Constable: 'Am I Racist?' just gets conversation started

  • More than 400 people march from South Middle School to North School Park in Arlington Heights to protest police brutality and support Black Lives Matter.

      More than 400 people march from South Middle School to North School Park in Arlington Heights to protest police brutality and support Black Lives Matter. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 6/16/2020 11:02 AM

The number of people searching Google for the answer to "Am I Racist?" has never been higher.

Well, I certainly don't need some online quiz to answer the question of whether I am racist.


Of course, I am racist. I'd be surprised by any American who can truthfully answer "no" to that question.

That doesn't mean I use the N-word, wave a Confederate flag at NASCAR races or think there are "good people" in the KKK. And I'm also not proud of my racism. But it's there, and I need to listen.

While I have heard people say, "I don't see color," I'm not one of them.

If I'm walking down a street and see three young black men in sagging pants standing at the alley, ugly stereotypes might jump into my head that don't jump into my head if I see three young white men wearing Cubs jerseys standing at that alley. That is wrong and destructive thinking, and I try to overcome it.

I see that Dave Chappelle is black even before I watch his powerful "8:46" clip on YouTube where he asks us to imagine having a knee on our neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. As my wife and I finally binge watch episodes of the detective series "Bosch," the fact that the title character is white seems a given, but I consciously notice that the police chief is black, his girlfriend is Asian and the mayor is Latino. I've also got that type of ignorant racism where I wasn't sure if another detective on that show was a bit Asian or a bit Latino until I found out that Jimmi's real first name was Santiago.

Not that their races matter much to the story line.

But race always has mattered in the United States since that first slave ship arrived on our shores in 1620.

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As a kid in school, I learned about how America was born as a country based on freedom, a place where anyone who applied themselves and worked hard could grow up to be anything he or she wanted. That wasn't true in a nation that built its wealth on slave labor.

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the first proclamation to end slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862, our government paid reparations -- to the white owners, who got up to $300 for each enslaved black person whose free labor was lost.

Black people are treated differently from how I've been treated my whole life. The only time I've ever been picked up by police was when I was in college. I had taken the el to meet an out-of-town friend at Second City and accidentally turned the wrong way on my way home. I was walking past the Cabrini-Green public housing projects when a black-and-white squad car pulled up. I explained to officers that I was trying to find the el stop, and they, without asking for my identification or patting me down for drugs or weapons, immediately gave me a ride to the platform.

Most black people's stories about their first interaction with police don't end with a free ride.

Three pages of The New York Times on Sunday were full-page advertisements from black business leaders urging America to listen to black voices and make changes.


"This is a time for action, inside and outside. This is a time for change: inside ourselves and our companies; across our communities and our country," wrote Omar Johnson, founder of OPUS United.

"We can fix this."

This might be my racism talking because of the involvement of so many white folks, but today's protests and demands for fairness seem to have a broader appeal and more staying power than before. As awful as 2020 has been, I'm hoping history remembers it as the year America truly tackled the evils of racism.

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