Sometimes, I need help to understand why some things are as they are…like this: why do some white people think it’s racist to acknowledge that racism exists and to talk about it?
I have been chewing on that ever since I had an online chat with a white friend who was furious with me for saying that, at the beginning of the GOP race for the presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich was “playing to his base.”
That base was in the South, and consisted primarily, as far as I could tell, of white people. Many of them resonated with Gingrich’s assertions that black people and their situation in America were surely to be considered; in a speech in New Hampshire he made in January he said “… the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/newt-gingrich-paychecks-food-stamps_n_1188193.html)
That comment, along with others, such as “President Obama is the food stamp president” are no less disparaging and inaccurate about the lives of African-Americans than was President Reagan’s creation of the “welfare queen” which fed into the belief by many whites that black people are eating up the economy; their access to entitlements are a big part of the blame for the shoddy economic condition of this country, many will say, and any attempt dissuade people of those beliefs usually meet with rabid and bitter opposition.
OK, so I get that …but why, if one talks about the reality of racism in this country is one branded a “racist?” Why is the worst thing to talk about in America race, when our sick racism is at the base of so many of our problems?
In a book entitled To Ask for an Equal Chance, author Cheryl Lynn Greenberg talks about the state of African-Americans during and leading up to the Great Depression. She cites United States Supreme Court decisions few of us know anything about, like Grovey v. Townsend (1935), which said that electoral parties are private groups and can exclude African-Americans from membership and participation, and Norris v. Alabama, (1935) which allowed for the routin exclusion of African-Americans from jury duty. She talks about the “Atlanta Six” who were arrested in 1930 under a slave statutes against inciting insurrection for organizing protest. In The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, an amazing book which describes the dust bowl of the 1930s, there is a description of signs put out advertising scant employment opportunities, but signs which clearly said “colored need not apply.”
The foundation of America was sewn with racist and with sexist threads…so why can’t we talk about it without being called “racist?
I cringed when, after Trayvon Martin’s case garnered national and international attention, and President Barack Obama made the statement that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon, the accusations of him playing the race card flew as though the card game had been set upon by a great, unexpected wind. Those protesting said he was not only playing the race card, but that he was sowing division amongst or between the races, because this is an election year.
The truth of the matter is that racism has been brewing just under the surface of our American political scene since the president was elected. Congressman Joe Wilson’s rude “you lie!” outburst at the president’s first State of the Union speech was beyond comprehension; the tactics of the Tea Party, including some who reportedly spit on revered African-American leaders, was steeped in race.
The truth of the matter is, not talking about race has only made the situation worse. Everybody wants to pretend that “it” isn’t racism that is driving some of what we are seeing and hearing today, but it is…We can’t keep agreeing to be silent. We need to face it and shake out the blanket of American democracy. The wrinkles caused by racism need to go…but if we keep the blanket all balled up, the wrinkles will only become deeper.
A candid observation …