Are We a ‘Racist Nation’? Who’s Asking?
Some questions can best be answered with another question.
Consider, for example, the question that popped up with prominence as President Joe Biden finished his first 100 days last week: Are we a racist country?
Before I answer that question, I want to know, “How do you define ‘racist’?”
That’s not a cop-out or whitewash — or colorwash — of the issue. Rather it is my attempt to find out in advance whom I am about to offend and why.
Our perceptions of race and racism are based on our experience, which makes the question so vexing, since all of our experiences are so different.
It is why, for example, so many people say we haven’t made any racial progress since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, and so many others say we’ve made all the progress we need.
“After all,” I have heard, “you got a Black president. What more do you want?”
The first step in effective communication is to share a common language, and few words divide us as much as the R-word does, thanks to our nation’s still-unresolved conflicts over race.
That’s why it was no surprise to me that Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott all answered “No” to the question — and then qualified their answers in distinctly different ways.
“No, I don’t think the American people are racist,” Biden told NBC’s “Today” show before his speech to Congress. “... But I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow (laws), and before that slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it.”