Archived Opinion

Is this really the land of the free?

To the Editor:

The main point in Dave Parker's letter in last week’s paper is that racism has somehow vanished from the national scene, and that attempts to talk about the history of race and racism in America from various points of view is fatally flawed. In his telling — and his view is widely held on the political right — racism just does not exist, and his proof is the twin elections of our first Black President, Barack Obama. He specifically targets the 1619 Project and critical race theory as gross distortions or completely false depictions of reality. 

Since they describe historical events relating to race, they also pose some kind of unexplained and nefarious threat to students, and serve the purpose, for no good reason, of stirring up groups of people against other groups. The way this works is also unexplained.

The 1619 Project is a product of The New York Times, a favorite target of the Right since they do pretty good work talking in an evidence-based way about no end of important stuff, and earned the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, which, and I quote from the paper’s website, “seeks to place the enslavement of Africans at the center of America’s story, prompting public conversation about the nation’s founding and evolution.’ 

Concerning critical race theory, Wikipedia says this: “CRT examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate to race and racism.” Americans commonly celebrate as a pillar of our democracy the First Amendment, which allows for a rich and tasty smorgasboard of ideas in the service of a free and open society. And while conservatives give lip service to this ideal, in actual practice they want to limit the dialogue to serve the aims of their preferred narrative, instead of letting the debate play out on the public stage, ultimately allowing the people to decide which opinions prevail or not. Their preferred motive? More on this later.

President Obama’s elevation and re-election to the presidency were important steps in the continuing saga of race relations but hardly indicative of anything like an end to conflict. In fact, violence against minority citizens, expanding membership in white supremacy terrorist organizations, right-wing fury over immigration policies, and other race based indicators of political and civil unrest began to rise dramatically immediately after Obama's Inaugaration, and has not abated. It is undeniable, absent a desire for sanitized versions of historical reality, that a goodly amount of racial animus and systemic bigotry was simmering just beneath the veneer of our collective claim to civility. 

The truth is that far from being a sign that all was well between racial divisions in America, as Mr. Parker is alleging, President Obama was the gasoline poured on the fire of the political Right’s effort to maintain the status quo and keep the underclass in it’s place. Who, you might ask, are the members of this underclass? As regards race, mainly Black and brown folks who have the temerity to insist, loudly and ongoingly, on a political landscape that reflects, in policy and practice, the grand promise of racial and economic equality. Of course, in Dave Parker’s view, these protesting sorts are no evidence of anything needing to be done at all, since they obviously share a common set of delusions with the NYT. Apparantly all the noise and unrest is just some kind of blowing off steam, since all is well and nothing needs doing.

In my view one must be myoptic, and willfully so, to be able to ignore all that is obviously out of whack as regards race. If you are like Mr. Parker and deny racism, then let me ask a few questions. What exactly is wrong when accumulated wealth, so crucial to stability and security, is so lacking in minority families; average white families possess nearly 10 times that of average black families. What is the cause of these actual poverty statistics; Whites, 9%; Blacks, 21%; Hispanics, 17%; and Native Americans, 24%? Why do weekly news reports feature abuse and not infrequent death of Blacks at the hands of police, while white detainees seem to suffer little to no such treatment? Why does the Republican Party have only one Black senator out of 50? Why do Blacks in all walks of U.S. life report elevated levels of stress and paranoia directly related to a fear of being profiled and picked upon by white authority? Why are Republican legislatures and statehouses across this land being flooded with hundreds of voting laws which, if enacted, will have the direct effect of lowering the chances to vote by minority populations (which tend to vote for Democrats, and this is well-known by the GOP)? Why do the sponsors of these bills loudly represent their efforts as being for election security, when it is easy to expose this as a lie? Do you mean that my neighborhood bank can make internet banking safe for the management of billions of assets, but goverment can’t figure out a way to make voting easy, available to everyone, and secure? 

All of us understand my point, which is that if one is not willing to acknowledge that which is obvious and true and a clear cause of real tribulation and damage to our culture, then these kind of questions make no sense. And by denying the reality of the problem, the search for extremely difficult solutions is pointless. 

Which is exactly the sum total of Dave Parker's point. He, and other conservatives like him, don’t want these kind of real questions and uncomfortable facts to be discussed and dealt with. That would be way too confrontational and difficult, and just might expose to general view a very real and pernicious value that undergirds the ranks of the ruling white elite. It is just flat less trouble to work hard to eliminate the voice of those who are disenfrancised and discriminated against lest they upset the applecart of majority rule and dominance. And for too many of us, that rule and dominance is one of the many sweet fruits of living in the land and of the (mostly) free, and the home of the (somewhat) brave.

Rick Wirth

Bryson City

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