Maybe George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin because he’s a hate-speech shouting racist.
And maybe Zimmerman was acting out of self-defense because he considers Skittles a deadly weapon.
I don’t know.
Maybe Rick Santorum was about to call President Obama something disgustingly racist when he halted himself after saying the letters “NI—“ in a speech a few weeks ago.
And maybe Santorum was about to call President Obama a “NI-ckelback fan,” which is almost as disgusting in my book.
I don’t know.
Humor aside, and truth be told, those incidents are lone moments in time, where the context is muddied and the details may never be known. And I know people want to use these incidents to have a discussion about racism, but I think we’re going to result at an impasse without the bi-product of actually learning anything.
We are trying to examine the complex forest of racism by looking at individual trees.
It’s possible I will never understand racism fully, because I’m a white man in his 30s. I also would guess that I wouldn’t understand sexism fully; nor would I (currently) understand ageism.
And, being a teacher, frankly I doubt I’ll ever truly understand capitalism, either.
I do think there are three types of racists when it comes to caucasians: There are the Absolute Racists, the Accidental Racists, and the Racists in Denial.
The Absolute Racists are racists who know it, and say so with pride. And that’s disturbing, but at least you know who you’re dealing with.
I would think (or, at least, I hope) that a majority of racist caucasians in this day and age file under “Accidental Racists.” They’re decent, empathetic people whose only fault is they secretly harbor a paranoia that they might one day be seen as racist in some awkward situation; and they err towards the cliché of professing, “But I have several black friends!” in their defense of their own cultural naivety. It doesn’t really solve anything to say that-- but at heart, you know they mean well.
In order not to appear racist, people tend to overcompensate in a ridiculous manner to appear better people than they actually are. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least its progress in the name of goodwill.
And then there are the people I am most concerned about: The Racists in Denial. These are people who act in an obviously racist manner, as they are unable to hide their subconscious, spontaneous indignity for people of color, but are also unable to swallow the label itself. They simply don’t want to admit they are what they are at heart. They are both racist, and dishonest with themselves as people.
And, with that, I bring you to the Republican Party.
Now, let’s be careful here: I am not saying the entire Republican Party is completely full of racists. I am saying, however, there has been a pattern of both overt and subtle racism within their party, and we need to have a national discussion about that for a long, long time.
Take Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelling “YOU LIE!” at the President of the United States during a nationally-televised speech to Congress (something he admits was “spontaneous”).
Now add that Santorum line into the context I’ve provided, instead of treating it as an isolated incident.
Whatever you think about Barack Obama’s policies, he will (and should) go down in history as a Jackie Robinson/Martin Luther King-esque figure. No matter what the political future holds, the man holds the distinction of being first. And, like the men of the generation before him, he has had to endure a level of disrespect in being first, and handled that with absolute dignity. The question—and the discussion we need to have—is to what degree and level (if any) racism has affected the way people treat him as opposed to every other President to hold that dignified office.
This group of events deserves our attention; because one event is debatable, but if a pattern emerges-- among the elected representatives of one political party in the United States of America, mind you-- that is troubling for our nation. If the representatives of the people are acting in a manner of disrespect for the President because of racism, their constituents will act in the same fashion.
This wealth of moments leads to times where one might ask himself, “Are they standing in the way of the President’s ideas—ones they have proposed in similar fashions themselves—because he’s a Democrat, or because he’s African American?” And that is a question we should not be asking about the representatives in our democracy 65 years after Jackie Robinson and almost 50 years since Martin Luther King.
So I call on the media to talk about this the way we have dissected the Trayvon Martin tragedy: ad nauseam. And I don't want it whispered. I want it out loud. I want RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called to the carpet daily to explain why his party is not what it could appear to be on every channel, every hour. The media holds no taboos anymore, anyway. We have discussed women’s contraception, so we might as well ask if the Republican Party has a reputation—or a purposeful agenda—of racism.
We don’t need accusations; we just need discussion. And we need to have this discussion now, while he is President, around every water cooler in America; because if we’re not willing to examine an is-it-or-isn’t-it political racism on the grandest stage in the entire world, we will have more Trayvon Martin discussions again later.
These are not trees. This is a forest now. And it is on fire. Help put it out.
My prediction, by the way, is that once we have ten days of mass media asking if Republicans defy Obama because of his party or his skin color, and whether or not everyone should legitimately associate them with being racists—once that discussion is in the mainstream—I bet we suddenly find our government working together; maybe even agreeing again. I bet the bi-product of this discussion, if nothing else concretely positive, is that the Republicans start working in a friendly manner with the President a whole lot more.
In order not to appear racist, people tend to overcompensate in a ridiculous manner to appear better people than they actually are.
It’s not a perfect solution, but at least its progress in the name of goodwill.