• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Martin Luther King Day, 2015

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lincoln Memorial
August 1963

In a recent study, two economists, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers, found that white N.B.A. referees disproportionally call fouls on black players, while black refs call more fouls on white players. According to the authors, “these biases are sufficiently large that they affect the outcome of an appreciable number of games.” [1]

The racism African-Americans faced in the south before the civil rights movement was overt, in your face. Blacks couldn’t vote, couldn’t eat in white-only restaurants and couldn’t relieve themselves in white-only bathrooms. Their children went to segregated and not-at-all-equal schools. In 1963, segregationist whites bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young African-American girls—Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins.

The racism found by Price and Wolfers isn’t at all overt. We might disagree whether or not Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO was a conscious overt manifestation of racism. It’s hard to imagine though that white referees would consciously call more fouls on black players than on white players. And it’s no easier to imagine black referees overtly calling more fouls on white players.

And yet the statistics don’t lie. There is no denying the racism here. This racism isn’t overt though. This racism is subconscious, it’s buried in our psyche.

You can test your own subconscious racism on the website YourMorals.org. [2] It’s a 5-10 minute test that’s been taken by thousands of people and it’s able to tell you the extent to which you prefer Europeans over African Americans or vice versa. I recently took the test and — yes — I have a preference for one race over another. All of us do.

We have met the enemy and he is us.
Walt Kelly

What are we to make of this subconscious racism? How are we to understand it? For if we don’t understand it, how are to create a world where our children are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?

One of the basic principle for dealing with a problem—problems in management, in science and even in mathematics—is to ask if the problem might be part of a bigger problem. It turns out that it’s often easier to ‘wrap your head’ around the second larger problem than the smaller one.

One feature of American racism—of course—lies in the specific peculiarities of our own unique history. Embedded in America’s culture are 400 years of slavery, segregation, lynchings, Jim Crow and all the other atrocities Whites have perpetrated on Blacks since the first slave was brought to America’s shores in 1619.

But there is also a deeper aspect to American racism, one that America’s racism shares with Anti-Semitism and all the other forms of prejudice and bigotry. America’s racism is part of an innate deeper thing we might call “otherism.” Our group vs their group.

Otherism is an adaptation by our species to solve the problem of scarce resources, food and mates. 85,000 years ago we lived in tribes. Our tribe’s survival often meant their tribe’s demise. They want our food and our women. And we want theirs. Us vs Them.

And the fact that you and I are here today is evidence that it was our ancestral tribes that won these battles. We are the survivors of more than 200,000 years of Us against Them and this Us vs. Them perspective is buried deep in our culture.

And the point—predicted by our evolution and our history—and illustrated by the reality that black referees call disproportionately more fouls against whites than blacks—is that none of us is immune from racism. Our racism is embedded 200,000 into our species and 400 years into our history. We are racists. You and me … All of us … We are embedded in a web of cultural racism.

In most of us, this cultural racism is mostly benign, showing up in weird places like the racist rant by Donald Sterling or in statistical analyses like the N.B.A. referees or when we willingly test ourselves at websites like YourMorals.org. Benign or not, however, it is there, in us.

It is this deeper cultural racism that we must confront if we are to create a world where our children are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is a recent illustration of the fruitless battle between wrongdoing and rightdoing. When it was reported that Scalise had spoken to a White supremacist group in 2002, battle-lines were immediately drawn. Democrats argued that Scalise is a racist. Republicans pushed back, arguing that he’s not a racist. And while we the people are arguing about whether or not Scalise is a racist, nothing is being done to create a world where our children are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. As Shakespeare put it “… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Time is moving on. It’s been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation; 50 years since the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. And yet too many of us are still judged by the color of our skin—or our religion or our ethnicity or our sexuality—rather than by the content of our character.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

King understood that dealing with America’s cultural racism requires us to find that field out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, that field where we are free to talk about cultural racism … without guilt … without fear … without shame. [3]

King knew as well that you cannot be heard unless you come in peace, for how else is one to overcome suspicions bred by 200,000 years of evolution and 400 years of history.

Our journey is long … that journey to create a world where everyone is judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character … our journey … America’s journey to ensure for all people the Declaration’s self-evident truth that we are all created equal.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
I still believe that “We Shall overcome!”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

Let Freedom Ring.


[1] Thanks to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times for bringing this and several other examples of cultural racism” to my attention.

[2] YourMorals.org is a collaboration among social psychologists who study morality and politics. Jonathan Haidt’s recent book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” explores this emerging field. I highly recommend Haidt’s TED talk on the same topic: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives.

[3] See Nicholas Kristof’s series “When Whites Just Don’t Get it.” in the New York Times. See also Mellody Hobson’s TED talk Be color brave, not color blind.

Copyright © 2015. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.


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