The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Banner photo: Detail of a mural in Oakland, painted in the aftermath of the slaying of George Floyd

Tim Scott said it. Nikki Haley said it. Both are running for president and both are out on the campaign trail road testing the lie that’s become a GOP shibboleth. That these two are people of color is what causes my eyes to bug out and my head to shake.

“America is not a racist country,” they said.

Taken at face value, that statement is a myth.

In the interest of transparency, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have said essentially the same thing. It is after all, the realpolitik thing to do.

That said, there are differences. While Biden, Harris and other Democrats might say that America is not a racist country, they recognize that racism exists in America and they are quick to call out its instances. Republicans, on the other hand, not only consistently refuse to call out racism, some have been busy little bigots in their promotion of policies that are clearly racist.

From the Democrats, ‘America is not racist’, is a statement describing values and hope tempered by the reality of existence. From Republican mouths, ‘America is not racist’ is fantasy and campaign hooey.

There are examples aplenty but one need only focus on two recent events to prove that the GOP is doing everything but making the white sheet its party uniform to demonstrate that it has a race problem.


Alabama, like the rest of the former Confederate States, has been trying to disenfranchise Black people since, well, the founding. They even went to war over the rights of Black people. After getting their gray asses whipped in the Civil War, it took the Fifteenth Amendment to set things right and give ALL Americans, not only the right to vote but to keep states from “abridging” the right to vote.

The Fifteenth Amendment worked for a short time until the former Confederate States constructed obstacles, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and bogus residency requirements. When those didn’t work, they turned to physical intimidation and violence.

Over the decades attempts to squash voting rights by the former Confederate States was, for the Federal Government and voting rights activists, a frustrating game of whack a mole. When a war and a constitutional amendment weren’t enough, Congress passed, and Lyndon Johnson signed, the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


For decades, one of the more tried and true methods used by the Republicans for retaining power and quashing the Black vote has been gerrymandering. The party has tortured and twisted state districting maps for the purpose of transforming what should be majority Black and/or Democratic districts into majority White, Republican districts.
Take Alabama for instance, which has six voting districts. In Alabama one in four voters is Black, yet the Republican legislature managed to contort its map so that a disproportionate number of Black voters were concentrated into one district, leaving the other five majority white. The result of this Republican double dealing was to leave Black voters with little to no chance of electing representatives of their choosing.

In a recent ruling, the United States Supreme Court, which has been tripping over its own robes since Trump packed it, finally did the right thing and told Alabama to try again, and create a second majority Black district.

In response, and in keeping with the tradition of George Wallace, and Alabama’s segregationist/secessionist history, the Republican majority in the legislature created a new district that is 40% Black instead of majority Black as the Supreme Court’s ruling demands. Alabama essentially told the Supreme Court to go kick rocks. And so the battle continues and Alabama continues its practice of institutional racism.
Yes, take Alabama. Please, someone, anyone, take Alabama.


Meanwhile in Florida, where a fascist governor and his department of education are busy rewriting history by painting it a two tone of lily white and Confederate gray, that state’s African American History section is requiring teachers in the sixth through eighth grades to include lessons on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

That’s right, every cloud has a silver lining, including the one that rains brutality, murder, kidnapping, rape and the buying and selling of humans.

The reaction from those not inextricably tied to the bullshit known as “the Lost Cause,” (The Lost Cause is a unicorn peddled by losers who continue to glorify the Confederacy, claiming that its cause was noble one and that the Civil War was not tied to slavery) was rightful outrage. Vice President Kamala Harris termed the lesson “gaslighting” and “propaganda.”

In response to the deluge of criticism, many in the GOP returned fire. Governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis said he “wasn’t involved in it (creating the curriculum).” Maybe not directly, but this is an evil spawn of his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Is DeSantis’ avoiding the issue as if it were a rattlesnake a preview of his presidential leadership? DeSantis did go on to defend the curriculum, adding, “I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”

Others who jumped to the defense of the Florida curriculum offered examples of Black Americans who demonstrated some of these purported skills. The apologists offered educator Booker T. Washington as an example of someone who “parlayed” skills learned as an enslaved person. The only problem. and it’s a large one, is the fact that Washington was freed as a child and learned his skills at school after being freed. Like the example of Washington, most examples that were offered don’t fit the curriculum narrative. Most were already either free Blacks or learned their skills after they were free or were never enslaved.

Over on Fox, Jesse Watters, that network’s new motherTucker, was apoplectic, “This is historical fact, that slaves did develop skills while they were enslaved and then used those skills as blacksmiths, in agriculture, tailoring, in the shipping business, to benefit themselves and their families.”

