Dear Dr. Boli: So what should we really do about racism in this country? —Sincerely, A Man Who Thought “Racism” Meant NASCAR Until Quite Recently.
Dear Sir: First, we must understand that nothing can be legally done about private racism, which is to say the expression of insulting opinions by private individuals. Private racism is not, and must not be, illegal. In Dr. Boli’s opinion it is wrong, but not everything that is wrong can or ought to be made illegal. Dr. Boli has never come to terms with Calvinism, but it is openly practiced not half a mile from the Boli mansion. Likewise, private racism must be tolerated, and once again Dr. Boli finds it necessary to define tolerance. Tolerance is not approval. It is nearly the opposite of approval. We have no need of tolerance for things of which we all approve. Tolerance is my guarantee of your right to be wrong, in exchange for your guarantee of my right to be wrong. We tolerate racists, meaning that they have the right to rant as much as they like about the inferiority of Danes or Bhutanese or whatever ethnic groups they disapprove of.
We also need to distinguish racism from other things we disagree about. It is not racist to believe that a child born black in this country has the very same opportunities that a child born white has. The term for that is naive or hopelessly optimistic, not racist. It is not racist to believe that people of other cultures should conform to the standards of behavior or belief of one’s own culture: the term for that is narrow-minded or chauvinistic, not racist. Racism is not a question of behaviors: it is the belief that people of a certain ancestry should not have the same privileges as people of some other ancestry. It is aristocracy on a large scale, with all the absurdities of aristocracy—a word that actually means “rule of the best,” which should provoke a hearty laugh in anyone who has mingled with aristocrats.
Legally, what we can do about racism is limited. We can make laws that are blind to race, and demand judges who will enforce them. We can insist on equal treatment in public accommodations, regardless of the private views of the managers of such accommodations. Where we see injustice in government, we can shine a bright light on it, and we can vote for justice. But we cannot use the law to stop racists from being racist. We can only limit the scope of their behavior.
Morally, however, we have a doomsday weapon against racism. We can mock racists. Racism is the most mockable of all vices, because pride is the root of all racism, and pride is also the root of all comedy. When we have seen the proud cavalier displaying his pride in the first reel, we are ready to see him fall off his horse into a mud puddle in the second. The racist who believes he represents a superior race is inviting us to demonstrate exactly how he is wrong about that.
Therefore, dear reader, you know your duty. Go out and do it. No racist should be safe from your sarcasm. All lovers of justice and equality are depending on you.