A brief excerpt from Langston Hughes:
“’Why boy, I like you. I am a liberal. I voted for Kennedy. And this time for Johnson. I believe in integration. Now that you got it, though, what more do you want?’
‘Reintegration,’ I said.’
‘Meaning by that, what?’
‘That you be integrated with me, not me with you.’”
This little episode from one of the Jesse B. Simple stories, sums up for me what the Black-White situation in the United States has been all about. Because from the moment that Blacks in every part of the United States were no longer chattel property, thanks to the 13th Amendment in 1865, Blacks have been playing catch-up with Whites.
How many millions of acres of free land did we give to Whites in the Homestead Acts? How many more free acres of land did we give the railroads owned by Whites to move goods and provisions from coast to coast? How many subsidized home mortgages did we give to Whites so they could move into suburban communities where Blacks were not legally allowed to own homes?
The point is that this country built a middle class that did not enroll Blacks. And in the process, while African-Americans achieved legal equality a century after they were freed, economically, and socially they were left behind.
This two-tiered society in which one tier is largely occupied by Whites, and a tier underneath is largely occupied by Blacks, is what racism in today’s America is all about. Racism isn’t about defining or identifying people by the color of their skins. It’s not about Whites being ‘better’ than Blacks or Blacks being ‘better’ than Whites.
Racism is how some Whites still try to explain why they are on top and Blacks are below. Racism is the ideology that justifies inequality. That’s all it is.
The good news is that in my own lifetime I have seen racism erode and in some situations completely disappear. After all, it’s pretty tough to sustain the idea that one race is superior to the other when laws barring inter-racial marriage have been struck down.
In 2005, I found myself eating dinner in one of the most exclusive and expensive restaurants in South Carolina. At the next table sat a lovely, young Black couple trying their best to get through dinner even though either woman’s mother was sitting at the table, complaining away and basically ruining their meal. Twenty years earlier, the only Black faces I would have seen in this restaurant would have been the men and women cleaning the table and sweeping the floor after the White patrons finished their coffee and desserts.
The legacy of slavery and inequality is a stain on our history which remains to the present day. There are plenty of decent, White folks who still believe that ‘integration’ means letting Blacks get something for free that Whites had to earn.
In Genesis it says that seven generations must pass before the past is wiped away. We are only in the midst of the sixth generation since the 13th Amendment was ratified, and Trump’s campaign was based if not whole, then at least in part, on the sense that the terrible stain of slavery has not yet been erased.
Does that strategy make Trump a racist? No. It makes him a clever and opportunistic politician who saw an opportunity to exploit what are still open wounds.
Trump isn’t a racist. Trump is Klan. And if you don’t understand how I’m using that word, just ask one of your Black friends to explain the word to you. Or just read the next several sentences as carefully as you can.
Klan means fear, and fear is the most dangerous threat to the human community. Fear creates violence, and violence is the one threat to the human community that we still don’t know how to control.
We need to vote against Trump next week because we need to push the Klan back under the rock and into the hole in the ground where it belongs.