The University Record, February 4, 1997

Marable finds discrimination in small, daily acts

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services


The merchant who drops your change on the sales counter, rather than touch your hand . . . the salesperson who follows you around the store because he or she feels that you may steal merchandise . . . the teacher who deliberately avoids your upraised hand in class . . . the woman who wraps the strap of her purse several times tightly around her arm just before walking past you on the street . . . the taxi cab driver who speeds past you to pick up white passengers half-way down the block.

These "unending moments of inequality and oppression" are examples of the most pernicious forms of racial discrimination that persist in America today---a racism that occurs at the smallest levels of daily human interaction, according to scholar and commentator Manning Marable.

Speaking at a Martin Luther King Symposium lecture late last month, Marable, director of Columbia University's Institute for Research in African American Studies, said that many white Americans have never fully grappled with the "omnipresent oppressive reality of race," which often is hidden in obscure acts of daily life and in the use of code words and innuendoes.

"Racism is an invisible tax, an unjust levy against the labor, power and creativity of people of color, in which we pay more and receive less every single day," he said. "To be Black in a white-dominated social order means that one's life chances are circumscribed and truncated in a thousand and one different ways."

From paying higher prices for a new car or being denied a bank loan simply because of the color of your skin to having limited educational opportunities, job mobility and access to health care, racism both clarifies and distorts reality, Marable said. It creates false dichotomies and distinctions between people where none may really exist, he added.

While issues of social justice and inequality---inadequate health care, inferior education, high unemployment, poverty and homelessness---are most often associated with the dynamics of race, Marable said that most poor Americans are white, not people of color.

He said that by accepting the racist stereotype that civil rights and economic issues of social justice are only for minorities, we ignore the "grim reality of class oppression of millions of people who happen to be white."

"The burden of racism in our nation today is not fundamentally attributable to the actions of overt racists or skinheads or the Ku Klux Klan," he said. "Racism is most damaging as an institutional force in which millions of white Americans are comfortable with the processes of inequality that imprison millions of people of color, as well as millions of working-class and poor white folk.

"To go beyond these traditional forms of discussions about pluralism and diversity and multiculturalism," he said, "we must face the reality of racism, not as a Black problem, not as a Latino dilemma, but as a burden for millions of comfortable white Americans who fail to see us as human beings."

Marable told his audience that America must move beyond the current crisis of "material inequality" for people of color by devoting greater federal resources to economic development and to fighting poverty, hunger, homelessness and unemployment, and by spending less on military and defense projects.