Readers React! So What Would YOU Do to Deconstruct Systemic Racism?

Below is a comment I received on my last post about ending system racism. It seems to require a fairly long response. Love to hear from more readers as well… Please comment below.

From Shal:

“OK, Pat..You are now on the clock..You are President of the US (not king or emperor, mind you) and you have veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate..The SCOTUS isnt going to
be able to declare anything you pass unconstitutional..What are you going to do?
I dont want generalizations or platitudes or feel good “let’s all love one another..” proclamations.. I want to know what you are going to pass, right now to change things in daily life? You cannot change hearts and minds, you can only change laws.. What are you going to do right now?
While you are thinking about it let me point out some things you might have missed.
Dark skinned East Indians dont seem to have very much trouble ascending to the highest levels of performance here. They integrate into society and have no problems ascending academic and social ladders. And you dont see them driving around waving Indian flags and demanding everyone speak their languages and put up signs in stores in Urdu, or their dialect..
Asians of all skin tones have to be prevented from taking 100 % of the spots in most top tier colleges because they so outperform everyone else..Talk about reverse racism- virtually every medical school could fill 100% of their classes with Asians, if based solely upon raw performance and grades..Why is that?
It is a fact that tribalism and violence is a way of life in primative societies everywhere..The Arab slave traders got their slaves as the defeated black tribes in Africa..It wasnt about skin tone, it was about territory and intertribal violence.. Before the Spaniards conquered and enslaved the indigenous people of Meso America, they were quite good at doing the same things to each others..Violence and warfare was a way of life and the defeated became human sacrifices to the primative Gods.They didnt need whites teaching them how to do that, they were already very good at it
The most reviled people in this nation are not African Americans, but poor whites– Poor White Trash, to Liberals..You know, the Deplorables.. Tell me about what White Privilege they enjoy?
It is ok for comedians and politicians to say things about them that would get them banned if it were about Blacks..Why is it ok?
Ok, times up…What are you going to pass to insure within 10 years we have a truly race neutral nation with no further trace of any legal vestige of Jim Crow or any other discrimination? And, the Golden Chalice for all Liberals, not only Equal Opportunity, but Equal Outcome.. The world is waiting President Mega-MetaDada.. Open the curtains and step out onto the balcony and address your adoring populace–just dont take Blanket out there and hang him over the balcony railing because that trick has been tried before…”

OK Shal,

Thanks for your challenge. I love being President, even if only for a brief encounter. Let me first say that I’m not going to specify law changes at all, because I believe we have a lot of laws already. The whole point of systemic racism is that it creeps through the cracks of almost any legal system. It can, by definition, be egregiously targeted at people of color, but under the “color” of  ‘race neutrality.’ The disparate sentencing guidelines for powder and crack cocaine — a frequently cited example — seems “colorblind” but it’s just the same drug: one used in black communities and one in white communities. Guess which one gets the 5 year mandatory sentence? Likewise, the ‘laws of the land’ may have said equality was the rule, but the same laws also permitted and ultimately encouraged:

  • Reconstruction: turning former slaves into sharecropper/debt slaves at the same time as disenfranchising them, as a way of sustaining and “reconstructing” the South’s slave economy. Not what Lincoln had in mind… but then he was killed by secessionists.
  • Extra-legal lynchings (odd how legally constituted white juries were somehow never willing to convict white-on-black violence), even when they were apprehended. But oh-so-law-and-order when it came to black on white.
  • Jim Crow laws based on constitutional  “equality” — just no race-mixing, which led to what, precisely, in terms of economic opportunity?
  • “Separate but equal” schools that were demonstrably anything but — and are to this day. Perfectly legal charter schools, reduction of busing, disparity in school quality in black neighborhoods — all perfectly legal.
  • Neighborhood redlining both formal and informal which inexorably prevented access to credit to maintain and improve your home, which relegated minority neighborhoods, homeowners, and schools to ghetto status — not, as you might have us believe, because of lack of initiative (victim blaming)
  • Excluding blacks from the VA mortgage program (homeownership) after they fought honorably during WWII, which essentially barred blacks from the government-sponsored wealth aggregation of mid-century America that created the largest (white) middle class ever in the U.S.
  • Up to our current “war on crime” and “war on drugs,” “war on voter fraud,” all of which go under the color of “equal enforcement,” but which are all provably wars on guess who?

