Friday, July 16, 2010

Racism in America

This is a topic I have generally tried to avoid, except in discussions in the privacy of my home, and then only with people whose opinions I respected and with whom I was comfortable discussing such a potentially sensitive topic. Events recently have alarmed me to the extent that I now feel the necessity to make a few comments in the hope of evoking some awareness and provoking some thought on this subject. Let me start by trying to define just what I believe “racism” is. I will then discuss why I am so alarmed about it.

Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another.

Racism has existed throughout history. It may be defined as the hatred of one person by another -- or the belief that another person is less than human -- because of skin color, language, customs, place of birth or any trait that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person. It has influenced wars, slavery, the formation of nations, and legal codes.

Racism on the part of Western powers toward non-Westerners has had a far more significant impact on history than any other form of racism (such as racism among Western groups or among Easterners, such as Asians, Africans, and others). The most notorious example of racism by the West has been slavery, particularly the enslavement of Africans in the New World (slavery itself dates back thousands of years). This enslavement was accomplished because of the racist belief that Black Africans were less fully human than white Europeans and their descendants.

This belief was not "automatic": that is, Africans were not originally considered inferior. When Portuguese sailors first explored Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries, they came upon empires and cities as advanced as their own, and they considered Africans to be serious rivals. Over time, though, as African civilizations failed to match the technological advances of Europe, and the major European powers began to plunder the continent and forcibly remove its inhabitants to work as slave laborers in new colonies across the Atlantic, Africans came to be seen as a deficient "species," as "savages." To an important extent, this view was necessary to justify the slave trade at a time when Western culture had begun to promote individual rights and human equality. The willingness of some Africans to sell other Africans to European slave traders also led to claims of savagery, based on the false belief that the "dark people" were all kinsmen, all part of one society - as opposed to many different, sometimes warring nations.

One important feature of racism, especially toward Blacks and immigrant groups, is clear in attitudes regarding slaves and slavery. Jews are usually seen by anti-Semites as subhuman but also superhuman: devilishly cunning, skilled, and powerful. Blacks and others are seen by racists as merely subhuman, more like beasts than men. If the focus of anti-Semitism is evil, the focus of racism is inferiority -- directed toward those who have sometimes been considered to lack even the ability to be evil (though in the 20th century, especially, victims of racism are often considered morally degraded).

In the second half of the 19th century, Darwinism, the decline of Christian belief, and growing immigration were all perceived by many white Westerners as a threat to their cultural control. European and, to a lesser degree, American scientists and philosophers devised a false racial "science" to "prove" the supremacy of non-Jewish whites. While the Nazi annihilation of Jews discredited most of these supposedly scientific efforts to elevate one race over another, small numbers of scientists and social scientists have continued throughout the 20th century to argue the inborn shortcomings of certain races, especially Blacks. At the same time, some public figures in the American Black community have championed the supremacy of their own race and the inferiority of whites - using nearly the identical language of white racists.

All of these arguments are based on a false understanding of race; in fact, contemporary scientists are not agreed on whether race is a valid way to classify people. What may seem to be significant "racial" differences to some people - skin color, hair, facial shape - are not of much scientific significance. In fact, genetic differences within a so-called race may be greater than those between races. One philosopher writes: "There are few genetic characteristics to be found in the population of England that are not found in similar proportions in Zaire or in China….those differences that most deeply affect us in our dealings with each other are not to any significant degree biologically determined."

In the United States, we have been struggling with the question of racism from the very dawn of the nation. Our founding fathers debated bitterly about it, many recognizing instinctively the false nature of its use as a justification for the institution of slavery. This debate came to a boiling point during our Civil War and resulted in the bloodiest conflict in our history. The results were mixed. Slavery was dissolved and declared an admonition. The unfortunate part was that this, although a major step, was seen as having done enough and racism, the major underlying justification for slavery, was not confronted and was allowed to fester.

In more recent times, primarily since World War II, the country has gone through a cultural change that included a vibrant civil rights movement. Racism was very much a focal point for much of this movement. A great deal of progress was made in a comparatively short time. That is to say that more true progress was made in the last 50 years than in several centuries prior to that. The result has been the election of a Black man as President of the United States, something that would have been impossible a few short years ago. We now have women and minorities serving in every aspect of our society from board rooms to the Supreme Court.

Please do not misunderstand me about this. True and final equality has not yet been achieved and racism was never completely eliminated even though the progress made in suppressing it has been significant. In addition, some of the racism has been refocused from African Americans to other minorities. Most notably have been people from the Middle East, rationalized by terrorist activities on the part of minorities in that part of the world, and people from Latin America, caused primarily by illegal immigration and the rise of dangerous drug and criminal cartels in that part of the world.

