How do we respond to racism? By saying nothing? No – that would be acquiescence, agreement.
I read a lot and am not easily shocked by what human beings put on paper. But a recent Letter to the editor – not in this newspaper but in a competitor weekly (really not very competitive since not much news therein) – gave me a start, a jolt. Headlined “A Veteran’s Commentary,” the writer concludes that 1) President Trump will lose re-election, and that 2) the “Negro population” will take over the government, with the result that 3) we will become a third world country, renamed “Afmerica.”
After my initial shock my reactions were multiple.
The first was about how this letter begins, and I provide an exact quote: “Dumb De Dumb Dumb.” And it then continues: “To all you dumb Americans out there.” Very clever, I thought – if you’re unlimbering the newly-discovered rhetoric of a 14-year-old . . . or just bloviating on Facebook.
And this introductory approach doesn’t provide the correct specificity, I thought, since it should have begun: “I am a racist, and the following words will show you just how racist I am.”
Then there is the writer’s discussion and description of Black people as “the Negro population” and his attempt to argue this is not a racist slur. This is typical when employing racist language: since you know it’s a slur, you must deploy some rationale for why it isn’t.
This writer’s defense: that “Negro” is simply just like “Caucasian” when describing white people, a comparison screamingly inaccurate. Black people are Black, and this writer seems unable to acknowledge this reality or is simply afraid of using the word. “Black.”
But I also felt a certain qualified sympathy for this writer, because he is obviously scared to death. Not just frightened — terrified. Terrified of losing.
He says that because Trump will be defeated in November and puts Democrats in charge, the result will be the apocalyptic result of dominance by a “Negro population.”
He acknowledges that he can’t really verify this horrific result since it will take 30 to 40 years to happen . . . so he won’t be around to say “told ya, told ya” – thus putting his prediction in the totally unverifiable category, of all the conspiracy theory types, the easiest to deploy.
With that timeline, he suggests that his children and grandchildren will be the ultimate victims of this domination, but it’s obvious that his actual fear is for himself, today, for loss of power by his own tribe — the so-called “Caucasian” population.
My reaction to that seemingly terrifying future: So? . . . so what?
As Americans, we’re told to believe that “all men are created equal,” that all humankind has the same right to equal rights, equal opportunities, equal protections under the law. So what difference does it make the color of the skin of those in charge, of those with the power?
But we don’t really believe that, do we. In just about every way one can think of we’re taught, indoctrinated into the unequal-ness of humanity, that there is a pyramid-like arrangement of the races and skin colors – with white on top and thus, quite reasonably, should have the most power.
One can’t help but be disappointed that this letter is, as indicated, from a veteran, someone who fought in the service of equality, of a whole range of American values. But he is totally unfettered in disparaging his fellow Americans, and American voters apparently poised to plot our precipitous fall to powerlessness.
My final reaction to the letter: the thought that it is actually very clarifying — that with his flat-out, unrefined rant the writer seems to be speaking for many Americans at this particular moment in time, and that American racism is alive and doing very well, thank you.
It clarifies by highlighting the massive barrier to any sort of real equality in this country. It tells us that the past three years and several months have simply pushed into the light America’s ongoing history of hypocrisy, of values frequently espoused and more frequently undermined by action . . . or inaction.
This letter is simply an expression of the darkest part of this country’s dark underbelly, the whining, fuming fear of losing power. As a shadow from the past, it is very much akin to the fear, the constant hovering threat of slave uprisings, undermining and poisoning the humanity of both the owned and the owner.
And it is just one more reminder that America has been a country with more years of slavery than without it.