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22 Aug 2018

Know Your Neighbors: Racism Is a Cancer at Our Society's Core

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I am incensed that the president of the United States may have been caught on tape saying the “N” word, and that his administration can’t “guarantee” that such a tape won’t surface.

He ran a campaign that cast “political correctness”—the progressive notion that we should recognize the impact of language relating to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—as having run amok.

The “N” word inherently assumes a sense of superiority to those being thus described. I steadfastly maintain that the word, and its hateful presumption, cannot possibly be said or even thought unless it’s already programmed into your thinking.

Racism is a cancer at the core of our culture. It’s in our cultural DNA.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where racist language was never heard or used. I had a mother who always used any situation to inculcate the equality of every individual. If we drove past some men digging a hole in the street, we often noticed that the one down in the hole was usually black, while those watching him work were white. My mom would say, “Isn’t it a shame that those guys are just standing around watching the other guy work?” I got the message that nobody should be considered better than anybody else, particularly based on the color of their skin.

That concept is what got me to volunteer as part of the 1960s civil rights movement. I worked with the Black Arts Workshop in Pacoima, a diverse suburb in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, participating in what we called “confrontations,” gatherings held in the living rooms of middle-class white people, most of whom thought they were not at all prejudiced. They were always shocked to realize they harbored deep-seated biases, even though most of them never said offensive words (at least never in public), and proudly proclaimed they had never acted in any way that might be seen as prejudiced. But had they ever spoken up or acted when they had been around others expressing those thoughts? Almost never.

I have black stepchildren who came into my life for a few years in the early 1970s—with whom I have warm, loving relationships to this day. I still remember my shock that 5-year-old Kim had never had a black doll. When I brought one home for her, I remember the look of wonder and delight on her face when she realized the doll looked like her. Yet social research has shown that black girls prefer white dolls—because those are the “good” ones. This is what our culture teaches them.

My own children never batted an eye when I began living with Milt, and they readily accepted his children as members of the family. My kids had grown up learning what I had learned from my mom: The only difference was in skin color, not unlike hair color or eye color or height.

Milt had been raised in a black community in northern Louisiana, and he grew up seeing himself equally valued relative to all those around him. His experiences later in life in a largely white society came as something of a surprise, especially because he had never internalized that he was somehow “lesser.”

We need to actively root out the racism at the core of our culture. What curriculum is your school district using to teach American history? In some school districts, slavery is minimized, and its ultimate impact on our culture is never mentioned. In bridge clubs and book clubs and social-service organizations, people drop words or phrases or raise their eyebrows when race is an issue, and they need to be publicly called out on that. It’s enough sometimes to just say, “I find that really inappropriate.” Staying silent should never be an option.

The “N” word has never, and could never, come out of my mouth. I never learned it. My children don’t have it in their heads, either. But we all know it’s a pernicious part of the American culture, and it must be excised as we would remove a tumor. It’s about making it never acceptable anywhere. It’s about realizing we inherit racism as part of our cultural DNA, and it’s up to each and every one of us to recognize it and call it out, so future generations won’t have it in their heads either.

Teach your children and grandchildren to be “politically correct”—if it means they won’t have denigrating words and concept in their heads, and that they will call out others who feel free to express prejudice. That way, perhaps we won’t perpetuate the cancer to yet another generation. We must improve mankind and move our society always forward.

Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike than we are different.”

For me, it’s personal.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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