All these, and many more, Shal, were found in their time to be within the law. So what have laws attempting to mandate racial equality actually accomplished? I think they all fail to some significant extent, unless there is an actual corresponding change in the apologistics for day-to-day on-the-ground systemic racism, and an honest attempt to stop it. That’s where President Mega-Metadada would concentrate his efforts.

I also want to make it clear that the defenders of these historical practices were not in any way blind to what kind of effect they were having on people of color — it was our dirty little national secret. There was no mystery nor alarm on the part of proponents when statistics clearly demonstrated that the biggest disadvantages were falling on people of color, while the biggest advantages were reserved for those with white skins.  The effect was clear. Verbal camouflage for the real intent were based on “acceptable” political discourse of their time. And, remember, if one called this racism by its real name, conservative snowflakes would immediately set up a group-whine about political correctness. From this study, we learn that the most frequent predictor of support for racist behavior is the fierce denial of its existence — coupled with an equally passionate denial of even the slightest personal racial animus.

There’s not a single person of color that I know who would agree with the absurd claim that systemic racism doesn’t exist. But I know a lot of white-skinned people who glibly make that claim! Hmmm. Why would that be?

So what would I actually do? It’s spelled out pretty clearly in the post you were responding to. It’s based on honest truth-seeking, persuasion, direct human-to-human contact, reconciliation, and concrete actions — yes, changing hearts and minds. Then reaching into many aspects of everyday business to contravene the automatic unintentional racism that is perpetrated by conforming to societal expectation and stereotype. The process is modeled on Mandela’s Justice and Reconciliation Commission after the collapse of apartheid. As I envision the process, it would be overseen and encouraged by myself as President, but managed by a Centrist coalition of political and social leaders from a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds. Radical Centrism. Here’s how it would work…

  1. Know the truth. Assemble data as dispassionately as possible as a guide to the truth of our history. The statistics would be cross-checked and as free of political taint as possible, and would form the jumping off point for discussion.
  2. Confession/Reconciliation Bring local communities and neighborhoods together to express the varieties of personal experiences for people of all skin colors and cultures. These discussions would be mediated in a spirit of forgiveness.
  3. Identify mechanisms of camouflaged racism in the U.S.  How do those structures emerge? Under what banners?  We need to know how this mechanism of our society continues to grow like a weed as soon as we take our attention off.
  4. Radical Centrist Political Consensus. The next step is to find a stable, consensus agreement on what benchmarks of opportunity (access to education, jobs, capital, health, safety, etc) we are seeking and prioritizing that effort at a much higher level of attention than it has received in the past. Breaking habit patterns of a lifetime takes significant, painful, active effort… not just “thoughts and prayers.”
  5. Concrete Steps to racial justice AND opportunity: I can’t predict the outcome of an open democratic process, but I expect to see specific recommendations in specific areas of our political, social, and legal lives. (A few areas I would anticipate: Targeted training for justice system, agreements with local and national law enforcement agencies, review of “best practices,” mentorships, uses of affirmative action, reasonable access to capital, homeownership, and advanced education.)

Unfortunately, the above matters were being attended to by the Obama administration, but were all put out to pasture by Trump, based on his symbolic dismantling of the Obama (black president) legacy.  This is the reason that congressional and public participation is so necessary as the backbone of this process. Right now, the screamers and haters win because of the hyper partisan nature of our politics. Only a bipartisan effort to craft our response, and vigilance in protecting it  can maintain an effective response to systemic problems over enough time to succeed (decades, I presume). This must be a commitment to understand and join together across the racial divide to dismantle the social, economic, and political structures that are bringing to ruins our great American experiment. I concede that at a practical level, we’ll never have a perfect solution to this problem, but in trying we must have faith that we’ll get a lot closer than we are today.

Now as to the rest of your comment, I’ll be short and sweet:

Contrary to your claim, I do not believe that East Indians, Asians and others live lives free of prejudice in the U.S. Having non-majority skin colors no doubt creates obstacles to success. But I don’t believe they experience that systemic racism to the extent and intensity of native-born black families. Those families are central focus of systemic racism.

