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The Demons Of Our Racist Past Still Haunt Us

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The Demons Of Our Racist Past Still Haunt Us

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People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

So we’re not post-racial yet.

Instead, we are preoccupied with race, chafing along the color line, possessed of wildly divergent views of authority, justice and equality. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in the aftermath of widely publicized police shootings and the attacks on Dallas police officers, 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are growing worse.

Some among us lay the blame for that, absurdly, at the feet of President Barack Obama, who was supposed to usher in an era of peace, harmony and racial healing — at least according to some utterly naive predictions made at the time of his first election. Instead, it seems, his presence in the Oval Office precipitated a furious backlash, a tidal wave of resentment from those whites who see his ascendance as a sign of their decline.

But that’s not the president’s fault. He has studiously tried to avoid stirring the cauldron of race, to bridge the color chasm, to unite the warring American tribes. His only crime is in symbolizing the anxieties of those white Americans who see a black man in power as the bete noire of their nightmares.

It makes more sense to blame the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, for these troubling times. He enters his nominating convention in Cleveland as the same divisive bully he has been throughout the campaign — a man singularly ill-suited to lead a diverse nation.

Trump has not just pandered to the prejudices of his mostly white supporters; he has also encouraged them with his incendiary promises to limit immigration and his vicious insults of the president, starting with his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump works assiduously to keep us divided, a state that sharpens his political advantage.

But the simple truth is that neither Obama nor Trump created this moment. This unruly time has been more than 200 years in the making. We have not yet put away the old ghosts, so they continue to haunt us.

Take the police shootings that have prompted protests around the country during the last several days. There is nothing new about police violence toward black citizens, nothing unusual about bias in the criminal justice system, nothing unexpected about the institutional racism that conspires to imprison black Americans disproportionately.

Just read Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name,” an account of law enforcement practices in the Deep South following the Civil War. White business owners demanded low- to no-cost labor, and they got it by imprisoning black men unfairly and putting them to work.

To justify their rank oppression and their state-sanctioned violence — black people were lynched with impunity for more than a century — powerful whites trafficked in awful stereotypes about black criminality. Those old biases — those hateful stereotypes — didn’t just fade away with the civil rights movement.

As President Obama put it during his moving and elegant speech memorializing the Dallas dead, “We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation.”

Still, there are many who would dismiss Obama, whose political views demand they grant him no legitimacy. Maybe they’d listen instead to Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who rose to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to give a deeply personal account of his maltreatment at the hands of police officers.

Scott is a rock-solid conservative who rarely agrees with the president about anything. He is also black, and, as he noted, that’s enough to kindle suspicion from some law enforcement authorities.

“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers, not four, not five, not six, but seven times, in one year, as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reasons just as trivial,” he said.

That’s a powerful testament to the ways in which the old ghosts still haunt us, even in an age of a black president and two black U.S. senators. We are not post-racial yet, and until we can confront and exorcise the demons of our past, we will never be.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

Photo: People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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30 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila July 17, 2016

    For those consumed by hatred and fear the election of President Barack Obama was, indeed, the catalyst that reignited a dormant fire. Even the notion of a black man in the Oval Office, for other than serving drinks, was enough to drive many among us crazy. In that sense, the worsening race relations are caused by Barack Obama, not because he has done anything wrong, but because of what he represents to so many fellow Americans.
    The sad truth is that while race relations have improved during the last half century, the prejudice, fear, and hatred that so many have towards people of colors remained latent, waiting for a spark to reignite and take us back to the 1960s and the pre-Civil Rights days.
    The growing popularity of Donald Trump is not as perplexing or unexpected as many of us think. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. His popularity is driven by his rhetoric, by the message of hate, the promises to deport 11 million people, build a wall to keep the short, dark skin, foreigners out. The promise to end welfare and Affirmative Action, and all the other social programs that help ethnic minorities. For those that have been displaced as a result of outsourcing, cost reduction, automation, and the demand for higher skills, what resonates are simplistic promises, rather than nuanced policy proposals they do not understand. Anyway, why spend days working on infrastructure projects when it is so pleasurable to ride a Harley, brandishing a rebel flag?
    The only surprise for those who want to take us back to an era that belongs in the annals of history, is the fact that the scurrilous minorities they hate have been taking advantage of the 2nd Amendment, and favorable gun laws written by the NRA, to arm themselves. Folks, we have a problem, and the only man that can fix it is The Donald. He said he could. He said our problems are easy to fix. For those whose desperation is affecting their ability to think rationally, he must be right, if nothing else, because nobody else is articulating their fears and hopes the way The Donald does.

    Reply
    1. plc97477 July 17, 2016

      On the bright side most of those racists are older and dying off. When they are finally gone we can hope for real change.

      Reply
      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

        They are getting older, it’s true. But there’s a sinister source of new cadres, primarily via racist elements who are recruiting youth who have been infected with the same venom that struck their parents and their parents’ friends.
        In that environment, the youth can’t help but succumb to the same insidious effects of racism, just as the older generation did.

        But, there is hope nonetheless in the reservoir of positive potential which the youth represent.

