The specter of racism lives on like a bad gene

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Racism exists.

If you deny that it exists then you are denying one of the most basic tenets of the human condition, the need to believe we are superior over our fellows.

People exercise this need in a number of ways. We do so by being sexist, classist, and yes, racist.

Racism is not, by the way, simply an American problem.

When my wife and I traveled to Morocco, we learned that the country was rife with racism. Despite the fact that a man could be Muslim, just as his neighbor is Muslim, if his skin is darker, and he appears to have come from an equatorial country, then he was considered by many to be a substandard human being.

While the need to feel superior over our fellows is innate, I suspect racism is a learned defect of character that comes by way of ignorance and fear. Sadly, it is something that we pass down to our children.

If you watched the really great baseball film, “42,” this summer, you might have caught a very poignant moment in the story.

A father and son were attending a baseball game where Jackie Robinson, playing for the all-white Montreal team, was up to bat. The boy was clearly excited to watch the game and he was enamored by the fact that he was there, with this father.

When Robinson went up to bat, the crowd jeered and hurled racist epithets at the legendary player. The father quickly joined in the fray and the boy, for a moment, seemed confused that his dad would say such things. But that was only a moment because the boy clearly idolized his father and so he too joined in the hateful, racist jeering.

The die was cast.

I grew up around the post-civil rights era South. In that South, in proper society, you did not speak of others in such a manner. Only in private would you speak of another human being by using the N-word and such.

And while my family rarely spoke in such terms, tension always seemed to exist. I would learn later that it was because of my grandfather’s role as a segregationist during the integration of Little Rock Central High School that the tension existed.

Yet my family was careful to not simply explain away the past by hurling ill-chose, hurtful words around. We just didn’t discuss such things.

As I grew older I learned that racism exists beneath the surface of polite society. In the South it has been sort of like, “OK, they won so now we have to all get along.” That, in my experience, has been the sentiment of people from my parents’ generation, and I suspect it has trickled down into my generation and I worry that it continues to move through generations like a bad gene.

So it seems that people by and large are polite. It seems that despite our unwillingness to admit it, however, people are racist and perhaps most importantly our actions speak louder than words.

Yes, racism exists. It exists here and it exists elsewhere. And perhaps the first step toward solving this very human defect of character is to openly admit it and then, just maybe, could we move forward and figure out how to really live together.