Posted 262 days ago
Too many Americans still view racism as largely a personal failing rather than a systemic force. In this view, one's soul can be purged of racism by wielding the correct jargon, denouncing the right villains, and posting heartfelt Instagram captions.
The brute reality is that many of our grandparents were raised in Jim Crow, where a majority of white, southern Americans were complicit to the crimes committed against freedmen. In towns where things move slower, where people come and go much less frequently, or even in cities where people stick to their segregated neighborhoods, racism is taught and learned. Maybe there is and will always be a base of racism that can never be stamped out, but Serwer's article makes it clear that the decisions of powerful politicians has led to the systematic racism that we see today.
Throughout the South, when freedmen signed contracts with their former masters, those contracts were broken; if they tried to seek work elsewhere, they were hunted down; if they reported their concerns to local authorities, they were told that the testimony of Black people held no wieght in court. When they tried to purchase land, they were denied; when they tried to borrow capital to esablish businesses, they were rejected; when they demanded ecent wages, they were met with violence.
Today, many Americans take the individualist, libertarian approach to justifying their own hegemony: Black Americans are poorer due to some fault of their own. Maybe this implies a shift away from racism in how we traditionally have viewed it. Maybe they believe that Black people are not inferior because of their skin color, but for how they are building their communities, and if they just were better, their situations would be so as well.
They may even go so far as to believe that because we live in such a just society, White Americans are actually be discriminated against because of the help that Black Americans receive from the government. Serwer cites a pollster of Obama's presidential campaign, saying "In 2008, in the battleground states, more white voters thought reverse discrimination was a bigger deal than classic racial discrimination."
This feeling, no matter how absurd it seems as a simple statement, actually got a lot of support because it hits two types of people: those who are racist and use it as a defense mechanism, and working-class Americans who feel beaten down by an unjust system. The importance of the Black Lives Matters movement is that it's opening the eyes of the second group. They are realizing that the oppression that they feel as White Americans differes greatly from the systematic violence that Black Americans know all too well. Although feelings of resentment will surely linger related to typical examples of unemployment or crime, the majority of White Americans are hopefully coming around to see that the form of oppression is very different than their own, and is a much more sinister form of it.
Serwer finishes the article by saying Joe Biden doesn't have the best voting record when it comes to making sweeping changes that the country needs. He argues that he might be aware of the changes sweeping society and be able to go with them, but ultimately the "fight against racist policing and mass incarceration is largely a state and local one." It will of course help enormously to have a rational President going into 2021 that can at least understand the fundamental needs of today, but we should focus more on our state elections and push our local politicians to reform what we can in our close vicinities.