Friday, July 19, 2013

What racism sounds like in the 21st century

At the diner tonight, I heard two guys talking about various current events. Part of the discussion went like this:

GUY A: ... Obama said that there's hardly a black man in the country that hasn't been followed in a department store. He said there's hardly a black man in the country that hasn't been pulled over for no reason.

GUY B: That's because 95 percent of black men have spent time in prison. It's their actions.

Yes, that's right. He said 95% of black men have spent time in prison. (As best I can determine, the actual number is around 17%)

Or to put it another way, if this guy were in a room with 20 black men, he would assume that 19 of them had spent time in person. On average, it would, in fact, be 3 or 4.

This illustrates how racist attitudes can linger, via casual generalizations, even if overt hostility diminishes. It causes people to overestimate the threat posed by someone simply because of their gender and skin color combination.

My guess, from hearing other parts of this conversation, is that he heard this statistic or something like it somewhere and just assumed it was true because it fit with his worldview.

This guy isn't racist in the vein of George Wallace or the KKK. He didn't say anything about wishing black men ill. He's (presumably) not burning crosses or lynching anyone. He just believes that nearly all black men are criminals. 

This is what racism sounds like in the 21st century.