Much of the time I spend talking and writing about racism is spent explaining that although individual racism has decreased dramatically in the last several decades, institutional or structural racism still affects the lives of all of us every day. As I tell my college students, Archie Bunker is dead and gone. (Unfortunately, most of them don't know who Archie Bunker was, so they kind of miss the point). This doesn't mean that racism is over, I tell them: education, housing, and incarceration are all examples of how race continues to function to privilege some at the expense of others. Although the statistics describing how whites are privileged in these areas are readily available, most white people I've come into contact with remain unaware. In fact, one of my dissertation research conclusions is that students need to read and talk more about how racism exists today, along with the "classics" that depict racism in the past. When students' knowledge of racism is fed only by lessons on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, and when the only works of literature they read on the topic are historical in nature, students can easily come away with the idea, "Wow, things really sucked back then. Thank goodness times have changed."
Anyway, that's not really my point today. In the middle of all my thinking about structural racism I sometimes forget that individual racism is alive and well. Here are two examples:
The football guy - what's his name again? Oh yeah (I just looked him up), Riley Cooper. Seems he got a little drunk and used a racial slur against a security guard at a concert. Hmm...Mel Gibson all over again. Getting drunk doesn't transform people into racists or anti-semites. It just brings it to the surface.
Then there's the story a young person told me recently about an acquaintance (white, of course) who has Trayvon Martin's picture taped to his dart board. That last sentence was almost to hideous to type, but it's the truth.
Archie isn't gone after all. He's simply been living underground.