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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A selection of quotes
from "And don't call me a racist!"

  • Past / Present / Future
    "America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future." [Frederick Douglass, 1852]

  • For better / For worse
    "The specter of color is apparent even when it goes unmentioned, and it is all too often the unseen force that influences public policy as well as private relationships. There is nothing more remarkable than the ingenuity that the various demarcations of the color line reflect. If only the same creative energy could be used to eradicate the color line; then its days would indeed be numbered." [John Hope Franklin, 1993]

  • Prejudice is . . .
    "A society struggles to fulfill its best instincts, even as an individual does, and generally makes just as hard going of it. The fight against prejudice is an inevitable process. Man has been warring against his own lower nature ever since he found out he had one, and the battle against intolerance is part of the same old struggle between good and evil that has preoccupied us ever since we gave up swinging from trees." [Margaret Halsey, 1946]

  • Racism is . . .
    "Race is for me a more onerous burden than AIDS. My disease is the result of biological factors over which we have had no control. Racism is entirely made by people, and therefore it hurts infinitely more." [Arthur Ashe, 1993]

  • . . . prejudice + power
    "Until black people as a whole gain power, it's not a question of where you are geographically if you're black; it's a question of where you are psychologically. No matter where you place black people under present conditions, they'll still be powerless, still subject to the whims and decisions of the white political and economic apparatus." [Eldridge Cleaver, 1969]

  • . . . + money
    "To those who believe the battle against discrimination has been won, I say, look at the realities of paychecks and power." [Linda Chavez-Thompson, 1997]

  • Invisible racism
    "Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal." [Shirley Chisholm, 1970]


Past history

  • Disinterring the past
    "There are complexities in every racial situation. Never are such matters neat and simple. They can't be. For they reach deep into history, memory, beliefs, values -- or into the hollow place where values should be." [Lillian Smith, 1949]

  • Slavery
    "Slaveholders are a people whose men are proverbially brave, intellectual and hospitable, and whose women are unaffectedly chaste, devoted to domestic life, and happy in it. My decided opinion is, that our system of Slavery contributes largely to the development and culture of these high and noble qualities." [James Henry Hammond, 1845]

  • The "science" of slavery
    "'Scientific racism' holds that various human groups exist at different stages of biological evolution. Since the theorists who devised this scenario were white, it is not difficult to deduce the skin color of the front-runners and of those who will pursue them forever like figures on a Grecian urn." [Alexander Thomas, M.D., 1972]

  • The aftermath of slavery
    "We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic." [Booker T. Washington, 1895]

  • The permanent scar
    "I have met many families whose ancestors were enslaved by my family. I've apologized only to one of those families because I don't think that words are enough. They're like a Band-Aid on the wound." [Edward Ball, 1998]

  • The enduring legacy
    "African-Americans had answered the country's every call from its infancy. Yet, the fame and fortune that were their just due never came. For their blood spent, lives lost, and battles won, they received nothing. They went back to slavery, real or economic, consigned there by hate, prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance." [Colin Powell, 1995]

Recent history

  • The Southern way
    "An old black man in Atlanta looked into my eyes and directed me into my first segregated bus. His eyes seemed to say that what I was feeling he had been feeling, at much higher pressure, all his life. But my eyes would never see the hell his eyes had seen. And this hell was, simply, that he had never in his life owned anything, not his wife, not his house, not his child, which could not, at any instant, be taken from him by the power of white people. And for the rest of the time that I was in the South I watched the eyes of old black men." [James Baldwin, 1961]

  • Little Rock
    "The integration had stolen my sixteenth birthday. Later that night before I sobbed into my pillow, I wrote [in my diary]: Please, God, let me learn how to stop being a warrior. Sometimes I just need to be a girl." [Melba Patillo Beals, 1994]

  • The civil rights movement
    "Every single Negro who is worth his salt is going to resent any kind of slurs and discrimination because of his race. Talk about 'Communists stirring up Negroes to protest,' only makes present misunderstanding worse than ever. Negroes were stirred up long before there was a Communist Party, and they'll stay stirred up long after the Party has disappeared -- unless Jim Crow has disappeared by then as well." [Jackie Robinson, 1949]

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
    "King's continuing significance to African-American people is that he and others represented the very best within ourselves. Young African-American can take special pride in the memory of Martin, because through study and commitment to the continuing fight for equality, they will become 'new Martins.'" [Manning Marable, 1997]


Being black: Racism and the individual

  • The constant burden
    "I couldn't believe I was going to spend the rest of my life fighting with people who hate me when they don't even know me. Why should I have to keep getting my face smashed? Why did I have to prove what no white man had to prove?" [Sammy Davis, Jr., 1989]

  • Psychological murder
    "Prejudice is more than an incident in many lives; it is often lockstitched into the very fabric of personality. In such cases it cannot be extracted by tweezers. To change it, the whole pattern of life would have to be altered." [Gordon Allport, 1954]

  • Racial identity
    "'I really don't think of you as Black.' The erasure of my Blackness is meant to be a compliment, but I am not flattered. For when I am e-raced, I am denied an identity that is meaningful to me and am separated from people who are my flesh and blood." [Harlon L. Dalton, 1995]

  • Living in two worlds
    "There's that clunky social box, larger than your body, taking up all that space. You need two chairs at the table, one for you, one for your blackness." [Patricia Williams, 1997]

  • Fear and rage
    "There is a fire in my bones. It is there because of the problem of race. I speak of race as a condition, not as a state of being. The black of me has now become the whole of me. It has not always been thus. The flames of hate and hostility toward white America developed slowly -- burning all vestiges of accommodation or subjugation to whiteness. I am now a man." [Charles H. King, Jr., 1983]

