Just talking about this gets me in trouble, which is why most minority friends of mine just let the issue go. Simply pointing out racist acts incites irrational hostility—which, by definition, is racism. Most racists don't think of themselves as racists, much the same way I'd routinely deny I was snoring when my wife elbowed me in the middle of the night. Racism breeds; it's in all of us. It's like being spat on, every single day of your life, and just saying nothing because, merely pointing out you've been spat on incites anger and retribution. I am accusing no one of anything, just pointing out the absolute fact of racism, of a lifetime of being spat upon every single day.
Having been educated in white schools in white neighborhoods
among my white friends, I actually never knew racism as a child.
I had to be taught, in an intellectual fashion, as a kind of
anthropological study, what racism was. In fourth grade, a white
kid charged me a quarter to tell me what the word “nigger”
meant. “Nigger” wasn’t even a word thrown around our house,
around our black neighborhood in Queens, NY. I heard it at loud
drunken parties my mom would drag my sister and I to for
whatever stupid reason, but never invested in the word to any
degree. And nobody, not even the white fourth grader, ever
called me “nigger” in a hateful way and meant it. That didn’t
happen until my mother moved us to Kentucky when I was thirteen.
I remember it like it was yesterday, me standing in the street
after a passing motorist called me “nigger” and gave me the
finger. And I just stood there, like Leonard Nimoy, and I think,
in fact, I literally said the word, “fascinating…” Far from
being angered by it, I was fascinated. This was racism. This guy
actually hated me, not for anything I’d done, but for the skin I
was wearing. He hated me on spec. Hated me on credit.
In my experience, it’s easy to figure out who the racists are. There really are no secret racists. They’re not like closeted gays or cross-dressers. Racism just kind of seeps out of them, the same way the pungent aroma of strong spices seeps through the pores of East Indians after a big meal of Curry Goat. Which is not to impugn East Indians, but hey, look, I’ve just been a racist. In these days and times of political correctness and political exploitation, virtually anything can be placed into a racist context—even the truth. Strong spices makes you stink. Racism makes you stink. Whether you realize it or not, it just seeps out of you. It clouds around you like dust following the Peanuts cartoon character Pig Pen. Racism is an ugliness you can neither hide nor deny. It also marks you as stupid. Judging someone by the color of their skin is absolutely stupid. But, stupid is what we’ve got. Stupid is what we do.
It’s so bad, in fact, that the only people who have trouble figuring out who the racists are are the racists. Most racists I've met really have no idea that they are racists. Racism flies completely beneath their radar, occurring on such a subliminal level that they are honestly unaware it is even there. However, these very same people are unlikely to engage in an honest exchange of views on the subject. They are typically unwilling to even consider the possibility that they might be racist. Ask a non-racist who the racists are, and they can tell you straight off, citing neighbors and friends. Ask a racist who the racists are, and he doesn’t know any. He scratches his head and looks this way and that way. He thinks hard, furrows his brow. Back when I worked in comics, everybody knew who the racists were. But, ask any ten white professionals in comics and they’ll have no idea who the racists are. Ask any ten black comics pros and you get the same five names. That’s the tip of the hat for you: people who claim to not know any racists are, nine out of ten times, racists themselves. If you stink of Curry Goat, chances are you can’t smell it on other people. You find other explanations, make other excused for heinous behavior. For The Stink. You defend the indefensible ad become agitated verging on violence in defense of your “friends” whose conduct clearly and obviously fits the description of racist. But you don’t know any racists. And how dare I accuse your friends.
Liberals, actually, are the worst kind of racists. Liberals are Racism Deniers. Their sense of self tells them their academic degree and all that dope they smoked in high school has somehow earned them a Ghetto Pass or some kind of Negro Merit Badge. But liberals, intellectuals, passed me over six times for promotion and promoted a secretary and an intern who used to sort the boss’ mail ahead of me. These weren’t rednecks. These were college men. They wore ties. In the 1980’s wake of USA For Africa and We Are The World, these liberals launched an African Famine Relief project but forgot to invite any black people to work on it, then became angry and defensive—to the point where I was almost fired for pointing out the embarrassing omission. Racists get angry. Anger is usually provoked not by lies but by truth. People don’t usually get riled up because you’re talking out of your hat. They are moved to violence because you’ve struck a chord, identified their own shameful shortcomings
This phenomena reminds me of the older woman who wears strong perfume. She wears such strong perfume that, after while, she can’t smell it anymore. She’s killed off the follicles in her nostrils and assaulted the taste buds on her tongue that tell us when we’ve put on too much perfume. So, since she can no longer smell it, what does she do? That’s right: she puts on more perfume. To get the sickly sweet smell to a level where she can actually smell it, she is now wearing Five Alarm Perfume, assaulting the sensibilities of people across the street. She stinks. Racists stink. Their friends stink. And you can smell it across the room. Nobody walks up to someone, let alone someone they actually like or have some manner of relationship with, and accuses them of racism casually. By the time that conversation happens, the racist has been stinking up the joint for a long, long time.