Even if one grants Watters assertion that enslaved people learned skills, plantations were not vocational schools or junior colleges, they were labor camps. An enslaved man didn’t get the opportunity to pour over a catalog and choose his vocation. One learned the skill he was assigned and performed it under the shroud of torture or death. But why grant Watters anything at all? He’s just another Fox propagandist numbskull.

Watters’ contention that enslaved families benefited, overlooks the fact that roughly fifty percent of Black families were sundered, and those that weren’t split, lived under that very threat.

The notion that any significant number of enslaved people were even afforded the “opportunity” to learn a skill is preposterous. The vast majority (98 percent in Florida) performed back breaking, unskilled, sunup to sundown field work.

In fairness, the Florida guidelines do cover the brutality and dehumanization of slavery. Good on Florida for that – I suppose. So why even bother adding a unit that strains historical fact and insults the people who struggled through that awful period, along with their ancestors and those who will now be compelled to teach this bunk? What does it bring to the table? Why gussy up an abomination?


Florida is just the latest example. In Texas, a group of educators proposed that slavery should be taught to second graders as “involuntary relocation.” Also in Texas (because that state just can’t get over its Confederate self), it was discovered that a social studies textbook called the enslaved people, “workers” (I just can’t wait for some book or curriculum to call the enslaved “associates”). A textbook used in private high schools, published by Accelerated Christian Education, terms the slave trade as “Black immigration.” In Iowa, Greg Wickenkamp, an eighth grade teacher, confused over what he could and couldn’t teach his students, was told that he could not say, ‘Slavery was wrong,’ as that would constitute an opinion and not a fact (This makes me wonder if Republicans would lose their shit if teachers would be banned from saying the American victory over the Nazis was a just fight because that would be an opinion and not fact).

Much of this has come in conjunction with a paranoid response to The1619 Project. Nikole Hannah-Jones’ brilliant work caused such apoplexy within the American right, that the reaction has been an increase in book banning and the institution of curriculum changes such as those described above.


Granted, there will always be the racist nutjobs whose everyday vocabulary includes the “N” word. They are the creepy crawlers that hide under wet rocks. The pernicious, damaging problem is the racism that the right is trying to bake into the cake of our society and institutions.

The outcome of whitewashing American history and culture, and the denial of some painful realities will only serve to further a flawed vision of America. The children who grow up with the notion that slavery had silver linings, will grow up to be the apologists and the paranoid, the ones who will continue on to positions in the state house, the future legislators who will draw maps that disenfranchise, and that hearken back to post reconstruction and Jim Crow. They will be the future school board members who will inject the venom of revisionist history into the minds of future generations.

The alcoholic doesn’t correct his drinking problem until he looks in the mirror and says, “I’m a drunk.” America won’t solve its race problem until it admits it has a race problem.

A parent acknowledges her child’s bad behavior and takes the necessary steps to correct the fault. It’s what good parents do to ensure that the child becomes a good citizen. Good citizens acknowledge the sins of their nation’s past and present. It’s how a nation grows and lives up to the reputation of being “a shining city.”

As I was completing this piece, Tim Scott criticized Ron DeSantis for the Florida curriculum, saying, “There is no silver lining in slavery,” Scott said. “Slavery was really about separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating.”
That he made a statement criticizing a single instance of institutional racism doesn’t erase his previous assertion that “America is not a racist country.”

22 thoughts on “Is America a Racist Country?

  1. Anne Sandler says:

    The Civil War may have freed the slaves, but now we have a different form of persecution. I lived in Florida from 1948 to 1953 as a Jewish child and saw it all. Blacks had their town and school, couldn’t walk on both sides of the street, etc. On our 2013 trip across country we visited Central High where the Little Rock Nine integrated the school. A National Park ranger gave us a group tour and did an amazing job of letting us know just what happened there. After the tour, she was black, I asked her if it was better now. She said it was better but they were not there yet.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Anne,
      You wrote, “She said it was better but they were not there yet.” That was in 2013 and Obama was still the president. I wonder what she would be saying now. Far from better, it’s all going in the opposite direction. DeSantis would say say we’re not there yet also. His “there” is a scary place.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Toonsarah says:

    I always feel I’ve learned something important about your country after reading one of your posts. Many shy away from telling it how it is, but you never do. I can’t tell from where I sit whether America is racist though. It seems to me that there are pockets of racism, which are allowed to dominate in some states, but is it all-encompassing? I don’t know. I do know there are many wonderful people there, I call some of them friends and they share many of your views and call out racism, and other hate-isms. I wish I thought that their views would prevail but the trend seems to be otherwise.

