Six reasons why America's race problem will never be solved
In his classic book The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois states that, "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line."
Unfortunately, it is the problem of the Twenty-first Century as well.
In the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd, there has been extensive media coverage about "awakenings" and "reforms" when it comes to dealing with racism in American society.
While these sentiments are obviously well intended, here are six reasons why America's race problem will never be solved.
Races are heterogeneous
One of the dreams shared by white supremacists and separatists is that America would be a utopia if people of color were excluded.
However, as the saying goes, "haters are going to hate," and this reality immediately shatters any dreams of harmony that racists routinely entertain.
As we have seen throughout history, and even in the world today, regions considered to be racially homogeneous still sire their share of conflict. Religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age, and disability, just to name a few, have all been the basis of hatred and division, and, even if these were eliminated, it is a certainty that things like hair or eye color or, perhaps most importantly, social class would obliterate any utopian illusions.
While there are obviously great economic disparities in America between whites and people of color, within races themselves class structures also exist. These structures have routinely served as a barrier both to unity and to finding solutions that everyone can agree upon.
For example, during the 1960s and early 1970s, more "mainstream" civil rights organizations, like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, NAACP, and Urban League, were viewed with suspicion, and sometimes outright hostility, by organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Revolutionary Action Movement, and Republic of New Afrika. This created a vast disparity between the solutions these groups were seeking as well as what means were necessary to obtain them.
This division still lingers today. One solution often proposed is that by placing more people of color into positions of authority, more equality will be achieved. But this runs into, what I term, A Soldier's Story classism.
For those unfamiliar with this play or movie, A Soldier's Story deals with a Black lawyer investigating the murder of a Black master sergeant who commanded a company of Black soldiers in the segregated American South during World War II. Although initial suspicion fell upon local white supremacists, it was later revealed (spoiler alert) that this sergeant was murdered by his own men.
It was also revealed that this sergeant believed that the backward, poorly educated men under his command were somehow responsible for why whites were prejudiced against him.
For those who may argue, "but this is just a movie," I need only remind you of Supreme Court "justice" Clarence Thomas, who has, during his "legal career," worked harder than even the most rabid white supremacist to dismantle and undermine whatever gains people of color in America have made.
In my article When Self-Loathing Becomes Law, Clarence Thomas Story, Part II (Pravda.Report, March 30, 2009), I discussed how Thomas, ashamed that he was perceived as a beneficiary of affirmative action, intentionally enrolled in difficult courses at Yale Law School to "prove" to his white classmates that he belonged there.
I further explained how asinine it was for Thomas to even give a damn about what those white students thought, especially since a significant number of them were undoubtedly accepted into that same law school more because of mommy and daddy's money and/or connections than actual merit.
The point being, that any and all proposed ideas to solve America's race problems are going to crash head-on into the classism that impacts all races.
Several years ago, the great writer Harlan Ellison, in his essay From Alabamy With Hate, detailed a conversation he had with a white man that may very well explain the most fundamental pillar of racism. This man harangued about how he was poor, useless, and "about as bad as mud," but then concluded by saying, "But I'm better than a n****r, and I intends to see it stays that way."
As I stated above, people who don't have the "luxury" of having other races to hate will still find some reason to hate and look down upon their fellow human beings, because it allows them to elevate their "self-esteem" without the necessity of taking any positive steps toward self-improvement.
Of course, I am not saying that people do not have the right to be proud of their background, heritage, or culture. But, when the truth be told, "racial pride," when used as an excuse to disparage others, is the epitome of laziness because people are building their entire self-worth on something they did not personally attain nor have any control over.
This ability to elevate one's self-worth without making any effort, other than the effort to look down upon others, gives racism a psychological power that is virtually impossible to discard.
This can be proven with two simple words: Donald Trump. But while Trump may have mastered the art of appealing to racism as a cheap way to garner votes and inspire loyalty in many of his supporters, perhaps what makes him stand out is he is more unabashed in these efforts than other politicians.
For example, many pundits have argued that George H.W. Bush's use of a Black man named William Horton to insinuate that his opponent, Michael Dukakis, was "soft on crime" was, in reality, a subliminal appeal to racism.
Already, in the current election season, Georgia Senator David Perdue has been accused of enlarging the nose of his Jewish opponent, Jon Ossoff, in campaign ads. And the campaign for Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham has admitted to using an "artistic effect" that allegedly made the skin of his Black opponent, Jaime Harrison, appear darker than it actually is.
Naturally, these politicians all deny being "racists." But the problem is they have no compunction about appealing to racists to satiate their self-serving ambition. And the bigger problem, particularly in a democracy, is no matter how enlightened or informed a voter is about the issues, there is a significant chance that his/her vote will be offset by someone whose only required criteria to elevate a candidate to political office is the color of that candidate's skin or his/her disdain for the skin color of others.
