“They abort their young children; they put their young men in jail, because they never learned to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
“Well, then . . . don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people and don’t come.”
-Donald Sterling (owner of the Los Angeles Clippers) to his girlfriend.
The country that now has re-elected its first African-American president is still heavily laden with rampant racism. If you doubted that seemingly incongruous fact, you got a face slap’s worth of evidence that it is true this past week with the racist revelations of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling.
Mr. Bundy is a Nevada rancher who has not paid federal taxes on the land his cattle graze on for approximately 20 years. He revealed his racism when federal officers who were seeking to enforce a tax lien were denied access to his land by an armed private militia of like-minded anti-Unionists. Having thus become a hero to the tea party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, Mr. Bundy became a prized interview for the likes of Fox News host Sean Hannity. Mr. Hannity subsequently expressed shock, absolute shock, to learn that Mr. Bundy is a racist.
Of course, it all depends on whom you’re asking. Mr. Bundy fervently denies that he is a racist or bigoted in any way. He just states his political views, views that predate the Civil Rights Act, views that even predate the Civil War. Those views, which, sadly, conform to the views of many in the current mainstream of the Republican Party, hold that the federal government has no constitutional authority to desegregate public schools (through affirmative action programs) or to deny restrictions based on race in private businesses and commercial establishments.
Donald Sterling is also not a racist, at least not in his view of the word. He just doesn’t want his girlfriend associating with black people, and certainly doesn’t want her bringing black friends to his team’s basketball games.
Most racists don’t think of themselves as racists. They also don’t think of themselves as ignorant, which is the most common cause of racism. They just think they understand the status of the various races that populate the world and that they belong to a race that is superior to the others. That’s the kind way of saying it. The not-so-kind way is contained in some of the other comments Mr. Sterling has made over the years: comments like that blacks smell bad and attract vermin (the reasons he gave for refusing to rent his housing units to African-Americans). But he doesn’t think he’s a racist, any more than Cliven Bundy does. Mr. Bundy has given countless interviews denying that he is a racist since his “slavery” comments were published.
Do you know a racist? You can usually spot them by their insensitivity to the plight of the African-Americans who comprise society’s underclass. They have little sympathy for them and are adamantly opposed to any form of government assistance that might help them. If pressed, they will tell you that the main problem “those people” have is their nature: they’re shiftless, lazy, unproductive and uninterested in working their way out of their poverty. Therefore, these people will say, government assistance is the worst thing to provide them. It only exacerbates the problem.
When you talk to an otherwise educated person who holds these views, he or she might very well sound rational, but rest assured, he or she is a racist. Strip away the rhetoric, and you have a person who, at best, has no respect for people of color and, at worst, harbors a deeply held antipathy for anyone whose skin color is different.
All of which raises a question that can’t be ignored: Are all conservatives racists? The evidence could point to that conclusion. Conservatives deplore affirmative action programs and oppose federal assistance that is aimed at inner-city poverty. They look askance at charges of racism in incidents like the killing of Trayvon Martin, immediately seeking to defend the killer rather than question his motives. They oppose anything that smacks of amnesty for brown-skinned immigrants, even for the American born children of those immigrants. They wail about voter fraud, asserting that it justifies measures that limit voting opportunities for lower-income people of color. Add it all up and conservatives are most often on the wrong side of issues that divide generally into positions that support increased rights for people of color and decreased rights for people of color.
I know many conservatives who are not racists and who, in fact, deplore the horror of slavery in our nation’s history and the inequity of Jim Crow in our more recent past and currently. These are good people who just happen to have a different ideological and philosophical perspective on what is best for their country and all the people who reside in it. So, no, all conservatives are not racists.
But those who are still trying to defend Cliven Bundy (on any pretext or for any reason) or who still think Donald Sterling was just ill-served by a girlfriend from hell (as Donald Trump has asserted) are racists. So are those who make jokes that turn on the color of one’s skin or who say something like “that’s awfully white of you” or who would never allow their daughter to date a black man or who can’t envision hiring a black housecleaner.
We all know racists, because racism is alive and well in America, even in the era of Barack Obama’s presidency. And to root it out will require that the good and honorable conservatives in our country find ways to change their views on things like affirmative action and voter suppression and federal assistance and food stamps.
It doesn’t require a change of basic beliefs. It just requires that those beliefs be consistent with the battle against racism in our society.