    1. Anne Sandler says:

      Sarah, hate will always exist–worldwide. You’ve traveled extensively. Maybe as a tourist, you didn’t experience it that much. One person will not like another because of their skin color, religion, political beliefs and more. We just have to learn to live together. It also depends who is in power. In the U.S. the coasts are blue states and much of middle America are red states. Whoever is in power gives voice to red/blue. At least that’s been my experience. So, I do believe that prejudice of all sorts does exist in this world. That prejudice can stay dormant and behind closed doors; or, it can rear its ugly head and cause harm.

    2. Paul says:

      Hello Sarah,
      “It seems to me that there are pockets of racism, which are allowed to dominate in some states, but is it all-encompassing?” All encompassing? No. There is an amount of racism anywhere you go. Even here in the Bay Area which is considered liberal you’ll always find the internalized racism, the individual knucklehead that drops the occasional “N” word amongst his knuckleheaded friends. There’s not much that can be done about that.
      The bigger problem that America has been struggling with since the outset is the institutional and structural racism. This is returning, or in some cases never went away, in the former Confederate States and in the Midwest. As I said, it’s like whack a mole.
      That the trend seems to be otherwise is largely due to the influence of Trump. The racists kept to themselves until Trump gave them tacit approval to come out from the crevices. I guess the notion that progress was being made was all just a mirage. The racists were always there. We just didn’t look hard enough or we became complacent.
      Thank you for reading and commenting

      1. Toonsarah says:

        You can certainly blame Trump to a large extent, but there are long-seated instances of institutional racism emerging here too.

  3. mistermuse says:

    “Never try to reason prejudice out of a man; it was not reasoned into him and cannot be reasoned out.” –Sydney Smith, English wit/writer, Oxford scholar and Anglican cleric

    1. Paul says:

      Mister M,
      So true and so much of the crux of the problem.

  4. Jane Fritz says:

    Well said, as usual, Paul. How come we all know this, know it well, and yet this s#*t still works for so many? How come a country that prides itself on leading the democratic world continues to allow many forms of voter suppression not possible at all in other democracies? Why is it that all those same people who call themselves “Christians” don’t see the terrible hypocrisy in their positions. Why in heavens name is there any debate whatsoever as to whether the U.S. is a racist state. Of course it is. Just ask all Black parents, who have to teach their kids how to survive safely in situations whites wouldn’t even think about, like being stopped for speeding, for example. Keep writing! 😥

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Jane,
      So many questions and the answers would seem so simple. Sometimes the questions just beg other questions.

      “How come a country that prides itself on leading the democratic world continues to allow many forms of voter suppression not possible at all in other democracies?” Paranoia? The Great Replacement Theory? Loss of power? Loss of wealth?

      How does one come up with answer to the question of why are people irrational and cruel?

      Thank you for reading and commenting

  5. Deb says:

    Brilliant! Thank you Paul.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Deb and you are so very welcome.

  6. It is all part of the Big Lie Americans have been fed since the founding.
    The lie is that America is the greatest country in the world because it has n a land of equal opportunity and personal freedom. The Pledge of Allegiance ends “with liberty and justice for all.” Ergo no racism, no discrimination. For those who believe that lie it is easy to believe smaller ones like the election was stolen (by black poll workers and cities governed by Black majorities) and that slavery had its good points. Black people were forced onto slave ships with skills and knowledge that slave owners prevented them from using. Should a piano teacher who molests children get points because the children learned how to play the piano? Would sexual harassment be beneficial because a woman got a promotion or a movie part? Attacks on diversity and inclusion show just how much those people are comfortable with a segregated society. Discrimination and segregation are affirmative action for white people. Those policies have existed for centuries without concerted challenge from white society. But admitting a qualified Black candidate over a qualified non-Black candidate is a constitutional sin.

    1. Paul says:

      “Should a piano teacher who molests children get points because the children learned how to play the piano? Would sexual harassment be beneficial because a woman got a promotion or a movie part?” Those are spot on analogies.
      “The land of opportunity and personal freedom.” Such hypocrisy when you consider that the Governor of Florida is touting his state as a haven for personal freedom while he is in the process of removing freedom. Such irony when you consider that the people who have some of the least opportunities are the ones who continue to elect the Trumps and the DeSantises.
      Thank you for reading and commenting

  7. “…there will always be the racist nutjobs whose everyday vocabulary includes the “N” word. They are the creepy crawlers that hide under wet rocks. The pernicious, damaging problem is the racism that the right is trying to bake into the cake of our society and institutions.” So right. Trump turned the creepy crawlers loose, made them feel justified in saying, and doing, the previously silent part out loud and in the open. They’ve slimes their way out from under the wet rocks, and I fear it’s going to take an enormous upheaval to push them back.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Martin, There are times when I have to wonder about a course of events in which America elects a two term Black president, and immediately follows with a populist, nationalist, racist autocrat. Other times, it makes nonsensical sense – if that makes sense. Obama’s election awakened the paranoids and the crazies and Trump showed up just at the opportune time.
      When Obama was elected, I experienced a few foolish moments during which I thought racism was dead in America. Hell, racism in America is in full dark flower. I guess if there is ANY silver lining to Trump, he slapped some reality back into fools like me.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  8. annieasksyou says:

    This is a fine overview of a critical–and dangerous–American problem, Paul. I think your most important sentence is “The pernicious, damaging problem is the racism that the right is trying to bake into the cake of our society and institutions.”

