Hate is Multicultural

December 17, 1993|By GREGORY P. KANE

If anything good comes out of Colin Ferguson's massacre that left six dead and 19 wounded aboard a Long Island commuter train, it may be that the ludicrous claim that blacks can't be racists is finally laid to rest.

Mr. Ferguson -- who held whites, Asians and ''Uncle Tom'' blacks in equal disdain -- went on a rampage and apparently selected only whites and Asians as his victims.

Yet according to the way some blacks -- particularly black nationalists -- define reality, Mr. Ferguson's actions were not ''racist.'' According to their logic, blacks are incapable of being racists.

Rap artist Sister Souljah described this peculiar myopia in a music video that was otherwise completely forgettable for its mediocrity. In the video, Sister Souljah is shown being questioned by a white journalist.

''You can't call me or any other black person a racist,'' she righteously intones. ''Black people don't have the power to do to white people what they do to us. And even if we did, we don't have that low-down, dirty nature.''

Ms. Souljah obviously neglected to pass along this bit of wisdom regarding black moral superiority to Mr. Ferguson. She did, however, express a view that has been in vogue for years: that racism is a matter of institutional power and control and that it is the exclusive affliction of whites.

Even during my most militantly black nationalist phase, the argument smacked of silliness. My usual reaction to the charge of black racism by whites was the ''look who's talking'' rejoinder.

I also pointed out the essential differences between black racism and white racism. White racism is motivated by a desire to dominate, subjugate and exterminate and thus had genocide as one of its most devastating consequences.

Black racism, on the other hand, is a reaction to white racism and is motivated primarily by the instinct to survive. Its consequences can sometimes be deadly, as in the case of Colin Ferguson, but historically the effects of black racism can't begin to match those of white racism.

Yet to deny that black racism exists is to engage in semantic parlor games. The argument about racism being a product of power and institutions may have merit, but it ignores the fact that blacks also wield power and have institutions of their own.

The black church is a powerful institution. Blacks also have the power of the press. It may not be as great as the white press, but it beats no power at all.

There is a black entertainment network on cable TV and scores of black college and university stations. Though most black businesses are small and undercapitalized compared to white businesses, there are enough of them to dispel the notion of black powerlessness.

But even assuming that blacks can't be racists on a scale comparable to whites at the institutional level, proponents of the ''no black racists'' argument ignore the fact that anyone can be racist on a personal, individual basis. On that level, blacks can match whites bigot for bigot.

Colin Ferguson is only one example. I met another several years ago on a street in downtown Baltimore. He was short and fat and wore a trench coat and a beret that sat on top of his head. He stopped me on the street, grasped my hand in a conspiratorial grip and pulled me aside as though he'd known me for years.

He introduced himself as ''Sergeant Price, Infantry.''

Uh-oh, I thought, what do we have here? Quickly he told me of his plans to go to Atlanta -- where the serial killer who had murdered over a dozen black children had yet to be apprehended -- and ''kill everything white.''

An odd, sinister grin spread across his face as he spoke, and I knew that I not only had come across a black racist, but a certifiable kook. (Nuts always seem to find me for some reason. I chalk it up to bad karma.)

The sarge continued to ramble, stopping intermittently to snap to attention and introduce himself to passers-by as ''Sergeant Price, Infantry!''

I stood in silence a few moments, wondering how to dump this lunatic. In a flash of either brilliance or desperation, I glanced at my watch, mumbled something about having to keep an appointment and suggested to the sarge that he have his people zTC call my people so we could do lunch. Thus I made my getaway.

Critics may point out that both Colin Ferguson and ''Sergeant Price, Infantry'' clearly were mental cases. Mercifully, so far as I know, ''Sergeant Price'' never made good on his threat to wipe out white people in Atlanta.

But his case at least shows that it's possible to be mentally ill and a racist -- just as it is possible to be black and racist or white and racist.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

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