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THOMPSON: Dissecting America's racism problem

March 22, 2021 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


America has never really faced its racism...not yesterday...not today...and we’ll see what tomorrow brings. America - and I’m talking white people - has long been the alcoholic who simply can’t admit the disease.

America has a long way to go. Simply look at its history...from centuries back through last week...and no one can reasonably defend its lack of progress in living up to aspirational ideals like equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens.

Last week, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, killed eight people in the Atlanta area, six of them Asian-American women working at spas. Long, arrested on Interstate 75 heading to Florida, claimed his “sex addiction” was the cause. But that seems spurious at best given his calculated targeting of Asian-American spas...passing other spas owned by white people in his 27-mile killing spree.

These are hate crimes...based on racism. And they are common. Racism has been directed at every minority in America...not merely in the past...but today. In the year since COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. there have been 3,950 reports of violence on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Experts say most such attacks remain unreported. Is there any doubt that President Trump’s and his minion’s rhetoric - referring to COVID-19 as the “Chy-na virus” and “Kung-flu” - incited some of the racist attacks? Attacks are up nearly 150 percent in the U.S. this year.

Of course, we in Canada can’t be smug. Research shows 600 percent to 700 percent increases in hate crimes against Asian-Canadians in major Canadian cities, with British Columbia leading all of North America in attacks per capita.

But back to America. Travel just 250 miles north of Atlanta in Nashville for a glimpse at a more common example of American racism. There, last week, the Tennessee legislature spent days debating the removal of a single bust resting in the Capitol rotunda between its House of Representatives and Senate chambers.

The bust commemorates a war hero...Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sadly, Forrest wasn’t a U.S. hero...he was a three-star general in the army of the Confederate States of America...an enemy. Also, Forrest, an acknowledged racist, was a founder and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

How did the bust of a U.S. traitor and racist end up in the state’s capitol building? It was placed there in 1978 by racist politicians and members of the Sons of the Confederacy. Two state commissions have voted overwhelmingly to move the bust to a museum...but racist politicians - Republicans - continue to fight the move. Every July 13, the Governor of Tennessee proclaims Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Can you say denial?

But let’s head north. Last May 25, Minneapolis officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd was handcuffed, and four officers, one with a knee on Floyd’s neck further restrained him...8 minutes and 46 seconds later...Floyd was dead.

Floyd is one of  scores of minorities who were killed...often for misdemeanour crimes...or for nothing at all. Black people often refer to such uneven justice as “driving while black” or similar ironic references.

Consider what Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson said last week:

"Even though those thousands of people that were marching to the Capitol were trying to pressure people like me to vote the way they wanted me to vote, I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn't concerned. Now, had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned."

Comments like this from elected officials appear almost every week...mostly Trump Republicans. It’s as if the members of the Republican Party are trying to out-stupid each other. Maybe they just know their voters.

But it’s not just holdover Trump Republicans saying despicably racist things...it’s long-standing policies and current actions being taken to suppress those who aren’t white. Take, for example, the 254 bills proposed in 43 state legislatures to make it harder for African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans to vote.

By the way, each and every voter suppression bill - often given noble sounding names like “The Protect Our Elections Act” - is introduced and sponsored by Republicans. Evidence proves election fraud is rare...and not widespread...but Republican efforts in these states is simply racist.

Attitudes of Americans have hurt minorities over the years, but where whites have really taken advantage of the “system” is anything financial...banking, housing and education.

While most white families were benefitting from run-ups in housing values in the 1940s and 1950s, minorities weren’t even given guaranteed loans and mortgages.

Most black Americans have been unable to build wealth from homeownership the same way white folks do, largely because home prices are generally set by those who make up the majority of buyers...white Americans.

Research shows that - except in America’s most educated and wealthy neighbourhoods - once more than 10 percent of your neighbours are Black...the value of your home declines...and continues if that percentage increases. Most white families historically choose not to live in racially diverse neighbourhoods.

Blacks who are able to break through housing racism, often suffer social penalties, even to the point of being accused of petty and major crimes that might happen in their mostly white neighbourhoods.

Post World War II America brought a booming economy. By 1951, workers who needed to move for jobs could sell and avoid taxes on the gains as long as they bought  more expensive homes...that builds wealth. Even today, you can receive up to $500,000 of gain tax-free.

If, however, you sell your home at a loss, you get no tax break. So, traditionally black neighbourhoods, or those that decrease in value as the percentage of blacks increase - often because white folks leave - get no tax break at all. That policy doesn’t make sense when you consider tax law allows you to deduct losses when you sell stocks.

White Americans aren’t comfortable with conversations about race. That’s most likely because they know how the deck has been stacked. It’s not a matter of saying, “I’m not racist...I never treated a black person badly.” This isn’t about guilt...it’s about admitting truths.

The systems - built exclusively by white people - have helped white folks and hurt black folks. This inequality is based on the false belief that if blacks gain...whites have to suffer. Until that attitude changes...racism with all of its evils - including murders - will continue.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.


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