Now that the death of Jesse Helms has hit the news wire, everyone is using the various media outlets (blogs, comment sections, status messages on Facebook) to voice their respective opinions. As a black man, he, along with George Wallace and “Bull” Connor, represents the old guard of racism in the country, an example of why folks like Malcolm X and MLK were both necessary. But, given that I was not alive when Helms unleashed his wrath (at least most of it) on blacks and gays, he is only a representative. I didn’t see his racist press conferences, nor was I there when he handed out axe handles to beat back a peaceful demonstration in North Carolina. He is, for lack of a better term, “my parents’ racist.”
(On a lighter note, as a political junkie, I find this campaign ad, minus the overt racism, is pure genius).
It’s interesting to me how the times change perception (and in many ways truth). The individuals who struck the most fear in the hearts of blacks in the 50’s and 60’s would undoubtedly not do so today. A not-so-well-kept secret within today’s black community (much of it, at least) is that we would rather have a racist show his/her true colors and talk/act in ways that perfectly represent his/her beliefs. “At least I know what I am dealing with…” is a widely held statement amongst many.
Generally, the racism that we fear most today is the thoughts/actions that cannot be proven racist, because they are not done out in the open. We can’t prove racism in these instances, even if the outcome is so blatantly racist (this creates the “glass ceiling” that I fear most).
This dichotomy has come with the added bonus of providing “glass ceiling” racists with cover from racist charges. What occurs today doesn’t match the overt atrocities that occurred when Jesse Helms and George Wallace struck fear in black America. This fact gives those who currently act through racist means the ability to conveniently conclude: “since what I am doing isn’t as bad as what they did, clearly I am not a racist.”
This makes me question the term and its current use. Since there is a distinction between overt racism and “glass ceiling” racism, is it time to re-think the breadth of the term “racism” itself?