in a way that went beyond soft racism. When they moved to Chicago in the early to mid 1940’s my father and his sister were enrolled in Catholic school. The school systems were segregated in Georgia at that time but not in Chicago, Illinois. My dad and aunt were sent to private school to keep them away from black kids. Perhaps it was seeing blatant racism in his home growing up that turned him against it. Perhaps it was his faith, I really don’t know. Later in life he had a habit of siding with any group he considered the underdog. In his late 50’s he took a Spanish class at a local technical college so that he could talk to Mexicans in the textile mills. He ate lunch when they did and even attended a few baptisms and the parties that followed. He played guitar his entire life and after taking Spanish classes learned to sing and play Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” in English and Spanish. Dad was sometimes an odd bird but I have to give him props for advocating social justice before it was cool.


  32. Interesting post and discussion today. Thanks to everyone who has shared their voice. Got me mulling on some things, which is usually a good thing.


  33. What you are talking about is the difference between “tribal” and “tribalism.”

    Disliking Country Music puts you in the tribe of People Who Dislike Country Music. There is NOTHING wrong with being tribal.

    Tribalism, however, enters into the picture when we begin thinking our tribe is better than theirs, that something is wrong with “those people in that tribe.”

    Thus, the shift from “I don’t like Country Music” to “People who like Country Music are IDIOTS” is when people begin down the path to bigotry and racism.

    And even JOKING in that manner can be kinda dangerous in the long run, as it begins building a twisted narrative in one’s head.


  34. Actually, I found a lot of solace in, of all places, Richard Rohr. I went to read his blog, which unlike many is divided up into easily digestible portions for the attention challenged. This is what jumped out at me.

    Wisdom. Let us attend.

    <blockquote Law, tradition, and boundaries—what I call Order—seem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity. Such containers make at least some community, family, and marriage possible. Boundaries seem to be the only way that human beings can find a place to stand, a place to begin, a place from which to move out. Even those who think they don’t have any boundaries usually do. We discover them when we trespass against them. The human soul flourishes on solid ground, especially in the first years of life.

    The psyche cannot live with everything changing every day, everything a matter of opinion, everything relative. There must be a sound container holding us long enough so we can move beyond survival mode. There has to be solid ground, trust, and shared security, or we cannot move outward. There has to be a foundational hope, and for hope to be a shared experience there must be agreed-upon meanings and shared stories that excite and inspire us all. If there are truly stories from the great patterns that are always true, they will catapult us into a universal humanity and pluralistic society. We will both stand on solid ground and, from that solid ground, create common ground. If it does not support our movement outward, then it is not solid ground at all.

    The dynamic he describes is very powerful one, and one that makes sense to me. You ALWAYS have to move from a smaller, more manageable world to a larger, scarier one where you have less control.

    But the wisest stories always have a psychopomp, a mediator, between one level and the next. The psychopomp helps the stumbling soul pass from what he already knows to what he is myopically reaching out towards. The psychopomp is also aware that there are dangers out there in the new territory. Maybe Rohr is a Universalist so that all danger is ultimately transitory, and thus, well, tra-la-lolly life is jolly in the valley.

    But I’m not ready to put all my chips on black.

    Now Jesus as the psychopomp… That’s great, but which Jesus, or I should say, whose Jesus? John MacArthur’s Jesus? Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Jesus? Dostoevsky’s Jesus? El Cristo Cholo? There are so many Jesuses around it boggles the mind.


  35. It is always difficult to face the mirror and remove all rose-tinted glasses. To except that one’s attitudes are, or maybe wrong, is not easy.

    Bad attitudes in the realm of race or ethnicity do not arrive over night – but they don’t depart overnight either. It might be a life long struggle. One were you have to be constantly on guard.

    Also – a minor point. Some things might not be to one’s liking – food stuff, certain religious symbology etc. But one has to distinguish between things you don’t like, and things you hate. For instance, I dislike Country Music. But that doesn’t mean I think Country Music lover’s are somehow degenerate. It is just not my taste. A lot of practices etc are just different. A few are evil – and those one should resist. But like or dislike is not the same as good or evil.


  36. “…you exist inside a system of systems…”

    That is the scariest thing I have read today…


  37. Burro,
    I’m Catholic, but I have to say that ‘the god of wrath’ of fundamentalists-anything creep me out. Some of the writings of cage-stage neo-Calvinists who are fundamentalist-evangelicals make God into a monster.

