There’s a Difference Between Racism and Ignorance, Says Project 21 Chairman

A white person wary of black teens in baggy jeans is not necessarily a racist, says Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie in an article about continuing racism faced by blacks, especially black males, in New York state’s Journal News by Dwight R. Worley (excerpted):

Bevolyn Williams-Harold watched her son sing and dance as he took part in a radio station promotion at The Westchester shopping mall in White Plains. She chatted briefly with the other mothers as their children played musical chairs and other games.As the event continued, two black teenage boys dressed in baggy jeans walked through the food court laughing loudly. “The parents who were chattering just stopped talking and stared at these two young men,” Williams-Harold said of that moment in October. “You kind of felt the tension.”

The same white women who talked with her, seemingly oblivious to her dark skin, froze at the mere sight of the black boys.

She thought of her 7-year-old son, Jourdan, a first-grader at George Washington Elementary in White Plains, and wondered how long it would be before they cringed at the sight of him. She also considers the avalanche of obstacles he would face throughout his life as such negative perceptions provoked unfounded fears.

“Black men have a hard time in this country. It’s a difficult road to walk,” said Williams-Harold, a 40-year-old freelance writer who lives in White Plains. “I want people to understand how difficult it is to raise a black child and the added difficulty with a black male child.”

Williams-Harold embodies an attitude common among many black men and women. While the notion of overt racism and discrimination seems outdated given advances in civil rights and changes in social attitudes, many blacks say there is still evidence of racism in their everyday lives…

…But the progressive attitudes most people believe they have seem to disappear when it comes to close encounters with black men, said Ernest Prince of Katonah.

Prince said he is often followed around stores by security staff and clerks when he shops, whether he’s wearing sweats or a three-piece suit.

Such tales are a frequent complaint of young black men, whom merchants say often come into stores in groups and look suspicious. But Prince is 64 and president of the Urban League of Westchester County.

“They just automatically assumed black man – criminal,” Prince said. “They don’t see me, they just see black.”

But that rush to judgment can cut both ways, and often does when blacks demonize whites, said Mychal Massie, the outspoken chairman of Project 21, a black conservative think tank in Washington.

Massie cited the controversy surrounding the rape case at Duke University, in which a group of white athletes were accused of raping a black exotic dancer. Serious doubts about the truthfulness of the woman’s account have since been raised, but not before the men involved were tarnished with charges of racism, Massie said.

“There’s a difference between racism and ignorance,” he said. “Just because … a person is put off by the sloppy gangster-style dress that we see so many of our young people, especially young black people, wearing, it does not make them racist. I don’t believe that white people get up in the morning thinking about what they can do to oppress black people or hold black people down.”

But as with the reactions by the women in the mall, Williams-Harold said, racism can be conscious or subconscious, and she believes it is more pervasive than many would like to admit…

…But Massie maintains that concerns about racism are often overblown, and suggests individual behavior and performance are key…

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