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Racism in America

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From Peter Radford I don’t often comment on politics here, but I want to record my thoughts as I watch the extraordinary convulsions running through America at the moment. First: racism is a basic fact of American life.  It has been apparent to me since I moved here.  White America simply doesn’t want to be forced to engage with it, so it ignores all the plentiful evidence that it exists.  It is too painful and too difficult to deal with, no matter how sympathetic people are, so they want to avoid the topic.  They prefer, instead, to pretend that it is an historic artifact and not a current one.  Worse, when outrage hits the streets, as it has recently, a good proportion of the white population gets upset: they believe that there has been sufficient effort made to heal the breach, and

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from Peter Radford

I don’t often comment on politics here, but I want to record my thoughts as I watch the extraordinary convulsions running through America at the moment.

First: racism is a basic fact of American life.  It has been apparent to me since I moved here.  White America simply doesn’t want to be forced to engage with it, so it ignores all the plentiful evidence that it exists.  It is too painful and too difficult to deal with, no matter how sympathetic people are, so they want to avoid the topic.  They prefer, instead, to pretend that it is an historic artifact and not a current one.  Worse, when outrage hits the streets, as it has recently, a good proportion of the white population gets upset: they believe that there has been sufficient effort made to heal the breach, and that any current anger is a sign of disrespect for that effort.  They then accuse the black population of being ungrateful for, or of squandering, that effort.

Second: American politics is massively shaped by race. The entire shift to a more heavily polarized politics in America came about after the deliberate pursuit by the Republican Party under Nixon and Reagan to exploit Southern white racism.  Within years the entire political map was altered: the South became a Republican redoubt built on white anger at the civil rights movement, sentimental recall of the Civil war, and persistent repression of its black population and, especially, its right to vote.  These all exist and flourish today.  Most people point to Nixon as the villain in this, but Reagan was just as bad.  Why else would a Californian governor announce his run for the presidency in the Deep South?

Third: speaking of Reagan.  In the late 1960s a group or armed black men walked into the Californian legislative buildings.  There was no violence, but they were making a point.  They had learned that Californian law allowed someone to carry a gun in public.  They were asserting that right and using it as a way to be equal to their white fellow citizens.  Horrified at the thought of armed black men walking the streets, Reagan who was governor of California at the time, rushed through gun control legislation to eliminate that right.  So his Republican allies were all for gun control when it limited black access to arms.  Compare that with the Republican support of the recent invasion of the Michigan State House by a group of armed white people.  They were, we are told, expressing their constitutional right to bear arms.  Reagan was racist and so, courtesy of the Nixon/Reagan southern strategy, is most of the Republican Party.

Fourth: as a consequence of this, the Republicans are now stuck, mostly willingly, as a party of white people.  Any effort it makes to become more diverse sinks under the weight of the Nixon/Reagan bargain with the South.  This explains the complete silence in the face of Trump’s clear racism, and his appeal to far right extremists.  The modern Republican party is incapable of solving any issue that might mean it has to part company with the far right or the disgruntled white underclass that has been taught to see the black community as a leech on its meager livelihood.

Fifth: a truly sad part of this is that, subsequent to the passing of the civil rights laws in the 1960s, a government commission warned about the reverberation of racism likely to echo in the aftermath of the new laws.  It warned of America falling into two parts.  One white and one black, apart and unequal.  Not just unequal in economic terms, although that is brutally obvious, but apart in terms of opportunity and justice.  If anything the neoliberal era of Reaganism and corporate excess has exacerbated the divide.  America has been falling apart for decades.

Sixth:  it is specious to refer to the constitution in the context of racism and its resolution.  It is a piece of paper of no worth if it is ignored or perverted by Supreme Court opinion.  A good case in point is the 14th amendment meant to protect anyone from bias or infringement on their rights based upon discrimination.  That amendment has a long history of use and application in the Supreme Court.  But that use and application is weighted ten to one or more in order to protect the rights of corporations.  It is rarely used to protect the rights of the black population.

Lastly:  the symbols of racism exist everywhere, but mostly are manifested in the proliferation of reminders of the Civil War in the South.  Every single such reminder, mostly statues of Civil War soldiers or the Confederate flag, are symbols of the struggle to preserve the institutions of racism.  Not only are all those people, and that flag, emblems of traitor hood to the U.S. itself, they are a constant symbol of what that struggle was about: the continuation of slavery.  The current population of the South might wish this were not the case, and they might prefer that the trope of “states rights” was the real issue being fought over, but the reality is that it was slavery their ancestors wanted to defend.  It is hateful ti maintain any illusion otherwise.  These symbols must all go if there is to be any hope of a non-racist future.

I am, sure that others could compile a better of more comprehensive list than this, but tases are the most salient things that come to my mind this morning.

As you all know I am a democrat [with a small”d”] through and through.  It is painful to realize the reality that America is not truly democratic, and that what attachment it has to democracy is under such threat.  To me the fight to end racism is a fight to strengthen democracy.  Americans obsess over their “freedoms”, they tell themselves that they are “exceptional”, and that they live in the land of the free [not realizing that this is an insult to the rest of the free world], but they are not free in any significant way until they face and come to terms with the past.

Don’t brush history under the rug.  Deal with it.   Learn from it.

Peter Radford
Peter Radford is publisher of The Radford Free Press, worked as an analyst for banks over fifteen years and has degrees from the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School.

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