    I guess it does matter what baggage people bring with them to the party. I remember in the sixties, being with my sister and my mother in a five-and-dime store in the city of Norfolk VA, when there was a ‘sit-in’ at a lunch counter by some young black students. I witnessed a white man cursing at them and then he went up and spit on one of the girls.

    I have that memory ingrained in my soul . . . . I KNEW what he did was wrong, and no one had to explain that to me as the young girl victim sat quietly and did not respond to her attacker, but sat with dignity instead. So I knew. She taught me by her example something that words can’t convey.

    For me, my Southern mother’s family once owned slaves in North Carolina and yes, they could be embarrassing in how the old aunt’s talked about black folks; and yet even they would speak of an old black ‘aunt’ the family had taken in after ‘the War’ (Civil War) and cared for as she was very old and ill, and they spoke of her lovingly as someone who had been important emotionally to their elders, as someone beloved. How strange, this?

    And my father from Canada, his family also saw some persecution being French-Canadian in New England, but also they brought with them genetics that were tall and fair (my memere was blonde) and after a generation or two, the assimilation was ‘complete’ . . . so it went, that the family thrived in ‘the New World’ after all.

    A lot of the ‘behaviors’ of African American people may STILL be affected in ways negative by what their forebears endured,
    and that healing will take time, but somehow, the healing must be done by the whole country as I strongly suspect that the ‘white’ population (rural, not highly educated) may also still be victims of the old prejudices that their forebears harbored and acted out way after the time of the ‘War’.

    God have mercy. The ‘sins of the fathers’ are deeply rooted and will not easily be healed, no. But they will be, in time, if the nation survives long enough to see it happen. We can hope.


  38. Part of it is that for 60% or more of the population, financially nothing has changed. My wife was sort of “forced” to retire a year or few early but in general our incomes have not changed. And the 40% is dominated by the lower income segment of the population.

    No toss in the $1200 given to most US citizens taking breaths and the Fed opening up the spigots plus driving rates down and there’s a lot of “spare” cash floating about in the upper income segments of the population.

    Wizards will tell us that that 2 big effects of this are the sky high stock markets and lots of home purchases. The first as savings account returns are just terrible and the later driven by spare cash and low interest rates.

    So this pandemic is in many ways a boon to the upper income half of the country and a financial disaster for the lower income half of the country.

    Now guess what population skin colors dominate the lower half of the income distribution of the country.


  39. Well, yes. But blacks, for example, did not begin migrating north until around the Civil War. As I said in the post, the Midwest was wholly white because there weren’t even any slaves. But after that, yes indeed, the north segregated living areas every bit as much as the south.


  40. Mule, I hear you, and I hope my post today wasn’t interpreted in any way as “preaching” at anybody.

    I’m just trying to participate in a little “racial reckoning” of my own. I’ve always felt openness to others of different races and cultures and have wondered why people in my family and among many of my friends don’t share that openness. I imagine that most of them would be thoroughly offended if someone called them “racist.” And, in reality, I don’t think they are the “hard” racists that get all the publicity. They’re just folks who’ve lived pretty much continually in an all-white world.

    I’m trying to understand why so many of them voted for Trump and have other political views that puzzle me. I think it’s pretty simple: they are afraid of losing their “world.” They aren’t actively opposed to people of color or other cultures, they aren’t fighting against them out of some coherent philosophy. They are closing the ranks and protecting against changes with which they feel uncomfortable. I hear what Richard and others are saying about my not adequately taking into account the institutions and structures which some of them may well have played a part in putting in place. But most of the ones I know are blind to those things. They haven’t been personally exposed to enough situations of institutional racism and bias to know it when they see it. They’ve simply lived their lives in unconsciously privileged settings and have had little contact with those who don’t share their advantageous positions. They built their lives as they saw fit in settings with which they were familiar and didn’t give much thought to other “worlds” around them. I’m one of them.

    But the world has been changing throughout my lifetime and I’m just trying to understand what I must do to adapt. It starts with a bit of self-awareness, and this little post is one attempt at that.


