America Has Always Had Problems, But One Notion Seems To Always Be The Icing On The Cake.
The title of this piece comes from my old barber in Detroit. During a conversation about politics and Jesse Jackson's chances of winning the presidential nomination, he uttered the famous line.
"Shut the hell up man, everythang is racist!"
He didn't mean it literally, of course. What he was saying was that race is so intertwined, connected and fused to the bones of American life, that it seems to touch and concern every problem we have.
As I look back at our history and assess our current dilemmas, it is clear he has a point.
Slavery of course was the beginning of it all. But before the evil practice, men and women of color held positions of power and authority and were integrated into society without much incident. As we all know, the first President of the pre-United States was black. Also, little known is that President Warren G. Harding was the great grandson of a black woman. If Obama is Black then so is my man Warren G.
In the beginning, the connection of race was clear. Laws like the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas/Nebraska Act, Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott Case were all linked to race. But some were more subtle, like the Electoral College.
In his excellent book, A Renegade History Of The United States, historian Thaddeus Russell lays out documented proof that race and race relations have been and still are one of the predominant forces of American politics, economy and social structure.
In successive and repetitive waves, Russell shows how one ethnic minority after another communed with blacks, "borrowed" their culture, then ascended into "respectability" where they assumed the intense bigotry of the dominant culture.
Over the years, our inability to address the sin of racism, even after a bloody civil war, has put us into a dangerous stage of denial wherein white America sought to have the benefits of oppression without the guilt and the moral debt. And Black America, even while attaining socio-economic mobility, has never been able to push beyond the gravatational pull of cultural self-hatred, comfortable stereotypes and disunity.
And so now we all hide behind euphemism, innuendo, suggestion and rhetoric when we talk about the ugly, sustained notion of racial inferiority. Predatory lending, The NBA lockout, The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, The Help, Troy Davis. Trayvon Martin and The Hunger Games all have race somewhere in their core.
And most recently, the election of a clearly non-white President has unleased a racial tidal wave like this country has not seen since the 1960's. The ugly depictions and statements about the President have made even some of his detractors cringe.
I ask you, if a simple barber saw to the core of our society's ills, why can't our leaders? Indeed, why can't any of us?
I think my humble barber may have been even smarter than he knew, for if I accept his premise metaphorically, I am left with a startling and logical conclusion:
If everythang is racist...
Then nothing is.