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Racism

The United States is still an amazing nation which attracts millions of people every year who want a better life. What they find when they come here, however, has to cause some dismay. As open as our society is it still has barriers, lines drawn in stark black and white. Racism remains at the core of nearly every aspect of public life.

Racism isn’t just a part of our culture – it seeps into everything. A discussion of public policy eventually degrades into “those people” who “take from the system”, a series of code words carefully intoned now that openly racist language has been purged from polite conversation. This year a certain demagogue has inflamed that speech into a violent public melee, and it horrifies us. Is this really America in 2016?

Yes, it is. Racism is at the core of everything. And we don’t know how to deal with it.

We are all in this together.

We are all in this together.

There’s no value in defending the open racists of today, but it is critical to understand them. Many of them are older people who woke up one morning in a nation they no longer recognize. They are scared by all of the changes that have taken place, many for the worse. There’s no loyalty by anyone on the job, few leaders who take the mantel of leadership seriously, and very little respect expressed by anyone. Something appears to have gone horribly wrong – and someone has to be responsible.

Understanding the problem, after all, is the first step towards fixing it.

It’s far too easy to look at the changes that have taken place and note that we do indeed have more non-whites in positions of power than ever before. Entertainers, business leaders, cultural icons – even the President himself – are non-white people in charge in ways they never were before. In a nation that defines itself by race confusing the problems and this change is simple. It’s “those people” who are to blame.

Enter a certain candidate who taps into this and says what people have been afraid to say aloud before.

Many hands make lighter work.  Many different hands make the work a triumph.

Many hands make lighter work. Many different hands make the work a triumph.

While I am certain that, in the words of Bill Clinton, “There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what is right with America,” we have to be able to confront what has actually gone wrong to fix it. When the conversation invariably goes to “those people” as the source of all problems useful discussion comes to a halt. We can’t fix a thing because we can’t even describe what has gone wrong. The poison of racism infects everything.

Take, for example, the decline in jobs. As we’ve noted before there is no correlation between job loss, even in manufacturing, and free trade with Mexico. But it is easy to blame that nation for our problems because our national conversation eventually has to turn to race. The real problem, increasing automation and a consistent devaluing of workers and their work, goes largely unmentioned. It’s those awful trade deals that are the problem and “those people” who benefit – Mexicans and Chinese.

Our foreign policy, based largely on bombing people around the world, is horrific on the face of it – but enjoys widespread support. If the people we were killing on a routine basis were as pale as I am would we have a different opinion? I’m certain we would. Killing “those people” isn’t a big deal. They aren’t “us”.

As more black people rise up to defend themselves from the real and obvious threat to their very lives caused by the racism that divides us, discussion becomes even more polarized. If anything, the ground gained by obvious racism in the public discourse is almost certainly in response to the rise of genuine talk about how racism kills as it is an uncorking of the “political correctness” boiled racism back into the atmosphere. Some of this we simply have to work through, ugly as it is, before we can have an honest talk about race from the heart.

That doesn’t excuse the poison, but it puts it into context. Anyone who thought that ending White Privilege would be easy hasn’t paid any attention to history or culture.

The future is theirs.  Let's make it bright!

The future is theirs. Let’s make it bright!

In this election year, we can expect that people will vote along racial lines even more strongly than they have. In 2012, Blacks voted 93-6 for Obama, with a turnout over 66%. Hispanics went for Obama 71-27 with a 48% turnout. If Hispanics vote the same as blacks this time, scared to the polls by Trump, we would see a net swing of 10M more Democratic voters – electing likely nominee Clinton in a landslide and possibly turning both Texas and Arizona blue in the process. That’s assuming nothing else changes.

When we can predict how someone will vote based on their race we have a serious problem. And you can see it plain as day in the numbers – no matter how ridiculous it is to call Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, Fillipinos, and Colombians in one category or for that matter to expect that few of them have good reasons to be conservative by nature.

This is how the poison of racism plays out in an election, yes, but politics is much more than about how we vote and who is in power. It must be about improving people’s lives – whether that means fixing things in public places or simply getting out of their way, if you are more conservative. Nevermind that. Race seeps into every conversation long before the root problems of policy have a chance at entering public discourse.

Meanwhile, some citizens of this great nation genuinely fear for their lives because of the color of their skin.

