Why I Keep Talking about Race

Keep Talking About Race  Jay Jamison of the  Journal-Courier writes that everyone should “shut up about race.” But I won’t.

I will keep talking about race because Jacksonville’s history is permeated by race. While slavery dominated the South, Jacksonville had a significant free black population in a section of the city called Africa, south of College Avenue. Before the Civil War, abolitionists, many at Illinois College, clashed with defenders of slavery. But race as a defining element of social life in Jacksonville was not only an issue of the 19th century. Well into the 1960s, black people in Jacksonville were openly discriminated against in downtown stores. Racism is a living memory for many black and white residents of Jacksonville.

I will keep talking about race because we keep learning more about how racism in the United States operated. James Loewen’s eye-opening book, Sundown Towns, describes how small towns all across America kept African Americans out by passing laws that non-whites had to leave by sundown. These communities remained segregated into and past the 1960s. In Illinois, according to the 2000 census, Scott County and Mason County still had no black households, and Stark County had one.

I will keep talking about race because my students cannot understand American history without knowing the role played by racism. Official and unofficial discrimination against virtually every ethnic and religious group who were not Anglo-Saxon Protestants determined social and economic life in America for most of our history.

I will keep talking about race because my life is a product of racism. My father came to the U.S. at 18 because he had to flee his home in Vienna or be killed by the Nazis. He found a haven in America and within a few years was back in Europe wearing a U.S. Army uniform.

Thousands of other German and Austrian Jews, including my grandparents, were denied entry by anti-Semitic immigration laws and practices of the U.S. government. After I was born in 1948, anti-Semitism still determined where Jews could live, what colleges we could attend, what organizations we could join, and where we could work. I have seen anti-Semitism gradually dissipate in America, but not disappear. Within the past few years, I heard a speaker talk about being “Jewed” at a public gathering here in town.

I will keep talking about race because my brother, who lives in eastern Pennsylvania, tells me that racial slurs are common parlance among white people he meets. Racism is still widespread in America. A survey conducted this year by the University of Washington found that more than half of whites agreed with the statement: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”

I will keep talking about race because a candidate for Senate in Kentucky has said that he thinks it is wrong that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes racial discrimination by private businesses illegal. Unless one agrees with Rand Paul, it is important to defend the civil rights won in that hard fight against racism in the 1960s.

I will keep talking about race because that is what prevents and eliminates racism. If young people in America are less racist than the older generations, it is because they have heard open and truthful talk about race in schools, in film, in the media. They have learned that racist stereotypes are lies, that discrimination is illegal, and that racism must be fought not only in bad foreign places, but here at home.

It is a remarkable day when a white man tells our black attorney general, Eric Holder, as well as black and white “scholars, activists and others” to shut up about race. It is a remarkable argument to blame racism on the words of those people who have been and still are discriminated against. It is remarkably ironic to say that the targets of racism are obsessed with race.

Those of us who have felt racism are not obsessed with race. But we know that pretending racism will go away by itself is a privilege of those who have never felt its sting.

And we won’t shut up.

Steve Hockstadt

Steve Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (Palgrave, 2004) and Shanghai-Geschichten: Die jüdische Flucht nach China (Berlin: Hentrich und Hentrich, 2007).


  1. Luke Easter says

    American Indian

    There’s only one real true American,
    A human being here from the start,
    Although existing of many tribes,
    All nations made whole from each part.

    Unlike the movies, the Indian never started the fight,
    Only retaliating to save and protect property rights,
    Now realizing profits from ventures on tribunal owned land,
    Along comes the U.S. Government sticking out its hand.

    Even going to court in a lawsuit the attorneys are prepared,
    Claiming land that is non-taxable the tribes should pay a share,
    Are the powers that be going to collect the monies for the needy?
    Or like everything else distribute to the Washington Greedy?

    Was the Indian really thought of after the death of Sitting Bull?
    Only when billions of dollars casinos on their land began to pull,
    How does the government attempt to collect on property they stole?
    From original owners a miniscule fraction of a fraction of the whole.

    Land that was stolen because some prospectors found gold,
    The value of which Indian tribes were never informed or told,
    A government that feels it is constitutionally entitled, oh how bold,
    Acres not returned to the rightful owner but illegally leased or sold.

