Question of the Week: January 19, 2015

This week’s question actually comes from ECW’s business officer, Jennifer Mackowski. Pondering some of the discussions and controversies that have swirled around Virginia this past weekend in relation to Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, she asks:

What is the difference between racism and prejudice?

3 Responses to Question of the Week: January 19, 2015

  1. There are so many terms in between these two that come to mind as well–my Masters classes have dealt with many of them explicitly. Abolitionists, for instance, wanted to rid the country of the practice of slavery as a labor source, but they didn’t think much beyond that. Emancipation is a legal term for a change in the status of a person or group of people from the authority and control of another person to a more liberal view of personal freedom. Today, a child under 18 may ask the courts for emancipation from his or her parents. Racism is the belief that race itself is the primary determinant of human capacity, and that some races are inherently more capable than others. When all one has seen of a particular race is negative, it is easier to believe that, perhaps, there are deficiencies somewhere. This results in prejudice. Prejudice is a preconceived opinion not based on either reason or actual experience.

    Pretty complicated, pretty intertwined.

  2. Dr. King, Jr. fought and was murdered while attempting to bring America together and Robert E. Lee, though excepting his fate and the South’s after the war, fought during the Civil War to keep America “apart” and helped fight to continue slavery in America. In comparison, and in historical context, Robert E. Lee is a “local” hero while Dr. King is an “American” hero. Both are “great” men, but in this day of Civil Rights struggles Robert E. Lee’s fight for “State’s Rights” isn’t a current struggle as Civil Rights is in the streets today. Both are to be appreciated for their courage. Give Virginia “their” Lee Day and give America “our” King Day.

    1. Excellent reasoning, and I appreciate your last concession for both days to be celebrated in their regional/historical context. The problem is that some, in the name of King Day, demand that Lee-Jackson Day be abolished.

      Here in Atlanta a controversy is in the news concerning King’s children litigating over Dr. King’s personal property. Several years ago his papers were sold for $30 million, a significant portion paid out from city revenues after the economic crash rendered a private college unable to make payments, and a 30% commission going to Dr. King’s son Dexter for brokering the deal. What particularly saddens me is their collecting huge sums upon erection of statues and memorials ($850,000 for the National Mall memorial, for example). One would think they would be gratified to have their father and his legacy so honored without demanding compensation, but as Dexter said, “This is business.”

      I could not help but think of the supposedly evil General Lee turning down a large sum of money–at a time when it was desperately needed–for the use of his name by an insurance company. One can scarcely imagine Jackson’s descendants demanding payment upon the unveiling of his memorial statues. Just a reflection upon differences between the time we live in now and the era that we study.

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