A prominent national figure passed away recently. He was important enough to merit national news coverage. As is the custom, he received much praise for some of his accomplishments in life, with no mention of any negatives. We don’t typically speak ill of the dead.
I decided to review his history to see what the actual record was. Although definitely not a Democrat, he was ahead of his time in recognizing the freedom of people to love whom they want, he had “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and in favor of gun control. Yet his record was questionable when it came to matters of race and equality. He was the founder and CEO of a major company and his boardroom and executives were almost exclusively white males.
Only after the Labor Dept. ordered his company to adopt an affirmative-action plan did they begin to promote black workers. They lost multiple hearings before the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board regarding fired black workers. The man said, “I don’t care what your color is, I don’t care what your race is, I don’t care whether you are a man or a woman, I am interested in what you can do, once you are here.” Executives that knew him explained he was “condescending, not racist,” when it came to black people. I am hard pressed to figure out the difference.
Let’s start with the definition of condescending: Patronizing, superior, snobby, scornful, disdainful, lordy, haughty, imperial, and supercilious. Which of these when applied to someone based on their race, is not racist? My issue isn’t so much now with the man who died, but the tendency of others to redefine racism such that it no longer exists.
America and I especially mean white America has always been quite comfortable with racism. There is now a dichotomy where the worst thing in the world is to be “called” racist. However, being racist is not much of a problem.
It struck me while listening to all Senators explaining their support for Jeff Sessions when being confirmed for Attorney General. To a person, they remarked on their personal relationship. They consider him a “good friend.” They point to a couple of meaningless votes where he joined the majority and his name on a couple of documents where he played no significant role as proof he’s no racist. They ignored a lifetime of support for Voter Suppression and persecution of immigrants and minorities. They praise his work to reduce the inequity of Crack Cocaine sentences vs. Powder (used mainly by white people) down to a mere 18:1. Instead of praising the improvement. Why not decry why minorities receive sentences 18 times the length of whites for the same approximate offense?
Jeff Sessions is just an obvious example. America has given us a President who had rental applications for properties he owned marked “C” for colored so that he could discriminate. Working alongside his father Fred who was in the Klan, he implemented these policies whether or not they were his idea. He’s discriminated or promoted hate against Black people, Mexicans, Asians, other Hispanics, and Native Americans. He calls Elizabeth Warren, “Pocahontas.” He’s winked to white people while calling a Muslim ban by another name. White America knows who and what Trump is… and doesn’t care.
It has always been acceptable to be racist in America. Racism has always occupied high places of power. Racists have been your Mayor’s, your Sheriff’s, your Governor’s and your President’s. Even Abraham Lincoln who personally opposed slavery was perfectly content to let it exist. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those states seceding from the Union and didn’t apply to Kentucky, Missouri, and elsewhere. It wasn’t about freeing the slaves but about keeping Britain and France from joining with the South. It was a strategy to win a war. Freed slaves were just a byproduct.
The Supreme Court has always protected the rich and the white. Always! It gave us Dred Scott and Ferguson vs. Plessy. It weakened Brown vs. Board of Education with its “all deliberate speed” clause. Should you think those examples are too long ago. They gave us Citizens United and gutted the Voter Rights Act. As little as Congress has historically done to foster equality. The Supreme Court has often come behind to weaken what was legislated. There has never been a Civil Rights Act or Voter Rights Act that was not ultimately diluted by the Supreme Court.
The reason white people are able to be so comfortable with racism in their midst and in the seats of power is that there is no penalty. The “Southern Strategy” is odious but it has elected the last few Republican Presidents. Our purported allies in the struggle for equality are at best “changeable.” White women are more than willing to seek minority help for their causes yet they are there for us on a case by case basis. Women’s Suffrage wanted Ida B Wells on their side but they weren’t on hers. White women decried Trump’s misogyny but voted for him anyway. I can offer no explanation other than their whiteness was a bigger factor than their disgust. Now, after the fact they’re outraged. Hopefully not too little too late but definitely late.
Racist is still an awful thing to be called, so those to whom the term might apply have given themselves more palatable names they can proudly display. They call themselves “nationalists” and patriots and long for a time when America was greater. Some Americans wear their racism like a badge of honor, as long as it has a different name.
In addition to people being racists, policies can be racists as well, some clearly so. Whether they are fostering voter suppression or caging brown children, supporting Gerrymandering and redistricting to negate minority votes or placing a question on the census designed to hurt Hispanics. Those policies are racist, and by extension, so are their supporters. As long as you call them by a different name.