The Zero Sum Game of Racism
It appears that middle class white guys like me will need to make some concessions, if we are to contribute to ending racism in America. That seems reasonable. I believe most of what I have read in White Fragility (Robin DiAngelo), The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander), White Guilt (Shelby Steele), The Color of Money (Mehrsa Baradaran), The Color of Law (Richard Rothstein), Me and White Supremacy (Layla Saad) and Caste (Isabel Wilkerson), and many other books and articles for the past six months.
I now admit to having had a shocking lack of knowledge about the abuse of Black Americans after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and then again after the legislative victories of the Civil Rights era of the 60s. I thought things were pretty much okay and getting better all the time. Clearly, that is because things were pretty much okay and getting better…for me. So now I know how far off I was. My only personal experience with prejudice, being Jewish, had to do with a few minor incidents of anti-Semitism in my 73 years. These events were extremely hurtful. But I now understand I have not experienced a fraction of the pain that has been visited daily upon BIPOC in America.
So, what am I willing to give up, in exchange for improving the lives of my fellow Americans?
My belief that America’s founding fathers were good men, intent on creating a nation based on democratic ideals. It is clear that these men were focused on creating economic and political freedom for themselves and their constituents, a group that did not include Black people. I will continue to respect their litany of accomplishments, while recognizing that most were lacking the basic humanity we have a right to expect from our leaders. There are no acceptable excuses or explanations for the actions of our founding fathers in support of institutional racism.
My respect for the office of President of the United States and the men who occupied that office. I recognize that achieving this office is, on its face, an amazing accomplishment. However, I have learned that, with very few exceptions, these men have been either overt or covert racists. Most did the minimum necessary to further a civil rights agenda. Some did nothing at all. (Conservatism and Racism, and Why in America They Are the Same, John R. Howard 2010) So, I can respect the political skill of these men, their ability to gain the support of their party and, eventually of the voting public, and some of their achievements in office. At the same time, I cannot deny their personal and political failings and their unwillingness to voluntarily invest any of their political capitol on behalf of America’s BIPOC. I don’t like it, but I accept it. Most were dragged, kicking and screaming, into doing the right thing for the citizens they were elected to serve and protect.
My desire to limit immigration to those people who enter our country through the legal route. In this case, I am being asked to accept the right of citizenship for millions of people who entered our country without respect for our laws. Many were brought by a parent and had no say in the decision. Others were fleeing oppression in their homeland and well might have qualified for admission had they applied. However, that could have taken years to accomplish and these folks didn’t have the luxury of time. They did what was in their own best interest. The degree to which immigration law has been enforced has varied greatly from one Presidential administration to the next. I have seen the photos of children in cages at the border. I am also aware of the projection that by 2030 the current minority population will become the majority in America. So, I am being challenged to support the granting of citizenship to approximately eleven million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. and to go along with the proposed dismantling of the southern border wall and the creation of a more progressive immigration policy. Inherent in this change of heart is acceptance of a potential shift in the balance of power in our country. Like many Americans, I am scared! I am forced to think of South Africa, where it took the imposition of apartheid to enable the white minority to maintain its power over the majority of its citizens. Now there’s a scary and unacceptable thought! So, I will give up my opposition to the granting of legal status to the so-called “dreamers,” with the exception of those who have been convicted of a non-immigration related felony. I will, however, maintain my support for upholding the existing federal laws pertaining to immigration, until or unless they are changed. I cannot support something akin to open borders. I will stick to my belief that America is a nation built, not by immigrants (writ large), but by legal immigrants.
My support for the police as the enforcers of America’s laws. I am now aware of dozen’s of cases in which police shot and killed Black citizens…George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Natalia Wallace, and many, many more. I also know that for each of the past four years, the number of white people killed by the police was 40% to 50% higher than the number of black people killed each year. But the number of deaths is deceiving, because the population of black citizens is only 13.4% of the total, while whites are 63.4% of the total. I believe that the number of police officers should be increased, rather than decreased, in order to properly meet the needs of the residents in the most dangerous communities in the country. Crime statistics from credible sources identify inner city areas, such as Detroit, Baltimore, Memphis, Milwaukee and Cleveland as the most needy cities (Forbes, USA Today, Safewise.com.) These cities are long standing areas of concentrated poverty. I don’t think that these communities will be safer with fewer police on duty. Nor do I believe that the people who live in those communities want fewer police on the street. I continue to believe that the police need to be supported for their service in the interests of safety and the control of criminal behavior in America. There are logical and effective proposed reforms in the manner in which police are trained and the way their duties are defined. I support those changes. In addition, I recognize that among those currently serving, there are police officers whose character deficits make them unworthy of the trust that has been placed in them. The unworthy should immediately be relieved of their duties. I also accept the proposition that social workers or mental health workers could better handle some of the duties currently assigned to police officers. Where appropriate, such staff should be added. I recognize that there is a perception of being self-serving when a white person expresses support for the police. I continue to believe, however, that it is necessary for the preservation of a civil society.
I will continue to increase my knowledge about racism in America, seeking answers to the complex questions we all face. Perhaps my willingness to give up more of my privilege, in return for a more just nation, will increase over time. We shall see.