The following is something I wrote today to answer a call by the Wizard of Ads to relate a personal encounter with racism. I've subscribed to his "Monday Morning Memos" since at least July 2004, and I can't recommend them more strenuously!
Racism is alive and well in Arlington, Texas, home of Six Flags, the Texas Rangers, and the Dallas Cowboys. It is not displayed overtly, and it is not shared with "strangers," but it is found in friendly conversation over a beer with friends. Off-handed, seemingly thoughtless comments along the lines of "I don't care if it's PG or not – there's no WAY 8-year old girls should be watching Hairspray! I mean, they have a white girl kissing a black dude!". There are also the always popular assessments of immigrant laborers, i.e. Mexicans, as housekeepers or outdoor workers, perpetually derided as both lazy because they're Mexican as well as really hard working; again, because they are Mexican. These are uncomfortable situations, especially when I call them on their racism.
The concerns I have about this "benign" form of racism are that: 1) it actually exists in suburban America in the year 2008; 2) it is exhibited by my close personal acquaintances, people who share my economic and social demographics ; and 3) even when the blatant racist nature of the remarks is pointed out to me through humor and good-natured disapproval, clearly letting them know that I do not share their views and that I in fact believe that they are wrong, it is often to no avail. Quite the contrary occurs, come to think of it: rather than the expected blushing or embarrassment that one could see arising on the part of the offending party, there is instead a digging in that makes it tough to walk away from while agreeing to disagree. I have never actually said this, but have frequently wanted to push the matter with a comment along the lines of "we are not going to agree to disagree, because I will never agree about anything with a racist when issues of race are concerned!"
Racism, like poverty and diseases, may indeed be a pestilence that can never be expected to be completely eradicated, yet must always be battled against as if victory resides just around the bend. My belief is that the most effective thing any individual can do is to refuse to let "harmless" racist comments go unchallenged, whether made by family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. The active resistance does not have to be confrontational or aggressive, and can be as simple as a look into the racist's eyes that conveys to them the sentiment that his or her view is not shared, it is not condoned, and it is not even so much as accepted as an opinion to which one is entitled. Racist views and actions are wrong, and there is no further debate required.