top of page

Beyond Charlottesville--A True Reckoning of America's Racist History

In light of the events in Charlottesville this weekend, I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

On this blog, I seek to find some middle ground as well as the other side of issues, but in this instance, there are at least three truths that are incontrovertible: The racism and violence expressed by the white supremacists and hate groups in Charlottesville and other venues is beyond reprehensible and should be condemned outright. The President of the United States has a duty to speak up against this kind of hate speech, and Mr. Trump clearly failed to do so, until others pushed him to do it. The President’s reluctance, combined with his past support for white extremists and the continued presence of alt-right members in the executive branch, further emboldens these groups, as evidenced by their own recent statements. These points have been stated repeatedly over the last few days

Beyond that which we already know, what more can we learn from this situation? I start by crediting the Republican elected officials who called out Trump for his failure to condemn. As reported by CNN and others, politicians with whom progressives such as myself rarely see eye-to-eye had strong words for the President.

Orrin Hatch: “"We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

Marco Rubio: “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists”.

Cory Gardner: “"This is not a time for vagaries. This isn't a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame -- to lay blame on bigotry, to lay blame on white supremacists, on white nationalism and on hatred. And that needs to be said."

Of course, just as I’m starting to praise these Republicans, I’m noticing others who approved of Trump’s second statement on Monday—which was two days late, revoltingly self-laudatory, and tone deaf to his own responsibility. But I should still give credit where due and understand that the Republicans’ initial reactions may have inspired at least some measure of re-thinking inside the White House.

But if these Republicans (and frankly, a number of Democrats) want to be on record as truly supporting racial justice and equality, it will take more than some well-meaning statements over the past weekend. Politicians and American citizens need to take a look back on history and see that our current policies are barely adequate to address generations of racial exclusion, violence, segregation, and oppression, much of which has its basis in the laws of this country.

In the name of justice and equality, what is it that citizens want and deserve? For this answer, I go directly to the Republican National Committee 2016 platform. Below are several quotations from the platform (with my italics added):

We believe our constitutional system — limited government, separation of powers, federalism, and the rights of the people — must be preserved uncompromised for future generations.

We believe political freedom and economic freedom are indivisible.

We are the party of a growing economy that gives everyone a chance in life, an opportunity to learn, work, and realize the prosperity freedom makes possible.

Government cannot create prosperity, though government can limit or destroy it. Prosperity is the product of self-discipline, enterprise, saving and investment by individuals, but it is not an end in itself. Prosperity provides the means by which citizens and their families can maintain their independence from government, raise their children by their own values, practice their faith, and build communities of cooperation and mutual respect. It is also the foundation for our nation’s global leadership, for it is the vigor of our economy which makes possible our military strength and our national security.

I don’t fully agree, especially with the parts about limited government, but that is a separate point. Instead, I want to focus on some of these core elements of Republican philosophy regarding economic and political freedom, the roots of prosperity, and the promise made to future generations.

This weekend, the New York Times published a piece by Ira Katznelson, a professor of political science and history at Columbia University, which countered the myth that whites have lost opportunities through race-based discrimination against them. In fact, Professor Katznelson pointed out, the race-based discrimination has clearly gone the other way and has been supported by government action. “The most important pieces of American social policy,” he writes,”— the minimum wage, union rights, Social Security and even the G.I. Bill — created during and just after the Great Depression, conferred enormous benefits on whites while excluding most Southern blacks.”

For example, New Deal initiatives that helped build the American middle class blocked African Americans from participating in these opportunities. Southern-led congressional committees drafted the Social Security laws specifically excluded certain Black-dominated job categories from its protections (such as maids and farm workers). Fair labor acts, including the minimum wage and working hour limitations, explicitly left out agricultural and domestic workers. The GI Bill instituted to great acclaim after World War II left Southern Blacks out of many of the benefits and “accommodated segregation in higher education, created job ceilings imposed by local officials, and tolerated local banks’ unwillingness to approve federally insured mortgages or small-business loans for African-Americans and Latinos.”

Moreover, policies and practices throughout the country limited people’s choices regarding their housing arrangements, and caused most African Americans who migrated from the South to live in segregated neighborhoods. These areas suffered from white flight and disinvestment, and in the end made it far more difficult for families to build value in their own homes and communities. As a result, the median Black household even today has one-thirteenth the wealth of the median White household. Of course, examples abound of individuals on either ends of these medians whose circumstances have ended up different from what the overall analysis would predict. But on the whole, the broad effects of this on a systemic basis are clear and backed by formidable evidence.

I'm making primarily an economic argument here, but it goes without saying that the dark history of racial oppression cannot fully be told without reference to slavery, Jim Crow, restrictions on voting rights, and other elements.

But in terms of economics, the upshot is that governmental and private collaboration against African Americans have provided families with neither economic nor political freedom. African Americans have, throughout history, been deprived of the means to attain the kind of prosperity that Republicans rightly espouse. And by denying families the chance to build wealth and capital, they made it that much harder for future generations to partake of this prosperity.

If politicians hope to take a true and meaningful stand against bigotry, they can do two things. First and most basic, they can rip the mask off the canard that the policies in our society favor African Americans and other minorities at the expense of whites. And second, they can push for policies that seek to provide all Americans with economic opportunity. Is it too much to dream that, out of the horrid events in Charlottesville, Republicans and Democrats can collaborate on ways to invest in communities, build wealth among those who have not had the chance to enjoy full prosperity, and explore strategies to pass this wealth on to future generations?

Tag Cloud
No tags yet.
Featured Post
What I'm Reading
These Truths.jpg
What I'm listening to on Audible
The Path to Power.jpg
bottom of page