  41. There is something to this, but only to a certain extent. I think there will be a rationalization of what jobs need to be done in the office and what can be done remotely, but it will turn out that some jobs, even white collar upper middle class, benefit from physical presence. Also, the kids like living in the city, with good restaurants and music venues and the like. This doesn’t mean that they will pay New York or San Francisco prices for it, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It will result in more medium sized cities filling up, more like Memphis than San Francisco. This also is not a bad thing. But you are right, that there will be a pretty sharp divide from the footloose remote workers and those tied to an office.


  42. Youre pretty condescending, you know? I guess Ill just have to piddle around with my poverty stricken spiritual resources since I cant even notice or imagine the spiritual riches that obtain in Michael Z’s Diversityland.

    Oh yes, Im conducting the most intimate relationship of my life in a second language. I suspect that exhausts my limited capacity for empathy and leaves me with little patience for marroneces.


  43. I’ve been reading about how many — I mean many — middle-class professionals have been leaving the large cities since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. They have the ability to work from home online, and after many years of tossing around that possibility, corporations finally have an incentive in this crisis to let that happen, and it looks to be a permanent change. As a result, many workers no longer need to live near their places of business in cities and their high housing cost surroundings, renting super-expensive apartments or spending so much to live in super-expensive properties that they own; they can move to places in smaller cities, suburbia, and exurbia where their money will go a lot further, buying large homes with plenty of space for far less than it would cost them to live, say, in NYC or its immediate environs. As a result, there has been one of the biggest housing booms in our lifetimes since the beginning of this crisis. But I fear that this flight from cities will not only exacerbate the divisions between classes of Americans, separating levels of the middle-classes and lower-classes in very enduring and rigid ways, but will solidify the racial divisions in our country, isolating many urban poor even more than they already are isolated from the opportunities of middle-class society, and locking them into poverty in a new way.


  44. “I don’t find white business culture toxic.”

    I do. Not necessarily with small businesses, where I am talking to the owner, or at least talking to someone who talks to the owner. And when I encounter a small business that is toxic, I need not encounter it again. But as businesses grow larger, they grow more toxic and more unavoidable.


  45. In education, there’s a concept of a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset.” A person with a growth mindset believes that with effort and time, they can learn, improve their skills, and change things about themself. A person with a fixed mindset believe that if they are unable to do something, they will never be able to do it. A fixed mindset can cripple someone’s intellectual and personal development.

    When it comes to racism, the divide isn’t between people who, as you say, have “transcended” it and others who have not. The difference is between people who are working to change themselves and those who are not.


  46. I strongly suspect that someone with a different cultural background would look at a lot of the white-dominated businesses that you have no problem with and see serious toxicity there.

    Each of us has some cultural context that limits what forms of “toxicity” we are able to recognize. For example, you, as a male with conservative attitudes toward women, might not even notice a toxic culture of misogyny in a company. It’s the same as how if you eat something sweet after eating lots of sour things, or vice versa, the taste seems much more extreme – each of us is used to the “taste” of certain sins in our own culture, so we don’t even notice them, but it’s much easier to notice even minor sins in a culture very different from our own.

    That’s also why having relationships with people of other cultures is so important, and why living in a homogeneous culture is so spiritually impoverishing – if our world is limited to a single culture there are things we can’t even notice or imagine could be different.


  47. ‘the current state of the American soul’?

    how many thousands of infants were taken from their mother’s arms and put into substandard ‘care’ homes where the Trump admin had to go to court to defend the poor care these littles were given?

    as if the silence of the fundamentalist-evangelical world was not enough, now comes the invasion of QAnon into the mix to raise the crazy to new heights, even exponentially, as we watch from the side-lines, and

    YES, we need to go out into the sunlight and see some little puppies to clear our minds again
    so ADAM, I agree with you about the need for this

    sunlight and puppies – I’ll vote for this, you bet


  48. > not much is known about it in terms of general knowledge about an area

    I dunno about that. Ignorance can be very intentional.

    You can look at the HOLC maps for my city online, and it is right there in the text, plain as day

    “neighborhoods lacking homogeneity”
    “undesirable population or an infiltration of it”
    If “negros” are present in each district, and at what percent, is recorded as a discrete field.

    You can find this stuff for almost anywhere pretty easily.


