Face to Face: The Changing State of Racism across America

By James Waller | Go to book overview

1
Introduction
Waking Up to America's
Dirty Little Secret

Somebody's got to hit the whites with a two-by-four to wake them up.... They see no crisis, yet there is a crisis.

-- LOUIS HARRIS 1

After a recent lecture in Florida, a white woman told me of a particularly hateful example of racism directed at a Hispanic in that town. She went on to roundly condemn the action, express sincere sympathy for the victim, and confess personal shame that such an event could happen in that community. Refusing to be deflated by reality, however, she concluded by expressing an optimistic analysis: "At least these things don't happen as much as they used to. Minorities really have it pretty well off now. I know a lot of minorities who live in better houses than I do! I really think racism is a thing of the past. My grandchildren won't have to worry about these problems in the future."

On one hand, she was right. Sensational, headline-grabbing examples of racism are seen less frequently than they were in the past several decades. When they do occur, we typically associate them with extremist hate groups -- not mainstream Americans. From a distance, there seem to be reasons for optimism. Racist stereotypes and attitudes appear to have decreased; media depictions of racial minorities seem more favorable; in absolute terms, quality-of-life indicators for minorities have improved and, to judge by the relative absence of open bigotry and hostility, race relations seem less strained.

-1-

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