Many whites, particularly those who grew up in the 30’s through the 50’s and beyond, grew up in communities of families, neighbors and friends who signaled the perceived inferiority of all African Americans to their young children and friends who shared their views.

We would not have characterized ourselves as racist. In fact, we would have vehemently denied it.

In my upbringing, and that of many others, there were no hateful statements about blacks, but the tone of white superiority was in the community. Signals and innuendos were there. Racist jokes were frequent and passed on to other whites, none of whom were deeply offended by such derogatory attempts at humor. Even an intended complement to a black person betrayed racism. “I had trouble with my car today and this great guy helped me–and he was a black guy,” implying the exceptional nature of a black man being a good person. Interracial marriage was discouraged. You didn’t want your son or daughter to marry a black person. This is what we white children were fed with some regularity.

We didn’t have black friends because they didn’t live near us.

We did recognize our common values with neighbors who weren’t like us in their appearance, customs, cultures and native languages. We were all poor and working class. My family and those of our neighbors came from  countries like Italy, Ireland, Lebanon, Armenia and others. Each of our immigrant groups suffered prejudice, yet we lived together as friends and good neighbors to one another. Despite hateful prejudice, immigrant groups ultimately assimilated into a common American culture.

Those families of immigrants were not systematically segregated like those of black Americans, whose ancestors have been in this country centuries before the immigrant families I grew up with.

If black families had been our neighbors, they would have been our friends. We would have known them as people and recognized that their values and goals were the same as ours, growing up in struggling working class neighborhoods.

The direct and more subtle white supremacy indoctrination did not take with many of us. Some of us had the good fortune of getting an education, reading history and exercising our own judgment. Others did not need the gift of education to become people of character and connect with the human rights of all of us.

As BLM leaders have explained to us whites, it is not enough that you are not a racist, you must be anti-racism. You must stand up and be counted. At a minimum, make your vote count. It is an imperative.

Many of the white population I describe did not grow up in the same areas as blacks. We didn’t know black Americans because we didn’t encounter blacks to any significant degree. Segregation is responsible for that.

Systemic racism has existed throughout American history. White supremacy has been enforced in many ways. Outright, legalized segregation, with the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1895,  made “separate but equal” the law of the land. Even after the Supreme Court, in 1954, overruled that disgraceful low point in Supreme Court history, American law and banking practice established red-lined communities that have  successfully perpetuated segregation of blacks from white neighborhoods.

LeBron James commented that he never met a white kid until, as a teenager, he played organized basketball.

Children are not born racist. They absorb racial hatred from their families and friends.

Trump disgustingly manipulated a video of two boy toddlers, to turn it into something ugly. In fact, it was a beautiful, tender moment of a white boy and a black boy, both about two, hugging each other as their parents let them run to each other.

To this day, not enough of us, white and black, know each other, in many parts of the country.

In those decades (30’s-50’s), we could have ended or minimized racism had we been friends and neighbors in more mixed communities.

As an idealistic young man, I went to graduate school in Boston. In the first weeks of class, I told a black classmate and friend that I thought it was wonderful for us to be in such a liberal community without racism. His response was, “That’s because you’re white.”

He was right. Whites do not commonly see racism in law enforcement, for example. We are not pulled over in our cars for no apparent reason. We are not mistaken for a criminal police seek to apprehend. We are not mistakenly beaten for crimes we did not commit. We are not wrongfully murdered in the streets or in our homes.

In Boston, years ago,  I came to understand what my friend had said as I got know more people in the community. It was amazing to me  how blunt shamelessly racist white people would be when speaking to another white guy, as if we were assumed to share their hateful views.

It still exists today as racist business people, even well educated ones, are less blunt, yet constantly complaining about the Obama Administration. Yes, it could be a disagreement on a political issue, but it happens too frequently for it not to be a signal. Many of Trump’s racist base hated the fact that a U.S. President had an African father. That’s racism. There is no mistaking it.

Cell phones have enlightened us, from the beating of Rodney King to all Americans watching the brutal murder of unarmed George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis.

Finally, the majority of Americans, of all colors, recognize what black Americans have been protesting for years. The racist element in law enforcement has committed assaults and murders of black Americans and consistently gotten away with it.

Thank God, most of us have had enough of the evil of white supremacy. We must stand together to eradicate what we all know to be a long history of systemic racism.

Among the many failures of Donald Trump, is his failure to recognize that we’ve had enough of him and his extreme racism. This President now advances a transparent law and order platform of his reelection run. He sounds more and more like one of American history’s most vile, unrelentingly racist politicians, George Wallace, as he stood in the doorway to the University of Alabama in 1963,  proclaiming, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

We can eliminate systemic racism from the American landscape, but not with this pathetic narcissist in office.

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10 Comments on "Growing Up White In A Racist Environment Was A Norm We Didn’t Question"

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Cherl Harrell

Excellent piece! You are exactly right, voting him out of office is the first step, of a long road and a lot of work to do. We owe it to humanity to do this hard work.

I had somewhat of the same experience as a kid. I was always taught that all people were the same. That is, until I started dating a black guy HAHAHA! That is when the truth came out. It was a big shock to me. When I look back at my childhood though, I can see (hear) a lot of comments that would now be considered racist. Also, the comments were not just about black people, they were talking about Italians, Polish (and we were Polish!), Jewish, and other nationalities. Hate, hate, and hate and I didn’t even know it. Thank… Read more »
Gods. If I have to read another IGNORANT self-righteous asshole post something like this “He sounds more and more like one of American history’s most vile, unrelentingly racist politicians, George Wallace, as he stood in the doorway to the University of Alabama in 1963, proclaiming, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” WITHOUT noting that that “unrelentingly racist politician” had a COMPLETE turnaround in his belief system, I am seriously going to go ballistic. After the assassination attempt on his life, do you know who Wallace’s FIRST non-family visitor was? Shirley Chisholm–the first African-American woman to run for the Democratic… Read more »
Fred Robinson
Looking back, as a Southern boy growing up in the segregation era, I never felt an antipathy to people of color, probably because as a youngster, I used to go with my dad on some evenings of his policing the city and would hear his conversations with business owners, including those in black neighborhoods of our town. I never sensed any different feelings among any of them, like fear or apprehension. My mother worked retail and one of her favorite people was the African-American lady who worked in the stock rook. I normally went back thee if I stopped in… Read more »

Excellent advice. We will see if they heed it, or if any of this occurs to them, since I don’t know if they read your blog………


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