This is a companion post to “America’s Future – Continued”. It represents my expanded thoughts about Systemic Racism, one of the core existential threats to our democracy that I outlined in that earlier post:
Systemic Racism: Long term systemic racism is still entrenched in our American society. While less overt than decades ago, it still limits African-Americans from exercising the full extent of the privileges of being American that their white counterparts enjoy. And black children today still suffer from the residual economic limits imposed on their parents, grandparents, and generations before them. They also deal with much more subtle ongoing racial discrimination, no less destructive but harder to pinpoint and fight. Unfortunately, most conservatives seem bent on exercising plausible deniability even of racism’s existence; they call it a liberal fiction. More recently, but especially with the advent of the Trump Administration, we are also beginning to see white supremacists along with xenophobes, homophobes, ethnic and religious bigots, and other hate groups crawl out of the political sewers and become openly active again.
Brutal treatment of black citizens by police has been present but mostly successfully hidden or denied for generations. Now with the ubiquity of cell phone video, we are forced to face a mountain of evidence that demonstrates that it is still with us and far worse than we want to believe. The proliferation of cell phone video and social media has shone a bright light on abusive behavior toward various racial, ethnic, and immigrant classes. At the same time the dramatic spread of unregulated social media has become an attractive and primary venue for white nationalist, anti-Semitic, ant-immigrant, and other hate groups; extremists are free to spread political abuse, disinformation, and lies of all sorts, so far with little cost to themselves.
Racism and white supremacy have been with us since our founding. They were memorialized in our original Constitution. Even the surviving records of discussion and debate around the adoption of the Second Amendment demonstrate it had little to do with protecting the people from a tyrannical government. It was much more about Constitutional protection for white southern planters who wanted the right to use armed militias against potential slave rebellions. We are not likely to solve the societal problems that causes racism any time soon. However, with the advances in video technology, social media, and big data, it is clear there is still far too much evidence of systemic racism for us to ignore.
Sadly, many Americans in general, and conservative politicians in particular, are unwilling even to admit we have a serious racism issue. Most recently, Republicans have started a national effort to spread disinformation about a 40 year old academic concept called Critical Race Theory (CRT). The core idea of CRT is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. One can debate that issue, and we should. But Republicans go farther. They promote the idea that there is inherent danger in even teaching our children the truth about the role race has played in our history and how it relates today, much less take even baby steps toward addressing it.
At the end of World War II the GI Bill provided returning soldiers low cost home loans and funds to get a college or university education. That should have been a great equalizer for many returning black soldiers. But white politicians made sure that program was designed to generally exclude black soldiers. Call it reparations or whatever you like, but it is time to do something like the GI Bill for the black American descendants of slaves whom we continue to abuse through white focused economic and social institutions. As a society we must step up to the reality of our continuing racism and do a much better job of addressing its legacy than we have been if we are to remain a liberal democracy.
In this piece I am addressing abuse of African-Americans. However, we have a different but continuing equally abusive national relationship with Native Americans. I lay down a marker here on their behalf, but will leave that for another discussion.