June 14, 2021

Racism is Having a Moment

Guest Opinion
By Isiah Smith | May 1, 2021

It pierced me to my core when I read the local news accounts of the racist Snapchat that several students from TCAPS and other local school districts had exchanged messages on a “Slave Trade” Snapchat group, in which they posted racist, homophobic, antisemitic, anti-disability, and other hateful comments about fellow students.
The group assigned bid values to students of color and posted remarks including, “Let’s have another Holocaust” and “All Blacks should die.”

These were high school students who should have known better. But worse was the sense that the sins of past generations had been successfully bequeathed to a new generation as a part of their birthright. These kids seem to have been inculcated with the bellicose belief that they possess the birthmark of privilege that provides them with immunity from being held accountable.

I couldn't help but wonder, "How did these kids learn these disreputable ideas? What moronic messages had they received at home?”

When it comes to questions of race, I tend to be a bit of an optimist. I am practically duty-bound because I am the black half of a mixed marriage, with a biracial daughter and triracial grandchildren. To not believe that relationships between the races are improving would be unbearable, an unspeakable horror that would disturb my every waking hour and compromise my sleep.  Added to that is the curious fact that I spend most of each year in Traverse City, where nonwhites hardly register on the scale. It’s not exactly Washington, D.C., or Miami, the last two stops on our sojourn.

In comparison, Miami and D.C.'s populations are amongst the most diverse in the nation.

When family members question my decision to leave America's melting pots for what can only be described as America's salad bowl (in a salad bowl, disparate vegetables resist being mixed. Tomatoes, by and large, stick to tomatoes; so do cucumbers and lettuce), I answer with great alacrity and false confidence, "Because all of America belongs to all Americans!"  
Traverse City is gifted with an abundance of natural beauty:  beaches (who knew?), dunes, islands, cultural artifacts, and a surfeit of musicians, artists, writers, and other creative types.  It sometimes seems that playing the guitar is a prerequisite for living in Traverse City!  Who in their right mind wouldn't choose to live here? Well, there is the weather, but let's table weather discussion for another time.

When we migrated from the D.C. area, Barack Obama was president. Two years later, an overtly brazen racist xenophobe with misogynistic tendencies took the oath for the highest office in the land and proceeded to denigrate the entirety of certain cultural groups (and before being elected, bragged about sexually assaulting women). He referred to the whole of the African nations as "shithole countries.” He belted out bigoted bellicose speeches that would make George Wallace and Bull Connors blush. Yet millions of Americans are still enthralled with him; religious leaders proclaim him a gift from God. Bigotry had staked its last defiant stand against the nation's soul and refused to go gently into that dark night and the dust bins of history.

Jason L. Riley’s opinion piece in the April 28 issue of the Wall Street Journal argued that "Race relations in America are better than ever." Riley writes: "A big part of the problem is that the political press has never come to grips with Donald Trump's election in 2016. The media did not anticipate it, refused to accept it, and have been willfully misinterpreting the reason for it."

Methinks Riley doth protests too much.  An African American Republican apologist, he scoffs at the notion of “systemic racism” and “unconscious bias.” By viewing Trump's election through the prism of race, he acknowledges, perhaps unconsciously, that the recent explosion of racist incidents in this country is related to him. Riley thereby damns Trump by associating him with the rise of racial animus. All U.S. security agencies consistently reported that racist attacks against Black, brown, and Asian Americans significantly increased under Trump. One wonders whether he would be this sanguine if his own biracial kids had been affected by the blatant display of racism in the Traverse City high school?

In 1955, James Baldwin traveled to a small Swiss village in order to finish a novel that stubbornly resisted being written. But there, he produced a beautiful essay, "Stranger in the Village” detailing his experience as being possibly the only black person to visit the village. I offer you the last paragraph of the essay: " ... the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience that may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today.  This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

America is well on its way to becoming a majority nonwhite nation. And, as Martin Luther King Jr. warned: “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

Isiah Smith, Jr. is a retired government attorney.

 

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