        Reply
        1. plc97477 July 17, 2016

          They are getting older and the polls show that the young people in this country are less racist and more liberal in their views than their elders. It is not going to magically go away but as less and less people see racism as acceptable it will have to wither away. It will mean we have to speak up to racists.

          Reply
          1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

            Right you are! That’s why it’s a hopeful sign to see white youth particularly today show the same determination which Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner showed before they were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss. , a little ways north of my hometown of Jackson, Miss.

            Reply
      2. idamag July 17, 2016

        Unfortunately those lice had nits.

        Reply
      3. Hattie Odum July 18, 2016

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        Reply
        1. idamag July 18, 2016

          Hattie Odum is a scam

          Reply
    2. David July 17, 2016

      I keep trying to tell you, Dominick. Obama is not “black”. He is a mulatto.

      Reply
      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

        These man-made designations have you all confused, David. You would do best to avoid using them since you have no clue as to what the “One- Drop Rule” criterion is all about and which subsequently led to such an artificial designation like “mulatto”. By the way, you are of African descent yourself—you just aren’t well-read on recent DNA research regarding human evolution.

        Reply
        1. David July 17, 2016

          I guess we’re all black then?

          Reply
        2. idamag July 18, 2016

          Since DNA has shown that humanity originated in Africa, you are right.

          Reply
  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

    Dominick alertly pointed out, as a few others have done before, that this problem is not new. It’s new to the more careless and/or too lazy to take time to study America’s failure to address the “cancer” of Racism.
    It’s also “new” to those who know of the problem but lack the courage to confront it head on, or who are so wrapped up in the notion of “Whiteness” and seduced by the myth of racial superiority, that they studiously avoid the subject altogether.
    Others naively expect someone or something to appear magically in our midst via a cloud, wave a magic wand and simply say “Be Gone Racism”, and hope that all will be well.

    The current crisis what should occur when we fail to heed the warning signs that became ominous during post-Civil War and accelerated in the era of Reconstruction.

    Racism will remain with us until we extirpate it by the roots from our hearts and minds. As mentioned in previous posts, the legislative, the judicial, and executive branches can facilitate change on a social/material level, but those man-made constructs will NEVER transform the hearts and minds of humanity. The motive power for the continued recrudescence of racism, of denial, of holding firm to the past resides in the hearts and minds, which in turn inform the brain how to respond.

    The Conservative mind particularly is keen to keep the fires of resentment smoldering because that serves as an effective smokescreen by encouraging finger-pointing, various tricks to deflect attention away from the problem, even to the absurd point of blaming the victims of racism, and their supporters who are responding in solidarity, against racism.
    Trump, Rudy, and the majority of the GOP are too shallow-minded to even understand what the term means and therefore fail to recognize racism for what it is and how it manifests itself, and therefore stand in the vanguard to keep Racism alive and well. Why? Because the lust for power is the goal, and the satanic urge to hate is their motivational tool. Again, the primary source of this animus and lust is due to a complete distortion and corruption of Christianity in their hearts and minds.

    Conservatives have been the chief sources of the continuation of racism’s entrenchment by absurdly blaming Obama, BLM, Al Sharpton(whose name comes up less often nowadays), and similar stupid accusations.

    One of the enduring enigmas in America has been the “Step-n-Fetchit” sort of element that comes from a black experience yet paradoxically aligns himself/herself with the very source that insists on holding him down. Just another sign of how Conservatism alters the brain just like certain microbes are able to trick the nervous system of its hosts to behave in a manner totally opposite its normal mode.

    Reply
  3. Ernie Aldridge July 17, 2016

    If the voter restrictions are allowed to succeed this election will result in a republican administration in the White House.
    This could be the last gasp of the racists, if Hillery wins, or the beginning of the end of peace in these once sorta United States.
    Citizens United is providing cover for and enabling those who hate. It must be defeated.
    Campaign finance must have, at some time in the near future, a flight plan closer to common sense.
    The feet of the news media must be held in the flames until they return to a policy of reporting what is actually happening as opposed to their current policy of championing any particular cause. Walter Cronkite, we need you !!
    People can fix this. We voters. An informed public can make intelligent decisions.
    Voters are being fed false or skewed data. Garbage in, garbage out.
    The harm Paul Ryan wants to do to us is breath taking, inconceivable, and supported by republicans.
    Hard to believe, Harry.

    Reply
    1. idamag July 17, 2016

      Journalism died in this country when the White House was allowed to do what they did to Dan Rather and Mary.

      Reply
    2. Diane July 17, 2016

      There was an interesting segment on NPR this morning (Jul 17) re campaign contributions. The woman reporter had done a number of interviews with a very rich contributor who lives and dies by Kochs’ words. The mind-set of the donor, and especially the openness about his mindset, was startling.

      Reply
  4. David July 17, 2016

    “…blacks imprisoned disproportionately.” Now, that wouldn’t have anything to with them committing disproportionately more crimes would it?

