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If The Average White Person Doesn’t Hate Black People, Why Does Racism Persist?”

The title is a question I received like so many of the questions I am asked by cognitively dissonant people identifying as white, who more than likely consider themselves average as well. I am struck by the question at once, principally because this particular commenter actually expects me to know the answer to a question that opens with an inconsistency of reality I am expected to assume and then draw my answer from as though the paradox of Racism exists in a vacuum and without any defined rationale. This to me is exceedingly arrogant and makes me angry, very angry. The mass delusion between the lines is like a paradoxical math question without a rational answer:

if the average of x ≠ 0, then why is x = 0?

Of the many reasons to be incensed over the subject of white supremacism’s relationship with wanton hatred of Black people and whether or not the case is true for many average white people today, I am furious about the consistent desire over the generations to manipulate history by outright changing it or softening it to the extent of creating a fantasy about the Enslavement using terms like Antebellum, literally meaning “before the war,” and rendering the period fanciful due to its romanticized view of plantation owners as “noble landowners”[1] and their women as beautiful, dutiful, and longsuffering, analogous to Scarlet Ohara from Gone With the Wind.

My anger extends to the periods Whiteness ideology reminisces as the Reconstruction of 1865 through 1877, the Progressive Era of the early 1900s, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s through the 1970s. These periods were all dangerous and deadly for Black people at the hands of white people. Average white people of the day were raping, burning, looting, driving out Black families, and murdering them. However, since the history of Black America is still being written and the jury is still out on the nature of atrocities that may befall us in the future, I remain a very angry Black woman because I cannot escape the knowledge of the many Black people who lost their lives for simply having been assigned the color black to their skin in order to signify inferiority, uncleanliness, and evil, to justify dogmatic religious scripture and white supremacism of mediocre and fearful people who were assigned the so-called superiority, cleanliness, and goodness of the color white.

Nevertheless, the question of so-called interpersonal Racism today is interlaced with the idea of love and hate on the basis of color, offering a kind of inclusivity between the two races not typically shared in other forms or circumstances. Indeed, sharing the prospect of being Racist with the very people for whom the ideology of their own superiority, and the original system to perpetuate it may have been considered a novel idea when it was itself crafted. However, changing history to provide equality in the form of shared blame for our conditions relative to their own and washing history in this way is like using bluing for the illusion of brilliant white in an otherwise dingy wash load, especially when asked to account for why Racism still persists today without the acknowledgment of history and its unfolding present.

The dichotomy of emotions with which I find myself, however, is in my anger and hatred of whiteness and its ideology of collective evil and how that anger immediately dissipates by individualizing those who freely identify as white and with whom I love and care within my wide circle of friends and family. It isn’t as though it is difficult to do, because it comes easily, as I know it does for many Black people who have white friends, family, and acquaintances. That is because many Black people learned the idea of individualism early on, even though some were never really taught to apply such individualism to themselves. We were indoctrinated with judge not lest ye be judged also, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We were drilled to turn the other cheek and vengeance is the Lord’s at church. How, though, can a Black person reconcile the barbaric treatment that was wrecked upon Black people throughout history, and how systemic Racism has been relegated to simply love and hate on the basis of color?

As I read the excerpt from a March 17, 1888 article in the Mercury, Philadelphia News, I couldn’t help but notice the unsentimental treatment of the Black people who were stripped of their skin and their dignity even in death. Imagining the lives of Black people whose skin was dried and tanned just as the hide of a steer to make leather for shoes, cases, and other goods, I cannot even imagine the psyche of people so detached from the experiences of humanity. Even the hair didn’t escape the fashion-conscious whites.

“The doctor's shoes always exhibit a peculiarly rich lustrousness in their blackness. He assures me that they never hurt his feet. The new pair he was using when I last saw him emitted no creaking sound and appeared as comfortable as though they had been worn a month. Their predecessors, he told me, had been in constant use for eight months. He obtains the skins from the bodies of negroes which have been dissected in one of our big medical colleges. The best leather is obtained from the thighs. The soles are formed by placing several layers of leather together. The skin is prepared by a tanner at Womseldorf, 16 miles from Reading. The shoes are fashioned by a French shoemaker of this city, who knows nothing of the true character of the leather, but who often wonders at its exquisite smoothness, and says that it excels the finest French calfskin.

“Do not for a moment think that this doctor presents an exceptional case of one who puts the human skin to a practical use. Medical students frequently display a great variety of articles in which in the skin or bones of some dissected mortal has been gruesomely utilized, and in bursts of generosity they sometimes present these to their friends, who prize them highly. One of the dudest dudes in town carries a match-safe covered with a portion of the skin of a beautiful young woman who was found drowned in the Delaware river. It still retains its natural colour. Another young man with whom I am acquainted carries a cigar case made of negro skin, a ghastly skull and crossbones appearing on one side in relief. One of the best known surgeons in this country, who resides in this city, has a beautiful instrument case, entirely covered with leather made from an African's skin. A young society lady of this city wears a beautiful pair of dark slippers, the remarkable lustrousuess of whose leather invariably excites the admiration of her friends when they see them. The young doctor who presented them to her recently returned from an extended foreign tour, and he told her that he had purchased them from a Turk in Alexandria, and that he did not know what sort of leather they were made of, but he supposed it was the skin of some wild animal. As a matter of fact, the skin came from a negro cadaver, which was once prone on a Jefferson College dissecting table, and the leather was prepared in Womseldorf. The rosettes on the slippers were deftly fashioned from the negro's kinky hair.”[2]

I must leave the individual connotations brought out by terms such as rich lustrousness, and the remark that the skin was better than the finest calfskin, or that the best leather comes from the thighs to the reader since these among other parts of the article left me with little if anything other than complete and utter contempt.

