Terry H. Schwadron

May 1, 2021

Somewhere between Joe Biden using his address to Congress this week to urge Americans to rid ourselves of systemic racism and Sen. Tim Scott, the Republican counter-speaker from South Carolina, declaring that “America is not a racist country,” we’ve ended back in the soup of dispute over the politics of race.

We’re back to arguing about what label to use rather than focusing on removing the problems.

Somehow, it is seen as better PR for a political party or for the nation at-large to be able to describe itself as “not racist” — but ignore how it behaves.

“Scott, delivering the official GOP response Wednesday, suggested that liberals are using race as a political weapon, defining all White people as oppressors and seeking to use the language of civil rights to rig elections,” noted The Washington Post, among others.

Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, added, “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.”

Then, asked about Scott’s remarks, Biden told an NBC interviewer that he doesn’t think America is racist, but there is still work to be done to address racial issues. “No, I don’t think the American people are racist,” Biden said. “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.”

Just yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader, led other Republicans in broadly attacking the teaching of curricula that include references to systematic racism and the consequences of slavery, saying it would indoctrinate students with “a slanted story” and “divisive nonsense.”

All of which apparently leaves us with a labeling problem, as if this is about marketing rather than historic unfairness. If you call it cola instead of Coke, it’s still sweet soda.

That the issue is whether American is labeled “racist” is infuriating. This should be about addressing the problem, whatever you want to call it.

Historical Evidence

Why we need to still be debating hundreds of years of embedded race-based unfairness is beyond me.

If there is no such thing as systemic racism, how do we explain the vast differences in Black-White income levels, wealth assessments and housing and lending practices? How do we explain that Black citizens are treated poorly is far greater percentages of routine policing situations or how Blacks comprise a huge disproportionate percentage of incarcerated Americans? How do we explain the history of Court decisions required to balance educational opportunity, or the basic humanity of serving Black customers at a Woolworth’s lunch counter? Why are “Karens” calling the police when a Black man passes in their neighborhood or bird-watching in Central Park?

How does a labeling argument allow us to ignore the lessons of decades of our various Civil Rights movement.

Pick virtually any human endeavor in this country, and you’ll find serious discrepancies over race.

Let’s not even limit this to Blacks and Whites. What is this current wave of anti-Asian American hatred and violence all about? What are the reasons behind our national anti-Latino fears along the Southern border? Why are we really passing laws for English-only in various public enterprises while the demographic shifts occurring in the actual population say differently. What is really behind the anti-gay, ant-trans, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic rants and marches?

Do we really have to prove at this point that America systematically discriminates against women in the workplace in hiring, pay, promotion and safety from sexual harassment?

There is a reason beyond the existence of individual “bad apples” that we need a national policing bill along the lines of the so-called George Floyd policing act which Scott himself is helping to negotiate with Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., among others. Underscoring the whole approach to the bill, which bans particular policing practices like chokeholds and knees-on-necks, is accountability for policing that goes bad — based exactly on their execution in the field along racial lines.

Likewise, there are underlying reasons for the need for affirmative action programs in hiring, in education, even in selecting Cabinet officials.

We have so systematized our racial profiling, our racist ways that we apparently even have trouble putting the label on the obvious.

Bigger than Politics

This issue transcends partisan politics, of course, just as hate for The Other has transcended location, time, and specific target. Otherwise we wouldn’t have Slavs attacking Croats, and Hutus and Tutsis or Chinese and Uyghurs at each other’s throats.

But for Republicans, in particular, this has been a season to push back against racist charges over their actions to suppress voting in areas with high Black (read Democratic) vote, a somewhat specious generic defense of police as Blue Lives Matter, the acceptance of growing White supremacist belief and actions within their party ranks.

Here’s Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-LA on Scott’s remarks: “Clearly we have people in America who feel contempt for our country. They should feel gratitude, but they feel contempt. There are people who believe that America was wicked in its origins and it’s even more wicked today. They believe that most Americans — at least White Americans — are racist and misogynistic and ignorant.”

Um, yes. How about both gratitude and anger that the White majority — which is quickly becoming a non-majority outside of Washington and corporate boardrooms — insists on protecting itself while denying the effects on The Other, whether we are talking about religion, race, gender or sexual orientation.

Here’s a toast to a little bit of reality here, senator.

The anti-dote here, we’re being told by any number of emergent thinkers is specific “anti-racist” policies, both in the marketplace and in government.

Racism scholar Ibram X. Kendi, author of the bestselling book “How To Be An Antiracist,” says one is either racist or anti-racist, and called out Scott. There is no room for neutrality, and there is no such thing as a “non-racist.”

It is a theme we hear from others. “Anti-racism is an active and conscious effort to work against multidimensional aspects of racism,” Robert J. Patterson, professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University, told Insider magazine. Anti-racism is a “white problem,” author Robin DiAngelo says.

Whatever you want to call it, let’s stop talking about the label and get to the problems.