by Stacy Johnson and Jack L. Daniel
In many spaces, our nation appears to be dumbstruck by the racist behavior and discourse that harkens back to the pre-Civil Rights era. When pondering our ability to divorce ourselves from race-based division and marginalization, it is important to embrace a reckoning, i.e., an unavoidable national self-reflection regarding the resilient racist culture that is America.
The founding of the early colonies ran concurrently with a newly emancipated church. Protestant Christianity, as we know it in America, was in its infancy with many practitioners still unable to write their own names, much less able to apply biblical hermeneutics. Religious wars left the church very accustomed to violence against all divergent religious beliefs, even in the smallest way. A bloodthirsty, merciless way of viewing non-believers allowed the colonists to dehumanize Indigenous Peoples, Africans and, for a moment, Catholics. Slavery was contested by a minority of religious voices, but they were muted by stronger dogma and the cooperating need for economic growth in a land where greed now was conflated with a misplaced old testament view of God’s blessing.
Further, the American economic system was framed by powerful White men whose money and socio-political influence were palpable. As with the “electoral” voting system, the economic system was designed to benefit them— “White men who owned property.” The “free-market” system they designed was driven strictly by profits and losses and heavily benefitted by free slave and low-wage labor. The amalgam of dehumanization rooted in a misappropriation of the Bible and the need for a cheap workforce birthed and nurtured the American slave trade.
Of course, Irish and Italian immigrants (Catholics) and poor Whites, got caught in the oppression as the country expanded and approached its independence from England, but between their pushback and, more importantly, Delgado and Stefancic’s (2012) Interest Convergence, it was more advantageous to allow the “scoundrels” unearned privilege rather than risk a mutiny that might disrupt the oligarchical progress that became “America.” By any means necessary, Blacks had to remain a sub-human species of their own to insure uninterrupted and limitless prosperity. This was the DNA that made America, the evidence of which has been highly visible over the last four years.
All too many Americans are programmed for racism—down to their respective cellular levels, “instructing” them to feed it, breathe it, and reproduce it because strict capitalism requires it to survive. It does its work in the shadows where it’s often imperceptible to the American body until it has created a mass of tissue so ugly we’re compelled to perform cosmetic surgery because not only are we confronted by it but the whole world can see it. Racism endures because we only remove the conspicuous ugly tissue; we never heal the system that grew it. To do so would be “un-American.”
We agree with John Shoop and Marica Mount Shoop (June 15, 2020) who wrote, being anti-racist means using one’s “power and privilege to actively dismantle the systems that concentrate White wealth, White power hoarding, and White defensiveness…” As such, racism will endure until we replace the “diversity and inclusion Rooney Rule” gradualism with the “Einstein Rule” calling for a paradigm shift, i.e., quit doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Fortunately, we have an instructive moment which, if it became a protracted movement, could contribute to the end of racism in America.
We, the people, elected a Black woman with distinguished career achievements, a child of multi-racial immigrant parents, a graduate of a Historically Black University, an AKA member of the Divine 9, a wife, and a mother to serve as the first female Vice President of the United States. We reached across a vast array of human differences in order to achieve a result that fundamentally redefined who can become our Vice President.
Locally, let us continue to quit doing the same thing over and over by, for example, electing the first non-White as Mayor of Pittsburgh since it became a chartered city in 1816. Let’s end the practice, since 1787, of only a White man serving as Chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh. Let’s cease the practice, since 1777, of only White men serving as Governor of Pennsylvania. Most importantly, as Vice President Elect Kamala Harris indicated, we must make sure that such “spectacular firsts” are not the last, not simply brilliant comets that only periodically return.
We must never forget Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s words: “… But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced him; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalization that drummed his army; nor the racism he amplified and reanimated,” If we were to address these issues throughout American society, if we were to set aside petty differences, then we would proceed to heal our nation’s racial divide, and, in doing so, be the world leader in ending racism.