Few things rankle me more than someone illegitimately playing the race card. By that, I mean that I hate it when someone calls racism on an issue that isn’t racism, mainly because it calls attention away from the real racism. The straw racism argument does a detriment to everyone who’s trying to fight actual racism. In fact, probably the only thing that pisses me off more is actual racism.
In my prejudice seminar, we spend a good bit of time discussing what leads someone to determine that another’s behavior is the result of prejudice. There are individual difference variables that lead some people to see it in ambiguous situations more than others would. But we also take situational and historical data into account.
If a black man goes into a restaurant and receives bad service, he takes into account whether everyone’s receiving bad service, whether only the other black customers are receiving bad service, whether he’s received bad service from that waiter before, and so on. And, if he’s really thinking through it, he might consider whether he’s done something to elicit bad service or whether his perceptions are biased by expectations or racism or a bad mood. Not that we’re all so analytical in our everyday lives, but that’s some of the process that the research documents.
In Jena, we know that none of us ever heard of tennis shoes being considered deadly weapons, and we never heard of any white kids being tried for attempted murder when they beat up a classmate. We know that there is a history of racial harassment and tension in the school. So the sentences look pretty damn racist, especially for those of us inclined to think that the image of a group of black kids beating up a white kid strikes an all-white jury as a lot scarier than a group of white kids beating up a black kid.
In Atlanta, when we hear that a black 17-year old gets 10 years for consensual oral sex with a 15-year old, we can think there’s racism in the sentencing, especially among those of us inclined to consider the sexual primitive stereotype an aggravating factor in the judge’s thinking.
When powder cocaine gets a feathery sentence relative to crack, and we know that powder cocaine is associated with rich whites and crack with poor blacks, those of us inclined to be cynical about society’s treatment of different groups are going to see racism.
And of course, when people make it easy for us–Don Imus, Michael Richards, Dog the Bounty Hunter, and so on–we can see the racism, despite the perpetrator’s efforts to convince us it’s not the real them.
But when a trash company doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and charges us a premium, firing them isn’t racism. In fact, their ripping off a poor majority-black city is doing more to hold down black citizens than a couple of companies that are overcharging at best and gouging and profiteering at worst.
I personally believe strongly in affirmative action to make sure that minority owned companies get a fair shot at the work, and I’m glad we did that. But this situation looks shady, and the people calling racism are doing a disservice to the people who are suffering real racism. Especially in a city that seems to think that Tony Soprano’s garbage business was legitimate.
UPDATE: Here‘s the link to the T-P article I’m referring to, but please don’t lump me in with the commenters. Thanks.