A few years ago, when I was practicing law, I learned a valuable lesson about how America's criminal justice system truly operates.
An attorney I was working for was assigned to defend a young Black woman. Her crime? She had caught her boyfriend cheating on her, and, since the woman he was cheating with was hiding in the closet, she grabbed this woman's purse and angrily threw it out into the apartment hallway.
Despite the fact that nothing was lost or stolen, and no damage was done, the prosecutor charged her with "criminal conversion" for exercising unauthorized control over another person's property. She was convicted and fined one hundred dollars.
About a month later, I saw her back in the courtroom. She had been fired from her job after her conviction, and therefore was unable to pay the fine, and the judge was now advising her if she didn't come up with the money in two weeks' time, she was going to jail for three months.
Around this same time a physically attractive white woman had been caught on camera stealing more than $5,000 from her employer. In this case, thanks to her looks and her father's money, she had some "connections" with local law enforcement, and it was agreed the matter would be hushed up if she paid back the money she had stolen.
What often is lost in this dichotomy is the impact, or lack of impact, these diverse interactions with the criminal justice system will undoubtedly have on both of these women's lives.
For the rest of her life, the Black woman, who is now in the "system," will have to put down on job applications that she has been convicted of a crime, which severely limits her employment opportunities.
Yet this white woman carries no such burden, meaning a potential employer will obviously have no clue that he/she is hiring a thief who has absolutely no problem stealing from those she works for.
In his book And We Are Not Saved, Professor Derrick Bell explains that while white conservatives are often the first to complain about "black-on-black" crime, they are also the ones who thrive on it.
While this has been touched upon in the Horton example discussed above, Bell goes into even greater detail about how the focus on "black-on-black" crime diverts resources and attention away from white collar criminals.
Prosecutors, especially elected prosecutors, build their careers on conviction rates. Street crimes not only pad these rates, but they are often relatively easy to investigate and build cases around. And when you add the prospect of racial animus from jurors factoring into verdicts, convictions are virtually guaranteed.
For example, when I was in law practice, I recall a judge actually asking prosecutors why, in the community where he lived and worked, people of color were just 5% of the population but 89% of those charged with misdemeanor crimes.
By contrast, white collar crimes are notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute. It often requires weeks, and even months or years, to conduct forensic analyses of financial ledgers, tax records, and computer data. In addition to the time involved, these crimes often require the use of expensive specialists to obtain and organize this data. And even then, there is a probability that the complexities of the crime might not be understood by a jury made up of laypeople.
These disparities will always inhibit any meaningful solution to America's racial issues, because those who understand how systemic racism fuels the statistical data that create the faulty perception "Blacks are more prone to commit crimes" will be countered by the oblivious, like William Barr, who argue that such systemic racism does not exist.
Please note that I use the term "empathy" not "sympathy." Empathy is defined as the ability to place oneself into other people's shoes, and to "feel" what they are feeling. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to actually "feel" how racism affects others.
For example, in 1959 a white man named John Howard Griffin underwent treatments to darken his skin so he could pass for a Black man in the segregated American South. The result was his book Black Like Me.
Some critics, however, contended that even though Griffin did experience racism based upon the color of his skin, his perceptions of it were still seen through the psyche of a white person.
Comedian and late-night talk show host Seth Meyers recently made this point in a satirical sketch about "white savior" movies. Meyers was telling a Black colleague that, when he was a child, some toilet paper got stuck to his shoe, and his classmates ridiculed him about it all day, so "he understood racism."
The reality is the nuances of racism are so subtle and diverse that it is difficult to create empathy, and, without this empathy, it is impossible to create a solution to a problem one cannot comprehend.
One of the controversies that divided the civil rights organizations I discussed above is who should actually participate in the decision-making process regarding racial equality and justice. Some argue, given the so-called "melting pot" nature of American society, that working with white people is integral to creating viable solutions to racial issues.
Others argue that, while white people can ally with civil rights organizations headed by people of color, they should not be members of these organizations. The common arguments for this are that the media often become more focused on these white civil rights activists than the organization's mission; that atrocities committed against white activists often garner more media attention, which devalues the lives and sacrifices of activists of color; and that critics often use the involvement of white activists to argue that activists of color cannot adequately run civil rights organizations on their own.
The last group argues that whites have no place in the civil rights movement. The reason for this is the belief that white liberals are actually more detrimental to civil rights than white racists, not only for the reasons described in the paragraph above, but also because their dedication may be limited or they may have alternative agendas.
How can America create a solution to racial issues when the nation cannot even agree on who should create it?
So why even bother to attempt to solve the unsolvable? Well, perhaps the late, great singer-songwriter Phil Ochs said it best: "Even though you can't expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That's morality, that's religion, that's art, that's life."
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
Photo: Por 2C2K Photography - https://www.flickr.com/photos/2cheap2keep/49993492493/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91135438