    DeSantis’s “war on woke” and all the state legislative efforts and House Republican actions to suppress or disqualify votes by Black Americans (and others) have come about because Black Americans–particularly Black women–are among the most patriotic Americans. Aware how recently their right to vote has been/had been secured in our nation’s history, they are champions of our democratic values.

    The white nationalist movement with which the Republican party has essentially joined forces (continuing a trend that goes back decades) has, of course, been unleashed by Trump. Equally important, I think, is that when the massive protests following George Floyd’s killing revealed there was a multiracial, multiethnic coalition–including plenty of young white people–the haters saw their power endangered for generations. Thus, they stepped up the dehumanization and attempted disenfranchisement of people of color, LGBTQ people, young people, women, and anyone they see standing in their way.

    Destroying public education and rewriting history are tools of a frightened minority who know their ideas are failing.

    We are the majority. Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in 2022: “In our polling, concern about democracy was very multiracial and cross-generational, and crossed partisan lines. Sixty-two percent had said abortion should be legal. Sixty-eight percent said that the country needed to do more to protect Black people against discrimination.”

    So it’s up to us. We need to be active citizens, knowing full well that the forces designed to diminish Black Americans are a threat to us all.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Annie,
      Apologies for the late response to your excellent and comprehensive comment. I can’t disagree with anything you wrote.

      I did look up the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights poll that you mention and found it to be discouraging.

      What was depressing?

      Under the heading, “Voters want the government to take action to protect their civil and human rights,” the poll shows:
      – Sixty-six percent believe the government should do more to lessen racial inequality in society.
      – Fifty-five percent believe the government should do more to lessen income inequality in society.
      – Sixty-seven percent believe gay marriage should be a legally protected right in this country.
      – Sixty-two percent believe abortion access should be a legally protected right in this country.

      Under, “Racial discrimination is a big issue for voters,” the poll results are:

      – Sixty-two percent believe racism against Black people is a big problem in today’s society.
      – Sixty-two percent believe the government must do more to protect the civil and human rights of Black Americans.
      – Sixty-three percent believe immigrants contribute more to America than they take.
      – Fifty-one percent believe race relations in America are getting worse.

      Those are depressingly small percentages for the year 2022. We’re not doing very well. Over 150 years since Appomattox we haven’t progressed very far.

      Maya Wiley wrote, “In our polling, concern about democracy was very multiracial and cross-generational, and crossed partisan lines.” I don’t doubt that concern about democracy and the direction of the country crosses “partisan lines.” People are concerned for reasons that run counter to each other. For example, I have a cousin who thinks our democracy is in trouble because Joe Biden is a “Socialist” who’s persecuting Trump, while I think our democracy is in trouble because of people like my cousin. That very divide and the extreme nature of that divide spells trouble for our democracy.

      Yes sixty-two percent believe that racism against Black people is a big problem. What does that say about the other thirty-eight percent? How many of those people think that Black people are a problem or think that Black people are just too busy playing the “race card?”

      “So it’s up to us. We need to be active citizens, knowing full well that the forces designed to diminish Black Americans are a threat to us all.” No doubt. There’s a lot of work to be done.


      1. annieasksyou says:

        I appreciate your checking the Leadership Conference poll, Paul. No; we’re not doing nearly as well as we should. In fact, I think you’ll agree with me that the sentence I singled out from your essay for praise doesn’t underscore the bigger problem: racism has been baked into our society and institutions since our inception.

        And still I find hope for a multiracial society in GenZ.

  9. floweringink says:

    An incredibly powerful, important and upsetting piece. Thank you for writing this, Paul.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much Susan. I wonder if you are still in Ireland watching this from afar. If so, consider yourself lucky. America has become an unrecognizable place in the space of seven years. Hoping you are well.

      1. floweringink says:

        I am, Paul, and I do. I am just sorry that you have to be there, but at the same time grateful that you are writing about it; it is really vital that good writers like you are putting their words and voices out there. It does make me sad to see what has happened to a place I called home for most of my life. Los Angeles alone is completely unrecognisable. Please keep well and safe, my friend.

Would love to hear from you

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