Thursday, August 4, 2016

How to Fix the Problem Ought not to be a Mystery: Hillary Clinton versus "Systemic Racism"

I have written a new essay over at Salon where I try to work through some thoughts on why Hillary Clinton's mention of "systemic racism" during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia has been met with such silence. Exhaustion about talking about "race relations?" Hostility to the messenger? A good b.s. detector on the part of a cynical public?

The heart of my comments on Clinton's speech is my recurring frustration with presenting efforts to confront racism, white supremacy, and other anti-democratic forces in American society as something impossible or magical. The solutions are right in front of us; most people have been conned into thinking they are not.

I wrote:
What would it take to make Hillary Clinton’s comments about challenging structural and institutional racism, and by implication working to eliminate its power, come true? 
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by sociologist Joe Feagin. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on race, gender, and social inequality. Feagin is also the author of more than 20 books on the subject. For approximately an hour, Professor Feagin and I spoke with one another after his lecture. During that time, he explained a very basic, but nonetheless, revolutionary idea. If the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution; the Voting and Civil Rights Acts; and anti-discrimination laws that govern banking, employment, lending, school desegregation, and housing were fully and properly enforced, the United States would be much farther along the road to being an equal society on both sides of the color line than it is at present. 
[To Dr. Feagin’s suggestions I would add compensating the living victims, immediate family members, and descendants of those who were victimized by racially discriminatory housing and lending practices by the United States government through the VA and FHA programs; continued research about and pressure on insurance companies and other entities that directly profited from chattel slavery in the United States to create a compensation fund that should be used for targeted grants and development programs for the African-American community; criminal justice reform; and establishing a truth and reconciliation committee in the United States to deal with the country’s living legacy of slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, as well as white racism in the present.] 
The problem is that readily available and present solutions to “the race problem” in the United States are treated as some type of great discovery, an unachievable goal. Inertia — and in many cases falling behind and regressing on matters of “racial justice” and “race relations” — exists because too many Americans choose to look away from the solutions that are right in front of them and instead treat them as a type of impractical dreaming and goal. This is a type of willful paralysis and a political treadmill…and what is in many ways all so much wasted energy.
Do you think I am being too cynical? And what would you add to or modify about my and Dr. Feagin's suggestions about how to make American society whole on both sides of the color line?

No comments: