In the aftermath of the events in Charleston, many are asking, what can we do? To start with, white people have to admit honestly that they have a problem. In fact, they are the problem. The sorting out of their racial feelings, both in the abstract, as well as those stimulated by the presence of blacks, is a legitimate starting point. Detection and unburdening of color prejudices is a project that whites should undertake. Think of it this way: white, black, yellow, red, brown, are colorations of the epidermis, nothing more.
The transmission of racist values and attitudes starts within the family and proceeds outwards towards the larger society. While we need additional surveillance of white supremacist groups, white parents must be on constant surveillance for instances where their children embrace racist symbolism and exhibit racist behavior. Dylann Roof, the 21 year old white man accused of the massacre in South Carolina, is the latest example of this phenomenon. Think also of the incidence involving young white male members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity chanting about lynching in a frivolous manner. An excerpt: “You can hang’ em from a tree, but it will never start with me.”
White parents and responsible white adults must provide their young people with a counter narrative that leads toward more tolerance and empathy toward non-whites. White educators, at all grade levels, and in all educational settings, must convey the truth to white children and young adults regarding the origins and history of white supremacy, and the moral and ethical problems attendant its use as a rationale for colonization and enslavement of African people.
Students of all colors must be taught a true version of American history that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of Americans of all ethnicities, while at the same time admitting to American failures to be just and fair. And in equal importance, white religious organizations, in particular Christians, while sitting in segregated pews on Sunday, must attack the problem of hypocrisy regarding race in the church. W. E. B. Du Bois, in a stinging criticism of white Christians observed, “A nation’s religion is its life, and as such white Christianity is a miserable failure.”
In the past, I have proposed that we create a nation-wide campaign to root out racist attitudes in our society. I renew a call for this effort, based on the following logic. The broad consensus we need to solve racial problems will occur when we acknowledge that like cigarette smoking, racism is cancerous. Similarly, it destroys lives. Once we recognized and accepted the medical effects of nicotine, we waged an effective campaign against smoking, and made it individually unhealthy and socially unacceptable to smoke in public places. Likewise, we should wage an effective public campaign against the twin psychoses of racism and color prejudice so that they will become recognized and accepted as individually harmful and socially unacceptable.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed a, “National Anti-Racism Strategy and Racism. It Stops with Me Campaign,” which can serve as a useful model.