A massive Cultural war erupted last week, yet again, on the topic of race, all because someone of prominence had the audacity to declare that America is not a racist country.
There are a few different ways to analyze this; the first being technically.
A country is simply a land mass defined as a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory. The people within that country are capable of doing racist things and even supporting and enacting racist policies, but unless there is 100% agreement and compliance on those programs, it is simply inaccurate and patently unfair to assert that a nation is racist. And certainly, all indications are that Americans, overwhelmingly want to see, as our founding documents demand, all Americans treated equally. The debate centers on the extent to which systems within the country — business, government, law enforcement — reflect biases that disadvantage non-Whites. That’s not the same as the country itself being racist, a position that it seems safe to assume most Americans wouldn’t agree with.
Secondly, we must once again, as is far too often the case, remind Americans to stop hating America and casting it as the worst at everything ever. This national self-loathing is a cancer that will destroy us. While nearly impossible to properly calculate or quantify, the level of racism in America is by far no means vastly higher than throughout the world. Anecdotally, we know that European countries continue to tolerate banana peels and monkey chants directed at black soccer players. In terms of data and research, America shines like a beacon, yet that never seems to be reported. A 2019 study on racial discrimination in hiring showed that “France has the highest discrimination rates, followed by Sweden,” and the study found “smaller differences among Great Britain, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, the United States, and Germany.” Meanwhile, the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades, asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the researchers reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society. Whether you agree with their methodology or not, the United States had the lowest rate of people saying they wouldn’t want to live near people of a different race, to the tune of less than 5%. Meanwhile, almost all of Europe and India were closer to 50%.
Which brings us to the third and final technicality we must acknowledge before addressing the statement “America is not a racist country.” Bigotry is a human condition that lives in all of us. Racism is a form of bigotry, although not all bigotry is racist. This is instructive, informative and helpful in an empathetic way if we are to ever move this conversation forward. All of us, every single one, is a bigot, defined as: “A person who is unreasonably prejudiced against or antagonistic towards a person on the basis of their membership of a particular group.” Personally, I am a bigot towards obese people, immediately judging them as being lazy and hating themselves. Also, fundamentally “wear it on their sleeve,” religious people; the kind who can’t form one sentence without preaching their gospel to you. And, while not quite the same as bigotry, I also cannot stand people with low self-confidence (this doesn’t quite qualify because it’s more of a personality trait that you can’t identify merely by the color of someone’s skin or the size of their ass but you get the point).
Specific to race, America (and the world, but we already covered that) is filled with racists. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re acknowledging that racism goes in all directions and almost all of us can and have been victims of it, then I’d be willing to dispute the notion that America is not a racist country. As a white man, I’ve been targeted and attacked for the color of my skin by black men on more than one occasion, prominently so since I started dating my African American wife 6 years ago. Christina has dealt with various forms of attacks from other black people because she’s with a white man. That’s still racist, even if it involves people of the same skin color. Just a couple weeks ago, an Asian man intentionally set out to rape a woman solely because she was white, as retribution for the rise in anti-Asian sentiment over the last year. The tension between Hispanics and African Americans is well known and historically long. Jokes about Asian drivers, Black People not working, Hispanics being lazy, and Jews being cheap have been tolerated and celebrated since the beginning of time. Using a limp wrist or lisp to indicate the presence of homosexuality is still common, as is all forms of intolerance of the LGBTQ community…so yeah, if that’s what we’re talking about, I’d rephrase it to “America like the rest of the world, is a nation filled with bigots.” https://www.yahoo.com/news/man-accused-attempting-sexually-assault-185708607.html
But that’s not what we’re talking about. Right now, in 2021, America being racist is entirely about the oppression of minorities by white people.
Most Americans are in agreement about the existence of racism and racial discrimination at the individual level. We all know that there are people out there who view people of other races as inferior, and most of us disdain the people who hold those views. Thus, America is not a racist country and saying so shouldn’t be controversial. But, of course, in 2021, everything is controversial and divisive.
