In his commentary “I am a racist. So is Katherine Kersten. She can’t admit it” (July 27), Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer discusses implicit bias to broaden the definition of who is a racist. Although he does not say that all white people are racist, he does say that he is racist and that “if you are a white person reading this, odds are you are, too.”
Nelson-Pallmeyer draws on critical race theory, which holds that all white people are racist. It also holds that whites who will not admit they are racist are the most racist of all, since the very act of denial proves that the person making it is racist. This is twisted logic that must be rejected.
Clearly many more people are racist than will admit to being so. However, their minds will not be easily changed by such tactics. Studies in conflict resolution show that we build bridges between people by creating situations where they can talk to each other respectfully and where those with a grievance can be heard. Such situations demand empathy and a willingness by all sides to listen.
I am sure that Nelson-Pallmeyer, being a professor of justice and peace studies, knows of this work. So, if Kersten is a racist, why would he call her such? As a peace leader, wouldn’t it be more constructive for him to initiate a respectful dialogue with her about their differences? We need conflict transformation professionals to help us all learn how to communicate constructively, rather than modeling name-calling as a response to disagreement.
Ruth Henriquez Lyon, Duluth, Minn.
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I read Nelson-Pallmeyer’s opinion piece with interest. I will state at the outset that I am no fan of Kersten (“Racial justice: The new religion?” Opinion Exchange, July 25). Nelson-Pallmeyer is a professor emeritus of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas. Presumably, he has spent much of his adult life striving to advance causes of social justice, and he is certainly to be commended for that. However, two things are clear, based on Nelson-Pallmeyer’s argument: 1) it is virtually impossible for any white person in the United States not to be classified as a racist and 2) it is virtually impossible for any white person in the United States to do “enough” to escape this status. Under this extraordinarily broad definition, the concept of being “a racist” loses its meaning. For example, calling President Donald Trump a racist has no substantive meaning because, as a white person, he is by default a racist just as Nelson-Pallmeyer is.
Peter Langworthy, St. Paul
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If you are having trouble accepting the idea that you as a white person are a racist, consider your participation in how you and the larger white majority community benefit from systemic racism. A fundamental example that feeds many of today’s racial disparities is the fact that Black folks have been systematically denied the means to build capital over the entire history of this country starting 400 years ago with unpaid labor. In the last century white families benefited financially from government programs over generations that almost completely excluded Black families: Federal Housing Administration loans and the post-World War II GI bill home loans and education benefits. The individual financial stability of many white families and communities originated in systemic racist policies. And many white families and communities continue to benefit, while Black families and communities continue to suffer because of this legacy of systemic racism. And to deny that these foundations of our economy have their roots in systemic racism is, in fact, racist.
And no, our job is not to be weighed down by guilt over this, but rather to acknowledge this legacy as an example of systematic racism that white folks continue to benefit from, to teach the injustice of this history and how it shapes current economic disparities, and to work for changes that don’t perpetuate these inequalities. And I believe we need to work for some type of reparations that would acknowledge the injustices of the past and serve to level the playing field for all races and communities in our country.
Carol Witte, Minneapolis
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Nelson-Pallmeyer paints Kersten and apparently all white people as “racist.” He distinguishes between “overt” racism, as displayed by militant white supremacists, and institutional racism, which includes implicit bias and all manner of sins. Apparently in his worldview, all whites are guilty of being racist simply by birth — like original sin. This is essentially the “raceology” that Kersten was assailing in her July 25 piece.
My problem with Nelson-Pallmeyer’s perception of racism is that it fails to acknowledge that it is possible for nonwhites to be racist. If a Black militant hates all white people, or all Asian people, or all non-Black people, is that person a racist? Not in Nelson-Pallmeyer’s universe. According to white privilege orthodoxy, racism can only be manifested by members of the dominant culture. We are thus to believe that all the problems minorities experience are the result of white oppression, and never because of their own behavior. To me, this belief that race is the primary determinant of human success or failure is in itself a racist philosophy, if you accept the Merriam-Webster definition that racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
Donald Wolesky, Minneapolis
Not your political ammunition
Wednesday’s editorial and the comments of Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, are exactly right in condemning the couple who wore the swastika masks into that Marshall, Minn., Walmart (“Condemning hate at Minnesota Walmart”). Like the Facebook post that compared our mask mandate to Nazi Germany forcing Jews to wear the Star of David, such uses of Nazi imagery do, like Hunegs says, a historic injustice to World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors. And the editorial is correct when it concludes, quoting David Goldenberg, that “we all need to speak out” because “that’s the only way you’re going to put this genie back in the bottle.” But I would add to this admonition: that we speak out indiscriminately, without regard to who is the one using Nazi imagery.
I would like to have seen similar condemnation when Rep. James Clyburn and Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the federal agents deployed to Portland to protect federal property “storm troopers” using “Gestapo tactics.” Using such historical analogies does exactly what Hunegs and the editorial condemn — using Nazi imagery to promote a political opinion.
Ronald Haskvitz, Golden Valley
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Jennifer Brooks penned the well-written article “This is us: Shoppers wearing swastikas” (July 28) rightfully vilifying the despicable behavior displayed by an obviously radicalized couple wearing swastika face masks in the Marshall Walmart. However, I question her decision to end the column with a “choose your side” rallying cry. Although I cannot fathom how anyone would choose the other side of this issue, demanding that we make a choice is exactly what led these two to believe that their actions were justifiable. Choosing a side demands allegiance, stifles debate, prohibits compromise, foments radicalism and incubates incredible stupidity in some people.
A moderate might point out that the requirement of wearing a protective face mask is not an infringement on our civil liberties and that the Constitution does not protect us from being offended. Some of us find hope in the belief that a pragmatic moderate will likely be our next president.
Dan Eittreim, Minneapolis
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