Editor’s note: Weld doesn’t usually print anonymous commentary, but chose to make an exception in this case because of the reason for the request. The following note was written at Weld’s request, by a professional in Birmingham with years of experience in an enviable position. The writer is personally known to the editor.
Despite all of that, the writer requested anonymity for much the same reason that the parents of many children who marched for civil rights in the Birmingham of 1963 didn’t march themselves. The writer fears the endangerment of a livelihood it took years to build.
Not everyone fears the negative consequences of speaking out about race, but the irony is that what once endangered the employment of laborers now seems to inspire the same kind of fear in some professionals.
What does that say about race relations in the Birmingham of 2015?
I read the NYT article this morning, and I agree with its findings/conclusions. I also think that race relations/racism plays a significant part in the current situation of Birmingham and Alabama. However, if you were to ask a fair number of white citizens of Birmingham, they would say Birmingham is doing great and that any problems we have are due to a sluggish economy. And then they would go on to talk about how Obama is the worst president we ever had and the only reason everything is such a mess everywhere (including every echelon of Birmingham’s government) is because of him. How dare a black man become President (they forget his mother was white).
Ok, so I’m exaggerating — a bit. But I hear this from people I have known and socialized with for decades. They are well traveled, educated and Christian in every sense of the word. And to a person they would swear they are not racist, and up until 2008 I would have believed that of most of them.
But President Obama’s election cracked that veneer. They aren’t aware of it, but I saw it as clear as day. I’ve done the conservative/liberal/progressive debates, discussions, friendly ribbing. What I heard was often so mean-spirited and specious I sometimes thought I was talking to strangers who had just walked in from 1959.
I know that historically racism played some part in every governmental decision made anywhere in this state from its inception, but somehow I convinced myself that people were moving (slowly, but moving) past that and some of them had reached the point where one’s race might be a factor, [but] it mattered less than other factors. After the 2008 election and to the present day, I see that while some things look better on the surface, things really haven’t changed all that much.
In fact it’s worse, because like an alcoholic who hides his drinking because he is ashamed, these folks have buried their racism so deep they don’t even know it’s there — they are in denial and refusing to go to rehab. And these are the people who hire us, determine how our children are to be educated, make and enforce our laws, and run our justice system. Federal law keeps them in line to a point and religion gives them a mask to wear, but at the end of the day, not one of them is the slightest bit self-aware of the prejudice they hold close to the depths of their being.
And they make decisions “for the good” of all of us, not even realizing how that deeply hidden prejudice colors those decisions — large and small. That dishonesty hurts us all and keeps the possibility of real change just out of reach. Nevertheless, I continue to hope. My kids tell me that this lack of self-awareness is present in their peers as well, but every once and a while, someone can be made to see it and own up to it. It’s a small step in the right direction…
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