Racism, just one of many forms of bigotry, has been around since the beginning of time. Here in the U.S., we thought we had it whipped with the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. But make no mistake … racism in the U.S. is not only alive and well, but in the past few years has actually gained momentum, despite our having an African-American president for nearly eight years.
Hate crimes are motivated by race more than anything else, and there are active hate groups in every state in the nation. Unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire. African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics consistently earn less than whites. Around a third of America’s population is comprised of people of color, yet they account for nearly two-thirds of the prison population. And one in three black men will go to prison at some point in their lives. Racial disparity exists, also, in housing, healthcare and education. So no, we have not whipped racism, we have not overcome the arrogance of race to form a nation where “All Men Are Created Equal”, and in fact, we are getting farther and farther from that goal with every passing day.
Racism has been making a comeback in the U.S. for several years, though I cannot put my finger on when it started to escalate, as it has been gradually rearing its ugly head, bit by bit. It certainly showed its face when George Zimmerman murdered young Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. Justice was not served, Mr. Zimmerman was allowed to go free, and many white Americans applauded the decision. The flames of racism were further fanned by a series of killings of unarmed black men by police across the nation. But I believe that the hate toward not only African-Americans, but also Hispanics and those of Middle-Eastern background has intensified more acutely in the last 12 months than at any time in the past 45 years due to the unbridled and unchecked rhetoric of Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump’s negative, hate-filled comments seem to have given some element of our population the idea that it is okay, perhaps even laudable, to criticize others based on such false criteria as skin colour, ethnicity, gender, disability, or religion. Take, for example, Karl Rove, former Deputy Chief of Staff under George W. Bush. During a recent debate between Rove and Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile, Rove said “I did you a great favor bringing you into politics in the 1860 campaign and this is how you repay me? We’re happy you got the right to vote but it wasn’t your current party that was responsible for it.” Brazile, for those who may not be familiar with her, is an African-American political analyst and syndicated columnist, a well-respected persona among both Democrats and Republicans, white and black alike. Brazile, ever gracious, reminded Rove that as a woman, she did not receive the right to vote until 1920 and as a black woman did not have her right to vote protected until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I, not so graceful as Ms. Brazile, would have added that you, Mr. Rove, did nothing to free the slaves nor to give women or African-Americans the right to vote. In fact, I suspect, that if those decisions were on the table today, Mr. Rove and his ilk would vote against them!
Most in the public eye, politicians and journalists alike, condemn the racist rhetoric, as they should. A few, however, choose to overlook or excuse it, and therein lies a large part of the problem. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah says Trump “doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump is “certainly a different kind of candidate.” It rather sounds like a parent of an unruly child declaring that he is merely “full of energy”. And just like children, as long as we condone their behaviour, it will not only continue, but escalate. Why, I ask, should a person, any person, have to fight for the same rights everyone else has, simply because their skin is darker than somebody else’s, or their ancestors came here from the African continent rather than the European continent?
When people say that Trump’s speech is not racist, but merely colourful, they are, in fact, saying that it’s okay to make disparaging comments about minorities, women, and people of other religions. To fail to condemn racism and bigotry is to support it. Failure to avidly and vociferously condemn racism is to propagate racism. There can be no middle ground, no ambiguity. One cannot say they support Donald Trump, but that they are not racist. One cannot say they think African-Americans are lazy, or justify the fact that African-Americans are seven times more likely to be shot by police than Caucasians and claim to not be racist. If you support a racist, then you are supporting racism. Think about it.