The evidence is all around us. As the United States crawls towards its 250th anniversary the nation’s racial discord is tearing it apart at its seams. While America, with its first African-American president at its helm, should be celebrating over the strides it has made since being concocted in a stifling Philadelphia assembly hall; it instead appears intent on reliving its racially scarred past. As the population in the United States begins to mimic the world in racial, ethnic and religious composition, a noticeable backlash is occurring. The “old” Euro-centric America is not only being mourned, a concerted effort is underway to permanently forestall what is pretty inevitable in the eyes of most rational people.
We have devolved into a resentful, armed and paranoid lot. And this rising tide of resentment might ultimately destroy our nation from within long before any international terrorist group can inflict significant damage.
Let’s be real for a minute. Many whites view African-Americans, native born Blacks, with mistrust and resent any reference, however legitimate, to slavery, racism and present day examples of intolerance. Blacks view most whites with equal suspicion and often fail to see that poor and working class whites are also manipulated even if they take comfort in some false sense of security that their whiteness affords them. Both whites and Blacks harbor suspicions of Spanish language minorities and see immigration as an assault on American values, whatever that means. Meanwhile African-Americans struggle to accept African immigrants and view many Caribbean immigrants with suspicion. Asian-Americans are either treated as a super-group or caricatured as lowly immigrants whose greatest contributions are take-out and martial arts. Our so-called Judeo-Christian heritage leaves little room for the growth in adherents of Islam and has made Muslim synonymous with terrorist.
Simply put, we hate the hell out of each other.
The root cause of the resentfulness we see and hear among Americans is the deliberate mischaracterization of history and the perpetuation of half-truths and outright lies meant to maintain political and economic advantage for privileged whites. This is evident in the continued racial folklore that is published in history textbooks in which the oppression of Blacks and American Indians is trivialized, white status elevated and people of color characterized in a way that strips them of their humanity and creates the appearance of a permanent helpless class. By making ‘other than’ white a permanent out-caste, any claim for full citizenship and equal treatment by people of color is viewed as beyond reason and breeds contempt.
This has been clear since the start of the Obama presidency. The whiffed oath-of-office by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the interruption of President Obama’s State of the Union speech by a Republican congressman shouting “you lie!,” a governor pointing her finger in the President’s face on an airport tarmac, the obsessive anger over his health care policy and the most recent trivial outrage over the manner of his salute to the military escorts as he stepped off the presidential chopper Marine One point to a rising tide of resentment. These attitudes are forged when young minds encounter lies embedded in ‘history,’ have stereotypes validated in popular media and social networks, and national leaders infiltrate their own prejudices into policy debates.
What we are witnessing today is the end result of our failure to simply be honest. This nation has invested so much time in fabricating a narrative of exceptionalism that our clearly unexceptional qualities have simply floated to the surface of our polluted history. Whether it is the mythology around the nation’s ‘discovery’ by an errant voyager, the ‘savagery’ of a native people, civilizing ‘inferior’ Africans, our Founding Fathers ‘nobility’ or the claim of a legitimate southern culture that just so happens to include rape, murder and terrorism, we have lied so much that the truth when spoken or revealed is violently rejected. The lie is now defended at all cost and is buttressed by institutions wholly committed to human degradation and misinformation, including television and radio ‘news’ programming that pollute the airwaves with racist propaganda given legitimacy in the wrapping of corporate advertisements.
Resentment breeds contempt and that eventually leads to behaviors in which the marginalized are simply dismissed as unworthy or deemed expendable. Why are Blacks, particularly Black men, subject to police violence? Could it be that their worth is discounted even before the interaction? Why do Black children have such a tough time in public schools at an early age? Might it be that our lie laden ‘history’ informs educators to have such low expectations of Black children that there is little confidence in our children’s ability to learn let alone excel? Does violence seem more intense in Black neighborhoods? Perhaps if you have been convinced you are worthless and not capable of adding anything of value to society murder does not seem like an unreasonable penalty to inflict for the momentary, albeit brief and warped, elevation of personal status. The backlash against voting rights and affirmative action must be viewed through this same lens. While Blacks still struggle to get elected governor and to the U.S. Senate, and have equitable representation on the federal bench, our measured progress is viewed spitefully and despite our almost negligible presence as professionals in the workplace, many whites who see affirmative action as reverse racism are irritated.
For all the focus on the possibility of terrorism invading our shores, my sense is that we are rotting from within and sooner or later our resentful and hateful self will inflict irreparable damage upon this democracy.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.