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Arnade writes: "In my Florida hometown, there is a train track that splits the town into two colors. When we passed into the black section of town, even if I were lying in the back of the station wagon, I knew it. The gravel roads would wake me, and I could basically smell poverty through the windows."

A resident of Lacoochee, Florida, a neighboring town to where Chris Arnade grew up. (photo: Chris Arnade/Guardian UK)
A resident of Lacoochee, Florida, a neighboring town to where Chris Arnade grew up. (photo: Chris Arnade/Guardian UK)


America Is Still a Deeply Racist Country

By Chris Arnade, Guardian UK

13 January 14

 

Gone is the overt, violent, and legal racism of my childhood in the 1960s. It's been replaced by a subtler, still ugly version

week after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, I walked into my old hometown bar in central Florida to hear, "Well if a nigger can be president, then I can have another drink. Give me a whiskey straight up."

Only one day in the town and I thought, "Damn the south."

I had returned home to bury my father, who had spent much of the 1950s and '60s fighting for civil rights in the south. Consequently, my childhood was defined by race. It was why our car was shot at, why threats were made to burn our house down, why some neighbors forbid me to play on their lawn, why I was taunted at school as a "nigger lover".

It was nothing compared to what the blacks in town had to endure. I was just residing in the seam of something much uglier.

It is also why I left as soon as I could, exercising an option few others had. I eventually moved to New York City to work on Wall Street.

In the next 15 years I thought less about race. It is possible to live in the northeast as a white liberal and think little about it, to convince yourself that most of the crude past is behind. Outward signs suggest things are different now: I live in an integrated neighborhood, my kids have friends of all colors, and my old office is diverse compared to what I grew up with. As many point out, America even has a black man (technically bi-racial) as president.

Soon after my father passed away, I started to venture beyond my Wall Street life, to explore parts of New York that I had only previously passed through on the way to airports. I did this with my camera, initially as a hobby. I ended up spending three years documenting addiction in the New York's Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point. There I was slapped in the face by the past.

In my Florida hometown, there is a train track that splits the town into two colors. When we passed into the black section of town, even if I were lying in the back of the station wagon, I knew it. The gravel roads would wake me, and I could basically smell poverty through the windows.

Crossing into Hunts Point in New York is the same, complete with a train track. The roads are paved, but feel unpaved. The stench of poverty has not changed much (industrial waste rather than uncollected garbage), nor has its clamor or its destructive power.

Neither has the color of its residents: the poor side of town in New York is still almost entirely dark skinned.

It took me a few months of slow recognition, fighting a thought I did not want to believe: we are still a deeply racist country. The laws on the books claim otherwise, but in Hunts Point (and similar neighborhoods across the country), those laws seem like far away idyllic words that clash with the daily reality: everything is stacked against those who are born black or brown.

We as a nation applaud ourselves for having moved beyond race. We find one or two self-made blacks or Hispanics who succeeded against terrible odds, and we elevate their stories to a higher position, and then we tell them over and over, so we can say, "See, we really are a color blind nation."

We tell their stories so we can forget about the others, the ones who couldn't overcome the long odds, the ones born into neighborhoods locked down by the absurd war on drugs, the ones born with almost even odds that their fathers will at some point be in jail, the ones born into neighborhoods that few want to teach in, neighborhoods scarce of resources.

We tell the stories of success and say: see anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, further denigrating those who can't escape poverty. It plays into the false and pernicious narrative that poverty is somehow a fault of desire, a fault of intelligence, a fault of skills. No, poverty is not a failing of the residents of Hunts Point who are just as decent and talented as anyone else. Rather it is a failing our broader society.

It took me seeing one black teen thrown against a bodega wall by cops, for no reason, to erase much of the image of seeing Obama elected. It took the unsolved murder of a 15-year-old Hunts Point girl, a girl my middle daughter's age, to make me viscerally understand how lucky my children are. It took watching as one smart child grew from dreaming of college to dealing drugs to viscerally understand how lucky everyone in my old office is.

The barriers between Hunts Point and the rest of New York are not as high as they were between the white and black section of my hometown in the 1960s. People can freely pass over them. Practically, however, they are almost insurmountable.

Gone is the overt, violent, and legal racism of my childhood. It has been replaced by a subtler version.

It is a racism that is easier to ignore, easier to deny, and consequently almost as dangerous.


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+26 # Billy Bob 2014-01-13 11:13
At first, I read the title and said to myself, "DUH! What else is new?"

Then I read the article, and realized it's not obvious for everyone. Many people (especially conservatives) are deluded and need to be forced to deal with realities they'd rather pretend don't exist.

This is one of them (just like global warming, and the existence of homeless people).