I speculate that the differences in Asian and Indian experience have more to do with the reasons they immigrate from their home countries (to take advantage of the American economic and educational system), and the wealth and traditions of their home countries: they frequently have access to capital from their families and a network of community lenders in the U.S. To a lesser extent, this is also true of Mexican and Southeast Asian immigrant communities.

Black families whose ancestors were brutally enslaved have had a much different experience. From the time they entered this country, they were systematically stripped of wealth, homeland, value as human beings, stable families, opportunities for advancement and choice about anything in their lives. Yes, this was part of the South’s social and economic system. But it is also the black cultural history in the U.S. They did make a life and a vibrant culture for themselves here, dispossessed of their African roots and history. But even after a war fought to free them, they were still the “other” to vast swaths of American society. White culture defined (defined!) them as 3/5 of a human. Even in anti-slavery activists, there were ideas about shipping them all back to Africa. And after their official “emancipation,” black families continued to be deprived, underestimated, lynched, and relegated to lives of dependency and economic enslavement.

Of course there will be differences in the cultural experience and Asians or families from India!  But one thing has been consistently shown: when people of color in the U,S. are given the opportunity to rise, they will defy every racial expectation, they will rise. There is in fact equality in the races, Shal, and not because of guaranteed outcomes but because we are all human beings virtually indistinguishable by DNA from any other.

I was somewhat non-plussed by your resort to another worn-out trope: the “poor victimized white trash” routine. That is frankly a “promoted” perception (by right wing commentators) without any evidence. If you have statistical evidence, rather than claims, please be sure to include them in response to this post! I have not seen its “prevalence” in our society, on in comedies, or on TV where you claim it is. All is see is the prevalence of right wing claims about how “reviled” this population is, as a “what-about-all-those-poor-white people” to any hint that systemic racism is depriving people of color of opportunity.

I need to correct you on another matter of fact: the “deplorables” that you refer to were never identified by anyone as “white trash.” Hillary’s very use of the deplorable term was enough to draw almost universal approbation by the media — who loved to scold her for each minor transgression. Hillary’s use of the term was meant to articulate a point about white supremacists, Nazi’s and other fascists, people who believed she ran a porn ring out of a pizza parlor, and openly racist or dog-whistle promoting actors — all of whom had gravitated in great numbers to the Trump campaign. Subsequent experience has shown she was right. If we can’t even call open racists, Nazi’s, and supremacists deplorable, what can we do to advance our understanding of our own culture at all.  (Remember that William Buckley famously considered those same fringe actors as deplorable, and drove them out of the Republican Party, back when the Republicans had a sense of standards for the kind of thought they could tolerate.)

Let me ask you a question: would any of the poor whites you talk about dare to trade places with a black-skinned person given the disproportionate incarceration rates, threat of constant “stop-and-frisk,” police “accidental shootings,” infant mortality, and lifespans?  Please. One of the main proofs that they consider themselves to be much superior to people with colored skins is their overwhelming support for the racial dog-whistler-in-chief, Donald Trump, plus their proven capacity to be manipulated by racial animus so often to vote against their own best interests.

I must agree that tribalism is a hard-wired aspect of human behavior, as you point out. But because it is common does not mean we as Americans, have to accept it as the end of our exploration of systemic racism. With global information networks, and our shrinking world, it has surely become an inappropriate response in a multi-cultural world. That why it is, in fact, time to face down, and actively deconstruct systemic racism in our country and resume our progress toward a fairer society. Systemic racism is the burden of history that black communities live with everyday, and in a brutal dance, it is our burden, too — and our responsibility to end it.


By the way, I have taken to collecting news articles in special curated magazines on the Flipboard program. These are facts and opinions that interest me and which provide some of the statistical rationale for the concerns I write about. I’m still getting organized on this front, but it’s fun, and I think you might find it informative to check them out.

Metadada ‘Pocalypse Review is a catch-all magazine and media repository for articles I am writing or have written…
Radical Centrism Review is my search to recover a dynamic center to our politics
Culture: Wars and Pieces is relating books, movies, music and art to the current state of our social and political structure. 
Let me know what you think!  

 

 

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