The problem is not, and never has been, whether you (yes, YOU) are racist (you are). Or I am racist (I am). Everyone is racist. You and me and everyone you know, no matter what. The only people who aren't racist are people for whom race is not a reality -- that is, who have never been exposed to people of another race. It's not a crime to be racist -- it's totally understandable, if shameful. It's a product of where we live and what we experience every day. If you are a member of the dominant power structure (as I, for all intents and purposes, am, as is almost everyone reading these words), then you have been trained since you were born, influenced in ways you can't even give words, to fear and stereotype people of other races. If you're white, you're very likely to be jam-packed with resentment, distrust and fear of anyone darker than you. You're also, just as insidiously, trained to take advantage of your 'whiteness' (although 'white', like all other racial categories, is a fiction), to use it to your benefit. And if you're a white liberal, you're likely just as guilty of valorizing, exculpating or patronizing blacks; never forget that positive stereotyping is no different than negative stereotyping. If you're not white, you're likely shot by both sides: taught to resent and fear and maybe even hate whites for the advantages they have over you, the way they lord it over you, the way they never let you forget what color you are. But you're also likely to engage in the very human behavior of kicking downwards: of finding one of the minority groups even lower on the social totem pole than you and taking out your frustrations on them.
Being racist is not the problem. Everyone is racist. What we're going to do about it, that's the problem. When someone calls you racist, your reaction is usually anger and denial. It shouldn't be. It should be shame. Not to say that the accusation can't, and hasn't, been used as a club, but people should always be examining their own racial thinking and assumptions, and asking themselves: is this (not "me", but "this thing I am doing") racist? And if it is, how can I correct it? Instead, people tend to get really defensive and come up with some explanation that will make it someone else's problem.
And that leads to the curious inversion we have today. In Australia, an (alleged -- no one seems to be able to demonstrate that it actually happened or provide any details whatsoever) attack on a white lifeguard by Lebanese youth led to massive, desctructive, violent rampages against Australian Arabs by highly organized gangs of white supremacists. Arabs and non-whites have been attacked, beatened, and threatened, and had their homes and property destroyed. But when the mayor of the community in which this is happening speaks out, he speaks out against the handful of Arabs who have fought back against the riots. He calls them "ratbags" who have "declared war on society" and who will soon find themselves on the receiving end of the police determination to "start cracking skulls". Meanwhile, upwards of ten thousand white Australians ride through the streets, many of them draped in flags and chanting racist slogans; white supremacist groups text-message one another to coordinate riots and attacks; and what does Prime Minister John Howard do? He holds a press conference in which he says "I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country", and the opposition leader claims against all reasonable evidence that "this is simply criminal behaviour, that's all there is to it".
When the riots broke out in France, the prime minister was foolish enough to claim that they represented a "crisis of identity" in his country and that a great deal of underlying racism existed that needed to be addressed. His opposition scoffed, claiming that theirs was not a racist country (this in the face of race riots by nonwhite, impoverished slum-dwellers that washed over the whole country and even crossed national borders) and that the real problem was the rioting, not the numerous and obvious causes behind it. Here in the United States, coverage of the riots was late in coming and tended to focus on the religious identity of the rioters (some, though by no means all, were Muslims) rather than their racial or economic makeup, and editorial opinion concentrated on France's inability to clean their own house rather than the ramifications of colonialism and economic imperialism. Likewise, reporters, pundits and commentators the country wide bristled at the fact that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina said anything about the racial problems that inevitably follow centuries of slavery and racism; no, it was a failure of government exacerbated by the grown-in-a-vacuum behavior of a handful of bad (black) eggs. As I write these words, my government is suing Southern Illinois University (a school where over 85% of the students are white) for racially discriminatory practices -- against whites. At a time when a college education has become so ruinously expensive that only the wealthy can truly afford it and even middle-class whites face decades of crippling debt for the privilege of a university diploma, the Bush administration has decided that the problem isn't that only a tiny fraction of nonwhites could possibly afford it without help; they've decided that the problem is that a few academic programs (including, ridiculously enough, the Ethnic Studies department) are giving more fellowships to minorities than whites on one of the whitest campuses in the country. Elsewhere, people rail against a perceived tyranny of 'political correctness' that forces them to recognize holidays that seem alien to them, to celebrate a diversity that they'd just as soon do without, to keep their nigger jokes to themselves.
In other words, at a time when it is daily confirmed by news headlines from all over the world that racism is still a huge, huge problem, we as a culture have decided that much worse than that is being accused of racism. Instead of asking what we can do do alleviate the crippling poverty of the inner cities, to reduce the ingrained anti-Semitism of poor Arabs, to help Muslims stop living in fear among Christians, to make other-defined others less likely to die at the hands of people who consider them subhuman, we spend endless reams of time denying that race is at the center of anything. Racial violence, racial discrimination, and the scars of institutional racism are everywhere we look, but to hear our leaders talk, the only racism is the racism of the minority against the majority. Folks, we are racist. You, me, and everyone we know. Let's quit fucking around pretending that isn't true, and start calling people (including ourselves) on it, so we can move on to what we can do to repair this massive damage.
I guess that wasn't that brief. GOOD NIGHT, EVERBODY