I also find that the people who "don't see it", tend to be the worst offenders.
 
 
+5 # The Voice of Reason 2014-01-13 21:01
The worst offenders are the ones who complain about black racism, or reverse racism.

Poor babies, almost 5 white people didn't get accepted into the college of their choice, and it's all those other people's fault. And all the time they were slaves they were just holding us back.

Wow, idiocy has reached a new level.
 
 
+20 # Vardoz 2014-01-13 11:24
It is a real tragedy that people of color have so aggressively been the target of abuse and what is amounting to a form of genocide for too many. Being side lined, forced into poverty abandon with lack of education and serices, aggressive imprisonment of vast black populations - What our nation has done is criminal and we are just too sadistic and primative to do the right thing- I am ashamed to be an American - ashamed to be in a nation that treats so many in such a profoundly destructive and life threatening way.
 
 
+26 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-01-13 11:46
We will not forget the Travon Martin murder. And no, I am not black, but I see the tragedy of the murder. A week or so after the murder I was having a cup of coffee in a nearby coffee, pastry shop. Three white policemen were sitting next to my table. There was a lull in their conversation. I asked one of the officers, "what is your assessment of the
Travon Martin murder?" Officer, "he should have not been wearing a hoodie." I said, "suppose I were to go home, put on a hoodie and return to this coffee shop. Does that give you a right to kill me?" The officer became a little knee jerk. His bodily reactions were subtle, almost as if he had to restrain himself, wanted to punch me out. I said, "you cannot do what your subtle bodily reactions are telling me. Killing me is against the law." I left the coffee shop.
 
 
+17 # Billy Bob 2014-01-13 12:34
Of course, he meant "He should not have been wearing a hoodie, while black". You were supposed to just read that code into what he said, without forcing him to admit his true feelings.

You offended his sense of superiority by being uppity.

And, it goes without saying that he "could not kill you", because there were too many witnesses present.
 
 
+8 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-01-13 20:48
The officer's reply to my qustion was without thought. When you or I are asked a significant question, normally, we would think for a moment and then reply. No thought by the officer. Juat a very spontaneous reply and with a very slight almost unnoticable smile on his face, but there was a smile in both of his eyes.
 
 
+10 # Farafalla 2014-01-13 20:32
Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie. Nobody shoots him. It is indeed all about race.
 
 
+17 # Buddha 2014-01-13 11:25
It is worse today in the sense that because racism has gone underground, it makes it easier for those who hold such racism in their heart and their enablers who condone it for their own political gain to actually pretend that racism is dead. The GOP can pretend that birtherism, and the general unprecedented level of hatred and disrespect Obama has faced, has zero to do with race...while they in de rigueur fashion continue to push the buttons or racism (how about the chestnut from 2012: "Obama ended the Welfare Work requirements so he can just hand out free money to lazy blacks and hispanics to win election").
 
 
+19 # Jingze 2014-01-13 11:27
The on-going vicious racist attacks on the president tells much about the USA. Racism lies behind the do-nothing congress which hides the truth under its gobbly-d-gook.
 
 
+13 # Billy Bob 2014-01-13 12:36
Amen! Conservatives (since Nixon) have decided that no one can call them racists, as long as they don't openly admit their motivations out loud in public.

Unfortunately for their strategy, the rest of us still hear them loud and clear when we go out to eat, or are forced to be around our conservative relatives at Thanksgiving.

They're not fooling anyone, but they think they are.
 
 
+16 # maddave 2014-01-13 12:19
To recognize the degree to which racism still exists in the USA one needs look no farther than the aftermath of the Roberts' Court decision to proclaim that racism was a dead issue and that the States could be trusted to not to initiate any racially-biased changes their voting laws, this despite the facts that voter ID and other restrictions were already being enacted by "red states" across the country.

That very day, wheels began to turn and several States' Legislatures - including FLA, NC, TX - began to implement procedures and pass laws (almost) as draconian as any that LBJ's Voting Right Act was written to outlaw.

Generally, the Southern white racists reject black people as a group. Elsewhere racist whites tend to reject blacks individually. Either way, we still have our problem, and I can see nobody giving it anything more than lip service.
 
 
+11 # pegasus4508 2014-01-13 12:30
Kudos to Chris Arnade and RSN for this well written piece on racism.

Conservatives always blame black people for "playing" the race card when in fact, any human with a shred of compassion or empathy could SEE racism if they choose to. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Denial, disrespect, name calling and shaming will not erase the problem of systematic racism.

That is the fight now, it is deep and brutal. Many states now have entire school systems set up to funnel students from school to jail(for profit) without a break for a voter registration card.

