Raspberry on U.S. Racism and Changing People’s Attitudes

William Raspberry’s column (“Jousting With Windmills of Racism,” Commentary, May 11) posits several disturbing points that must be challenged. Raspberry recounts veteran civil rights activist Julius Lester’s theory that it is “inherently divisive” to focus on racial attitudes, “at least in terms of privately held biases.” In obvious agreement with Lester, Raspberry is saying that discrimination must be fought--but not racist attitudes.

If we think that by themselves programs to combat discriminatory behavior-- much less racial violence by bigots--are enough to end racism in this country, we are sadly mistaken, and we will never have a meaningful impact on the attitudes that engender discrimination and violence.

Individuals are responsible for the institutional and personal discrimination and the violence Lester and Raspberry deplore--not the divisiveness that they cite. Discrimination, not divisiveness, is responsible for inequality of opportunity. Discrimination and racial violence of individuals contribute to the sense of victimization they deplore. We must all hold the individuals--and ourselves--responsible for the views that engender this behavior, as well as the actions themselves.

We must maintain and expand efforts to build common ground and a common agenda by fighting racism itself--not just its manifestations. To do otherwise is to contribute to the divisiveness that we all deplore and, by tacitly legitimizing racist views as being among “the rights of individuals,” is to allow the racism among us to grow and engender still more racist behavior.


Racism affects all of us. It continues to blight our democratic, increasingly diverse society. Only by challenging attitudes can we reduce the stereotyping and prejudices that we all hold that often lead to racism--that often lead to racist behavior.


Executive Director, National

Conference of Christians and Jews

Los Angeles