A few years ago I had an internship at the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, where one of my chief duties was to spend hours looking through microfilm for newspaper clippings that dramatized the racial climate in Philadelphia throughout the years.
One article that stood out was a poll of Philadelphians that asked, “How would you describe the state of racial equality in America today?” The vast majority of whites (something like 60-70%) answered “Good.”
The year was 1968.
These people had no idea how dire the state of race relations was in America at the time because all they could compare it to was a not-so-distant past marred by lynching, sharecropping and segregation. But today we can see quite clearly that things were bad. Racism was alive and well.
And that’s why race is such a tricky issue in America. Racism grows classier and more refined every day, but it never goes away. How else can we explain the American people tolerating the unprecedented disrespect, racism, obstruction and outright legislative terrorism being perpetrated by the GOP?
Do not underestimate the power of racism; it has been the elite’s most powerful tool for centuries. How else could they convince poor whites to fight the Civil War; a war to protect a system that did absolutely nothing for them economically or politically?
The film Birth of a Nation, unquestionably the most racist film ever made, is literally the first blockbuster movie ever made. Its widespread success was totally unprecedented for a motion picture when it was released in 1915; it was the first film shown at the White House, it was the highest grossing film ever made for decades, it sparked the resurgence of the KKK in the early 1900s, and it is a complete and utter crock of shit. But it perfectly captures the captivating qualities of racism in America.
America is a racist place. But is it so racist that racism could be the catalyst for the treacherous, disingenuous political climate we are currently facing?
Maybe. Politicians are manipulative, opportunistic individuals. These people are rarely arguing for a position they themselves believe in. A high-powered defense lawyer doesn’t take on a client like Casey Anthony because they think she’s innocent; they take on a case like that because it’s their job, and because they think they can win. It’s all about the chase. The challenge. And they’ll use whatever tools are at their disposal to make their case.
Politicians, and shady political elites like Karl Rove, use racism as a tool to divide America. To play on our latent fears of one another, in the hopes that we won’t come together as one people and confront our common enemies; i.e. the banks, the lobbyists, the corporations, etc. The GOP ain’t stupid. They knew that about half of America hated the idea of President Barack Obama before he even announced his candidacy, and they’ve been playing off of these racist views ever since. And like the Philadelphians who somehow thought late-60s race relations were a-ok, most the people falling for this crap can’t even recognize their own racist views, let alone the presence of racism in society at large.
I’m not saying that you have to be a Democrat or a Republican; we basically choose a lesser of two evils when we vote in this country. But for the love of God, don’t be like the clueless voters in that 1968 poll. Think about the images being conjured in our political discourse, and the coded language they’re throwing around. Why are they trying to make it more difficult to vote? Why are some Republicans refusing to attend President Obama’s jobs speech tonight? Why are they so hell-bent on refusing even the smallest tax increase on the wealthiest 1% of Americans?