Saturday, June 10, 2017

About Bill Maher's Comment:

Before we condemn Bill Maher we should consider the fact that we are ALL racists. He is a racist. You are a racist. I am a racist.

That I am an unconscious racist was brought home to me when I began dating my former wife, a Venezuelan native and visiting graduate student. We'd watch TV and she had a hard time understanding the distinctions we Americans make concerning color. Harry Belafonte appeared on a show and she asked "Is he black?" Lena Horne appeared on a show. Same question. In Venezuela Harry Belafonte wasn't considered to be black. Lena Horne wasn't considered to be black. My Venezuelan girlfriend had a totally different mindset concerning race. Only someone deeply black, as in African black, is considered "black" in Venezuela. Others with lighter skin or whiter skin are considered to be the same. Remember, in the final analysis we're using the amount of melanin in a person's skin to make value judgments about that person. These are culturally transmitted learned judgments,

Our discernment concerning race are a totally learned aspect of American culture. We see differences because we are taught to see differences. As long as we can look at two individuals and decide based on appearance alone that one is "black" and one is not, we are racist. This also applies to distinctions for Asians, Latin Americans, etc. As long as we continue to distinguish a fellow human being as "other" we are all racist. That we have institutionalized that distinction, and we all, in ways big and small, contribute to that institutionalizing, is our national shame.

I'm not writing this to excuse Bill Maher. As a public figure with a national platform, it is incumbent on him to be especially aware of our institutionalized racism and the impact his words have in the time of #TraitorTrump. Because his unconscious racism can sometimes slip out on a national stage doesn't mean the rest of us get a pass.

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