First they came for the Blacks, and I did not speak out – because I was not Black.
Then they came for the women, and I did not speak out — because I was not a woman.
Then they came for the gays, and I did not speak out — because I was not gay.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
This is a modern version of the famous lines by German Pastor Martin Niemöller. I changed the groups to represent current issues in America. Those who want to “Make America Great Again” are up to their old tricks. That slogan, which Donald Trump is famous for, was borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign slogan “Lets Make America Great Again.” It worked for Reagan and it worked for Trump.
What is meant by “Make America Great Again” begs the question of when America was great for everyone. Many have made a career of claiming racism is a myth. Today the story of America, which denies systemic racism, is growing more bold in its proclamation of the “greatness” of America while clearly ignoring the overwhelming historical record.
The attacks have grown beyond the space of just plain old racism. Other groups are being attacked. Some in those groups stood silently by and refused to speak out against racism. Some did speak out loudly. Now they are the targets of the attacks by the hate-mongers.
The people pushing these attacks will end up on the wrong side of history in the end. The fight for truth in our schools has been lost in fourteen states and counting. Lies disguised as the truth, and spoken of as patriotic, will be the end of any real chance to move America forward. Today the more than half of all public school students are children of color. More than half of all babies under the age of one are babies of color. What does the future hold for them?
Will the truthful, yet ugly stories, be withheld from these children in our schools? Will they be fighting a battle for the truth for their children eventually? If current trends continue, the answers are yes and yes.
Who will save America from itself? I believe the saviors will be the courageous individuals who are willing to tell the truth even when it is unpopular. To do this truth telling in the face of unrelenting attacks, takes intestinal fortitude that many are showing they do not have. Many are called to tell the truth, but far too few are willing to muster the courage to stand up and fight in this unrelenting battle.
What does it take to tell the truth when it is unpopular? I have said this many times before. Using the words, and deeds of bad actors, who left a copious amount of evidence behind in the historical record is necessary to fight the lies being told to us everyday. The evidence of racism is like the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel left to help them find their way home.
America has always sold itself as exceptional. There is nothing exceptional about the taking of this land we walk on from those who called this place home for thousands of years. Europeans would come and erroneously call it the “New World.” Different European nations have taken lands across the planet over the past 500 years. We are seeing the latest example of this play out in Ukraine right now.
There was nothing new about this world. In fact, it was very old. The original people of this land were diverse in ways we have never been taught. The stereotypical image of Native people that we have all had force fed to us, is so dishonest that it is disgraceful. Despite this, we continue passing it on generation after generation.
To claim that the nation was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and liberty for “all” is a farce. The four million Black men, women and children in bondage when the Civil War began is a testament to what the first 85 years of life after the Declaration of Independence was really like. There is no right minded person who can deny this fact. There is no respected historian who can write that out of history. There is no rational person who can say slavery and freedom are synonymous.
The fact that we are having what many are calling “culture wars” is hiding the truth from us. These are not culture wars unless American culture is really just based on lies about the ugly history of racism. These defenders of so-called “American ideals,” say loudly what they mean in selective language which tries very hard to cover up the basic racist sentiments inherent in their words. This gaslighting is simply an attempt to make the victims of racism question what they see and experience everyday. It is a powerful tool in the playbook of every serial abuser. It is the basic foundation of abusive relationships.
Recently I read an article written by Glenn Ellmers in the magazine American Mind in March 2021. His article, “Conservatism” is no Longer Enough, begins with these words:
“Let’s be blunt. The United States has become two nations occupying the same country. When pressed, or in private, many would now agree. Fewer are willing to take the next step and accept that most people living in the United States today — certainly more than half — are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term. I don’t just mean the millions of illegal immigrants. Obviously, those foreigners who have bypassed the regular process for entering our country, and probably will never assimilate to our language and culture, are — politically as well as legally — aliens. I’m really referring to the many native-born people — some of whose families have been here since the Mayflower — who may technically be citizens of the United States but are no longer (if they ever were) Americans. They do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people. It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens, these non-American Americans; but they are something else.”
His basic premise is that only some people can legitimately be “Americans.” In fact he says more than half of the population are “non-Americans.” What are they then? Are they citizen-aliens as he asserts? How can they not be be Americans when they have been here for generations?
Ellmer explains that only those who “believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people” are real Americans. Who are these people? How many of them are there?
Ellmer tells us in his next sentence. “By and large, I am referring to the 75 million people who voted in the last election against the senile figurehead of a party that stands for mob violence, ruthless censorship, and racial grievances, not to mention bureaucratic despotism.” Those who voted for the losing candidate in the last presidential election are according to Ellmer and many like him, the “real Americans.” That leaves some 81 million who voted for the current president, out of the family apparently.
