How to derail a conversation about race…Step 1
Faced with Pat Buchanan’s recent display of bigoted delusional rhetoric I find myself feeling more than a little overwrought at the idea of discussing race or racism ever again. Frankly I’d much rather nap until America got over itself. But, I can’t resist debunking sentiments like:
First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.
Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.
Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the ’60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.
Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks — with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas — to advance black applicants over white applicants.
Churches, foundations, civic groups, schools and individuals all over America have donated time and money to support soup kitchens, adult education, day care, retirement and nursing homes for blacks.
We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?
You’ll notice that he’s very careful to avoid talking about the realities of slavery, any historical context for black society in African countries in the past or the present, or things like Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the destruction of black towns that were independent and thriving economically like Rosewood, and the black communities in Springfield and Tulsa. He completely ignores the fact that federal programs like food stamps, TANF, and student loans are all income based with no race specifications., and that affirmative action means that qualified candidates that are not white males get a fair shot. He also ignores the reality that it was black churches, foundations, civic groups, schools and individuals that were funding soup kitchens, adult education, day care, retirement and nursing homes for blacks.
It’s this deliberate misinformation that bolsters the idea that black people are somehow magically getting ahead without merit, and fosters the resentment you see so often from whites that argue so vociferously against the concept of white privilege and against affirmative action. Never mind that the main beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women. No, let’s just scream about that one time a POC “stole” a job that you really wanted/needed/preferred and ignore the part where you weren’t entitled to that job above all applicants.
It doesn’t help that even in school the history books skim over what Ida B. Wells, the NAACP, The Black Panthers, the NOI and others were doing in support of the black community. Aside from the actual Civil Rights Movement marches and demonstrations that are discussed, there is very little mention of day to day life in black communities. Nor do those history books discuss life after the Civil Rights Act was signed. There’s no acknowledgement of how slowly things changed or what black people still had to do in the quest for equality. This attitude that black empowerment could only come at the hands of whites is (IMO) a large part of the reason why any honest conversation about racism gets derailed with “Look at what we’ve done for you. Slavery is over. Why are you still so angry?” and other such folderol. As we sit through several more months of campaigning I find myself wondering how much further our country could be right now if the truth was taught in schools, if America was willing to own up to its past, if more people knew that poverty isn’t race specific. Heck, if the same news channel that’s been so focused on twisting snippets of Rev. Wright’s speeches wasn’t also hauling Pat Buchanan out as a political commentator at every turn, then maybe some of America could start having that very important conversation about the realities of racism and its impact on our society. Instead lies, misinformation, myths and a general refusal to look at reality will keep that conversation from going any where further than the same old rut.
Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.