Enter Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican Senator, and an ardent supporter of police, who has also spoken openly of being profiled and mistreated by law enforcement his entire life. While being an elected senator he was once questioned by Capital Police as to whether or not his credentials were real because he “didn’t look like a senator,” and yet Scott knows the importance of law enforcement; and law enforcement reform as it relates to race.
Last week, in the Republican response to Joe Biden’s address to congress, Scott said “Hear me clearly, America is not a racist country.” For the next 13 hours, the hashtag trended #uncleTim, a play on words referencing the revolting phrase “Uncle Tom,” to mean: “a black man considered to be excessively obedient or servile to white people.” Scott had the impudence to assert that America wasn’t racist and Americans responded by being racist.
Scott also said, “Today, kids are being taught that the color of their skin defines them again. And if you look a certain way, they’re an oppressor,” he said. “From colleges, to corporations, to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress at all…It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
He’s 100% correct and the fact that his assertion was even debated for one second shows the depths of this mess we’re in that is quite literally tearing us apart.
To her credit, Vice-President Kamala Harris, who is half black, said the next day that “no, I don’t think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak the truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today,” There is an indisputable gap between white people and Black and Latino people when it comes to life expectancy, education, and wealth. It is legitimate for us all of us to explore why that is so, and what role all of us play…including the Black and Latino communities themselves. It’s as wrong of white people to stupidly say “that’s just because they’re dumb and lazy,” and it is of African-Americans and Hispanics to say “it’s all white peoples’ fault.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/04/29/sen-tim-scott-says-america-isnt-racist-data-suggests-otherwise/4887356001/
To his credit, President Joe Biden in an interview Thursday added, “I don’t think America’s racist, but I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow (laws), and before that slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it… I don’t think the American people are racist 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.” https://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/biden-i-dont-think-the-american-people-are-racist-but/DRK3F6Q2JBGC5B4H2IJBXENTTI/
He’s right, his vice-president is right, and so is Senator Scott. All of them are right…and insisting, yet again, that only one side has the moral high ground or authority on this subject will be what dooms us all. People don’t like harsh truths, but that’s a part of life; at least it used to be and needs to be again. Just as I respond every time we have a mass shooting in America and everyone starts screaming about gun control by pointing out we will never stop senseless and inexplicable murders, I respond similarly here. We should do reasonable things to make heinous incidents of mass shootings as rare as possible…and nothing more.
Here’s the harsh truth; there will NEVER be a day when my wife and I can leave our home and know, with 100% certainty that we won’t be targeted for the color of our skin; either hers or mine. As it is now, those incidents are rare, but memorable and scarring. And we accept this as a fact of loving one another, and realize that we will never truly escape the rare but painful incidents we will have to endure as a result of loving one another. As a nation, we should absolutely do everything we can to ensure fair hiring practices, reform the racial inequity that is undeniable within our justice system, and give law enforcement whatever tools and training it may need in various parts of the country to make sure they are treating all humans they contact with the exact same manner. And none of that will end racism, or hate, or bigotry. In fact, it may not even lessen it.
As we pursue reforms, we do need to heed Senator Scott’s words and ensure that we aren’t fighting discrimination by discriminating. Punishing white people for their pigment will do nothing to improve the lives of black people, and white people uttering moronic phrases like “what are you looking at me for? I don’t own no slaves,” does nothing to lower the temperature of the discussion and bring us closer together, which should be the goal. As a guy married to a black woman and, therefore, part of a black family, and as someone who’s cadre of friends is becoming more and more black, I can say that whether it has to do with the color of their skin, their culture, or simply how they were raised, the black people in my life have done nothing but enrich and improve it; and many of them have expressed the same thing to me vis a vis their lives. Imagine that; you actually get to know someone and you find out what they have to offer as a human…and it’s almost always something amazing, regardless of their color, creed, and I’ve learned, size and confidence.
Working to eradicate your bias is a life-long journey if you’re even willing to buy a ticket for the train, but it’s worth it. The energy and negativity we spend on hating someone solely for how they look or who they love is beyond toxic, it’s malignant and it will kill us all.