America Apparently Not Racist Country, Despite Slavery, Separate Water Fountains, Donald Trump ...
Is America a racist country? Does ice cream melt when you expose it to non-freezing temperatures? These are mysteries we might never solve. However, Republicans are certain America isn't racist and how dare you suggest otherwise. South Carolina GOP Senator Tim Scott received adoration and praise from fellow conservatives when he said Wednesday that “America is not a racist country." It wasn't just the new GOP tagline. This was a declaration of non-existent principles. You can't address a problem when you don't recognize it exists. Malcolm X said progress isn't sticking a knife into someone's back and slowly pulling it out. You have to heal the wound the knife made, but white America won't even admit the knife is there.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have both said they don't personally believe America is racist. That's not true, but it's the only answer they could reasonably give. You can't take control of Domino's and then run around saying its pizza is for shit. You have to talk about improving the recipe.
Harris said during an interview last week: "I don't think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today."
Prior to President Klan Robe's election, this wasn't that controversial a sentiment. Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that America was racist at some point in the past -- maybe when there were all those enslaved people and legally enforced separate water fountains -- but it's not racist now. The “now" could be the 1970s or the 1990s or last Saturday afternoon, but all that mattered was that racism was no longer a thing. Now stop talking about it. That's “divisive," which is how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described the 1619 Project.
Ignoring the past doesn't promote unity. It only ensures we won't learn from it. For instance, in an editorial from 1960, the National Review said:
We offer the following on the crisis in the Senate and the South: In the Deep South the Negroes are, by comparison with the Whites, retarded ('unadvanced' the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People might put it) ... Leadership in the South, then quite properly rests in White hands. Upon the White population this fact imposes moral obligations of paternalism, patience, protection, devotion, and sacrifice.
Three years earlier, an editorial attributed to William F. Buckley had stated:
The central question that emerges - and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal - is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes - the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.
My parents and extended family were alive and residents of the Deep South when the National Review declared them “retarded" and incapable of governing themselves. That's hardly the distant past, and there are loud echoes of this bigotry in the arguments for voter suppression bills and against DC statehood. The language is more coded now, but when almost 90 percent of Black people vote for Democratic candidates, they essentially claim only Republicans are entitled to rule and glibly deny any racist intent.
Biden told the “Today" show's Craig Melvin that he didn't think the “American people are racist," which is actually very different from whether America itself is systemically racist. Passengers inside a plane aren't technically an aircraft. He continued:
"But I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they're so far behind the eight ball in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity."
This is objectively true, but Republicans argue that this treats minorities like permanent victims. America might've tied cement blocks to Black people's feet and tossed us in the ocean, but they act as if it's insulting for liberals to call attention to our struggles to tread water. Don't Democrats believe Black people can swim as well as white people? And look over there at Tim Scott! He made it to the shore and was only stopped by the cops 18 times.
Former South Carolina GOP Governor Nikki Haley snidely tweeted Friday: "Democrats want to teach white kids that they're racist and minority kids that the deck is stacked against them. Wokeism and 1619 are causing more division. We must stand up to stop them now."
It doesn't matter that major Democrats aren't saying this. Republicans don't have a problem lying. They also can no longer accept that America was ever racist. The following passage isn't from the much-maligned 1619 Project. It's from a speech former GOP President George W. Bush gave on Goree Island, Senegal:
At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold. Human beings were delivered and sorted, and weighed, and branded with the marks of commercial enterprises, and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return. One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of history.
Below the decks, the middle passage was a hot, narrow, sunless nightmare; weeks and months of confinement and abuse and confusion on a strange and lonely sea. Some refused to eat, preferring death to any future their captors might prepare for them. Some who were sick were thrown over the side. Some rose up in violent rebellion, delivering the closest thing to justice on a slave ship. Many acts of defiance and bravery are recorded. Countless others, we will never know.
Those who lived to see land again were displayed, examined, and sold at auctions across nations in the Western Hemisphere. They entered societies indifferent to their anguish and made prosperous by their unpaid labor. There was a time in my country's history when one in every seven human beings was the property of another. In law, they were regarded only as articles of commerce, having no right to travel, or to marry, or to own possessions. Because families were often separated, many denied even the comfort of suffering together.
Now Republicans debate whether slavery was really all that bad. They embrace the imperialistic Manifest Destiny and promote lost cause propaganda. America isn't a racist country, but it somehow has a major political party that openly caters to racists.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."