    This always happens in politics so I kinda, sorta, understand,
    But, the American Indian was born and raised on this land,
    Long before any explorer or Christopher Columbus in 1492,
    We’re crying about illegal aliens? The foot’s in the other shoe.

    I thought about this due to the fuss made about a certain Prophet,
    What kind of idiot thinks it’s OK to make fun of Muhammad?
    Millions in property damage and several lives have been lost,
    And this form of idiotic behavior champions what type of cause?

    Why slight Islam or any of the other secular religious nations?
    Whatever happened to hey, how be you, greetings, salutations?
    Intentionally disrespecting others beliefs while slamming the door,
    You are surprised sects are outraged seeking revenge through war?

    Yes, there’s the knucklehead claiming it’s protected by free speech,
    When I was growing up that’s not what the school system would teach,
    You simply could not afford to yell fire in any crowded movie theatre,
    And you certainly can’t make fun of an Icon Prophet in any newspaper.

    We celebrate Lincoln and Washington on Presidents day,
    But it’s not right to honor Martin Luther King Jr. some still say,
    How many Presidents have taken time to champion the needy?
    Oh yeah, did early America ever honor any Indian peace treaty?

    It was the Navajo Code Talkers, who fearlessly turned the tide,
    Without them World War II, would’ve been won by the other side,
    In an American society where Indians were degraded and smeared,
    Yet, for this country in a war not theirs, they still volunteered.

    American statesmen are honored on ones, twenties, fifties, fives, tens,
    With the largest denomination being donned by Benjamin Franklin,
    This is what puzzles me and I wonder if anyone really will know,
    Why was an Indian’s head on a nickel more famous for the Buffalo?

    It’s 2009, there is a lot of animosity towards illegal immigration,
    This from the ancestors who actually stole the American Nation,
    Obviously many don’t read the bible, to them just so you’ll know,
    Galatians 6: 7, the United States is reaping exactly what it sowed.

    Upon their arrival the Indians welcomed Pilgrims into their tents,
    Killed the braves, raped squaws, to the reservation kids were sent,
    Then they went out, bought, beat, raped and murdered the slaves,
    Now they’re hell bent out of shape because Hispanics want in today?

    And, the Africans not murdered or mutilated were eventually sold,
    At the center of the market place many times paid for by Indian gold,
    Oh, it’s OK for illegal aliens in sweat shops, factories, farms or fields,
    Way under minimum wage in jobs we don’t want, what’s the big deal?

    Ruthless tactics by the King of England is why the British left there,
    Likewise all foreigners because they were also being treated unfair,
    Centuries later Haitians, Hondurans, Cubans and others want to go,
    To the land of opportunity just like the Hispanics, north of Mexico.

    1492 upward the “Doctrine Of Discovery” was used to deal with tribes,
    European countries and the United States were now legally justified,
    It was just an early politically correct way to switch the truth with lies,
    Initially not militarily strong, by experience they were deceitfully wise.

    Was Thomas Jefferson having problems with drafts for the Constitution?
    Ok did attending several Indian Tribunals actually help with the solution?
    If every treaty had not been broken and the Indian was not mistreated?
    What are the chances poems & articles like this would ever be needed?

    Yeah! This is the great America, land of the free and home of the brave,
    That could be challenged by the latter Indian version deep in the grave,
    Army victory? What else to expect with guns versus bows and arrows?
    Common sense, fair as ten million eagles against one million sparrows.

    Boys assigned to the reservation the English Language they had to speak,
    And those caught speaking their native tongue were pulled aside and beat,
    Italians, Japanese, Chinese you name it they still converse in native tongue,
    The tribal voice is lost to most American Indians thanks to the butt of a gun.

    As for the girls, well everyone knows what happens after planting the seed,
    I am thinking of a term used, you know a phrase to describe it. “Half Breed! ”
    Do you think I’m just blowing smoke, making it up, ha would you like to bet?
    Hey don’t believe me then check it out at the library even better the Internet.

    I am not being cynical, resentful or saying it just happened to Indians, relax,
    Cultural destruction was also forced upon (Negros) African American Blacks,
    How many adult Indians do you know who speak the language of their tribe?
    There aren’t too many whom are familiar with customs & know you know why.