Education is one way to address the issue, holding teachers AND administrators accountable is another.

All Children are born with hope. It is the adults in their lives that allow the flame of hope to slowly dim and go out.

Many readers of RSN get this at a heart level. Now if only some of us can get out into our communities and find some ways to help.

One initiative this year (Van Jones) is to train 100,000 young black youth to code. It is a start - but we will need more.

Thanks RSN! YOU ROCK!
 
 
+11 # jwb110 2014-01-13 12:37
Dispersing all races throughout a society makes for a more cohesive and smarter electorate. There is not a Republican alive who wants that.
 
 
+13 # Radsenior 2014-01-13 12:37
Racism is alive and well in America. The TEA-party is the KKK revamped. Following the Supreme Court decision overturning a key part of the Voting Rights Act, nine southern states changed their election laws. Within 48 hours, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina announced plans to push through tougher voting restrictions that could disenfranchise voters. North Carolina, wants to eliminate early voting, same-day registration and Sunday voting hours, and implementation of photo identification requirements. Florida is cutting early voting. ALL elections should follow federal guidelines with a photo ID on every voter registration issued by the states. Standardizing voting in all elections, in every state and make it a federal offense for infringing on another's right to vote. Make it a federal offense to inhibit anyone from voting during the designated time and locations noted.
It will take boots-on-the-gr ound, grass-roots effort to get this done. Do not sit at home and allow others to make your decisions for you. It is more important now than ever! If you are not happy with the way your congress person is working - Fire him/her! Sweep the Senate clean in 2014! Sweep the House clean in 2014! Remove the TEA-types and Republicans who have been shutting down programs beneficial to the public. NOT VOTING IS LIKE VOTING FOR THE OPPOSITION! V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumberance)
 
 
0 # Jingze 2014-01-13 14:22
Sadly enough, the Teabaggers will probably win both House and Senate in November, and the presidency in 2016. Voters, at least those people still allowed to vote by the right wing, are too lazy and stupid to vote out the ones currently in office who have by-and-large rendered the federal government worthless. Things are going to get worse, folks, not better.
 
 
+11 # fredboy 2014-01-13 15:31
I was a white kid raised in the "black neighborhood" of a racially and financially divided Virginia city during the '50s and '60s. And yes, I saw bigotry there, just as I continue to see it throughout the nation.

But I also saw and knew heroes. Black young men and women who shared unflinching honor, goodness, patience, strength, humor, sharing, and magnificent maturity and faith. I saw and knew black families who shared magnificent honor and faith and belief and goodness. I saw and knew the finest people I have ever encountered.

My sadness now is that we seem to not notice or honor the remarkable people who are with us today sharing such values. We instead focus on the "bad" among us, black and Hispanic and white and Asian.

I think it is time to champion the best among us and the concept of goodness. I know the heroic people I saw and knew during my childhood inspired me to appreciate and try to live those values.
 
 
+1 # Glen 2014-01-14 07:27
You are correct, fredboy. People are people, some good, some thugs, some bigots, some held down by race, some working their butts off to get somewhere. Any race is composed of all of the above and more.

I have lived in areas that are predominantly white, and the crass behavior on their part is rather much accepted. Had they been black, it would have been condemned, maybe even violently, and then used as a reason to hate all blacks.

Not much has changed.
 
 
+3 # RMDC 2014-01-14 08:34
Yes, the US will always have race divisions as one of its founding principles. The UK still has class as one of its founding principles. I don't think the US will ever get over the crimes that the white settler community committed and is still committing against people whose skin color is red, black or brown.

Dan Snyder who is the owner of the Washington football team just does not understand this. You can't call your team by the skin color of some group that was the victim of racism and be admired by anyone other than more racists. Snyder thinks "Red Skins" is an honorfic term. He's wrong. Skin color in the US is always a very loaded reference. Snyder is Jewish so why not call the team the Washington Jews. I'd say that idea would last for about 1 second.

Racism today is still very violent. Michele Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, reveals the very violent and destructive nature of US racism today.
 
 
+1 # moonrigger 2014-01-15 09:01
We need to have a new Constitutional Convention and fix the inherent errors in the way it's allowed the Commerce Clause & the concept of states rights to provide too much latitude to the states. It shouldn't take passing a new amendment every time we need to fix major problems, such as equal rights. It allows special interest groups to control women's health issues; allows racism to determine who goes to jail; quashes environmental regulations; undermines safety regulations; and guts funding for education. The bullies on the far right have just about dismantled everything gained during the 20th Century--beginn ing with workers rights. Something's gotta change, and until we go back to the original documents and straighten things out, we're going to be stuck in this much and mire into perpetuity.
 

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