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Are We a ‘Racist Nation’? Who’s Asking?

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

“Hear me clearly, America is not a racist country,” said Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican, in his party’s response to the president’s address to Congress — although he managed to find discrimination lingering on the left. “I’ve also experienced a different kind of intolerance,” he said. “I get called ‘Uncle Tom’ and the N-word — by progressives. By liberals.”

Indeed, a number of examples piled up on Twitter that evening as the hashtag “Uncle Tim,” a takeoff on “Uncle Tom,” went viral. Some of my conservative readers demanded that I denounce such racially inflammatory insults. I do. I’m also waiting to hear similar outrage on the right over the Trump supporters who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Still waiting.

But such self-destruction on the right doesn’t let the left off the hook. Before Biden’s speech, the “Ragin’ Cajun” James Carville, Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign consultant, made headlines by praising Biden for avoiding the “messaging problem” that “wokeness” has brought to Democrats.

“We have to talk about race,” Carville told Vox. “We should talk about racial injustice. What I’m saying is, we need to do it without using jargon-y language that’s unrecognizable to most people — including most Black people, by the way — because it signals that you’re trying to talk around them.”

No, as Carville said, he’s not into “faculty lounge” politics.

What’s that? “You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people?” he said. “They come up with a word like ‘Latinx’ that no one else uses.”

He was referring to studies such as last summer’s Pew Research Center poll that found only 1 in 4 Hispanic adults has heard the term and fewer than 3% said they used it.

“Or they use a phrase like ‘communities of color,’ ” he continued. “I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a ‘community of color.’ I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.”

 

Blunt talk can bristle, but I share Carville’s dismay with the activism that brought us “cancel culture,” “critical race theory” and “equity” — as a substitute for simply “equality.” Sometimes the lesser-known word works fine, but in political speech it also can be helpful to remember George Orwell’s wise warnings against “doublespeak” that tends to confuse more than clarify.

That’s why I think Biden and Harris wisely have avoided slogans like “defund the police,” which easily are hijacked by the right to discredit legitimate reform efforts, even as they fail to offer alternatives of their own.

Instead, despite Scott’s verbal shots at the left, congressional Democrats have been working with him productively, he says, to lead negotiations with the Dems to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Maybe the question of whether we are a racist nation or not can be put aside — while both parties try to make it less racist. Here’s hoping.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2021 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) 2021 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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