Why Don’t White People Get It?

The other day on CNN, during one of those now-familiar pointless conversations by a so-called “distinguished panel,” one of the speakers, a Trump supporter, blurted out, “Why does race have to be injected into everything?

Because, my dear, white people in power have always made race an issue.

From the writing of the U.S. Constitution to the present day, white people in power have done all they can to keep black people out of power. White lawmakers, many of them, have done all they could do to keep black people from voting; they are doing the same now. White people wanted black people to work this economy and make them money, but these same white people, too many, were clear that they did not want black people to have political and or economic power. They were not equal to whites, these white people said. They were inferior, white supremacist dogma said. Black people were not worth the time of day, these whites felt, unless, of course, they were making money for white people.

Does that sound caustic and cynical?  It can sound no other way. It is the truth.

Blacks having the right to vote has always been an issue. After the Civil War, during Reconstruction, blacks were allowed to vote and enjoyed political power for a time. But with the coming of Jim Crow, the right to vote was one of the first “rights” to be taken from black people. The poll taxes, the literacy tests, the murders of those  – white and black – who tried to register black people to vote – became a part of the fabric which is America.

Donald Trump keeps lifting up the GOP as the party of Lincoln – which it was. At one time the Republican party was the party which believed in the words “all men are created equal” and worked to assure that black people in this country were treated with dignity and respect.

But many Republicans, in addition to  Southern Democrats who had historically and openly fought against equal rights for black people,  were uncomfortable with blacks having more political and economic power. The Civil War was fought because Americans couldn’t agree on what to do with black people. The South thought they should forever be slaves; the North, though they were no less racist than their Southern neighbors, thought slavery should be abolished. In drama no less compelling than what is going on now, the pro and anti-slavery people fought.  Black people, as W.E.B. DuBois said, were a “problem.” The political parties tossed the issue of civil and human rights for black people back and forth like they were a hot football. Frederick Douglass said that, no matter how bad the Republican Party was, however, it was a whole lot better than was the Democratic Party.

Republicans held on as the party which would fight for blacks, even as individuals began to defect. The American political landscape, always changing, endured a significant shift during the Great Depression. Not only were black people marginalized – which they had always been – but now, many white people were marginalized, too. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to do something to save the nation, much like Abraham Lincoln had had to do as the country fell deeper and deeper into the Civil War. While Roosevelt saved the nation, he spawned a new level of racism and classism. Many politicians, Republican and Democrat, were upset with his New Deal.The New Deal saved the country and really created a space and way for black people to make a better living than they had previously. But many Americans, especially white powerbrokers, were not happy.

The objection to “big government” began to take front and center in the Conservative political platform. Many believed that too many black people were benefiting from the government programs. Few people would say that, but the racial undertones were there. Black people were wrecking the country, many felt. They were getting too much government assistance. The atmosphere for rebellion on the part of whites was set, and it was in the 60s that white discontent erupted – with race still in the center of it all.  Some in the Republican Party, which had  actually been more supportive of the 1964 Civil Rights Act than had been the Democrats –  were not happy. Just two weeks after the CRA was passed, Sen. Barry Goldwater, a Republican from Arizona, included in the number of Republicans who were angry at the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  began a campaign to “appeal to Southern white voters.” Goldwater ran for president on a platform of racial politics. More Democrats defected to the Republican Party – with race being the primary impetus. The Southern Strategy was a way of  minimizing the power of the black vote. The Party of Lincoln became the Party of Racial Bigotry.

This race thing…isn’t a Republican or Democratic phenomenon, however. It is an American phenomenon. Issues of race eat us up as Americans. We cannot get past it. Even now, Republicans are trying hard to suppress the rights gained by blacks via the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But that fact does not obliterate the fact that many white Democrats are supportive of voter suppression as well.

Many in this country soundly believe that America is and was always meant to be a “white man’s country.” Donald Trump knows this sentiment; he is speaking to people who want to say what I just wrote but don’t dare. Mr. Trump, however, says what they want to say. In an article in The Nation Magazine, the authors noted that the “Republican Party became the party of white backlash, especially in the South.” (https://www.thenation.com/article/when-republicans-really-were-party-lincoln/)

But the white backlash is everywhere. Racism is part of America’s fabric. I just don’t understand why white people …just don’t get it.

A candid observation …

 

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