Racist behavior has created quite a spectacle over the past couple of weeks. First we had the unbelievable comments of an American “patriot” and model of rugged individualism, Cliven Bundy, followed closely by the hateful words of a “wonderful example” of business acumen and team ownership, Donald Sterling. While the conservative media and political elite initially hailed Bundy as a hero, as soon as his racist comments left his lips, they started to run for the hills. In Sterling’s case, there was virtual universal condemnation as soon as the tapes of his despicable remarks became public. The behavior of the public and the media seemed to confirm that racism is simply no longer acceptable in America. But is that really the lesson here? Is it more accurate to say that unrefined, blatant racism is no longer acceptable in America, but racism in any other name, in fact, is pervasive?
We live in a world of instant communication where words uttered carelessly travel at the speed of light. It is, furthermore, a world of “political correctness” and a 24 hour news cycle where those careless words can end a career, political or otherwise. It is therefore, not surprising to see the reaction to the Bundy and Sterling mutterings. Yet to believe that with this universal condemnation we have seen an end to racism is naive. It goes along with the thinking that now that we have elected a black President, racism is over in America. The truth is that racism has taken on many new identities over the past few years. We have seen it behind the camouflage of the need to tighten voter registration laws based on disingenuous and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. We have seen it behind the mask of a need to secure our borders as our Congress refuses to pass immigration legislation. We have seen it in the ever tightening and diminishing availability of women’s health and abortion clinics under the guise of a concern for the quality and safety of women’s health services. We have seen it in Congressional refusal to act on an increase in the minimum wage under the shield of misinformation regarding its impact on jobs and small business. Why am I calling these actions and acts racism?
Racism in my opinion is the willful discrimination against any identifiable group. That includes all minorities, women, the young and the elderly. In every case listed above, the overwhelming negative impact is on one or all of these groups, while at the same time, the status quo is clearly to the advantage of those in political and economic power. In broad terms there has been a concerted effort to keep the poor and the disenfranchised poor and disenfranchised. At the same time there is an effort to keep the Federal Government as far away from these issues as possible to allow the states to establish their laws based on local mores and the desires of their own power elite. It brings back memories of the old “states right’s” battles of the 50s and 60s over school desegregation. Only now it is about voting rights, women’s health, immigration and minimum wage. The issues may be different, save voting rights, but the thinking behind them is the same.
The fact is, that while we have traveled some distance away from being a racist society on the surface, we have a long way to go to impact where it really counts. It may no longer be politically correct to be openly racist, however it is ok to support policies that openly discriminate. As I talk with my grandchildren, they seem to be entirely color blind, while aware of the challenges faced by Jackie Robinson and others. As the song in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific says,” you have to be taught to hate”. I know that my wife, my children and my son-in-law will do everything we can to make sure my grandchildren never learn to hate. How about you?