I Married a Black Man
I am a 73-year-old white widow who was interracially and interculturally married to an African for nearly 41 years. I took college classes from him on racism. We wrote a book, Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, together on the effect of racism in Liberia, West Africa comparing it to racism in America. The following are things I learned about the characteristics of racism, my own racism and the whys and hows of it.
1. Racism was accelerated in America to resolve guilt
Racism is based on emotion, not logic. It evolved from the natural tendency of racial and cultural distinction to justify white oppression and advantage. It went to new heights in America in order to rationalize a Southern economy based on slavery. In the absence of machines, land without labor was useless. Obvious racial differences and the ‘inferior’ (uncivilized) African culture softened white guilt and fear.
2. Racism is passed through culture
Every American has been exposed to endemic racism in some form or another. In the American system of slavery based on race, racism became the basis of the American culture as it developed.
Everyone, young and old today, knows black and white racial stereotypes. Slavers created the perception that black people were inferior and continued to keep them inferior in and after slavery. Racism still continued after slavery was abolished because freed Negro slaves still needed to be controlled and could be easily exploited since they had no resources of their own. Reconstruction was merely a continuation of slavery in the form of sharecropping. Farmers ended up in debt after the crop was harvested. Any financial or political gains by black people were openly or subtly quashed throughout America’s history. Black people today are still controlled by disproportionate incarceration and other forms of institutionalized racism deeply woven into the very fabric that makes up our society.
“Culturalist” is the new term for cultural superiority. Racism was based on the ‘uncivilized’ African culture. While there are positives and negatives in every culture, no culture has all positives and no negatives because we are all flawed human beings.
No white person wants to be labeled racist despite their racial assumptions. At the same time, they don’t want to sacrifice their racial privilege and entitlement. Christian white people want to believe they are magnanimous and good – fair to all people.
But well-meaning white people who say, “I don’t see race”/”I don’t see color” are fooling no one but themselves. Categorizing is human nature. However, while stereotype contains some elements of truth, it’s never the whole picture. There is always a myriad of exceptions to the rule. The hardest thing for anyone is to see themselves objectively as others see them. We all excuse ourselves and condemn others for the same thing.
3. Racism is a group phenomenon with a group effect
In social psychology, racism has a social basis and exerts a social force. We value what our peers and culture value. We tend to imitate the attitudes and behavior of those around us to belong, be accepted, and gain approval.
Racism displays the power of status and association. Black people and white people in many ways have superficial relationships. Interracial, intercultural marriages are still frowned upon in some circles. The age-old question was, “Would you want your daughter to marry one?” Historically, when a voluntary organization became more than 30% black, white people left. There are different forms of rejection – open and subtle. Simply being ignored in a group setting is humiliation in itself.
4. Racism has a repetitive nature
Those who are demeaned rise by demeaning others. In the effect of racism upon black people, the oppressed became oppressor.
From the slave days well into the 1950s, light-skinned black people had an advantage over those who were dark-skinned. Light-skinned black people even enjoy some different privileges today than their darker-skinned counterparts. In Liberia, West Africa, in the 1800s, free blacks and freed slave settlers demeaned the tribal groups there on the basis of cultural inferiority.
5. Racism generates callousness
Today, racial stereotypes continue to benefit white people as they remain the image of a superior race. Historically, the only claim of poor Southern white people was their skin color. Black success threatened racial stereotype. “If blacks succeeded,” they thought, “poor white people had no excuse for their failure.”
Has racism disappeared? It depends on who you ask. In white blindness, it’s very easy to deny racism when you don’t suffer the brunt of it. A white friend said, “Everyone knows black people aren’t inferior. It’s their fault they keep bringing the issue of racism up.” But because of segregation – the need to separate – which continues today, there is a huge gulf in black and white perception.
Superior/inferior inherently implies dominant/subordinate. White people don’t want to give up their racial privilege because of its positive image which garners them acceptance among their peers. Unless it’s threatened, they’re blind to such advantage and take it for granted. They can’t imagine what life would be like without it or what it means to a black person not to have it. They can’t imagine not being able to try on clothes in a department store; sleep in a motel, eat in a restaurant, or use a drinking fountain. They can’t imagine the countless slights and open insults given to black people.
Black people know the white point of view more so than white people know the black point of view. The black point of view is irrelevant to white people. A white man commented after seeing Black Klansman, “I don’t like the way they lump all white people together.” Why? Because it was a negative racial image.
And yet, this is what has happened to black people. In a movie preview I watched with a white friend, when the white officer shot a black man reaching for his hairbrush, my friend said, “He deserved that. He shouldn’t have moved his hand.”
White people say poor black people can succeed if they have better discipline and the right character qualities. They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like white people did, ignoring racial advantage. They do not realize that oftentimes, this is easier said than done or impossible.
6. Racism divides a society through different racial realities
Black people and white people live in different racial worlds that intersect on a superficial level. There is a “white culture” and a “black culture” because of segregation. Status and the power of association explain why black people and white people move in concentric circles in American Christianity. Different forms of worship evolved because of segregation.
As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You have to be able to walk in another person’s shoes.” Race and racism have made that impossible which explains the persistence of white blindness on racial issues. The recent rise of open racism stems from the fear white people will lose their racial advantage. America’s population is becoming more and more diverse. Racism may go underground but it doesn’t disappear. In the racial divide, where black people and white people live in different worlds, there is a white point of view and a black point of view. And nary the two have met.
The personal effect of racism is devastating and wreaking havoc on American unity. I believe the way to diffuse it is to openly discuss its origins and social dynamics. The truth is, racism isn’t based on individual inferiority; it’s a product of a society – a tool of control and advantage.
Our Love Story
When my husband died in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl & the African Chief. It tells a lot more about us!