Race in America: 2018

                                                                                       

by Lawrence J. Fedewa (May 26, 2018)

Just when white America reckoned that the election of a black President had finally signaled that racial equality in America had been achieved, it has become obvious that the distance between the races may be greater than ever, at least for large groups of both races.  There have always been two different channels of communication between the races, the “business” channel and the “personal” channel.

The business channel is used when there are people of all races present, e.g., in business settings, or in public, media, or written communications. This channel for whites traditionally ignored black sensibilities entirely. It seems justified to say that there has been improvement in this channel. As black concerns have become better known to whites, these conversations have become more “politically correct”. Certain terms, such as, “nigger”, and “whitey”, and many others are now rarely used in polite society.    

This language clean-up is due largely to the presence of a vastly increased cadre of black power figures in all walks of American life — from business, to medicine, to politics, entertainment and education, to name a few. This phenomenon is frequently referred to as the rise of the “black middle class”. But there are also many black millionaires, executives, office-holders, and entertainers who are far above “middle class” wealth and power.

For white America, the size and increase of these success stories is proof that American society is finally making good on its most basic tenant: “All men are created equal”. The ultimate proof of this progress seemed to be white America’s decision to elect and re-elect a black President of the United States.

But not so fast! There are large numbers of people of both races whose “personal” communication reveals a quite different picture. They live in two different worlds. One black man’s world-view was described succinctly at the Cannes Film Festival last week by Spike Lee, director of his new film, BlacKkKlansman:

The so-called American cradle of democracy, that’s bullshit. The United States of America was built on the genocide of native people and slavery. That is the fabric of the United States of America.”

He concluded with a profane attack on President Trump, and he received a six-minute standing ovation. The respect and reception of this film shows that this alternate view of America is shared not only by black people but also by an increasingly powerful segment of the Democratic party and the people they represent, black and white alike. It is understandable for people who believe that America is inherently evil to do whatever they can to tear down American institutions. To the extent that these views are shared by the “deep state”, they can also act as a moral justification for subversion and sabotage.

The “personal” discourse of many of Spike Lee’s neighbors in the black elite and even in the middle class is rife with this same view of American society, even as they profit from its opportunities and culture. They are not as extreme as the Far Left, and certainly not violent. But they are clearly disaffected with their homeland.

On the other side is the so-called “Alt-Right”. These people really are all the things that the Left believes of the entire white establishment. They openly speak of “white supremacy”, of the inferiority other races, and of taking control of the U.S. government by force. These are the extremists of this view, and they are repudiated by average white Americans. However, there are “followers’ of this way of thinking who, like their black counterparts, are not advocates of violence, but who firmly believe that the Far Left and that their “fellow travelers” are actively seeking the destruction of the country, whether through riots and civil unrest or outright Socialism.

The role of President Trump in these movements is also interesting. He is a central figure in both. He is also misinterpreted by both. The Far Left and those in the African American community who share their view of America, see Trump as an unapologetic racist, with all the evil intentions that implies. The Alt-Right sees Trump in the same light, although for them this is a desirable image. They are both wrong.

In the first place, Trump, like most white Americans of his generation, does not view the entire complex of American life through a prism of race. For him, as for most whites, race is an important matter, but it is only one among many. As such, its significance is defined by a finite set of issues, such as, inner city poverty, representation in public life, civil unrest, and DACA, among others.

He is thus not programmed to look for the racial implications of other, seemingly unrelated issues.  In this, he is radically separated from the race-conscious folks, who examine virtually every statement, every position, and every action carefully for its racial implications. Thus, the President uses language that he sees as immune from any racial overtones to the dismay of his detractors.

A good example is when he called the poverty-stricken nations which have none of the educated experts he wants to emigrate to the USA, “shit holes”. While his language is too graphic for mass consumption (as frequently happens), his frame of references is economic. He had no idea that his critics would see these countries he was alluding to as black or brown. They found his statement enormously offensive and they condemned him again for his racist ways.

By the same token, the white supremacists saw the reaction of blacks and praised him for his prejudice. Both were wrong about Trump. but he has naively played into their bias again and again.

Another example is the case Spike Lee uses in his film, namely, the President’s comment on the Charlottesville, Virginia riot. The President was trying to promote tolerance between the opposing parties by encouraging both sides to respect the right of the other to free speech and assembly. (It happened that the white group had a valid permit to demonstrate and apparently were attacked by the demonstrators who were incensed that this group was being allowed to demonstrate.) Lee (and many others) quoted the President as approving of the bad guys.

Here is President Trump’s statement:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.” 

Not eloquent, but not racist either. Lee and others criticized his lack of condemnation of the white element, although there would have been no violence if either side had refrained from attack. Unfortunately, by appearance, style and language, Donald J Trump fits the stereotype of a classic white bully. He is a made for the role his enemies have given him.

So, what to do? Any actions today must be sensitive to the nature of the problem. America is still in the throes of an evolutionary change of values and customs regarding race. There is a history of nearly 300 years behind today’s racial issues. We are not going to solve this issue quickly.

Enormous progress since the end of World War II has been made toward recognizing the equal rights, talents and contributions of the African-Americans in our midst. Public acceptance of entrepreneurs, athletes, entertainers. politicians and executives is now taken for granted.

The slavery sense of victimhood seems to be less dominant among those youngsters who have grown up in mixed race schools, teams, and social life. As Dr. King predicted, integration seems to be the ultimate answer to racial conflict. Stereotypes do not stand up well among friends.

The most productive cause today, then, is to continue to advocate Dr. King’s vision.  True, many black Americans of Spike Lee’s generation still see themselves as victims of the past, but time is slowly healing many of the traditional wounds. There is no fast clock for this outcome.

One practical suggestion: Black leaders should consider following Tim Scott, Condoleezza Rice, and many others and forming a Black Republican organization. Today, black concerns are represented in Republican circles principally by individuals.  If a recognizably black voting block were organized and demanding entry into the Republican Party leadership, it could wield enormous influence, since Republicans today usually write off the black vote and therefore owe nothing more to black concerns than whatever conscience dictates. Frankly, such a power broker would be very welcome, because it would address a serious need for Republicans.

If we can, as a people, progress with patience and imagination, all of us may one day realize an America that isn’t so bad after all.

 

© Richfield Press, 2018 (All rights reserved.)


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