From December 12, 2003: Racism-one tough cookie

On the John

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Racism: One Tough Cookie

Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on December 12, 2003

In a particularly wise moment of his, my friend Eric Sirota once said to me, “Jack, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Unless they’re all vanilla. Then you know.”

All these years later, he’s still right. If they’re all vanilla, then they’re all vanilla, and that’s when life is easiest and least stressful because there’s no arguing over who gets what. It’s also when life is most boring, because every damn day, no matter what, you’re resigned to knowing that today’s dessert is gonna be vanilla.

I’ve written a lot of columns about racism for this newspaper over the past three years, and I’ve gotten a lot of intense letters from readers agreeing or disagreeing with me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about our race situation, it’s that it’s not all vanilla.

Have you ever just sat still and thought about racism for an extended period of time? It’s dizzying. It’s damn near exhausting. So many conflicting theories, so much at stake, so much history. White guilt, black power, white power, reverse-racism, preferential treatment, prejudice … it’s enough to make anyone’s mind melt.

Personally, I think the Political Correctness movement of the 90s was an enormous step backward because it made people — particularly white people — afraid to be honest. If you say something bad about a black person or a group of black people, are you a racist? Or are you just an honest person pointing out something you’ve seen or something you feel?

There’s also the issue of authenticity. Is a black person more entitled to talking about race than a white person, simply because blacks have faced more racial oppression as a group than whites? If so, where does that leave American Indians?

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from someone who’d read my affirmative action column. In his e-mail and subsequent e-mails, he gave me a bunch of stock reasons why affirmative action is wrong. One of his e-mails was simply an essay about a man named Dr. Thomas Sowell who is opposed to affirmative action. Sowell has written many books on the “liberal myths and lies” about race. According to this e-mailer, Sowell thinks that blacks should spend more time looking at their own actions, and less time blaming societal injustices.

Even more interesting to me than Dr. Sowell’s ideas was the way the e-mailer was eager to point out to me that Dr. Sowell is a black man. So what? Does that make his ideas more legitimate than mine? To further complicate all of this, I looked Dr. Sowell up on the internet, and I found a good amount of his work someplace peculiar: JewishWorldReview.com.

So now, to go along with miles and miles of arguments and counter-arguments about race in America that are swirling in my head, I now had a white man quoting a black man who writes anti-affirmative action columns in a Jewish newspaper. Maybe I’m looking too far into this whole thing, but that’s confusing as hell.

And maybe it should be. Regardless of your stance on racism or other races, there’s no denying the fact that America has a problem. Some people blame institutional racism. Other people blame lazy minorities. Some people think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, that both societal circumstances and individual decisions have to be considered.

But in the end, it all comes back to that damn cookie. If we’re ever going to solve the race problem in America, we’re going to have to speak honestly. And when we do, we’re going to realize that along with my friend Eric, the people at Chips Ahoy were also right: no matter how hard you try not to, betcha bite a chip.

Copyright 2003, jm silverstein

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