You can still find them if you look, but back in the 1990s Magic Eye 3D posters were pretty ubiquitous.
If you haven’t heard of them, they were big posters that looked like they were screen caps of a TV screen full of static but, when you gazed at them long enough, a three dimensional image would appear to be looming out of the art.
They’re good examples of both signal-to-noise and pattern recognition. It takes a while, but eventually most people are able to pick out the background patterns and process those patterns until the image pops out.
Clearly, if you’re blind or have only one functioning eye, you’re not going to see the 3D image.
If your eyesight is too poor, or if you’re one of those people who just can’t process spatial relations in your head (i.e., you see everything flat even with two working eyes), or if you just can’t catch the pattern, you won’t see the image.
Conversely, one can reverse engineer the images; filter out the extraneous static “noise” from the pattern “signal” and the image will appear.
However, once you see the hidden image, it becomes almost impossible not to see it every time you look at it after that. Your eyes know what to look for and they seek it out.
Racism in America is a lot like that.
Many people, particularly African-Americans but many other minorities as well, have built in filters. They see the racism in American culture as it slaps them in the face incessantly.
But white people don’t have that filter.
White people have to be told the pattern is there, told to look carefully for it beyond all the background noise that hides it.
Once they see it they are shocked at how pervasive it is. Like the hidden messages in John Carpenter’s They Live, evidence of racism is everywhere and in everything.
Even things we might consider as wholly innocent turn out to be permeated with racist concepts.
Let’s take a look at two quotes, what they mean, and how people respond to them.
“That’s what America is about–a land of dreams and opportunity. There were immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
Compare and contrast with:
“And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind…So life in America was not always easy. It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.
“There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”
There are some people — racists, or apologists for racism — who claim the two quotes are virtually identical.
They touch on similar ideas, but they draw separate and entirely different conclusions.
If you don’t know what you’re reading, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, the racism gets lost in the background noise.
If you know what to look for, if you are (as yrs trly is) a trained editor, you see how the phrasing is used to shape a particular response with a particular audience.
Look at the first quote. The flow of ideas is from America as a land of dreams and opportunity [i.e., something people long for] to immigrants [i.e., literally people who migrate from one area to another] to the bottom of slave ships [first indication all is not right with the American dream] to working longer & harder & for less [implying that being enslaved and forced to labor under pain of death / torture / rape / brutality is the equivalent of being made to work overtime without extra pay] to those people [enslaved people] dreaming along with those who came to America voluntarily to find happiness and prosperity.
Now look at the second quote. It starts by acknowledging even the willful pursuit of the American is not without its moments of doubt, nor was it always easy. It singles out those of African heritage by rightfully pointing out the vast difference in their ancestors’ experience and the experience of those who came voluntarily, yet goes on to point out there are nonetheless similarities between those two experiences. It concludes by acknowledging that unique experience, but goes on to acknowledge they had faith that their lives would be better [i.e., less brutal] and their children might have something more [i.e., no longer be in enforced poverty].
The first quote classifies Africans as immigrants first then only briefly alludes to their being enslaved before moving on to lump them with all other immigrants re hopes and dreams.
The second statement first points to the fact that they were enslaved and forced to endure hardships that others didn’t then points out the irony that in a certain limited sense they were also immigrants.
The two quotes are not conveying identical ideas at all. The first is about negating the experience of the enslaved Africans brought to this country and forced to labor for the benefit of whites. It is designed to minimize the injustice forced on those enslaved Africans and their descendants while the second quote acknowledges it front and center.
The first quote pushes racial inequality by minimizing the harm visited upon non-whites by whites. It is not intended to address similarities but to dismiss valid issues and concerns of people still experiencing inequality in this land in order to appease those who still benefit — and yes, often unknowingly – from said inequality.
The second quote recognizes the injustice visited in the past and still with us in the present, yet still urges those suffering from injustice not to give up on the idea of unity with the rest of the country.
A stark contrast with the first message crafted to negate the experiences of non-whites, not draw them into unity with the country.
Words and syntax alone do not convey meaning, rhetoric does as well. The way an idea is expressed often conveys as much if not more signal than the noise of the specific details of the message.
How many times have we turned off songs on the radio because they didn’t reach our hearts, yet listen transfixed when a songwriter conveys the same idea in exactly the right manner?
If you are not an ethnic or religious minority in this country, if you are not a recent immigrant, you need to see the signal patterns behind the noise in our culture. This is still a culture that does not treat all equally in the eyes of the law. The fact that some minority members enjoy prosperity while much of the white majority struggles does not mean minorities enjoy a superior status much less that equality has been achieved.
If you’re one of those people who gets offended when they think they’re being accused of being racist, understand to a person suffering from actual inequality there is not a lot of difference between those who actively discriminate and those who choose not to see the discrimination.
Open your eyes.