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Why White people should be as anti-racist as People of Color are. Part 1
I get a ton of emails. I recently received one from a fellow; “You have to know I am on your side. As much as any white guy can be.”
“As much as any white guy can be”…Key words.
Three of my primary goals with the Civil Conversations Project are to help White people understand that racism is still alive and well and flourishing, how thoroughly and negatively Americas’ thing with race affects them, and why they should be as invested in ending racism as much as any Black or Brown person. It’s hard to fight against something you don’t think exist or you think is not very important.
It's important. And I’m concerned for this country in many ways. Today I’ll visit with you about my concern for our democracy…not perfect, but the one we’re all used to and probably like.
A lot of the movement for racial justice is focused around ending discrimination and unfair treatment of Black and Brown-skinned people. And of course, that’s as it should be. A lot of the effort to achieve this equity is based on sympathy and empathy. Emotions have their value and their place, but they usually go only so far - although there are notable exceptions where empathy led White folks to risk and sometimes lose their lives in support of the civil rights of others. The White folks who joined the Freedom Rider buses in the 60’s are a good example.
In April, 2022, Forbes Magazine reported that the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, based in Sweden, finds that 'The U.S. has fallen victim to authoritarian tendencies’ in recent years with this decline following a larger five-year trend seen globally.
Two years prior, in 2020, Freedom House, the oldest American organization devoted to the support and defense of democracy around the world, reported that the United States continued to experience erosion in democratic practices in. Over the past decade, America’s score dropped from 94 to 83 out of 100, among the steepest falls of any country during this period.
With all the hubbub of election fraud and a stolen election, those folks are not really concerned about falsified voting or voting irregularity. They can’t quite (yet) just come out and say what it is they’re really opposed to. They’re not concerned with the country-wide procedures of the elections. What they can’t quite (yet) come out and say is that their actual concern is with the kinds of people who voted, not the election procedures themselves. People from our founding fathers on forward have feared that if the democracy that we know and abide by allows Black, Brown, and Indigenous people to be involved then the country will see a shift. A shift of tax money to support “those people” and a shift of power, especially with the upcoming and dreaded 2044 shift in U.S demographics.
Our founding fathers initially did not even want to include the masses, i.e. non-landed gentry, to have the vote. One of the reasons to create our complicated and dysfunctional electoral college was to have a safety valve against the masses who might get it wrong. (The other reason was to give more voting clout to slave-holding states) The electoral college could overrule the popular vote and alter the people’s will. The electoral college has given us five men who were not elected by the American people. It could be argued that group did not comprise our best presidents.
You remember Nevada welfare rancher Cliven Bundy. He inhabits a very small town in Nevada appropriately named Bunkerville. A few years ago I passed through Bunkerville enroute from exploring Gold Butte, one of our newest and most remote National Conservation Areas. There was a large, crude sign hanging out in front of some home. “First they came for Bundy. Next they’ll come for you.”
None of us have forgotten Tucker Carlson and his incoherent rant of “The Great Replacement Theory” where he and his ilk envision hordes of Brown-skinned immigrants from “shithole countries” being imported (illegally of course) to overwhelm the votes and wishes of “true Americans.”
Those folks who envision the democracy that seemed to work pretty well for them – mostly they got what they wanted – are coming for the Black and Brown folks who seem to be in the way. That’s why all of the cities that Trump challenged - unsuccessfully - in the 2020 election were majority Black. It's the people who are not legit, not the process itself. The key is nullifying or making it difficult for those people to vote. There was a reason southern states chafed under the Voting Rights Act.
Next they’ll come for you. Or at least for your vote. And right after that we’ll have a democracy that will be unrecognizable to you. We Brown-skinned folks should not be the only people who are worried. You should be as concerned about things – almost always concealed around racism - as I am.
In October, 2021, Heather Cox Richardson, smarter and more erudite than I, reflected on America’s democracy. I’ve taken the liberty of editing her piece for brevity.
“We are in an existential fight to defend our democracy from those who would destroy it.
