While visiting Baltimore to watch my beloved Houston Astros take on the Orioles aCamden Yards this weekend, I surprisingly found that the 23rd annual Baltimore Book Festival was running concurrently with the end of the baseball season. During the festival, I was fortunate enough to attend an entertaining and informative presentation by April Ryan, a Baltimore-born White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and a CNN contributor. In 21-years of reporting on the White House and its occupants, Ryan has made a name for herself as a tenacious journalist who is willing to ask the tough questions that concern diversity in America. At today’s appearance, Ryan disclosed one of the most difficult questions she has ever had to propose when she famously asked Donald Trump, “Mr. President, are you a racist” (Mr., 2018)? In furthering the discussion on the issue of racism, a look at its definition and several of its various forms is vital to increasing our understanding of this important social issue.
Our textbook defines racism as “bias against an individual or a group of individuals based on…race/ethnicity” (Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, 2012, p. 333). Before Ryan’s controversial question to President Trump, she had consulted with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to ask how they defined the term. Their response provided me an interesting viewpoint in which to view the topic. “Racism,” according to Ryan per the NAACP, is the “intersection between prejudice and power” (Ryan, 2018). Essentially, it is not enough to merely show bias towards someone based on their race or ethnicity, but the domineering person must feel some level of supremacy over the victim. This revelation was just one of the many I had in listening to Ryan speak of her experiences.
Since Ryan’s infamous inquiry, she has felt the consequences of blatant racism that many of us are most familiar with hearing about. She has received a barrage of emails and letters from individuals who have attacked her because of her skin color. These threats have not only been directed towards Ryan, but also her family, and she now employs a bodyguard for protection (Ryan, 2018). Ryan also spoke about the glaring racism she witnessed during the 2016 presidential campaign season as it relates to then President Barack Obama. In traveling the country covering the election, Ryan saw and heard an uprising of people who were angry because an African-American had reached the pinnacle of American politics. As the crowds grew in attendance and intensity, there was little doubt for Ryan that some people were enraged with the idea of a person of color with so much power (Ryan, 2018).
In some instances, individuals did not openly declare racist statements, but nevertheless, Ryan felt that forms of symbolic racism were apparent in their attitudes. This type of racism is not particularly directed at a certain ethnic group, but instead, aimed at a corresponding target or another “proxy-type factor” (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 334). One of these “targets” during the last presidential campaign was that of immigration reform, a topic that disproportionality affects people of different ethnicities. Proponents of stricter immigration policy argued that immigrants were taking jobs from unemployed Americans. As the campaign picked up steam, Ryan recalled the negative tone that shifted particularly towards Latinos (Ryan, 2018). People were not necessarily chastising these individuals publicly based on their ethnicity, but instead energetically cheered to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and end programs that benefit immigrant children and their families.
Racism, in its many forms, is a pattern of prejudice based on one’s race or ethnicity from individuals who feel dominant over other people. This type of bias can be blatant in openly discriminating against someone or can be concealed as pure disagreement with factors associated with a particular minority group. During a recent presentation at the Baltimore Book Festival, April Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent, shared some of her experiences in dealing with bigotry. Over the last two years, she and her family have been victims of unabashed verbal assaults because of her race, and she has also witnessed less-obvious symbolic racism against other minority groups.
After Ryan’s appearance, I headed over to Camden Yards to watch the final regular season baseball game for my Astros, and the Orioles. While Houston is headed to the playoffs, Baltimore ended their season with an emotional farewell to Adam Jones, an African-American outfielder, who has spent the last 11 seasons starring for the O’s. With his every at-bat, a diverse crowd of fans rose to their feet and gave Jones one standing ovation after another. I have no idea who any of these people supported for president. I have no idea who was a racist, or not, in that crowd. But for a few hours in time, apparently it didn’t matter. The only color anyone was worried about was their team’s shade of orange. My team lost, but it still felt good.
“Mr. President, are you a racist?” (C-SPAN). (2018, January 12). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoBOueMfdcY
Ryan, A. D. (2018, September 30). Speech presented at Baltimore Book Festival, Baltimore.
Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.A. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.