Editor’s note: On Wednesdays through the end of the year, The Kokomo Tribune is republishing a selection of columns written by Primus Mootry, the retired schoolteacher and community advocate who died in a March 31 fire at his Anderson home. This column originally ran Aug. 31, 2016.

The subject of racism in America is an old, tired one. Many, Black and white, would just as soon choose to avoid the subject.

Yet, recent incidents involving the shooting of unarmed Blacks by police or private citizens (such as the murders last year of Black parishioners by a hate-filled young white man in a Charleston, S.C., AME church); the blatant, apparently race-based “birtherism” and other verbal attacks on the nation’s first Black president; the fact that nearly half of all prisoners are Black or other minorities; gross income inequalities between Blacks and whites; the gutting of the Voting Rights Act; the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and many other societal realities serve as evidence that racism is still a prominent feature in our society.

In a May 1 New York Times article, a John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University described what she called “The Upside of Overt Racism.”

The writer, Jenee Desmond-Harris, commenting on the racial mudslinging in the current presidential campaign, said, “For once, nobody is pretending that racism is at a frequency so high they can’t make it out. Racism is no longer being treated as a feeling, an allegation, a matter of opinion or something that can be negated by the announcement of a Black friend.” True, dat.

Still, there are those in white America who insist that calling attention to the existence of racism is evidence, not of the structural injustices of racist policy and practice, but of Blacks playing “the race card.” In particular, Blacks who speak out against social injustices (racism), such as #BlackLivesMatter activists, immediately are labeled by many whites, conservatives and liberal, as antiwhite.

The typical response is “All Lives Matter,” and that Blacks who insist otherwise are the real racists.

But is there such a thing as Black racism? Narrowly defined, yes. Broadly defined, no.

In its narrowest definition, racism is prejudicial feelings against one racial group or another based solely on the color of their skin and not, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “the content of their character.”

Indeed, there are many Blacks who harbor such prejudices and, perhaps, due to America’s ugly racial history and the intergenerational harms associated with it, justifiably so.

But there is another aspect of racism that is completely out of the reach of Blacks. It is the systemic, or institutional variety, of this national plague.

To the point, I know of no Black who, either as an individual or as the representative of some political or other structure, with the swoop of a pen, can take the food off a white man’s table; deny him a job or other opportunities for advancement; throw him in jail; or send his children to inferior schools.

And so, the chief difference is that in the narrowly defined cases of what might be called Black racism, it has no significant reach and is unlikely to affect the life prospects of whites.

Institutional racism, on the other hand, is a function of race-based public policy and past and present legislative or court decisions that directly affect the life chances of millions of Blacks.

I should add to this that, unless as a result of intense protest, the voice and thought of Blacks is, at best, only marginally represented in the shaping of the policies that inevitably affect all citizens.

I agree with what Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said about this:

“My view is that the fight to eliminate all institutionalized discrimination is an urgent task. After all, the bottom line is clear: Eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth in all societies — whether in developed or developing nations, the North or the South, America or Africa.”

In short, racism is a global problem with incalculable, adverse social and economic consequences.

Every American city, including Anderson, has its problems with the effects of racism. And, to the extent that racism of any sort is rooted in ignorance, the antidote is education. I believe there is basic goodness in every human being.

I love the idea of then-President Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” Even more, I love the idea of a new light shining in every human heart. It’s time for a serious conversation on race to begin the difficult process of educating ourselves out of the darkness, into that light.

Have a nice day.

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