“Much of the hypocrisy of Americans on the subject of race seems to be unconscious. Perhaps self-deception would be a better word for it. Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal. Whites are furious when they are accused of it, as the Kerner report accused them when it exposed white racism as the cause of the urban riots of the 1960s. ‘Who, us?’ everyone from President Johnson down demanded indignantly. They could not see the truth in front of their eyes. It was not even a conclusion, but a visible fact. All they had to do was look at the cities, surrounded by a fortified ring of lily-white suburb. Who built the suburbs and kept them white? Who compelled poor black and Spanish-surnamed citizens to crowd into the oldest, most run-down parts of the cities? Who ran the school systems so that the slum schools got the oldest textbooks, the greenest teachers, the least equipment?
One experience that keeps recurring to me is a meeting I had just before Christmas 1968 with a group of redcaps from Penn Station. Not many people know that a majority of these porters, elderly men now, have college degrees. When they got out of school during the depression, they discovered that what they had been told about education being the way out of poverty was not true for black men. They have spent their lives growing gnarled and bent carrying white travelers’ baggage for nickels and dimes. Imagine the waste- the human potential that they once had, the loss to our society when they were denied a chance to serve it as they were ready and able to do. One told me with tears in his eyes, ‘Keep on fighting, for all the black children.’ He was reconciled to the fact that it was too late for him to have a fair chance, but he did not want it to happen to another generation. Something happened to me as I talked to those men. I resolved that I’ll die if necessary to prevent their experience from being repeated anymore.” -From, “Unbought and Unbossed” By: Shirley Chisholm