Scene from the McDuffie Riot in Miami, 1980

Scene from the McDuffie Riot in Miami, 1980

What is the root problem of this nation in this time? If you ask a young white person what limits them, they might tell you the system is corrupt or that the establishment is bought and paid for. If you ask a young minority they’ll probably tell you that racism is what holds them back.

Ultimately, I have to side with the minorities who live in a world apart from privilege. Like the workers who attempted to organize in the filthy factories more than a century ago, race is what separates us and keeps us from uniting. Race is what prevents us from talking about root problems. Race is what defines our public life and is the primary force that holds people back.

Race is the poison at the core of every problem we have.

That’s not to say we can’t fix it if we start being honest. If we only could turn down the volume and get past the anger fueled by fear to confront what really scares white America we could have a chance of getting past it.

I promise you, in the end, America is so much bigger than you or I can ever possibly imagine. Seeing that, as a new arrival must, is our only true chance for salvation as we confront the racism that makes our nation feel so much smaller than it really is.

Tell me what you think.  Add your thoughts because we won’t put a stop to this unless we start talking with respectful yet authentic voices.

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24 thoughts on “Racism

  1. Nice post. Is it not interesting that people of color talk about “white privilege” while (some) white people feel put upon and turn out for the evil demagogue?

    • Yes, it is. But if you think about it this is entirely to be expected. Keep in mind that these rallies have a few thousand people at them, at most. And that Trump is polling less than half of the 24% or so who identify as Republican, which is to say 1 in 8 people overall. And they tend to be older.
      I do feel that this kind of backlash is understandable and needs to be confronted calmly and rationally. We know that his supporters are being fed a series of lies that they believe because they want to. That such a small number of people believe them is actually heartening, given the discourse we have in this nation.
      But we have to confront this calmly and reasonably. They are not people who are going to simply go away.

  2. Yes, but the Evil One is a symptom more than a cause. I’ve been listening to white working class people complaining about affirmative action, blah, blah, blah … for decades.

    • So here we are – which came first, the racism or the nonsense about “those people”? I’m pretty sure the racism came first, but they do reinforce each other.

  3. Integration is something to strive for. We have people coming from all parts of the world and in a lot of cases they were fairly homogeneous in race in their homelands. As the world continues to integrate we will learn just how much we have in common. This all takes time.
    Leslie

      • It was a bad beginnings for the African-Americans but that is also good reason to strive for a real integration.
        Leslie

  4. I have to agree that racism is the root of all problems in this country. It took me many years to open my eyes and see it. But as a white person I don’t experience it. But your right if you try to talk about anything important something racist comes up. People always go there as if race explains everything. Maybe it does in this country but that’s just wrong. It should not be like this.

    • White people don’t experience it, so we don’t really understand what a poison it is. But it does affect everything – and that is the real problem. We can’t talk about a single issue without it getting racist in some way.

  5. I would say you are over stating it but racism is very common. It’s not right and we all should speak up when we hear it. But not everything said about a racial group is racist and we need to be able to talk to each other. Political correctness is killing us.

    • I agree that “political correctness” is not a good thing – people have to be able to speak their minds. But we also have to be more respectful in general. That goes both ways, sure, but it’s better for everyone when things are out in the open. The Trump rallies, for example, show everyone just who he is and who is backing him – that’s better than a bunch of coded language, which is how it was done in the past.

  6. Excellent post … one of the best I have read, and I could not have said it better myself. If you don’t mind, I would like to re-blog this tomorrow. Thank you for your calm, intelligent analysis.

  7. Calming down and being honest – that sounds like a very good advice. And maybe turn that brain on… that also helps. 😉 But, jokes apart, I think the core problems is widely spread around the world – the thinking of “we against them”, the “in-group vs. out-group”. It is good old blame shifting really. So, let us calm down, be honest with ourselves, take up responsibility for our own lives, and fix this world together 🙂 Hand in hand with a rainbow of colours and believes and culture. (Ok, this sounds too good to be true, but if we say it is impossible from the beginning, there won’t be any change.)

    • I am sure that tribalism, which is the root of racism, is common to all people everywhere. But this is the US and we have been living together for generations. We have gotten over our racist fears of Irish, Swedish, Italians, et cetera. Blacks? The system has so much racism built into it. We simply have to get past it one way or the other.

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