The Oxford Dictionary defines OUTRAGE as “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock or indignation.” The riot at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 has generated genuine OUTRAGE from a whole range of people, including several Republican officials and former officials who have previously opposed and then supported President Donald Trump. Their outrage is not only against the white supremacists, KKK members and several Fascist organizations who instigated the violence but also against their party leader Donald Trump. Good for them! However, it took them far too long to challenge him about his continual racist and homophobic words and policies toward Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, the LGBTQ community and immigrants as well as his mysogyny against women. Why?
One reason is that Trump’s victory has given the Republicans on the extreme an opportunity to roll back dozens of laws and federal policies that have protected millions of Americans from racism, hatred, hunger and poverty such as repealing President Obama’s rule to grant time and a half wages to millions of mid- range workers who work overtime, massive cuts in several national hunger and poverty programs and striping health insurance from as many as 23 million Americans. His appointees in the most important positions in his cabinet and agencies that are there to protect us from grand theft, to preserve our civil liberties, to safeguard us from foreign enemies and to protect our environment have been mostly the proverbial “foxes guarding the hen house.” For example, Attorney Jeff Sessions came out with a statement against racism while at the same time proposing to build more prisons, ramp up the failed war on drugs and deport thousands of people who are not criminals.
The tragedy of Charlottesville and President Trump’s response to it is one more extreme example of our continuing cycle of OUTRAGE but the focus this time is RACISM. His words and actions have given support for some of the worst and deepest forms of RACISM in our country. Most of us Americans are rightfully OUTRAGED by the actions of a large group of violent hate filled individuals. But let’s look deeper into the institutions of our society and our history.
The right to vote was denied to women, and most people of color, especially Blacks and Native Americans for well over a hundred, in many cases two hundred, years. Some people say that is the past and we have fixed it but look at the whole series of state and local voting restrictions that exist today and the Republican efforts to reduce the number of Black voters in the guise of protecting against supposed voter fraud, which has never been proven. This is not just individual RACISM but INSTITUTIONAL RACISM, RACISM that is not only in the minds and hearts of individual people but has entered into our laws and institutions of our society, from schools, banks, businesses, law enforcement and our whole judicial system.
School segregation is no longer legal but is alive and well in both the South and the North, especially in large cities. Housing has similar patterns of INSTITUTIONAL RACISM aided by many banks and real estate agents who make secret pacts to deny people of color an opportunity to buy or rent a home in certain areas. We only have to go back a few years to the Great Recession to see that the folks who were hurt the most through losing their homes were disproportionately Black middle class homeowners who were sold immoral and often illegal sub- prime mortgages. The big banks were bailed out. Poor and middle class home owners were left out in the cold. This is INSTITUTIONAL RACISM.
Our criminal justice/ judicial system has traditionally treated people of color, especially poor people differently from white people. Many more white people use illegal drugs than people of color but most of those arrested and imprisoned are people of color and their sentences are longer. For example, recent federal data show that 80 per cent of those convicted of heroin trafficking are Black or Latino even though all racial groups buy and sell drugs at about the same rate. This is INSTITUTIONAL RACISM. Now, of course, with the opioid crisis hitting white communities especially hard we might see a more rational and effective policy.
The poorest, hungriest most ill- treated racial group in America is and has always been Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson’s infamous “March of Tears” targeted to destroy a whole Native American nation and the U.S. Army’s slaughter of thousands of Native Americans are some of the worst examples of INSTITUTIONAL RACISM from the nineteenth century. It is easy to say that is in the past but it is not only a shameful part of our history. It has had a lasting effect on government policies that have systematically impoverished millions of people from their heritage and livelihood. It continues today in the U.S. policy around Standing Rock and other encroachments against Native people.
Are you aware that the vast majority of oil and chemical refineries are located near neighborhoods that are predominately of color? Dozens of suits have been brought to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by local communities whose health and very lives were being threatened but almost all have been rejected or neglected. INSTITUTIONAL RACISM.
INSTITUTIONAL RACISM is also alive and well in our food system. So called “food deserts” in which there is no or little access to healthy food are predominately in neighborhoods of color. Many food companies focus their ads for their food products that promote obesity and diabetes towards poor people of color. A majority of people who work in fast food businesses at the lowest paid levels are poor people of color. The folks who pick the crops that we eat are poor people of color who have had to fight for the right to have clean water and bathroom facilities in the fields and to be paid a fair wage.
There are billions of dollars each year in wage thefts, employers who cheat their employees, many of whom are immigrants, by withholding wages and tips and refusing to pay overtime. This hurts the employees and also legitimate business employers who play by the rules. This too is INSTITUTIONAL RACISM.
We have made progress as a nation to remove the blight of RACISM from our country but that progress has been won slowly with much sacrifice and we still have a long way to go to eliminate RACISM . Many years ago I heard William Buckley the leader of the conservative movement in America respond to a question about racial justice that I asked him at a college speech. He said that the only way to bring racial justice was to change the minds and hearts of Americans. That has proven not to be enough. It is only when the laws of our country and our institutions protect all our citizens from INSTITUTIONAL RACISM that we can say that we are a truly free country.
Let’s start by demanding that our president and all of our elected leaders speak out against RACISM and act to dismantle the laws and institutions that support RACISM. Then let’s reward those that do by voting for them and voting against those that by their actions and inactions continue to support RACISM in our country. President Trump is the focal point in the discussion on RACISM right now but even when he is an unhappy memory, RACISM will remain, not only in the minds and hearts of millions of our citizens but in most of the institutions of our country. We must remain vigilant to root out the many levels of RACISM at the core of our society.