  49. My first parish council meeting was a real eye opener. But I love the Greeks, and I expect the Greeks to act like Greeks. Also, Greek culture is deeply informed by Orthodoxy in ways I am still learning about.

    Indian culture is, I assume, informed by Hinduism. Their gods creep me out.

    What I definitely don’t like is getting preached to by “good” white people who act like they’ve transcended all this due to superior Christlikeness, or wokeness, which is probably similar in his mind.. It feels like being told by someone that he stopped masturbating when he got the Baptism in the Holy Ghost.


  50. This. Much of what Mule finds disagreeable or threatening in those cultures would’ve been found in the cultures of the Bible, including Jesus’ culture, and maybe in Jesus himself.


  51. What’s interesting to me, Burro, is that the Indian culture you talk about (with which I have some familiarity) is probably closer (along with Middle Eastern culture, of course) to the cultures we see in the Bible. For people like me, that makes understanding the Bible more difficult, for we tend to import our insipid, polite white bread experiences into our reading. The Bible is wholly made up of stories about “those people,” though, and that’s a hard leap for many to make. Says a lot about American church culture too. Your Eastern Orthodoxy generally isn’t as pristine or “nice,” however.


  52. Also, white people for the most part act the way I expect white people to act. Indian people don’t. At first, I expected them to. Silly me.

    People are more alike than cultures are, and what is culture anyway, other than a number of behaviors we have internalized?


  53. This is the “redlining” I mentioned. And it is in housing that the greatest generational harm was done to minorities. Without access to homes in “better” neighborhoods, many were not able to build equity and wealth to pass on to their children.


  54. Richard, you make some good points to clarify, enhance, and correct what I’m trying to say here. Blacks who migrated north also came to the cities to escape the back-breaking existence they were used to in the rural south. I imagine that, whether or not they even attempted to settle in more rural places in the Midwest, they might have been suspicious of rural, small town parochialism. They’d had enough of that.


  55. The compromise was that blacks were restricted to strictly defined neighborhoods.

    A few years ago someone who studies the historical development of urban areas said look for the down river and down wind/weather areas and that is almost always where the poor and black neighborhoods are located. So the “it just where they naturally grouped together” lines take on a new light. And since all the people who did this way back when are dead, not much is known about it in terms of general knowledge about an area.


  56. I don’t find white business culture toxic. I have had bad experiences with individual white businesses, but they have usually been of the ‘lawful evil’ variety. Indian business culture is to me a buzzing hive of irrationality, snares for the unwary, baksheesh, one-upmanship, and class (or caste) warfare.

    I guess I’m racist and bigoted. I can live with that.


  57. This. Talk to a Baptist and use Westboro Baptist to explain why you don’t trust Baptists, and your interlocutor will deny that Westboro Baptist reflects how Baptists in general behave. And they will be right. It is at the extreme. But talk to that same Baptists and use 9/11 to explain why you don’t trust Muslims, and likely as not they will nod in agreement. This is a natural response. If you know a group well, especially from the inside, you are aware of distinctions and factions and what is and is not typical. If you don’t know a group well, the tendency is to take the most visible behavior, which is often the most extreme, as typical. All entirely natural. Also, wrong, and a behavior that can be unlearned.


  58. Frankly, I give this essay a B, perhaps a B-minus.

    The good: It recognizes that soft racism is a thing. Now that nearly everyone agrees that racism is bad, many people set the bar at standing on street corners shouting the N-word. These people don’t do that, so therefore they aren’t racists and need not concern themselves with the question any further.

    The bad: It doesn’t acknowledge institutional racism. Why is it that when blacks moved north after the Civil War, they moved primarily into the cities? The facile answer is that the cities were where the jobs were, but the economy in the 19th century was far more geographically spread out than it is today. There were lots of jobs in the towns and the countryside. The blacks for the most part did not settle in those places because the locals did not permit them to, and were entirely prepared to use violence to ensure this. No account of race relations in America is complete without a discussion of sundown towns (which I suspect includes that town outside Indianapolis where blacks are afraid to go). Whites in the cities didn’t want them either, but the factory owners, who wanted the cheap labor, had the political clout to make it happen. The compromise was that blacks were restricted to strictly defined neighborhoods.

