Do you harbor racist thoughts?

Do you harbor racist thoughts?
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When Ahmaud Arbrey’s killing became national news, many in the media decried it as a “racist murder.” Even former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign slams Trump's Rose Garden event as 'sad affair' New shutdowns add to Trump woes CNN cuts away from Trump's 'campaign-type' Rose Garden speech MORE got in on the act, calling it a “lynching.”

But others, including conservative media members and the defendants themselves, rejected the characterization that Arbery’s death stemmed from racism. Franklin Hogue, the lawyer representing defendant Gregory McMichael, gave a news conference outside of the Glynn County jail where McMichael was being held on charges of felony murder and kidnapping. He wanted to make it clear that his client is no racist. While Arbery’s killing might bear a passing resemblance “to elements that feed into the despicable and violent history of racism,” he said, the facts in the case “cannot be shoehorned into a narrative that’s being told so far. … This is not some sort of hate crime fueled by racism.”

The common defense against plainly reprehensible acts of violence committed by whites against blacks is that just because the races of the victim and perpetrator might be different does not automatically mean that the crime was racially motivated. On the heels of Arbery’s death by self-deputized neighborhood watchdogs, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in police custody has inflamed tensions and led to demonstrations and riots in cities across America. With so many people decrying what they see as a clear pattern of racist violence, how is it possible that none of the perpetrators could have acted without racial malice? In a country where many people believe racism remains a major problem, how can there be so few avowed racists?

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That’s right: Although most people think others are racist, few of us — even those accused of atrocities including murder — are willing to cop to the label. How can both propositions possibly be true? To explore that, we must look within and answer questions that most of us would not care to publicly discuss.

In the interests of fairness and truth, I propose we test ourselves. How can we determine whether or not we might actually harbor racism? Try these questions:

  1. When you hear about a suspected terrorist bombing do you assume the perpetrator is of Middle Eastern origin? Conversely, when a person of Middle Eastern origin is accused of a crime, do you suspect it was an act of terrorism and not just ordinary criminality?

  2. When you are walking or jogging in a park and you hear footsteps behind you and turn around to see who it is, are you relieved if the person turns out to be white or black, depending on your race?

  3. Are you more happy to work around those who “look like you” because you assume they hold the same values that you do? Or are you more concerned with your coworkers’ professionalism, competence and character?

  4. Did you vote for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe four China strategies Trump or Biden will need to consider Largest Democratic PAC portrays Trump as strongman in bilingual Florida ad Larry Hogan's hopes MORE because he’s black? Did you vote for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pitches Goya Foods products on Twitter Sessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE because he’s white?

  5. Are you more likely to sympathize with a group of white protesters who are breaking the law than a group of black protestors? Are you more likely to promote or rationalize police violence used against one group?

  6. If you are a police officer, are you less likely to lock someone up who spit on you because they’re white, but more likely to put your foot on the neck of a black suspect because you think you can get away with it?

  7. When you see a baby of any color do you get that warm fuzzy feeling of wanting to protect and nurture him or her? Or do you get warm and fuzzy only when you see a child of your own race?
  8. Do you privately use racist language?

We won’t ask you to reveal them, but honest answers to those questions could tell us a lot about where racism resides in this country. I suspect that it comes closer to home than any of us is willing to publicly admit. The truth is, even good people can harbor racist thoughts or reactions. You don’t have to be a violent sociopath to hold some prejudices. And even though some people never should wear a badge or carry a gun, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re racist.

Here is where the rubber meets the road: If we do not address abuses of power by those in authority, our government ultimately will lose legitimacy and we may descend into the chaos and anarchy we’ve seen in recent days. It is especially critical that the government make an extra effort to help those without wealth and social status, and those in minority groups who may have faced prejudice. Whether arising from racism or not, jackboot thuggery on the part of folks who are supposed to serve and protect cannot be tolerated. 

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”