'Stealth Racism' Still Pervasive in America, Says NAACP

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - White Americans have "an absolute blind spot" when it comes to linking racism with the wide range of social challenges facing their black counterparts in contemporary America, a top official from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) contends.

A recent poll showed blacks and whites with disparate views on the pervasiveness and harm from racism in modern-day America. A much higher percentage of blacks were more likely to describe racism as a "very serious" problem than whites in the survey organized through the Opinion Research Corp. for CNN, earlier this month.

Nelson B. Rivers III, the NAACP's chief operations officer, told Cybercast News Service that the poll results showed whites were reluctant to see a racist component behind the unequal treatment of blacks because they operate from "the prism of the powerful."

"Racism requires accountability," he said. "No one wants to acknowledge they are racist or have benefited from a racist system."

Rivers also said a form of "stealth racism" has taken hold in recent years that is more subtle and difficult to detect than the overt practices of discrimination that once held sway.

However, Mychal Massie, chairman of the black conservative group Project 21, was less impressed with the poll results and said racist attitudes are more acute in the black community than among whites.

"Many black people have a raw, visceral contempt for whites, and they are much more vocal than what I hear or experience from whites," Massie said. "To suggest only whites are racist is just wrong."

The Project 21 chairman mentioned entertainer Harry Belafonte, political activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as well as NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, as examples of prominent African Americans responsible for making racist remarks.

Massie also said that too many blacks are taught at a young age to reflexively blame whites for some of the problems in their own lives and communities.

The Opinion Research Poll sampled 328 blacks and 703 whites. The results showed that most Americans across ethnic lines believe racism is still a problem. However, only a small percentage of respondents acknowledged that they are biased against individuals of another race.

The biggest separation between blacks and whites was registered when respondents were asked whether racism could be characterized as a "very serious" problem. Forty-nine percent of blacks said it was very serious, while only 18 percent of whites agreed with that description.

"I think all of this had a pre-determined outcome, needing only anecdotal comments to lend a veneer of credibility," Massie said in a press release. "The CNN report serves only one purpose, and that is to convince the public at large - specifically, white people -- that they are evil racists. It is a vulgar exercise to try to find racism in the fiber of every white."

The concept of "stealth racism," Massie added, is also being used to help justify the existence of the NAACP at a time when it has become irrelevant to the concerns of black Americans.

"The NAACP sees racism behind every tree and every bush," Massie alleged.

The word racism is used far "too loosely," said Deneen Moore, a Project 21 fellow, to cover a whole set of challenges that are not related to racial discrimination. Moreover, bogus allegations of racism are often used as an excuse by some to "work less hard" and fall back into a "victimization mentality," she added.

In its press release critiquing the poll results, Project 21 celebrated the example of Troy Smith, the black Ohio State University football quarterback who recently won college football's top honor -- the Heisman Trophy. Sports journalists who voted for Smith examined his performance on the field, "not his skin color," the released stated.

"Any person with enough determination and hard work can succeed," Moore said.

Nevertheless, Rivers maintained that "stealth racism" is prevalent and continues to subtract opportunities away from black Americans. Proof can be found through "investigative testing," Rivers explained, in which blacks and whites of similar backgrounds are treated differently when they seek to rent an apartment or acquire services in banks or restaurants.

As a way of advancing racial progress, Rivers is proposing a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission." Such a commission would ask whites to acknowledge the persistence of racism. It would be followed by reconciliation and forgiveness from the black community, according to Rivers.

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