Racism is often easy to spot. When a cab driver fails to stop for a black person; when Jews were recently spit upon while walking in a Muslim neighborhood in France; when Muslims are assumed to be terrorists.
But most racism is more subtle. And often those who shout the loudest about racial bias are guilty of discrimination themselves.
As I have documented in the past, the only two significant counties in North Carolina that lost black population the last decade are homes to Chapel Hill and Asheville, the two most progressive communities in the state.
Are policies that restrict construction of new homes in low-cost rural areas—forcing the gentrification of in-town black neighborhoods—racist? Is the fact that the Asheville and Chapel Hill school districts consistently have the highest disparity between the test scores of blacks and whites a sign of racism?
Is spending a fortune on educating children in Mandarin, a curriculum seldom chosen by black and Hispanic children, rather than addressing the racial academic performance gap, a subtle form of racism? Does banning from your city limits the most popular retailer for low-income residents to buy their groceries send a message that certain people are not welcome?
Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos looked at how whites in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s backyard behave when minorities appear in their homogeneous communities. As reported in The New York Times, Enos published a book titled “The Space Between Us,” suggesting that “the ideological commitment of liberals in these and other similar communities may waver, or fail entirely, when their white homogeneity is threatened….Enos demonstrates that the liberal resolve of affluent Democrats can disintegrate when racially or ethnically charged issues like neighborhood integration are at stake.”
The experiment Enos ran consisted of injecting Spanish-speaking people into commuter train stations located in upscale Anglo suburban communities outside of Boston. The local population had an average income of about $150,000; 88 percent had college degrees. These communities rejected “racist” Donald Trump by margins ranging from 25-50 percent.
In his 2014 paper published by the National Academy of Sciences, Enos describes his study in detail. His basic conclusion was: “The good liberal people catching trains in the Boston suburbs became exclusionary…..Exposure to two young Spanish speakers for just a few minutes, or less, for just three days had driven them toward anti-immigration policies associated with their political opponents.”
Recently, after the Seattle city council had unanimously voted to impose a special tax on large local companies to fund more affordable housing, the social justice-minded Seattle business community revolted. Members of the community were getting into shoving matches in the grocery store over the divisive policy. Immediately, the city council reversed direction and repealed the tax with only two dissenters sticking to their guns.
It is easy to denounce discrimination, and to promote social justice, when it does not impact your life personally. I will never forget being told by a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council that he had just come from eating lunch at a pizza restaurant in the rural part of the county, and that he “didn’t know there were people like that in our community.”
Discrimination is not just racial in origin. New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof quoted an African-American university professor who said that in society he felt discriminated against because of his skin color, but on the college campus he was discriminated against because he was a Christian.
Before we accuse others of discrimination, perhaps we all need a long look in the mirror.