Lenny Bruce practiced a confrontational, political form of comedy that relied heavily on shock. He had a famous bit on the subject of racism he directed towards all white males in attendance. It went like this.
Imagine you are shipwrecked on a desert island with no hope of rescue. The island has everything you need to survive so it is reasonable to believe you will live out your days in comfort.
Now, imagine you are offered female companionship but must choose between Lena Horne and Kate Smith. (Stage pause.) If you choose Kate Smith, you’re a racist.
If you find this offensive; congratulations. It’s sexist and chubbyist. (If Lena Horne and Kate Smith are unfamiliar names, I will tell you that they were both singers. Lena Horne was light-skinned and could have passed for white but chose not to.)
There are actually only two kinds of racists; those who admit they are racists and those who don’t. Xenophobia is ancient and primal; our knuckle-dragging predecessors were ruled by fear and regarded the unknown with suspicion. But this explains, it does not excuse.
The essential goal is to admit, understand, and continually beat back our racism on a daily, case-by-case basis. Thus begins the dream.
Ultimately the Mississippi redneck attempting to justify racism is indistinguishable from the Vermont college professor boldly declaring he does not see color. By lying to themselves they both lie to us.
Everybody loves Doctor King’s dream, but few of us acknowledge that racism begins at home.