I took part in a conversation Saturday that few of us are willing to have, and I remain disturbed at the lack of understanding that still exists about the topic.
*Tyree Byndom is an amazing man. Father and husband, business owner and community activist, he is someone I look up to as a person who lives his ethics. Part of that morality can be heard during his Saturday afternoon show on KOPN 89.5 FM.
I arrived late for the "Straight Talk" program, and Byndom had already opened the conversation about race and the perceptions of discrimination in America.
It is unfortunate that I came in midway into the conversation, but I knew where the discussion was going after listening on my way to the studio.
The question being discussed and the answers I heard made me very uncomfortable, as it should you.
Can Americans of African descent be "racists?"
The consensus from the blacks involved in the conversation took me aback. "No."
Their argument? Only those who suppress and dominate can be racists; therefore, blacks cannot be racists.
This appeared to be based on the idea that government policy created by the majority race — i.e., whites — continues to foster a doctrine of suppression of minorities based on ______ (this is where you fill in the blank with race, religion, ethnicity or another submission).
It very well might not be a valid argument, though it's one I can understand.
I know this is not my definition of racism — that race is used to define the superiority of one group over another.
That somehow skin pigmentation alone causes a difference in social and economic standing, as well as moral and intellectual dominance. That "racism" is the hatred of others based entirely on race.
What I call racism, in a broader use of the term, is what my American friends of African descent define as "discrimination." In the world of perception versus intent, of "my truth" versus "your truth," I need to accept this, though I still don't fully understand it, as many Americans of European backgrounds do not.
Discrimination exists. Whether it is based on skin color or religion makes no difference; discrimination is part of our daily lives. If you claim not to discriminate against others based on any criteria, you are probably lying to yourself.
However, in my observation, racism is not limited to the "dominant" race. It is prevalent in all races, creeds, ethnicities, religions.
I know blacks who hate whites simply because of skin color. Asian-Americans who hate blacks. Latinos who don't like Americans of Asian descent.
Even in the American black community, there is some anger toward those who seem to have embraced American diversity and moved ahead economically, socially and personally.
This does not mean to assume the "white man's" way of life. It does mean moving into the mainstream of society, a business society found in any nation at any given time.
Bill Cosby talked about this very issue when he spoke to the NAACP on May 17, 2004, a discussion commonly referred to as the "pound cake" speech. He talked about self-determination, not just for the black community, but for everyone.
He spoke of taking hold of your own destiny and not allowing others to map your life. He talked about fixing the perceived problems, not complaining about them.
I cannot claim that I fully understand the extent of the anger of some in the black community about slavery, as I cannot understand the anger of Native Americans about Christopher Columbus' landing in 1492.
However, I have experienced first-hand a similar anger of American Jews against all Germans; also white supremacists in the U.S. and overseas against Jews. Of course, "Jewish" is not a race or ethnicity. It is a religion.
But anti-Semitism still exists in the United States, as do anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Hindu sentiments. It is easy to blame others who look, sound or act differently.
Racism, discrimination and prejudice are not one-way streets. Those who were the oppressed will eventually become the oppressors.
After the Holocaust during World War II, the world said "never again," but ethnic cleansing, racism and religious persecution endure regardless whether it is white-on-white, black-on-black or any combination thereof.
Part of the "answer" is having this conversation. Talking about our differences in views and beliefs is not racist. It is American.