Something hit me the other day.
Racism is as American as is apple pie.
That “apple pie” phrase has always had power when it has come to describing what America is about, hasn’t it? Baseball is American. Hot dogs are American. Democracy is American …and racism is American.
Our racism bubbles under everything we do, under everything we say and under everywhere we go. From the beginning, racism was an American issue. Brilliant men who wrote the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves while espousing liberty. Some of them owned slaves themselves.
Even when some of our heroes, like Abraham Lincoln, did heroic things addressing the issue of slavery, many of them still carried racist values, believing that white people were inherently superior to black people and that not even emancipation from slavery meant that one believed blacks were or could ever be equal with or to whites.
America, it seems, was intent on having a “master race,” even before Germany. America’s beliefs as concerned keeping the white race pure was so powerful that it “caught the fascination of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi movement,” writes Edwin Black in his War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race.” Of course, the eugenics movement did not just target black people; anyone who was considered “inferior” stood the chance of being targeted from removal from American society. Thus, Black writes, one could be black, but also “Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, epileptics, alcoholics, the mentally ill…and anyone else who did not resemble the blonde and blue-eyed Nordic ideal” could be targeted.
But our racism, our peculiar and unique chasm between whites and blacks, is so distinctly American. Our racism is bubbling now, as it always does, as the nation reels from the report of the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, but it has always bubbled. I cringe at the subtle and not-so-subtle racist jabs at President and Mrs. Obama. They have been there from the time the president took office. Mean-spirited jabs are called “jokes,” with those who are saying or spreading those things vehemently denying they are racist.
The racist belief that all black people, or too many black people, are lazy, continues to feed a society, too many of whom believe the hype, and causing otherwise intelligent people, like Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, to say the most insulting things about black people and the (lack of a) work ethic of black people.
Racism keeps urban schools in the state they are in, with school boards, politicians, and individuals alike finding reasons not to provide adequate funding for public schools that are not fit for human habitation, for needed books and computers. The prevailing thought, points out Jonathan
in his Savage Inequalities is that poor (primarily black) children cannot learn, so there is no need to throw money into building better schools for them or paying a little more for better teachers for them.
Racism allows injustice against African-Americans, especially African-American males, to continue to exist, with the same politicians and individuals who do not want to “throw money” into building better schools for poor black children thinking nothing of throwing literally hundreds of thousands of dollars into building bigger and better prisons – for profit.
Racism has been behind the “war on drugs” as author Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow, making it commonplace to arrest and incarcerate black and brown people for addiction to crack cocaine, while virtually ignoring the explosion of prescription drug abuse by wealthy white people.
Racism bubbles beneath us; it is like an infected, festering sore. While overt discrimination is for the most part gone, the covert discrimination, the belief that black people are “objects” to be dealt with and ignored, still exists. In the Trayvon Martin case, accused shooter George Zimmerman reportedly said, “they” always “get away with it.” The “they” would mean young, black men, one might suppose. Zimmerman said young Trayvon looked “suspicious.” The fact is, for many white people, no matter how an African-American is dressed, he looks suspicious.
So, yes, we have some wonderful things that are “as American as apple pie: hot dogs, football, democracy and Superman, the NFL, the Superbowl, the World Series.” Those things make us smile.
But racism has its own place in the list of all things American. And from the look and feel of things, it’s not likely to lose its place in line any time soon.
A candid observation…