Book Cover "And don't call me a racist!" A treasury of quotes on the past, present, and future of the color line in America / Selected and arranged by Ella Mazel


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Introduction to
"And don't call me a racist!"

Most of us white folk go through life comfortably without being conscious of the innumerable ways in which we are automatically privileged by the luck of our racial draw. This may not make us "racists" -- but it makes us, unwittingly, beneficiaries of racism.

Bernice Albertine King writes of her father's magnificent "I Have a Dream" speech that its "effect was to comfort the disturbed, but not without disturbing the comfortable."

It's primarily to "disturb the comfortable" that I've assembled in this book a progression of quotes that convey -- in the voices of both blacks and whites -- the history, the perceptions, the psychic scars, and the despair, that underlie the racial breach in the United States today. Out of the pain, finally, comes the hope for healing, which seems the only option if the country is to progress, let alone survive.

Why the focus on white/black racism?

Most manifestations of prejudice and racism affect not only African-Americans but Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, and other "people of color." These minorities, too, experience discrimination in housing, education, and employment. They, too, are subjected daily to humiliation or worse.

Still, by the time you've finished this book, I hope you will understand why:

  • Christopher Edley, Jr., says that: "The black-white tension is the heart, the principal generator of the minority-rights controversy in national policy argument and in most areas of the country."

  • Patricia Williams wonders: "How can it be that so many well-meaning white people have never thought about race when so few blacks pass a single day without being reminded of it?"

  • Andrew Young needs to point out that: "Most White Americans don't even know the history of slavery and the long continuing struggle of blacks to overcome it."

  • Martin Luther King, Jr., tells how: "Instinctively we struck out for dignity first because personal degradation as an inferior human being was even more keenly felt than material privation."

  • Shirley Chisholm cries out in frustration: "My God, what do we want? What does any human being want?"
Whose voices do we hear?

You will find here the words of writers and speakers ranging from apologists for slavery in the mid-1800s to former slaves like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington at the end of the century; from W.E.B. Du Bois in the early 1900s to President Clinton and Oprah Winfrey as we near the millennium.

Listen to firebrands like Stokeley Carmichael and Malcolm X alongside the bitter but ultimately hopeful Arthur Ashe and the soft-spoken Muhammad Ali. Discover, as I did, the brilliance of the written words of Martin Luther King, Jr.; the explosive eloquence of Lerone Bennett, Jr., and Randall Robinson; the humor of Langston Hughes and the Delany sisters; the up-front denunciations of racism by Colin Powell; the frankness of Harlon L. Dalton and Clarence Page; the revelations by Lillian Smith and Sarah Patton Boyle of what it meant to grow up white in the South.

Familiar names like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr., mingle with those of the man and woman in the street whose wise insights are captured in interviews by Studs Terkel -- plus those of a lot of other "ordinary" people and lesser-known writers.

The prose of such current intellectual activists as Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Orlando Patterson appears side by side with that of Gordon Allport in the seminal The Nature of Prejudice and Gunnar Myrdal in his classic, The American Dilemma.

You will find the views of pessimists and optimists, with their expressions of despair and of hope; of radicals and conservatives, with their conflicting approaches on integration versus separation or affirmative action versus so- called "preferences" -- with both blacks and whites on opposite sides of each issue.

There are some topics I have avoided almost entirely because they are so historically divisive that they would sidetrack the central ideas in this book, as they have in life -- the matter of intermarriage, for example, on which there are as strong differences of opinion in the black as in the white "community" -- ranging from those who see "assimilation" as a utopian ideal to those who perceive it as genocide.

Where do the quotes come from?

As Andrew Hacker points out, "No one could possibly tally all the books and articles that have been written about race in America," and the sheer volume of available material is indeed overwhelming. So I drew the line when I had worked my way through a more-or-less random, but representative, number of books that include biographies and autobiographies,collections of essays by individual writers, anthologies, sociological studies, and histories.

In addition, many of the quotes come from the newspaper I read every morning -- there's hardly a day without at least one article relating to race. Others are from magazines, like Newsweek and Ebony. Then there's the Internet, from which I have downloaded all of the press releases from the White House on the President's Race Initiative. On the Web I also found some fascinating material ranging from a book published by a former slave to a southern separatist movement of today.

All in all, I hope my research into the many facets of racism will provide food for thought for you as an individual, and encourage you to explore in more detail the writings of some of the authors I have quoted. Moreover, the book can serve both as a starting point for group discussions and as an educational resource for schools, libraries, and outreach programs.

Can anything be done?

We may not be able to solve the deeply entrenched social and economic problems that beset so many Americans, but each of us can "be more than passively good-hearted," as Langston Hughes suggests, "try equality on for size," as Harlon Dalton proposes, and become "antiracist," as Clarence Page urges.

At the very least -- by enlarging what Dr. King called our "capacity to empathize," and practicing "the good old Golden Rule," as Orlando Patterson recommends -- perhaps each of us can make a difference.

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Revised July 13, 2002