I read through this article knowing full well that the words we commonly associate with racists from days gone by would not be present. The new breed of racists are smart enough to try to cover up their true feelings. This 75 million he speaks of, voted for a man who called Mexicans rapists, banned immigration from Muslim countries and referred to many countries occupied by people of color as sh**hole countries. Yet many of these voters claim, not only that their candidate of choice was not racist, but that they are not either.
I firmly believe it does not matter how they describe themselves. Their actions speak much louder than their words. That is not to insinuate that all of those 75 million are racists. Many of those who are included in that group were people of color. However, we should not be naive and assume that many of those voters are not racist just because they say they are not. There are a multitude of reasons people use to determine who they will vote for. Pandering to bigoted minds is a tried and true method to win votes. If it was not a winning approach, politicians would dump the strategy.
Back in the day, racist politicians in the South claimed to not be racists. They said time and time again that they were the “best friend the negro had.” They said this with a straight face. Saying it does not make it true.
The message I got from Ellmer’s article is that he will not accept the views of those different from himself. That is actually okay. He does not owe anyone that acceptance. What he cannot do is throw them out of the American family because of those views. America did not throw Strom Thurman, George Wallace, Jefferson Davis, and many other well-known racists out of the family. They belong just like everyone else.
They are like that family member many people have that the family is ashamed of. The collective body of the 330 million people in this country includes the bigots. They will use any means necessary to divide, control and supposedly “Make America Great Again.”
This is not a post-racial nation. Racism is alive and well, and spreading back out onto the frontstage after hiding on the backstage since the Civil Rights Movement ended. What has driven this reappearance? To me it is clear. New platforms like the internet and social media, where people can hide behind anonymous “profiles” are opening up opportunities to disseminate hate. Racists can sit in their dreary little lives, mad at the wrong people and spout off about “immigrants taking their jobs.” They sit by and hurl racial epithets in cyberspace, knowing they would never says such things in person unless they had a crowd of their racist friends with them.
Nowadays those racist are not only openly saying what they feel, they are running for office, and winning, while doing so. Every elected official is a symbol of those who voted them into office.
When Ellmer claims true Americans “will be able to transcend these distinctions, when these threaten the genuine interests they share as fellow citizens. It will teach them, above all, as members of a majority, not to permit the endangering of those rights of the minority.” This is by far the most disingenuous thought he put to paper. Somehow the majority are supposedly responsible for taking care of the rights of the minority. Apparently they do this by trampling on those rights while claiming to respect them. Ellmer talks nostalgically about the early years of America while not mentioning the enslavement of Blacks or the theft of land from Native people.
This distorted view of America is part of the problem today. In a nation that claims to be a melting pot, many want to toss some of the ingredients out of the stew. They want to determine who belongs and to exclude those they do not see as a good fit. This is classic racism. It is no different than those who enslaved and then segregated Blacks legally for nearly four centuries, all the while claiming to love freedom, justice and liberty.
Jim Crow segregation laws were still on the books within my lifetime. It was not that long ago when I swam in the “Blacks-only” swimming pool in my hometown in Mississippi. The last major law designed to eliminate the vestiges of Jim Crow was the 1968 Civil Rights Act, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act. I checked to see how many White people are alive today that were alive when Jim Crow was still legal. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that includes about 63 million White people who are 55 and older.
Jim Crow was very simply a form of legalized discrimination. It required Whites to discriminate against Blacks and other people of color. To not discriminate was to break the law. Think about that. Although many of those 63 million Whites were children at the time, the vast majority were old enough to know and abide by the law. This group also included many outside of the south, where Jim Crow was alive and well even though it was not legally mandated.
As we look back at that time, we must ask ourselves a series of simple questions. Where are those people now? Who are they? Are they the owner of the company you work for? Are they your elected representative? Are they the chief of police in your town? Are they the judge in front of you when you go to court? Are they the district attorney charging you? Are they the doctor who gives you inferior care because of your “race?” The laws went away but the mindset does not go into the coffin with the unconstitutional law.
It is not possible to legislate morality. Pretending to be a post-racial country does not make you one. Feigning ignorance over police brutality, attacks on teaching honest history, or book banning, does not mean those things are a figment of our imaginations. They are real.
Racism is in your rearview mirror, creeping up on you every day America. Looking the other way will not make it go away. Be aware and be vigilant. Do not go to sleep at the wheel. Do not be derelict in your duty to do what is right. Do not fall prey to the disinformation. Do not be scared to speak truth to power. Do not be afraid of telling the truth even when it is unpopular.