Getty Archives 8.28.63
Most White Americans experienced cultural lessons in racism in our childhoods. Our schools were overwhelmingly white, as were our streets and our stores, even our television shows. No one had to tell us that Black folks were excluded into separate spaces. What we experienced in our every day lives taught us the lesson that we now must purge ourselves of, and we need to accept that we may have to suppress feelings that we learned through inadvertent brainwashing if they can’t be banished.
Add to this the redlining which kept the races from mixing except for more affluent, better educated Black Americans. Add to this the segregation of our schools before and after busing (which, it seems, no one liked). The social equation created a desert in most of our inner cities, occupied by Black folks who had to find alternative pathways to success. Jazz, blues, rap offered ways to express anger at societal unfairness, to show talent and value, and to have a way to express the violence of the anger and the burden of the oppression safely.
Gangs protect turf, business boundaries, and offer ‘ritual’ and ‘family ties’, while siphoning young people away from schools and setting them up for a cycle of arrests and releases. Perhaps the threats of violence further mark territory, but they also turn our inner cities into shopping deserts, and this whole insidious separation keeps pace with the message we learned from white-washed childhoods. Despite what Tim Scott had to say after Biden’s address to the joint Congress, we are having a hell of a time unraveling this mess.
Before the Civil War, I learned in the Franklin Douglass biography by David W. Blight that many abolitionists were also separatists. They wanted to end slavery but they did not want Black folks to stay in America. Even President Lincoln was convinced for a while that Black people would be happier if they resettled on the islands off the coasts of America, or even in South America, as independent nations with their own government. Of course, this was not about making Black people happier. Frederick Douglass was shocked at this view of abolition. When he advocated an end to slavery he meant for Black people to become free citizens of the US. For all the reasons just discussed, and more (such as the early end to Reconstruction after the assassination of Lincoln), this never actually happened. Legislation changed, white people didn’t.
Republicans will blame this all on the Democrats because the political parties switched in the era of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. The people who saw themselves as Democrats, a party that once represented Southerners, now lived in the North; those who saw themselves as Republicans, no longer the party of abolition, now lived in the South. Republicans rather than Democrats came to back a segregated version of America and in their hearts they still do. They still do not think ‘races’ should mix, although race is not a truly accurate term for differences that are only skin deep.
Today Republicans try to hide racism behind a narrative about political parties. They aren’t bigoted, just power hungry they say, and are obviously willing to cheat to win. As one Black person after another dies at the hands of our police, it seems that racism is alive and well in America, a disease that corrupts us all and threatens to tear our nation apart. Or if it is simply about a party that is growing unpopular and wants to retain power anyway it can, the end result is the same. And Republicans are not being honest. This is not just about political parties. This is still about racism. It is obvious, stark and totally gross. White supremacy is not real – it’s a myth perpetrated by white people. How can we ever root out this prejudice once and for all?
Republicans have us stuck in so many ways, but this is one of the most pernicious and damaging policies of the Republican right wing in a Senate where the Republican/Democrat balance is too tight, making it difficult to get America unstuck, especially given a filibuster-proof sixty vote ceiling necessary for most legislation. Perhaps all the Republican’s small government passion and their depiction of poor people as deadbeats is meant to distract from their racism. Perhaps the drumbeat of the wealthy, who don’t want to waste one penny of the money they have hoarded and now consider theirs, on anyone below them in success and wealth, is really just presenting us with a new form of racism that is difficult to label as racism, because they keep claiming this is about power and because they include poor folk of any origin.
So, Republicans now have this idea to turn America white — European white. There is even a manifesto, rapidly repressed, supposedly signed by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, which expressed this intent, which she now denies. No one believes her. How do Republicans expect to accomplish this all-white nation? There have been different suggestions. One goes back to the pre-Civil War plan to send Black Americans to colonize their own nation somewhere that is not on American soil. Well, where would that be? Anybody got an empty country hanging around. Another plan is to have white states and black states. What states would go which way? How would people be forced to comply?
There is no way to achieve what Republicans want to achieve that bears any resemblance to the creed that animates the American nation. By not doing things like passing laws that help heal the racial divide, Republicans plan to keep America stuck until they can get their way. If they win on this issue of inclusion v. exclusion our democracy will indeed die a terrible and dishonorable death. And knowing all this, if we reelect Trump in 2024, or fill seats in Congress with Republicans we will be responsible for that death.