    With the blacks kept in their place, quite literally, it was simplicity itself to ensure that only the bare minimum of resources were allocated to them. This not only allowed extra resources go to whites, but it kept the blacks from advancing themselves. The classic example is to withhold a good education, then blame them for not being educated.

    All of this trickles down to today. Combine this with the American cult of the individual. This pretends that we are all self-made men–that institutional advantages or disadvantages have nothing to do with it. This is a nasty ideology under any circumstances, but combine it with systematic institutional imbalance and you have classic victim-blaming.

    So what to do? I am a white middle class male. I had a lot of institutional advantages from the day I was born–earlier, in fact, taking good prenatal medical care into account. I cannot change these advantages, and putting on sackcloth and ashes would be pointless performance art. But we can all work to remove the institutional inequities. Or we can work to preserve them. One particular inequity in the forefront today is the disparate treatment of black men by the police. When someone says “black lives matter,” I can agree that this is a problem and work to fix it. Or I can change the subject, saying “All lives matter” or “Blue lives matter” or “How about them Mets?” That too is a choice, and a telling one.


  59. > What do you call it when your racism is a result, not of ignorance, but of experience?

    If your response to a negative experience of a white person is to say, “Wow, that person was really toxic,” and your response to a negative experience of an Indian person is to say, “Wow, Indian people are really toxic,” that’s pretty much the definition of racism and bigotry.


  60. +1

    Sit through, or find the video/audio online, of some Planning Commission meetings in any midwest American city.

    They provide a clear line-of-sight into the American soul. It is best to do that on a bright sunny day when you can go outside afterwards and go for a walk, maybe see some puppies.


  61. > If Midwestern racism were just a matter of ignorance

    In many modern contexts it is a matter of ignorance; there is in my midwestern microcosm not much in the way of violence. There is a lot of “well, that’s just the way it is”, often flying under the flag of “my neighborhood”; and often people don’t know that the “way it is” in “my neighborhood” has a history of fear, demonization, and violence. And it can be both present and subliminal; often it persists as a vague fear of Disorder. And that vague, would-never-ever-be-directly-violent, fear of Disorder continues to fuel those same systems – often enshrined in dry boring things like land-use policies (Zoning) – which are ‘politely’ violent [they are the rule-of-law after all, right?]

    The power of disaffinity can’t be underestimated. I feel this post is on-point.


  62. Not gonna self-flagellate, either.

    When I first moved to the old Confederacy from the Midwest in the early 70s, I had my first exposure both to Black folk and to old-school separate-bathrooms racism. The school district in Central Florida where I moved to go to college was still segregated in 1973. There were riots, well, not riots, but melees and mayhem.

    I lock the windows in my cars when I go into certain neighborhoods in Atlanta, which is odd, since the neighborhood I live in and in which I feel entirely safe is one of “those” neighborhoods. In any heterogeneous gathering of people, I assume a middle-aged white man is in charge. What living in a black neighborhood has done for me is mostly refine the algorithm by which I identify which black people are likely to be a threat to me and which are not.

    One reason I’ve moved away from the alt-right in the last couple of years is that participants in those precincts are now requiring a visceral hatred of Blacks and Jews that I just don’t possess. However, I have learned some new prejudices; Kosovars, or European Muslims in general, I don’t care for. And subcontinentals (Indians and Pakistanis). If I hear a retroflex consonant when talking to a recruiter or a customer service agent, I just hang up, and I will go out of my way to avoid doing business with them. They have a business culture I find toxic, and just cannot adapt to.

    What do you call it when your racism is a result, not of ignorance, but of experience?


  63. Who is self-flagellating? It is simply examining a reality.

    > Being curious-but-wary about people about whom you know nothing is hardly racism.

    Existing in the system that created the situation is why it is Racism. There is no bright clear line between individual and culture, society, or economics.

    > Stereotypes are the rational approach to our limited knowledge.

    True, and that would be only what it is, except you exist inside a system of systems.


  64. If Midwestern racism were just a matter of ignorance and never having known any black people personally, then when black families first started to move into Midwestern suburbs they would’ve been met with welcome and curiosity instead of with violent rage, death threats, bombings, etc. Nor would all-white communities have been so susceptible to political messages that painted an image of black people as violent and dangerous criminals – the “law and order” rhetoric, alarmist exaggeration of how dangerous cities were, etc. Nor would so many people in those communities today have been so easily converted into overt allegiance to white supremacy.

