Two weeks ago, I drove to Indiana University’s Bloomington campus for a lecture by Tim Wise, a noted authority on the problem of racism and what’s called “white privilege.”
“Privilege,” Wise said, “is just having fewer things to worry about.”
Male privilege: you don’t have to worry about being groped on a bus, for example. Or white privilege: you don’t have to worry about triggering a negative stereotype during a job interview.
If you don’t think racism is alive and well in southern Indiana, think again. Comments posted below an online student newspaper piece on the lecture disabused me of that notion.
Some comments sounded like Adolph Hitler. Several opined that Wise shouldn’t even lecture on white privilege because being Jewish, he wasn’t white.
As soon as Wise’s appearances were announced, a southern Indiana hate group announced that it would demonstrate against him.
I won’t dignify this group by providing the name. I will quote its self-description. The group claims to advocate “traditional Christian values and Western civilization.”
There’s nothing Christian about racism. There’s nothing civilized about it, either. And if it’s even a little bit traditional, it shouldn’t be.
Then again, I’ve found out these guys lie about all kinds of things. Studying up, I found out it’s possible they stage assaults on themselves so they can play the “victim” card. Racists love to play the victim card. An online story by the Southern Poverty Law Center said Indiana State University police were not convinced that a 2013 assault on a member of a white supremacist group was legitimate.
Attending the lecture, for one of only a few times as a minister, I wore clerical garb: black jacket and slacks and a clerical collar. I wanted to visually show religious faith is supposed to be about opposing racism, not justifying it.
It was an intense scene outside the lecture hall. The white supremacists were lined up on one side of the sidewalk. Anti-racist counter-demonstrators were on the other side. A phalanx of campus police kept the two groups apart.
Several white supremacists wore dark caps with bandanas around their faces. Only their eyes showed. They looked like a cross between the Ku Klux Klan and ISIS. One held a black flag with a KKK-style cross on it.
I’ve been around demonstrations before. But this one was scary. I later found out that scuffles did break out after I went into the lecture hall.
I do have to give these guys credit for one thing. They sure don’t try to hide their racism. (In fact, I’d guess their wackiness is partly about wanting the attention.)
A lot of today’s racism is in code. Or it’s voiced in private but denied in public.
The recent flap at Oklahoma University is a good example. Fraternity boys (and girls) chanting blatantly racist stuff on a charter bus, not knowing they were being recorded. Then trying to say, “Oh, we’re not racist” in public.
But make no mistake, it happens here, too. Spend much time at fast food joints near local high schools, you’ll overhear it. Or people I’ve heard in low voices, saying this or that ethnic group in Columbus “should go back where they came from.”
On a local walking track I happened to pass a couple of old gents just as one was saying, “They’re going to have to fumigate the White House once those (worst possible ethnic slur) finally move out.”
I don’t know what’s more disgusting: people who proudly proclaim their racism or people who keep their racism just “between friends,” while denying it in public.
Either way, let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist.
The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Columbus. His opinions are his own, and members of his church may or may not agree with them. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.