October 2020, with weeks to go before an election made controversial by Donald Trump. Is racial injustice an issue in America? The question is not about the existence of racial injustice, but is it, at this moment in 2020, an issue? That’s a good question and at the same time an unfortunate one given that we’re four hundred years into the problem. Depending on who you ask there’s a perception and a reality.
Pose the question to a random sampling of white America and you might get a range of responses from a firm “yes” to a firm “no,” to a noncommittal “we’re working on it,” to a lecture on the so-called left wing red herring of identity politics. If you ask the Vice-President of the United States he’ll deny that systemic racism exists at all as will his boss and the cult that follows this administration. Those are the perceptions.
If you ask a sampling of people of color if race is an issue in America your answer will be something along the lines of “Hell, yes it is. Every day of my life.” Being on the receiving end of racial injustice tends to make one expert in the reality.
My last post describes racial injustice as a peripheral, almost non-issue in suburban white America where I’ve spent most of my life. It is, for the most part, a look back on the days of my childhood and young adult years and it’s a story that speaks largely of indifference. Indifference to racial injustice has been the subplot of the main storyline of America’s tragedy. It’s a play that’s been repeated on the American stage for decades.
A person of color is killed under suspect circumstances or a church is torched or a klan/white supremacist rally get its 15 minutes of undeserved fame; maybe a traffic stop goes wrong or a group of good ol’ boys working off an excess of beer and boredom goes on a rampage and assaults some poor soul who had the nerve to simply be born with more melanin than his tormentors. Maybe an arrest is made, maybe not. Maybe justice is served, maybe not.
The storyline continues; protests, indignation, conflict, anger, rhetoric and calls for a divided nation to come together and to “do better.” And then the climax – detente. It all goes away. Protesters go home, Congressional hearings adjourn, politicians move on to other matters and the white community goes back to what it was doing before being so rudely interrupted. Days, weeks, maybe months pass and then the drama starts all over again.
Clear and present racism
Racial injustice has a long history in America. We know racism when we see it. Oftentimes it’s easy to spot; a bumper sticker, a comment on the internet or a demonstration in Charlottesville. That’s the low hanging fruit, the conspicuous things like the car I saw during a visit to Virginia during the Obama Presidency. The car was plastered from bumper to roof with stickers that slandered the president in the most vile and racist terms. It doesn’t have to be that car in Virginia. It could be the novelty shop in Virginia City, Nevada with anti-Obama trinkets or the comments section of Yahoo News or Confederate flag logoed doodads from the Dixie Outfitters shop in Lynchburg, Tennessee or an indignant white couple painting over the Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez, California. The examples are everywhere and they’re the things that trigger a reaction of disbelief followed by an instinctive revulsion and the question, “How could this happen in 21st century America?”
What a question. There’s racism all around us, injustice that we often pass by, sometimes daily without even recognizing it. Comfort is the foundation of complacency which allows us to ignore the day to day racism that’s hiding in plain sight. We either don’t recognize it for what it is or worse, it registers yet we choose to overlook it. Continue reading