    Reply
    1. Diane July 17, 2016

      That would be an immediate assumption but the supporting research is indepth, not just based on simple numbers. Legitimate researchers account for all possible issues before deriving this conclusion. Here is an example of how that works: “For example, black and Hispanic males who are young and unemployed have been incarcerated more severely than similarly situated white males, even when severity of the offense and criminal history were taken into
      account (for reviews, see Kansal 2005; Spohn 2000).” This is taken from a particular study on http://www.cucj.org
      http://www.cjcj.org/uploads/cjcj/documents/racial_disproportionality.pdf

      There are a number of sources on this topic you can access if you want to pursue. You could be a catalyst for education the community.

      Reply
      1. idamag July 17, 2016

        One thing a racist cannot hide is his racism. You never hear of whites getting shot for broken tail lights. You never hear of whites being shot while on a telephone in Walmart. You never hear of white teens being killed for carrying ice tea and skittles. You never hear of whites being shot in the back while running from the police and believe me I can see why they would be scared and running. David is a racist. Instead of admitting his ugly, he blames the victim for his racism. It is common in this country.

        Reply
        1. Diane July 17, 2016

          How right you are. I was reading the article about the man black man shot while reaching for his ID on FB, and right below were 3 articles of white men – 2 had threatened police with guns, and the other also had a gun — none of them were shot. The police acted appropriately with these white men, talked them down until they could disarm them.

          I am white. I know that racism is real. I know that blacks are routinely killed by cops.

          Reply
          1. idamag July 18, 2016

            I am Caucasian. I did nothing to accomplish that. I was born that way. Since I did not make my color why should I be puffed up about it? The reason I don’t consider my race superior is that I have accomplished real things and am not so worthless that color is all I have to brag about. If my furniture was pasty and pimply it would be ugly. I prefer mahogany and walnut. Those are beautiful. Racists are a malignancy to this society. They are fomenting angry in those they bully. Five innocent police persons died because many many more innocent Black people were killed by police. This is what happens when the oppressed become angry.

            Reply
        2. David July 17, 2016

          But, you do hear of 5 white police officers ambushed while working a “Black Lives Matter” rally and the killer (a black male) declaring he wanted to ‘kill white cops’.

          Reply
    2. Jan123456 July 17, 2016

      Have you ever heard the term “sentence disparity”?

      http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324432004578304463789858002

      Reply
  5. Oddworld July 17, 2016

    Unfortunately racism is going to be with us for some time to come. It’s been with us throughout human history though it started as something only slightly less benign.
    The origins started when we lived in tribal communities
    at a time when it was a part of our primal survival. No one would argue that it may have been a necessary component for humans to survive at the time. Unfortunately we haven’t all evolved beyond the tribal paradigm, technologically yes, but we are still one of this planets newest species so we can’t expect to simply legislate the hate, distrust and fear away. Progress is going to take time, maybe a lot of time. But in spite of some people believing we are regressing, we are not!
    Things used to be much worse and as some people in this comment section have correctly pointed out, younger by and large aren’t going to put up with the nonsense anymore. Most of what we’re witnessing here in America and in parts of Europe is a nativist movement, some of it based on bigotry but some of it is based on economic uncertainty and the leaders are the only ones benefiting from the game of divide and conquer.

    Reply
    1. idamag July 17, 2016

      Man used to drag his knuckles, and eat raw meat. Man is the most vicious creature on earth and instead of evolving into something nice he is now devolving. Does man have the intelligence to reverse that?

      Reply
      1. Oddworld July 17, 2016

        I was speaking from an anthropological and sociological perspective. But yes I think we do, or more correctly, we will. Humans are an organism like everything else including the planet. Nothing in nature regresses.
        We would never have come as far as we have if we were devolving. I tend to be an optimist as well as a pragmatist and of course the eternal idealist:) Once upon a time I was a racist and every now and then I feel those evil thoughts trying to creep back into my head but I have also felt the cold sting of discrimination on a personal level and it hurt deeply and so I researched the origins of all these negative feelings in myself and others. The conclusion is that we are all evolving at different rates and the whole right brain, left brain thing has a lot to do with it. We’ll get there my friend but unfortunately not right away. Until then, just try to be a better person today than you were yesterday.

        Reply
  6. greenlantern1 July 17, 2016

    I am a Caucasian!
    I USED to be a Republican!
    Our ONLY, convicted, attorney-general was Nixon’s first, John Mitchell!
    Our ONLY VP, to enter a plea bargain, was Nixon’s first, Spiro Agnew!
    Our ONLY president, to ACCEPT a pardon, was Nixon!
    Consider our worst gangsters.
    Al Capone.
    John Dillinger.
    Machine Gun Kelly.
    Baby Face Nelson.
    Black?
    Mexican?
    Republican “law and order”?
    INOPERATIVE!!

    Reply
    1. David July 17, 2016

      Your brain? INOPERATIVE!! All of your recent mass murderers? Demorats! Your post is asinine.

      Reply
  7. idamag July 17, 2016

    There is no racist past. It never left. It was hidden out of sight like the chamber pot of old and it has been kicked over.

    Reply
    1. TheMechanicalAdv July 23, 2016

      There is no such stuff. There are only evil people and evil policies. The USA needs plans to stop them, not superstitious excuses.

      Reply

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