    8/10/09 Kids are not allowed access to school @ San Felipe Del Rio,
    Kelt Cooper says, ‘We have a law. We have a policy. We follow, ”
    Well, if the United States had kept and not broken every single treaty,
    What are the chances no Mexicans or Indians would ever be needy?

    01/01/10, The Hal Lindsey Report asks, “Does the flag still wave? ”
    He delivers quotes that our so-called, “founding fathers” did say,
    Talking about Religion, the Constitution plus Christians but wait,
    What do they have in common with land spilled blood would take?

    Choctaw, Kiowa, Chipewyan, Tanaina, Chickasaw, Dakota Sioux,
    Real history will truthfully establish there were many, many more too,
    Long before any form of Religion, Constitution or Christians arrived,
    This land we now call “America” was only inhabited by Indian Tribes.

    Not one good thing of value was given, the government lied and took,
    If I wrote more about this injustice it would not be a poem but a book,
    Indian land & goods were apprehended, confiscated by want not need,
    May this have been the first real example of good old American Greed?

    For whomever reading this thinks it’s plain old hogwash & none of it is true,
    Go back to the film archives, Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss in, “Soldier Blue, ”
    A vicious slaughter of Cheyenne Indians the, “Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, ”
    Although this is only one movie filmmakers could have made hundreds more.

    There were 18 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the US 7th Calvary,
    For the massacre of 350 men, women, children waving a white flag in 1890,
    They had surrendered and were unarmed at the battle of then Cankpe Opi,
    Led by Big Foot mostly widows & children it is now know as Wounded Knee.

    After World War II, there is a movement by many politicians to do all they can,
    Restoring honor and dignity to the Japanese right here in American not Japan,
    02/19/1942 Executive Order 9066, now many are sorry wanting to lend a hand,
    Restoring the lost with apologies not in their country, on American Indian Land.

    Reparations, “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988” supplied payment and here is why,
    Well, “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership” okay lies,
    Indians here were lied to, their land and gold was stolen, destroying a way of life,
    Natives to this soil are wronged as those from 1,000’s of miles are treated right?

    We give millions to and praise athletes, who are MVP,
    Acting stars who make movies that our children can’t see,
    Those in the know recklessly hire unqualified next of kin,
    When in the heck are we going to honor the American Indian?

    by Luke Easter

    • NY Hud says

      Wrong Luke. There were Caucasian people here in North America before the “American Indian” tribes. They lived here more than 10,000 years ago and were wiped out by the ancestors of what we now know as Native Americans. The pattern of human history is simply that tribes, races, family lineages and other groups have struggled against each other for millennia. There was some cooperation, but mostly violent struggle. It’s human nature. To overcome that, we need to be smart and politic.

      This is where the discussion of race and history is problematic. When we try to address and halt contemporary racism, many people get stuck in historical blame. There’s nothing wrong with taking into account historical racism to understand and deal with today’s issues, but when the discussion turns into a big blame game, we get nowhere. Are all white people bad because some American whites had African slaves? What about the white people who worked and died to free those slaves? Are today’s white children in Hawaii bad because their skin color matches that of five powerful white men who overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy? No, those specific individuals were to blame for their actions. But since white guilt and white blame are so prevalent, everyone who is not Kanaka maoli in Hawaii have to pay taxes that fund programs for native Hawaiians only. Funny thing is, most taxpayers in Hawaii are other brown skinned people. What did the Filipinos or Samoans ever do to the Hawaiians? Nothing. What did the white people who live in Hawaii do to ethnic Hawaiians? Again, nothing.

      So Luke and others, try to stop creating white guilt among Caucasians. If you want to stop racism, focus on today’s issues instead of falling into the bad, bad whitey trap. It gets us nowhere.

  2. Justan American says


    If I read your “opinion”piece you wrote of thousands of people who were denied entrance because of their religion.

    How did a religion become a race?

    Maybe they were denied entrance because they were from an area of the world and had backgrounds that the government did not want in the country.

    Maybe they were at an age where they were not able to be productive and were probably just going to be a weight on society.

    Did you sir ever consider any of this?

    This country should not just open its border to anyone who thinks they should come here.

    With your attitude and obvious misguided beliefs you should return to your fathers homeland reclaim your nationality and express your opinions there.

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