Are We All Racists?

President Obama visiting EMC Precision Machining in Elyria, Ohio, in 2010.

On the last blog, I mentioned that I voted for Barack Obama partly because I wanted to see a black president during my lifetime. A lot of readers were bothered by this statement, so I would like to flesh out my rationale.

Over the course of 50 years, I have seen racial relationships in America gradually evolve from hatred and fear towards tolerance and acceptance on both sides. Growing up in the 1950s on the segregated Chicago’s Southside, I was on the frontlines of racial confrontation. My public grammar school drew from an affluent white area and a predominantly black area of apartments. We barely spoke to one another at Parkside School. Hyde Park High School, the public high school I would graduate to, was 98 percent black students. My parents sent my siblings and I to a private high school because Hyde Park was deemed to be too dangerous.

For my parents, black people were not Negroes – they were “Schvartz” or “Schvartzes” – an uncomplimentary Yiddish term for people of color. The black women I knew were maids, and the black men were janitors. In high school I was introduced to black kids who were children of doctors or lawyers or other members of the small black middle class in Chicago, but mixing other than in sports was taboo.

So I was born into a racist America, and though I was not a person who used the N-word or the Yiddish pejorative, I bought into the racial norms of the day – racial fear and social separation. In college I followed the careers of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and just barely started to connect with black athletes and other black students I met in the dorms. I was just beginning to wrestle with the disconnect of being intellectually tolerant and emotionally racist – a combination as American as a black and white sundae.

When it came time to live the American dream of a home in the suburbs with kids we moved further south to the Chicago suburb Olympia Fields. This is the home of the Olympia Fields Country Club where the 2003 U.S. Open Golf Tournament was held after they agreed to allow a symbolic black person to join. But over the last 30 years, the area became the suburb of choice for upwardly mobile urban black people. I was faced with the same decision my parents had to make – move to the land of white people and white schools, or send my kids to a school where they were the white minority. We stayed – not out of social-liberal purity – but because we liked the neighborhood. Did our kids like being the token white people? Not especially, but they accepted the idea without much dissent.

And we continue to live in the same house. Our neighbors are mostly African-American and most of the Jews are gone now. We have slowly developed black friends, but I can honestly say we are not color-blind. There is still the occasional twinge of fear when walking into a gaggle of black teenagers. We’re still Americans, so we are still at least a little racist.

So why vote for Obama? Racial guilt? No. Racial pride. The vote was a symbolic statement that I, Lloyd Graff, at 63 years old, was better than I started out. Obama was the beneficiary, and my vote at a polling place where most of the people voting had darker skin than my own – made me feel good.

Questions: Do you think most people in America are racist?

Do you consider yourself a racist?

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53 thoughts on “Are We All Racists?

  1. Sean

    My parents always made the broader point that we are all prejudiced by virtue of our upbringing, in our attitudes toward people of different races, gender, age, background, ethnicity, religion, and appearance. It was always up to us, however, how we acted upon our prejudices. Those who claim not to have any prejudices were, in my fathers’ rather brusque opinion, either ignorant or lying.

    The demonizations and expresssions of people professing their lack of respect for the authors, or their stupidity, in asking a very basic question is a disappointingly familiar response from people who refuse to treat their fellow human beings with respect, and frequently project their own uncritical tribalism upon their perceived opponents.

    Neither of our two political parties is pursuing policies consistent with democratic ideals and morality. The previous president provided a historic high point for partisans, but a historic low point for conservatism. His replacement has certainly been a disappointment, regardless of party affiliation. It is undeniable, however, that we have seen many people, even some in this thread, use delegitimizations of Obama that not only deny that he is a Democrat, but even that he is an American. That is delusional, and in the latter case, yes, even racist.
    The name calling, projection, false moral equivalency, denial of science, demonstrably basic facts, and the non-stop stream of lies emanating from Republicans this election is nearly matched by the moral cowardice, erosion of civil liberties, and craven protection of special interests exhibited by the Democrats. A pox on both wings of their house is deserved, but I will do my civic duty and vote. I may not vote the same way as Lloyd did, but I will do so based upon my conscience, just as he did.

  2. Steve Baranyk

    The issue of electing a President of the U.S. has nothing to do with Race. It has everything to do with competence and political ideology. On these two measures Obama flunks out. The best attribute of his term in office is that he is showing very clearly the far left vision for America and for most of us that vision is not one we share.

    Steve Baranyk


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