The roots of racism are both simple and complex. Fear of the “other” and territoriality are among its pillars but racist acts and biases within the social order have a different aim. When entire areas of a city are “red-lined” by banks and an entire ethnic population are only hired for low paying menial jobs the motivation is not racism but fear.
If an ethnic group is considered “inferior” by the ruling elites why would “red-lining” be necessary? It’s fear that a level playing field would demonstrate the equality (or even superiority) of the besieged ethnicity. It is the white supremacist’s fear that given half a chance the black and brown population would succeed and be normalized and by doing so give the lie to the white supremacy argument.
When the Civil War ended the southern blacks were legally freed from bondage but left by the North to the tender mercies of the southern whites who still controlled the territory. The result was Jim Crow and generations of white southerners being taught the lies that underpin racism. White advantage was baked into every institution and when blacks remained poor through these machinations it was used as proof that they were a less deserving race.
When Barrack Obama was elected the white supremacy machine declared publicly that they would work to ensure that his was a failed presidency. They could not accept his equality, let alone his obvious intelligence, education, understanding and fitness for the job. Denial has often been the state of mind of choice of the ignorant and impassioned.
It is highly unlikely that this society will ever fully abandon its racism as in large swaths of the South and Midwest the twin ideas of “At least I’m better than a black,” and “At least I’m not female”, are the only solace for lives that have been stunted by institutionalized racism and misogyny.
Can America heal itself from the festering self-inflicted wound of racism? I hope so. I would like to see the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Bank and Trust with the stated purpose of investing in the “red-lined” neighborhoods and in entrepreneurs who live there. If Oprah and the NBA stars and the stars of the NFL would provide the seed money for such a bank other money would follow. Cities such as Oakland would be happy to facilitate such investments with speeded up treatment of project plans and there are plenty of willing workers always available in those neighborhoods.
The most effective response to racism is to level the economic playing field and let everyone earn his or her proper place in the world. Holding people down to satisfy one’s fantasy of superiority is deplorable and hurts us all.