People seem to hark back to films from the 1930s and 1940s and think that so long as we don’t have tanks in our streets, our government is secure. But in this era, democracies die more often through the ballot box than at gunpoint.
You can see this in Russia, Brazil, and Hungary. On paper, both Hungary and Russia are democracies in that they still holds elections, but they are, in fact, a one-party state overseen by one man. Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy.”
Hungary is in the news in the United States because Americans on the right have long admired Orbán’s nationalism and centering of Christianity, while the fact that Hungary continues to hold elections enables them to pretend that the country remains a democracy.
In 2019, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson endorsed Hungary’s anti-abortion and anti-immigration policies. Recently, former vice president Mike Pence spoke in Budapest at a forum denouncing immigration and urging traditional social values, where he told the audience he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion thanks to the three justices Trump put on the court. Further indicating the drift of today’s right wing, the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be held in Budapest.
In their embrace of the illiberal democracy of Hungary, those on the right argue that they are defending traditional American values. Like Orbán, they focus relentlessly on immigration; “caravans” of immigrants have once again made the right-wing news, as they always do before an election. They insist that “real” America is being destroyed by multiculturalism; hence the hysteria over Critical Race Theory.”
Those on the right are openly embracing voter restrictions and the replacement of nonpartisan election officials with partisans. The 33 new election laws in 19 states will not fail. They are designed to replace the idea of democracy with a hierarchy in which a minority will determine our fate.
If it seems odd that a group of people who claim to be trying to “Make America Great Again” are taking their cues from a central European country of about 10 million people, it is worth noting that they are not simply talking about Critical Race Theory or Texas’s so-called heartbeat bill. We are in a larger struggle over the nature of human governments. And when American thinkers are praising Hungary, they are tapping into a long history of our own.
When the Founders declared it “self-evident, that all men are created equal,” they were making a bold declaration about the nature of governments that flew in the face of western tradition and thought. They denied that some individuals were better than others and had an inherent right to rule the rest. Governments, the Founders said, derived legitimacy not from religion, or heritage, but instead were legitimate only to the degree that those who lived under them consented to them. “[T]o secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” the Founders said.
This was a revolutionary argument. For all its limitations—the Founders could conceive of this idea in part because they excluded from their vision women, Black people, and all people of color—it was an astonishing declaration. And yet, the idea that all men are created equal and that governments derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed began to fall apart in the late 1820s. Southern Democrats wanted to take control of Indigenous peoples’ lands in the Southeast in order to spread the wildly lucrative system of plantation agriculture. Then, when they had displaced the tribes, they spread across those lands their economic system based on human enslavement.
But because southern leaders were outnumbered by Americans in the North who objected to their economic system, within a decade they were arguing that true democracy meant not that government depended upon the consent of the governed as a whole, but rather that local or state governments could choose how everyone, including enslaved people, women, Indigenous, and Mexican people, would live. And, of course, they limited voting to a few white men, who voted to keep themselves in power.
In 1860, southern white elites declared the American concept of democracy based in equality, government based in the consent of the people, to be obsolete. They declared they were going to start a new country, based in a hierarchy of gender and race, that they believed reflected God’s will.
In a speech in March 1861, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, who would soon be the vice president of the Confederate States of America, explained to an audience that Jefferson’s belief that all men are created equal was “an error” and that anyone who still adhered to that idea was an insane “fanatic.” Stephens told listeners: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
And there it was: the replacement of the idea that all people are created equal with the idea that some people are better than others, and that those people, who truly understand God’s laws, should rule. It is not an accident that the insurrectionists of January 6, 2021, carried the Confederate battle flag.
We are today in a struggle no less dangerous to our democracy than that of the 1860s, for all that it is fought with Facebook memes and cable television rather than artillery. And when our leaders talk fondly about Viktor Orbán, or Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil — former president Trump endorsed his reelection today—we would do well to listen.”
In May, 2015, and for the first time ever, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a scathing report, consisting of 348 recommendations that address myriad human rights violations in the United States.
What usually happens as a democracy is going down? People lose their human rights.