Inadvertent racism no less harmful

How does one write about race? Does one give statistics to support the facts? Or does one go for the anecdote, the story that will bring a tear to the eye and make us uniformly sing, “We Are the World?”

Because of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Affirmative Action and other corrective measures taken to offset a history of racial inequality, many white people believe all is well, and African Americans just need to quit complaining. The struggle, as they see it, is over.

Most infuriating for many whites is what they’ve labeled “welfare queens.” They view the black community as takers. When asked recently what the “silent majority” means to the Trump supporters who consider themselves part of it, a recurring response was this: They didn’t want to “be takers.”

This is implicitly a racist remark, as “takers” is one of those code words people use when they’re afraid to say what they really mean.

For those unfortunate enough to be on welfare or food stamps or Section 8 housing, which many associate as handouts for the black community in return for a Democrat vote, they are characterized as merely “takers.”

Do some abuse the social safety net system? Surely. Has the United States created a sub-culture of dependents? Yes, and policy needs to change in this arena, including making room for a living wage. We need a sea of change in thinking regarding “entitlement” — another code word I believe is misleading and has negative implications.

But we also need a sea change in thinking regarding race and inequality. We can begin by admitting inequality exists and that racism is alive and well: individually, institutionally and culturally.

It exists because some proudly claim it, and some just practice it inadvertently. Just look at the Oscars fiasco.

I believe blacks weren’t intentionally left off the nomination rosters; but the black performances weren’t internally validated because the 97 percent of white Oscars voters couldn’t relate to their stories. This is a prime example of inadvertent racism.

According to blues legend B.B. King, “everybody lies a little.” I believe everybody is prejudiced a little. It seems no matter how colorblind you aspire to be, prejudice comes to you, unbidden, like the smell of skunk seeping into your moving car.

You didn’t ask for it, you’ve guarded against it with closed windows, yet the stench is still there.

Prejudice is our cultural inheritance. As soon as we collectively acknowledge this, we can begin to massage race relations. If, as a nation, we don’t acknowledge there is a problem, it will never get fixed.

Consider who has hurt Joe Public the most during our lifetimes: hedge-fund managers and bankers and savings and loan associations playing fast-and-loose with our mortgages and pensions. Those mostly white criminals haven’t felt the cold hand of justice, yet their actions have had reverberations around the world.

Yet there are tragic stories of extreme sentencing for black young men, one of them being of a young man who stole a calculator in Texas, and then-Solicitor General, Ted Cruz, worked to extend his sentence from two to 16 years.

Does this look like a two-tiered judicial system to you? It does to the black community.

This brings us to the campaign, Black Lives Matter. Blacks aren’t saying their lives matter more; they’re saying their lives matter as much as the white majority.

Whites are the inheritors of the dominant culture. This has its advantages, like being pretty or rich.

The black migration from east Indy to Hancock County has many here afraid of rising crime rates, declining property values and a change of culture.

But what if we view changing demographics not as a racial problem but as an economic opportunity?

Historically, lack of economic opportunity is what characterized black communities, as they were shut out of universities, better secondary and grade schools, bank loans, jobs, etc.

East Indy doesn’t provide well-paying job opportunities, but Hancock County does. There are many well-paying industries here. Is our current and trending population ready for these jobs? If not, how can we make them so?

Let Hancock County be proactive in its approach to job training and job placement. Let’s insure the integrated population of Hancock County’s future has the skills to be able to contribute to our economic base.

Hancock County citizens, of which 97 percent are white, let’s diversify our perspectives in advance of the demographic trends.

Let’s walk a mile in their shoes.

Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition.