Paul Krugman’s column “Tragedy in Black and White,” started me thinking about slavery and segregation and racism in a way that I had not for a long time. Thinking back to my childhood in ultra-segregated Southside Virginia, I recall how the different physical traits of “Nigra” people (large posteriors, heel pads, thick lips, wooly hair, not to mention skin color) made it easy for whites to think of them as a separate, inferior species, not human in the same way that whites are human. I remember a black woman crippled from rickets; this was explained to me as her failure to take the cod liver oil that I gagged on daily, as though she was to be blamed for having rickets.
So I think Krugman is right. I believe that in spite of the ascendancy of the Colin Powells and the Condi Rices (both of whom easily pass the grocery-bag test of skin color), there is a lingering legacy from the days of slavery that infects us all and that leads us into racist thinking without our even realizing it. “These people are underprivileged anyway,” in the now-infamous words of Barbara Bush.
Link to the relevant portion of the Krugman column: