FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Racism in the Bloodstream

by

A couple of months ago, I posted what I thought was a “bite-to-the-bone” precise critique of racism in this country to my Facebook page.  The Atlantic article penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates was called, “On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn.”  Coates argues that, “We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.”  He says he would rather be thought insane than respect the lie of one of the most duplicitous phrases: “black-on-black” crime.[1]  He addresses the deepest systemic problem in the bloodstream of this country: that the same consciousness that propelled Michael Dunn to pull the trigger at a car full of black boys is the same consciousness that redistricted cities and isolated people of color into ghettos.

Of course I received a comment from one of my “friends” on Facebook that went something like this: “Mr. Coates is the one out of touch with racism in this country, and actually he is creating it.”  Doesn’t this sound strikingly similar to what Chief Justice John Roberts said controversially in 2007 about racism, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”[2]  And so, this logic is now the logic being used to ban race-based affirmative action, most recently in Michigan on April 22nd, as the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 to uphold the state’s ban.

Although the court did not rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action, it did rule that Michigan voters had a right to ban the use of race in the college admissions process. Justice Sotomayer delivered a searing dissent by saying, “[the history of racism in this country] demands that we continue to learn, to listen, and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity.”[3]  She continued, “As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”[4]

I read many articles reporting on Sotomayer’s dissent, and over and over again I kept finding critical comments to her opinion that referenced Martin Luther King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech.  What does everybody quote from King?  This: “People should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  I saw this exact quote or variations of it all over the comment boards, but this is a misquote—just as King has often been misquoted (I guess they’ve finally fixed the distorted “paraphrase” on the King monument in D.C.).[5]  Here’s what King really said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”[6]  What is the key phrase here?  “One day live in a nation…”  Have we ever, do we now, or will we ever live in a country where a person of color will not be judged by the color of her skin?  Isn’t this what Coates is so eloquently trying to express?  If it’s in our country’s heritage—our bloodstream—doesn’t it remain just a dream, even all these years later?

No, we can’t pretend racism doesn’t exist or that by talking about it, we’re helping perpetuate the problem.  We can’t tell people that if they hate it here, they should leave the country and live somewhere else (which is also what my Facebook “friend” said).  This logic is barbaric.  It’s emblematic of a kind of privilege and consciousness that’s under the illusion that we live in a post-racist age.  What this Supreme Court decision has done is help set-up an institutionalized way of reversing all of the gains from the Civil Rights era and Brown vs. the Board of Education.  We’re going to see a re-segregation of high schools and colleges in this country.  In fact, it’s already happening legally in places like Tuscaloosa, Alabama where it looks like Brown never happened.[7]  And hasn’t it always been happening?  Sure, there may not be any legally “all White” schools, but there certainly are mostly Black schools and mostly White schools.  This race and class separation is made possible by intentional drawing of district lines.[8]  So, isn’t Coates right when he says, “the irrelevance of black life has been drilled into this country.”

Affirmative action is needed to help create more equal opportunity.  And if racism is in the bloodstream of this country, is it fair to have voters decide, based on “reverse-racist” rhetoric, whether affirmative action is just or not?  I’m afraid my Facebook “friend,” Michigan voters, and our Conservative Supreme Court proves that the “one day” King spoke of in his 1963 speech is not here yet.

Joshua Zelesnick is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh.
More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail