Imagine for a moment that a rumor about you, your son, and a friend circulates through your neighborhood. Like most rumors, it contains some truth but is embellished to such a degree that you feel, like some people would, that you need to speak out and explain what really happened. Fortunately your friend had made a video of the incident showing that no Confederate flag flew from your truck bed, the suspected thief was not shot in the back, and your son fired his shotgun in self-defense. An attorney agrees to help you, and he shares the video with a local radio station to air it so that the truth will be known.
Two years later a member of the House of Representatives gives a speech across the country to some constituents. In her speech she makes a derogatory comment by name and religion about another sitting member of Congress. The crowd laughs, and the House member beams.
Many families, if not all, have an uncle or cousin or other member who is known to tell off-colored jokes, make racially insensitive comments, or in some similar way embarrass or even anger other family members. Perhaps children are warned not to listen to the family members political rants, and to walk away if the telling of a joke is offered. But, because the offender is family, any correction is often missing or if one is given, it is weakly offered. No one, it seems, wants to “upset the apple cart.” As difficult as this imagined family scene is, it does happen and is difficult to maneuver. As my mother was heard to say after many family gatherings, “… and not a mean word was said.”
So, we have a father, son, and friend in Georgia who are involved in a shooting of a Black man who is jogging through their neighborhood and a member of the United States House of Representatives who disparages a fellow House member because of her religion. It is easy to see that these folks have shown us that they are racist, and America admits that there are individual racist present, but we proclaim that, as a nation, are not racist. Racism, we are proud to say, is not systemic here.
Two events separated by geography and years bring into question the existence of systemic racism in America because many people watched the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder before it became public and thought it supported the lie around his death. After all, in their eyes, it must prove that a Black jogger who grabs the shotgun of a White man chasing him has to be guilty. Of something. If the deputies who responded to the shooting are not guilty of racism, they certainly showed a callous indifference to the young, Black man moaning as he died in the Georgia street. The three men were not arrested for weeks because a local DA saw that no crime had been committed, and during the trial a defense attorney for one of the men suggested that the victim’s toenails were a contributing factor for his being shot. (Her comment reminds me of the Broward Circuit Court (FL) jury in 1989 that acquitted a man charged with rape, saying its members thought the 22-year-old Coconut Creek woman who wore a tank top and a short, white lace skirt without panties was “asking for it.”) Dirty toenails! No panties! It all is so easy to see.
Miles away and years after the Georgia events, a member of the United States House of Representatives gets laughs when she exhibits her racism by telling a “joke” about another House member who is Muslim. The Colorado crowd showed its racism by laughing at the Islamophobic joke and no member of the offender’s political party has criticized Rep. Lauren Boebert for her racist rant.
There is much discussion around our schools and their curriculums. In some places books have been removed that tell the story of slavery too accurately. In others, laws have been passed by state legislatures restricting what may and may not be taught in schools. All of these efforts and more are meant to teach that America is not nor ever has been a racist country. However, based on current events, no teaching of our racism need be taught. We are living it. To quote the fatalist Billy Pilgrim from Slaughter-House Five, “So it goes.”