With all of this as background, we now come to resent events that are the main reason for this discussion. There are certain elements in our society that, for their own purposes, do not want to see an end to racism. Among these are radical groups who actually subscribe to the evil tenants of racist doctrine. These groups come from all parts of society, including white supremacists and Black Panthers as well as equally radical organizations from other minorities including Asians, Native Peoples and Hispanics. They are often motivated by pure hatred. Rational discussion is useless in dealing with them. They (i.e., groups like them) have existed from the earliest times and, unfortunately, are likely to be with us in the future. Part of the price of living in a free society is the reality that people are free to hate whomever they choose and however wrong and evil that practice is. What we must do is guard against any actions they may take as a result of their hate.

There are other elements in society that feed upon racism as a source of strength and these are in many ways far more dangerous to us. There have been several flagrant examples of this activity recently and it must be confronted without hesitation. It must be challenged, exposed and suppressed. Several separate groups have been inflaming the old racial fears and using them to frighten minorities into political action.

In an effort to discredit the politically powerful “Tea Party”, the NAACP has declared it as having dangerously racial elements. This is being done specifically to frighten Black Americans by reminding them of the days when they had not achieved the current level of civil right progress. They hope this will result in motivating them to turn out and to vote for the Democrat candidates and proposals in the coming elections.

At the same time this is happening, another group is stirring up fears of prejudice and suppression among the Hispanic community. Activists are busy attacking anyone who speaks out about wanting to regulate immigration or secure the southern borders. Whenever the subject is discussed, they instantly begin accusing people of being racists.

The most egregious of this practices has been the use, by the Democrat Party, of our own Justice Department to frighten minorities in an attempt to gain political support. By filing a lawsuit against the State of Arizona over it’s immigration law, while at the same time completely ignoring “sanctuary cities”, whose laws specifically defy Federal Law, they are making a mockery of Americas tradition of having the judicial branch of government completely independent and non-partisan.

The Justice Department, in another example of this outrageous behavior, is now being investigated by the Civil Rights Commission because of it’s alleged policy of not pursuing prosecution of crimes where the victims are white and the defendants are black. By now, most of us have seen the video tape of two Black Panthers, one armed with a nightstick, standing outside a polling place in Philadelphia, actively intimidating voters (black and white). After filing criminal charges and actually winning a default judgment in court, the Justice Department mysteriously dropped the case, saying there was not sufficient evidence (I repeat, they said this after they had won a conviction).

You may be thinking about now that all of this is dangerous because it represents a usurpation of our entire judicial system –and you’d be right. But that is not what really scares me about all of this. What frightens me is the “unintended consequences” all of this will generate. In stirring up these racial fears, they are forgetting about the “majority.” They are ignoring the fact that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is not the action, it is the reaction, that frightens me the most. When you frighten the minority into action you frighten the majority at the same time. Hate generates fear and that, in turn, generates more hate. It is a vicious circle of cause and effect. All of the good progress made in the area of Civil Rights over the past four decades can come undone. In trying to promote the cause of the minorities they could easily be setting that cause back and the result can easily lead to more riots and violence (such as we have already seen on the streets of Oakland).

The best way to combat this attack upon our system is to call out these groups and the individuals in these groups. We must expose them as liars and troublemakers. We should demand that Congress investigate the Justice Department and insist on the removal (and prosecution whenever appropriate) of every member of that department that has participated by action, or failure to act, in perpetrating this betrayal of our trust. We must not return to the days when prejudice ruled and one person was considered inferior to another simply because of their race, religion, sex, or anything else. The days when color and not character was the basis for judging people has passed and must never be permitted again.

On This Day in History:
1907 Barbra Stanwyck born
1918 Czar Nicholas II and family executed
1790 Congress establishes District of Columbia
1945 1st Atomic bomb detonated


Ashish said...

Hi Gary- very precise explanation and view over racism. As a minority in this country- i agree on most of your points- matter of fact we live with the fact that this is just part of our life and we have to live with it. It is sad that racism impacts our level of confidence to such a large extent that it sometimes suppress our freedom of thoughts/speech and creativity which results in frustration and anger. You may also need to create a blog about racism in Australia... There are 1000's of innocent people getting killed just because they work hard for their bread and because they are foreigners and Australians are feeling insecure about them.... US on other end - in my opinion is wonderful country- majority of people are very respectful and very considerate..... However- i agree with US Justice Dept and immigration depts showing favoritism to one nationality to others and it just make me sad....But one thing we as immigrants have learned- "just move one and everything will be ok"... I keep that philosophy in my mind and work towards my goals and not let thing like "racism" come in my way..... Gary ur awesome writer and always love to read your blogs...Great job. As a friend i am really proud of you.

Gary said...

Thank you very much. Your opinion is important to me, as is your friendship. I know the kind of prejudice with which you have had to deal and I truly do not believe I would handle it nearly as well as you do.
Racism is so very hurtful and so easily practiced. I am proud of the progress we have made in this country but know we have so much work left to do. I see these incidents and I get sick at the thought we could return to the dark days when the practice of racism against any minority was even remotely acceptable.