NAACP President In Newnan
Johnson: Race is a fiction, but racism is real
by Sarah Fay Campbell
“Race, in itself, is a fiction. That is earth shattering,” said the Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia Conference of the NAACP, as he spoke last week to the Coweta Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Race has no biological basis at all. There are more differences between the color of a cat’s eyes than there are between people,” he said.
But while, biologically, race is a fiction, racism is not. Johnson defined racism as “discrimination based on race classifications.”
“Racism is real and still matters,” Johnson said, and his solution to racism is to “destroy it whenever it is legally constituted.”
That includes eliminating initiatives put in place to try and address racism, and therefore favor minorities, as well.
Johnson said he got a call recently from someone who was called the “N-word” at work. “I told them, I’m sorry,” Johnson said, but “that is not really the focus of the NAACP.”
The man was astonished.
“These acts are problematic, but in 2014, using the N-word, dragging nooses – that’s not racist, that’s ignorant,” Johnson said. “If people don’t realize the Confederate swastika is offensive to a great number of Americans... because it has been co-opted by extremist organizations, they are ignorant.”
We can work to make sure that racism is not practiced in our institutions.
“You’ve got to think outside the box if you’re going to be game changers,” Johnson said. “Whenever politicians want to exploit people's differences, you’ve got to say to them, 'You can’t represent us in office,'” Johnson said.
To Johnson, it’s not about electing black candidates. “If you don’t change the game and you just change the players, you’ll get the same results,” Johnson said. “We’ve elected blacks to lead every major municipality in this state, yet black unemployment hasn't decreased, public housing equality hasn’t increased, and education hasn’t improved.”
Johnson urges the public to stop focusing on the color of skin as a qualification for occupancy for political office.
Though race is a fiction, it “plays an exaggerated role in our lives."
Black children are three times more likely than white children, and four times more likely than Asian children, to die in infancy. They are more likely to go to schools that are underperforming.
“These things are not because of the color of their skin, and it’s not because of their abilities and their faculties,” Johnson said. “If race is a fiction, those differences are attributed to social and geographical and economical and political realities.”
“Race is still the best indicator of whether he’ll be pulled over by police,” Johnson said. Johnson added that he recently drove on Interstate 16. “I held my breath. Most times I travel up I-16 I’m going to be stopped for some reason.”
At that comment, there were several murmurs of agreement from the crowd. “And that must be your work,” Johnson said. “Because those realities are only there because race matters. It matters because race, from the very founding of our country, was baked into how we arranged our politics.”
“People matter more,” Johnson added. “When a community decides that it doesn’t benefit anyone not to graduate 50 percent of African-American males… then that community can begin to focus on education instead of pointing fingers,” Johnson said.
The problem in education isn’t a lack of resources. Johnson sends his children to a private school that has a 100 percent graduation rate. The tuition is $6,000. Parents of the students at this school may have more resources, but Johnson believes the real reason the school is so successful is that “the value of education is shouted and preached from the back door to the front door.”
“If you accept that 50 percent of black males don't graduate you may also accept that people who do not have the means” to make a legitimate income will turn to illegitimate means.
“You are going to warehouse able-bodied men who cannot feed themselves or their families and who will engage in petty crime and engage in contraband sales and are going to kill one another because they don’t value life, because they don’t see themselves as participating in the full value of America,” Johnson said.
If they’re going to focus on education, “it can’t be finger pointing and it can’t be writing off groups of people as at-risk and low performers,” Johnson said.
Instead, Johnson urged those present to be game changers. “If you focus on the game changers and don’t focus on the individual actors… the benefits will resound in our children’s lives and in our children’s children’s lives,” Johnson said.
The Coweta branch of the NAACP is reorganizing and just launched its new website, www.naacpcoweta.com.
Hopes are to build membership. Annual membership is $30, and a 10-year membership is $75. There are two committees that “we really need to fill,” said President Tamarkus Cook. They are the political advocacy committee and the legal redress committee.