The fact of leather making using the skin of Black people cannot be left to the adage, “That was just the way it was back then,” any more than the lynching and burning of bodies, postcards depicting hangings, souvenirs of charred body parts or photos for posterity were used during the 20th century, or continued lynchings and state-sanctioned violence and murder in the 21st century. Learning that throughout history, many white people hoped that denying healthcare and basic human rights would bring about the extinction of the Black race and then actively undertaking to create that eventuality even today is traumatic.[3]

One of my articles on Medium was where I was presented with the comment that became the title of this essay and which prompted me to write it. The commenter declared most white people don’t hate Black people and that most racism today isn’t caused by hate but by ignorance, subconscious bias, and prejudice. The commenter went on to ask whether some people genuinely hate other races and then answered with, “Sure.” Next, he offered a statistic of whether more than 5% of the population genuinely hate the races and responded with, “No.”Finally, he called my essay incendiary clickbait and told me I was asking the wrong question, which should have been “If the average white person doesn’t hate black people, why does racism persist?

Seeing as how the essay wasn’t asking a question but analyzing terms within the predictable frame of white supremacism and Racism, I wondered why the commenter had no answer for it, having been quite certain of the answers to the first and second questions posed. The fact that the commenter left what could be the most consequential question of all time to me, this angry Black woman, left me with the title of yet another essay and more questions.

Ideally, the answer to that question should have been left up to the white commenter, since the question relates to the average white person not hating Black people. Without a doubt, history teaches us that as a general matter, many white people have despised Black people for generations, and many have not, but all have benefited from the system designed by white people to deny and discriminate against Black people. One would have to guess that whether I am liked by white people is insignificant unless they have power over my life and death. Should I assume the young white medical students had to hate the dead Black bodies desecrated to make leather goods? Is it reasonable to believe the doctor referenced in the article hated Black people?

"Is the down trodden African still beneath your feet?" In the most matter of fact way, and without the shadow of a smile, he answered: " I suppose you mean to inquire if I still wear shoes made of the skin of a negro. I certainly do, and I don't propose changing in that respect until I find a leather that is softer and will last longer and present a better appearance. I have no sentiment about this matter. Were I a Southerner - in the American sense of the word - I might be accused of being actuated by a race prejudice. But I am a foreigner by birth, although now an American citizen by naturalization. I fought in the rebellion that the blacks might be freed. I would use a white man's skin for the same purpose if it were sufficiently thick, and if any' one has a desire to wear my epidermis upon his feet after I have drawn my last breath he has my ante mortem permission."[2]

The doctor was a foreigner by birth and naturalized as American. It would appear he fought for the Yankies in the Civil War. He even declared he would use the skin of a white man if it were sufficiently thick enough, but of course, as some white medical professionals believe, black skin is thicker. He certainly loved his negro leather shoes.

Are Black people supposed to dismiss 400 years of animus and 146 years of institutional, systemic Racism, choosing instead the notion that only 5% of the white population is perpetuating the system and maintaining the ideology of white supremacism? No. Does hatred figure well into Racism? Yes. Is it the only prerequisite for Racism’s denial and discrimination? No. For example, throughout my career, my various bosses thought very highly of me. They loved me. Did that translate into increased opportunity, equity, equality, and a raise in salary in the workplace? No. I am positive there are many Black people who have stellar relationships with their bosses, but Racism gets in the way of promotions and adequate raises in pay.

I am angry. I hate whiteness. I deplore what the ideology has done to the world and the United States in particular, fooling average white people into thinking love could end Racism.

In my view, Racism persists because white supremacism persists. White supremacism persists because average white people benefit from the perpetuation of the system of Racism in all areas of human activity. As long as white people continue to bleach their own history relative to their treatment of Black people, believe in their own aggrandizement, their belief in their supposed God-given sovereignty, and follow their bootstrapping and meritocracy myths, they will always believe they earned these tangible and intangible benefits, and that Black people just don’t measure up. It, therefore, doesn’t matter if average white people don’t hate Black people, because Racism will persist to ensure their collective, generational mass delusion of white supremacism among average white people remains intact.

1 Comment

I feel so bad about all this. You know me, Cynthia. I'm white. I've devoted most of my life trying to change this, unsuccessfully. I feel your pain. As to using the skin of Black people for shoes, Germans did the same with the skin of Jews killed in the Holocaust - they made lampshades out of them. You might be interested in what Ruby Dee said (from a piece by Jerry Mitchell): //Dee spoke passionately about “a racism that has made rage the basic rhythm of our lives. A racism that has trampled our self-esteem and numbed hope. Racism, that cancer on the bosom of our nation, that gnaws at the psyche of black America and keeps us screaming and sh…

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