    You can call it “soft” racism, but if someone’s response to encountering the Other is fear, demonization, and violence, then there’s something more lurking under the surface than just a sheltered existence or lack of experience of diversity.


  65. Yeah, I dunno, this seems a bit too much like casting around for a reason to self-flagellate by identifying the slightest thing as racism. Being curious-but-wary about people about whom you know nothing is hardly racism.

    Basing whether you’re likely to know anything about them on skin colour may be vaguely racist, but then ‘racism’ as a category becomes about as useful as ‘fascist’ in current culture, where it’s pretty much reduced to a synonym of “someone I thing others should disapprove of”.

    Stereotypes are the rational approach to our limited knowledge. You can’t go round getting to know absolutely everything about absolutely everyone. So you go by rules of thumb. If you’re smart, you update them as your horizons and experience grow.

    As it stands, I suspect that the average USian (of whatever hue) would display far greater ‘soft racism’ towards someone in a foreign land than between whites/blacks with the US.

    But then again, I’m not where you are. I grew up many decades ago in the UK, going to school with people of many different origins and colours. Even back then, the really racist days were sufficiently far behind that we could joke about it.


  66. Sound familiar. Only a bit whiter than my youth.

    “They” showed up when I entered the 5th grade. But it didn’t matter much as they had been given such a crap education up to that point that they all were in the bottom classes in terms of academics. At least for math and reading. And since I was in the classes run by the “good” teachers we also didn’t see them for anything else. It wasn’t till I ran into the situation with my kids starting school in the 90s that I realized what had happened in my youth.

    My high school had 900-950 when I was there. I was in band with 100-110 kids. ONE non white freshman when I was a senior. Then there was that debate about playing Dixie as the school fight song that occurred in an assembly during the 10th or 11th grade that started to get my attention. What brought me up were the number of teachers/admins who were also regulars at my church who basically said “we like this, it’s out tradition, so shut up and go along with it”.

    Our smallish town county had 1 city high school of about 1500 students with 3 county schools of about 600 to 950. County schools were very pale with a few sports exceptions. City school was 1/3 to 1/2 black. But when we did all county band which was done at the city school I have no memory of any black kids in the event. (I was a player every year for 4 years.)

    I don’t think there were any blacks in my advanced math, science, history, or English classes.

    Four years later it was a bit better when my next brother went through.

    Then there was the pastor of our church (SBC early 70s) who got shown the door about a year after that business meeting where the main topic was “what if they show up?”. The pastor and good friend of my family had the position of “what is the issue”. And no one would actually hit the the point directly.The entire meeting was done with misdirection and euphemisms.

    Later in college the school of engineering has so few non pale people that you could count them on your hands. Maybe you might need a few toes. Out of 900+ students.

    My father’s very good job for the area at a nuclear fuel plant didn’t have any non-white folk for the first 10 to 15 years so when he retired as one of the plant production managers in the 80s there were not many blacks at the upper levels (if any) as the white folks had a 15 year head start.

    And my younger brother 6 years behind me believes there was nothing holding back any of these people or their kids. And he has taught his kids the same.

    And I have to wonder how many non whites gave up a farm or small business as the banks plus state and federal programs just told them to go away.


    And the church I went to in the 1990s/2000s had it’s pockets of people. Or so I thought. The events of the last 5 or so years have convinced me they were just the ones who didn’t know how to keep their mouths shut.


  67. Hi, my name is Bob, and same here. Grew up in an all white world in an affluent suburban neighborhood of northern New Jersey. There was one Black kid in my grade-school for a while, but not long. Spent my first 18 years in that discrete world, coming into contact with people of color only in glancing ways and on TV and in movies. Even when I attended MSU in MI, and had more interaction with students of color, it was not deep or engaged interaction, and the white student world was mostly separated from intersection with that of students of color. Only in my twenties and thirties in employment situations did I encounter more and more people of color, and get to know them more. I would say now in the last decade leading up to my 60s I have gotten to know several people of color well at work, but our social worlds still mostly don’t intersect, our church worlds least of all. The work world is far more racially integrated than the church world, which has closely followed the systemic racial separation involved in American patterns of domestic residency, and that my Christian friends is very wrong and a major besetting sin of the church.


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