DAVID ROSMAN: A look at racism from many directions

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:02 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 8, 2011

*An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated the KOPN program on which David Rosman was a guest. Rosman arrived for "Straight Talk," but stayed over for part of "Kore Issues."

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.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. "A Christian Nation?" is his newest book.

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Greg Allen December 7, 2011 | 9:02 a.m.

Thank you for writing this.

For many years the City of Columbia sponsored diversity discussions, a 'study circle' setting where issues of race, class, age, religion, education, and many others were focused on. The people who participated in these discussions tended to be progressive; we brainstormed marketing ideas to get a wider representation of the population there but never succeeded. I think it's symptomatic of our culture that many people avoid looking at these issues, and certainly helps perpetuate the problems.

Mr. Byndum was one of our facilitators, and I met many excellent people by facilitating.

'Discrimination' is looked on as a dirty word. However, without discrimination we would make one uninformed and poor choice after another. It's HOW we use it that makes a difference.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub December 7, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

While people in general tend to believe they are individuals, it seems to be evident that they are basically herd animals. This is why they tend to stay in groups of likeness, whether the same race, religion, team, whatever they identify with becomes theirs. This and a serious flaw in our species, extreme competitiveness with those who are not part of our herd, is why we are constantly at war, why we have racism, why our country has become so divided, why father's get into fights at their children's sporting events, etc..
However, there are some who choose to lead the herds and use this knowledge to control them, which is why leaders are able to get average members of the herd to go to war and kill 'our' enemies. Usually people that we don't know and have never met.

We also seem to have another serious flaw and that is lack of tolerance, as the author alludes, we often are intolerant of those who choose to embrace some ideas from the other side. Perhaps these are not flaws at all but seem to be by those that appear to lack these or have traded them for the worst flaw of all...the insatiable quest for power.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 7, 2011 | 1:33 p.m.

Finding points of agreement might be useful. For example, maybe we could ALL agree that strewing cotton balls on a university campus is not only racially insensitive but also really bad manners and a waste of cotton balls.

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Michael Williams December 7, 2011 | 4:00 p.m.

A month ago, my wife and I ate at a restaurant in Louisiana, MO. The waitress, a fellow caucasian, gave what I considered poor service; in short, my interpretation of her behavior was "Overall, she was rude."

That observation on my part prompted a conversation that tried to answer the question, "What if we had been customers of some other race/nationality?" How would we have described her behavior? What words would we use, including "rude"?

"Discriminatory" and "Racist" were two of several that we thought of.

How often do we misread other folks? How often do we see what we are looking for?

PS: Try this thought-game some time and see where it leads.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 7, 2011 | 4:18 p.m.

Word Origin & History:
1932 as a noun, 1938 as an adjective, from race (n.2); racism is first attested 1936 (from Fr. racisme, 1935), originally in the context of Nazi theories. But they replaced earlier words, racialism (1907) and racialist (1917),
Multiple links on the study of racialism:

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas December 7, 2011 | 11:46 p.m.

"Can a black be a racist? The answer is of course."

-spoken word by Mishante at the beginning of the show

Tyree took the position that blacks cannot be racist. The other hosts initially responded yes.

As the conversation progressed, the hosts qualified their definition of racism, and the history of mistreatment of groups of people became a major factor in determining one's response.

I think that it is dangerous to say that any black person might hate white people "simply" because of the color of their skin. I also think it is dangerous to assume that black people are never in a dominant position, something implied at different points in the conversation.

(Report Comment)
Tyree Byndom December 8, 2011 | 12:26 a.m.

Wow!!!! I see comments from some of the brightest minds and purest souls that I know. What an honor!

Also David, I appreciate you being my guest, saying the kind words, and for writing such an excellent follow-up article. I am having a good time reading your book and I suggest that everyone should buy a copy for their personal library. It is good research for the sceptic or the fanatic alike. It offers a view into the mind of uncertainty, which leads to your path of choice.

