Silence–Today’s Conversation on Racism

By Wiha Powell

“The legacy of past racism directed at blacks in the United States is more like a bacillus that we have failed to destroy, a live germ that not only continues to make some of us ill but retains the capacity to generate new strains of a disease for which we have no certain cure.”­­– George M. Fredrickson

Racism has been a major issue in the United States since the colonial and slave era. However, after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, racism slowly became a whisper till today where it is an underlying silent issue, which the nation fails to address.

Even with the election of the first black President in 2010, today many Americans avoid talking about racism due to being afraid of

offending someone. Therefore, when the issue arises our debates and conversations tend to be awkward, unclear, emotionally charged and never leading to a shared understanding.

In the past, racism was more straightforward, where Americans did not have to resort to surveys and experiments to know its existence or its depth. This openness and visibility makes one knows his enemy, which is much better than today’s stealthiness. This stealthiness and slyness is what makes the fight against racism harder both on a personal and on an institutional level. Even though there are hints, suggestions, indication and racial bias around us everyday. These hints are typically ignored and met with silence.

Think back fifty years ago when Martin Luther King delivered his infamous “I have a Dream” speech, where he stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”. Regrettably, we as a nation cannot agree with absolutely certainty that in today’s society one is not judged by the color of their skin, but is truly judged by the content of their character. Sadly, this underlying racism is hidden in such a way that many cannot easily pick up on it –which are commonplace verbal expression or behavior that is either intentional or unintentional that is communicated in a hostile or derogatory way– unless it is experienced over and over again.

Both in the past and present, talks of racism mainly focus on blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other non-whites because there is a history of prejudice and discrimination against such group of people in the nation, which causes racism to remain highly adaptive in today’s society. Even though Jim Crow racism has been defeated, the silent underlying and stealthy version is present today, which still affects many Americans’ life. Therefore, if we continue to ignore this deeply rooted problem in our culture, we will make little or no progress in addressing the issue.

There is currently no excuse for the nation’s silence when there is a real problem and ongoing prejudice at hand. If racism is a thing of the past, then we as a nation should not be silent, because if racism was addressed in the past then we should be able to address it again in the present. So, when a genuine and frank conversation about racism arises, the conversation should not be awkward or unclear; instead it should lead to a change of our system, which is no longer separate, but definitely not equal.


One thought on “Silence–Today’s Conversation on Racism

  1. It seems to me that discussions on racism are focused on white racist attitudes toward blacks which I must accept still exists but maybe not as intensely as it did historically. I understand why this seems to be the direction being taken; however, we do not discuss black racist attitudes toward whites. I would propose that any racial discussion is really a two-way street but unfortunately we only travel one way on that street. Why is that? I have watched racism devolve out of my family over the past 50 years. My grandparents were pretty racist, and it was not pretty; my parents far less so; my siblings hardly at all, and my children; it is not even a factor today. But, is that same devolution of attitudes occurring in black families over time? For instance, if I apply for a job and don’t get it, my response is more or less that someone more qualified got it or someone had the inside track and did better networking. No problem, I move on to apply for the next job. But, I have heard a lot of complaining that when a black person does not get the job, they believe it is because they were black. Years ago, I remember a line in a TV show on a major network were the white sheriff was firing a black deputy. The deputy complained that he was being fired because he was black. The sheriff said, no, I hired you because you were black and I am firing you because you are a poor example of a law enforcement officer. That was an interesting statement made at the time in our history when it was made.


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