  • Malcolm X
    "Malcolm was refreshing excitement; he scared hell out of the rest of us, bred as we are to caution, to hypocrisy in the presence of white folks, to the smile that never fades. . . Whatever else he was -- or was not -- Malcolm was a man!" [Ossie Davis, 1965]

  • Beyond rage and hate
    "My father told us that the men who burned down our farm were not three white men. They were individuals with hatred and jealousy in their hearts. He implored us not to label or stereotype anyone based on the color of their skin. My father further warned us not to become embittered by other people's hatred because it would poison our lives as it had the lives of those three men." [Armstrong Williams, 1997]

  • Overcoming
    "We come from a legacy of people who, when they were told they were nothing and everything around them, every single experience in their life, said, 'You are nobody. You are nothing'. . . . somewhere inside themselves, said, 'I believe I'm better.'" [Oprah Winfrey, 1998]

  • Being American
    "Most African Americans, if given a chance, would have chosen to be 'just Americans' ever since the first of us was brought here to Jamestown colony in 1619, a year before the Mayflower landed. But that choice has never been left up to us." [Clarence Page, 1996]

  • The paradox of success
    "Blacks were routinely denied the recognition of individual talent that is supposed to define the American creed. This history is barely mentioned now that blacks are made by many whites to look as if they duck individual assessment while embracing group privilege." [Michael Eric Dyson, 1996]

  • Being a role model
    "Personal success can be no answer. It can no longer be a question of an Anderson, a Carver, a Robinson, or a Robeson. It must be a question of the well-being and opportunities not of a few but for all of this great Negro people of which I am a part." [Paul Robeson, 1949]

  • Paul Robeson
    "He is one of the few of whom I would say that they have greatness. I despair of ever putting into convincing words my notion of this quality in him. I can say only that by what he does, thinks and is, by his unassailable dignity, and his serene, incorruptible simplicity, Paul Robeson strikes me as having been made out of the original stuff of the world. In this sense he is coeval with Adam and the redwood trees of California. He is a fresh act, a fresh gesture, a fresh effort of creation." [Alexander Woollcott, 1934]

Whose problem? Racism and society

  • White privilege
    "Centuries of discrimination had significantly diminished the economic competition encountered by whites. Loud proclamations of white self-sufficiency ignored a more subtle truth: The incalculable value of being white in America rested to a large extent on the calculable disadvantage of being black." [Tom Wicker, 1996]

  • A shared destiny . . .
    "Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation -- we have fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a head-strong, careless people to despise not justice, mercy, and truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood." [W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903]

  • . . . or a divided one
    "After years of enduring America at home and watching her abroad, I am convinced that I will die in a society as racially divided as the one into which I was born more than a half century ago. This no longer appears to concern white Americans." [Randall Robinson, 1998]

  • Integration . . .
    "You will never get the American white man to accept the so-called Negro as an integrated part of his society until the image of the Negro the white man has is changed, and until the image the Negro has of himself is also changed." [Malcolm X, 1962]

  • . . . or resegregation
    "To prescribe more separation is like getting drunk again to cure a hangover." [Thomas F. Pettigrew, 1971]

  • The limits of law
    "We were all, as it turns out, extremely naive about the capacity of a legal revolution to create a political and cultural revolution. [Discrimination] was too embedded in the bones and blood of the body politic. It was too much in the heads of too many parents raising too many children to have gone away simply because laws were passed." [Ira Glasser, 1994]

  • The economic gap
    "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." [Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967]

  • Equal opportunity
    "Offering [the impoverished Negro] equal rights, even equal opportunity, at this late date without giving him a special boost is the kind of cruel joke American individualism has played on the poor throughout history." [James Farmer, 1965]

  • Affirmative action
    "Despite the color-blind theory, white claims of reverse racism and preferential treatment for blacks, there is no queue of whites claiming black heritage to qualify for the 'benefits' of black membership." [Robert Staples, 1993]

  • Color blindness . . .
    "Why does color matter? When I hear this question, I often just sigh. Deeply. It's almost too basic a question to be answered. But the need for an explanation is symptomatic of our divisions." [Christopher Edley, Jr., 1996]

  • . . . and our children
    "Children are the bearers of life in its simplest and most joyous form. Children are color-blind and still free of all the complications, greed, and hatred that will slowly be instilled in them through life." [Keith Haring, 1986]


  • "One America"
    "The greatest challenge we face is also our greatest opportunity. Can we fulfill the promise of America by embracing all our citizens of all races? Can we become one America in the 21st century? Money cannot buy this goal, power cannot compel it, technology cannot create it. This is something that can come only from the human spirit." [President Bill Clinton, 1997]

  • Talking and listening
    "Our truncated public discussions of race suppress the best of who and what we are as a people because they fail to confront the complexity of the issue in a candid and critical manner." [Cornel West, 1993]

  • Person to person
    "When people are forced to interact to survive, their prejudices diminish." [Muhammad Ali, 1996]

  • Working for change
    "There are many persons ready to do what is right because in their hearts they know it is right. But they hesitate, waiting for the other fellow to make the first move -- and he, in turn, waits for you. The minute a person whose word means a great deal dares to take the open-hearted and courageous way, many others follow." [Marian Anderson, 1956]

  • Keeping the dream alive
    "America may not be the best nation on earth, but it has conceived loftier ideals and dreamed higher dreams than any other nation. America is a heterogeneous nation of many different people of different races, religions, and creeds. Should this experiment go forth and prosper, we will have offered humans a new way to look at life; should it fail, we will simply go the way of all failed civilizations." [Nikki Giovanni, 1993]

Home | About the book | Introduction | Table of contents | A selection of quotes | What people have said about the book | How people are using the book | FAQs | Request copies

Revised June 30, 2002