Greg - I remember you and marveled at your ability to adapt the skills needed in order to be a neutral facilitator and was proud to work with you on one of the most powerful tools the City of Columbia, Missouri has ever implemented. I talked to Nanette Ward today and she is well. She took the lead. A small Asian woman with a the passion of 10 men. I served her well for a decade. She also was one of the ones to discuss this conversation often, and even experienced much racism, numerous times, with her employer and in taking people and bringing people out of this very conversation with their sanity in tact, but eyes and hearts changed. She did a series on the myth of race and opened my eyes and I was already enlightened. I advise all of your to view it as well.

Michael, thank you for sharing your experience. David and others have shared that they dont know what it feels like to others, but one must only look and study history to comprehend it and feel it. Like in a movie, you experience all of the same emotions. Many people use cognitive dissonance to explain it away so that they too, can keep their sanity and not sit in the fullness of what they participate in on a daily basis, a racist society and environment, seeking to escape from the kingdom of names. If you are the Michael that I am thinking of, I need to talk to you. Call me.

Ray, thanks for the link. I bookmarked it. How many others will and really want to understand and see the full scope and shed their white privilege, and also shed the black inferiority complex even with reasons to rise or submit, act without ceasing.

(Report Comment)
Tyree Byndom December 8, 2011 | 12:27 a.m.

Part 2:

Justin Thomas, you have gained the full amount of respect that I can pay a human being, brother. I see you, your culture, but my connection with you is eternal. The points that you share are a good anchor to this brief digital conversation. The treatment, the decisions, the story, the examples, the reality, the wisdom, and the jim crow laws surrounding this subject are all we have to go on, since we are not instinctive beings, but learn from our collective history. Even though most of you are talking and considering global definitions and awareness of this definition, we were discussing the global, but focusing on our experience and the information at our disposal. 1% black businesses in CoMo, but 13% of the population, of the 4000 Black men in CoMo, only 10% dont have any convictions, and many others numbers that jeer me into action, because silence, patience, and loyalty has not been rewarded. I deal with the Good Ole Boy network, and had a meeting with 4 Black men tonight, all professional, intellectual, established gentlemen, and they all shared the same.

I remember earlier this year walking to work and seeing a white man ride a bike, frantically past me. He was soon followed by 5 cop cars. There happen to be a group of 4-5 older African-American men, standing around spectating, and we all shared the same thing "I thought it was just us and you dont see that everyday!" That is the reality in the first ward and the hood so to say. I then did a show that weekend dedicated to sharing a message to the youth from the elders, gleaned from that moment.

I started my show Kore Issues with one premise. We will talk about the things that are difficult to talk about. 1,200 shows later, I feel the mission is accomplished but can never end. Which is why I am recruiting new talent to continue carrying the torch. I suggest that all of you mentor one person so that your legacy is passed down and not laying in the dust of your tucked away and forgotten wills.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas December 8, 2011 | 1:23 p.m.

For anyone who missed the show and would like to listen to the conversation, you can find the podcast here:

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 8, 2011 | 2:58 p.m.
(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 8, 2011 | 5:21 p.m.

So like I just looked at the "demographics" of our new ward boundary lines and discover that it's reported that the wards south of wards one, two and three contain around 5% black residents while each of wards one, two and three have around 18%.
I wonder who had these figures before organizing a big turnout at the council chambers advocating for their favorite option?
Seems like we could've just divided Columbia into a Northside and a Southside.
(Get to know your ward:)

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas December 8, 2011 | 9:15 p.m.

Ray, thanks for your insight. Tyree, thanks for facilitating the conversation.

Sometimes it can be just as difficult for a white person to accept that they can never completely avoid white privilege as it can be for people of color to differentiate between members of the dominant race.

I think Matt made a good point near the end of the show. One way we can work toward overcoming our biases is to start perceiving people as people and make an effort to stop judging them based on some characteristics that we assume about them.

(Report Comment)
Tyree Byndom December 9, 2011 | 1:54 a.m.

Good points Justin. Ray, thanks for the rich links. Enjoying them.

Seems like you should be a future guest on the show to discuss this further, from the mind, without links. :)

Seeing everyone as people, is limited, but seeing them as souls, is complete, at least in my opinion.

(Report Comment)

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