It is hardly a surprise that despite the Civil War, 14th Amendment, Civil Rights movement, and the “browning” of America’s population, there is still rampant racism plaguing this nation like metastatic cancer. Many Americans labored under the illusion that the election of the first African American President meant that, except for pockets in the former Confederacy, the Ku Klux Klan, and other white supremacist organizations like the Republican Party, racism was all but dead. However, it did not take long for Americans with a brain to comprehend that if anything, President Obama’s election signaled that racial animus was as prevalent as it ever was despite the lack of public Klan rallies, blatant racial epithets, and lynchings in the South. What has been curious, is that until the last few months few, if any, politicians were willing to expose open racism’s ascendance since President Obama took office. Americans should never delude themselves that racism, and its facilitating companion white supremacy, ever went away; it roiled beneath the surface waiting for the right conditions to rise and affect the greatest damage on the nation.
Liberal pundits and secular humanists have addressed racism’s ascendance since early days of President Obama’s first term. However, it took Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid until April 2013 to say, “It’s been obvious that they’re doing everything they can to make him (President Obama) fail. And I hope, I hope – and I say this seriously – I hope that’s based on substance and not the fact that he’s African-American.” Although Reid’s remarks fell short of accusing Republicans of being the racists he knows they are, he did identify a racial problem Attorney General Eric Holder addressed in an elegant commencement speech at Morgan State University; subtle racism. As far as why Harry Reid took such a long time to imply Republican opposition to the President was racially motivated, it has become a near-cardinal sin to address racism, blatant or subtle, without being accused of being a racist, traitor to the white race, or persecuting white people. However, it is long past time to do as First Lady Michelle Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder said to young Americans; “we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”
In Holder’s commencement speech, he noted that racially-motivated outburst from the likes of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling were much less of a threat to equality than the more subtle, everyday racism such as what he sees in the criminal justice system. Holder warned of finding contentment because high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were swiftly condemned, but he counseled that “if we focus solely on these incidents, we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.” Holder is right that racism in the criminal justice system is rampant and is not going to go away as long as there is a profit for the private prison industry and reward for racism in law enforcement policies and the judicial system. It would require a complete sterilization of racism in law enforcement as well as a top-to-bottom transformation of the criminal justice system to break the cycle of racism in the criminal justice system. Sadly, it is never going to happen as long as politicians are terrified of speaking out against blatant racism and for-profit incarceration of African Americans.
Another area the effects of subtle racism are manifest is the administration of the public school systems across America where, although segregation is not codified, it is certainly utilized and heavily promoted. As is true of everything in America, educational opportunities coincide directly with affluence and the resources available for schools in richer, whiter, neighborhoods generally far exceed those allotted to schools in poorer minority neighborhoods.
According to current and year-old research, “race, class, home communities, and schools constitute a matrix of conditions that perpetuate both privilege and disadvantage in America.” Despite overwhelming evidence that students and schools in poorer minority neighborhoods do not share equity with their richer, whiter, counterparts, politicians from President Obama to Education Secretary Arne Duncan are wont to claim that “education is the one true path out of poverty – no matter your race, ethnicity, or zip code.” It is a noble sentiment, but it is also as false as claiming there is no racism in America.
According to two reports in 2012, one from the Brookings Institute and one from the Schott Foundation for Public Education; “across the country, minority children are experiencing educational inequity in their home communities and schools. Another study published by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that young people may be “doubly disadvantaged” by growing up in poor neighborhoods and in low-income households. Richard Rothstein, a researcher with the Economic Policy Institute explained that “The schools black children attend today, in North and South, East and West, are segregated mostly because their schools are located in poorer segregated neighborhoods.”
In school districts across the country, the first schools to face closure or budget cuts are those located in predominately minority neighborhoods. During so-called “education reformer” Michelle Rhee’s tenure as Washington D.C. school chancellor, when it came time to tighten education budgets, schools in poor minority communities were the first to be axed. Her successor picked up where Rhee left off and immediately targeted 15 schools in poor minority neighborhoods because of subtle racism and nothing else whatsoever. Like the solution for combatting racism in the criminal justice system, it will take complete reformation of education funding policy and cleansing of education leaders beholden to privatization advocates, coupled with robust anti-poverty programs including living-wage jobs, before there will be any change.
There are many, many other forms of subtle racism that affect people of color, and they all need to be identified and as Holder said, “actively discuss ways to combat it.” However, it is prudent to take advantage of blatant racism that does make the headlines to shift the conversation from the outrageous to subtle racism while the public is aware racists are alive and thriving. Democrats have known for five years that Republican opposition to President Obama has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with his race, but they have been mortified to address it openly. It is true that calling out racism in any form will engender accusations of being a racist or persecuting the white race, but remaining silent is not an option if this country is ever going to live up to its lofty, but false, designation as a nation of equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens.
No American in their right mind can claim with a straight face this nation is not rampantly racist whether it is manifest in Republican opposition to President Obama, George Zimmerman stalking and murdering Trayvon Martin, education leaders closing poor schools in minority neighborhoods, or law enforcement racially profiling and the criminal justice system disproportionally incarcerating African American males. It is worth noting that since America’s founding racism has been encouraged and tolerated because white supremacy permeated the population, but after a Civil War, the 14th Amendment, the now-dead Voting Rights Act, desegregation and the Civil Rights movement, the time for intolerance for racism in any form is at hand. Anything less is supporting racial bigotry that came back in vogue in January 2009 and it remains popular because those who oppose it are silent.