It’s the same theme throughout history: slavery, the Tulsa Massacre, George Floyd, and attempts to hide the facts to paint over the scars, and, above all, the wounds that are still open and bleeding in a polarized U.S. society.
Is the United States a racist society? Yes. Absolutely and categorically. There are countless facts that prove this. A review of some very recent incidents confirms it.
However, it is not only the violence, police brutality (especially against Black and Latino people), or the surge of far right, xenophobic and fascist groups and organizations that are making it visible. Or the economic and educational inequality that reduces opportunities for development.
In the first days of May, Republican Gov. Brad Little of Idaho signed a draft bill whose purpose supposedly is uncontroversial. The bill prohibits state schools and colleges from teaching that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.”
It might appear to be a positive step; however, the bill avoids, even eliminates, conversation about race and equity, as if it were of no importance in a society where such conversation continues to be one of the biggest and most divisive problems, sustained in a historical transformation that has its roots in the near annihilation and pillaging of Indigenous populations and the slavery of men and women brought by force from distant Africa.
Idaho is not unique in following this trend. A dozen states, among them Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia, have also introduced legislation that would prevent schools from teaching “divisive,” “racist” or “sexist” concepts.
According to an article published by USA Today, this legislation attacks “critical race theory,” a movement of academics and civil rights activists, which critically questions and examines how the legacy of slavery (in August 1619, the first boatload of African slaves arrived on the shores of what is today known as the U.S.) and systemic racism still affect American society today and form part of daily life for people of African descent.
Because of this, this legislative trend — especially in southern states that are predominantly Republican — is considered to be a reaction to teaching anti-racism in schools, and an obstacle to learning about true and hidden history, in order to enthrone the socioeconomic predominance of the white elite, who also cover up class exploitation, regardless of the skin color of those exploited.
2 Key Incidents
These final days of May mark two dates a century apart. The first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, under the unrelenting knee of police officer Derek Chauvin who crushed Floyd’s neck after eight minutes, suffocating him, a crime that shook the United States and continues to do so, and caused outrage around the world; and the centenary of a murder that very few people in the northern nation know about, the Tulsa Massacre.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, dozens of Black citizens were killed — some estimations say there were more than 300 victims of the racist brutality from white mobs, who were joined by the police and National Guard — between the night of May 31 and June 1, 1921, in the Greenwood district. Known as Black Wall Street for its economic prosperity and the intellectual development reached by its residents, the district was reduced to ruins and ash in the fire.
Baptist minister and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “Few even know about the massacre. It hasn’t even been taught in the Tulsa public schools until this year. Although 100 years old, the massacre poses questions of justice and of decency that America cannot avoid.”
However, there is a part of the United States, significant in terms of size and power, that avoids the issue and does everything possible to sidestep it. Detractors of critical race theory, conservative groups that deny the existence of systemic racism in the United States, call for its eradication. They do not only try to “discredit” it, calling it “Marxist,” but also charge that lessons about racism is a plan for “teaching kids to hate their country.” Because of this, teaching about racism is a threat to U.S. society and the nation.
The Donald Trump administration opposed the teaching of that history in state schools, stating that it was “divisive, anti-American propaganda.” Trump said, “Students in our universities are inundated with critical race theory. This is a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed.”
A recent study by Reflective Democracy, a group working to create a democracy in the United States that works for everyone “because it reflects who we are and how we live in the 21st Century,” found that white men occupy 62% of all elected positions, despite making up only 30% of the population in the country, exercising minority rule over 42 state legislatures, the House of Representatives, the Senate and state offices from coast to coast.
Additionally, the analysis showed that women hold only 31% of elected positions despite the fact they make up 51% of the population, and “people of color” hold only 13% of elected positions despite the fact they form 40% of the population. It also noted that 43 states are considering or have already passed laws to allow voter suppression, aimed precisely at these vulnerable groups — Black, Latino, Native Americans and women.
Some analysts remind us that this wave against critical race theory only crystallized with Trump, but it arose when Barack Obama arrived in the White House, which “was shocking and traumatic for people who always imagined the U.S. as a white nation,” according to Adrienne Dixson, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and author of the book “Critical Race Theory in Education.”
The debate has grown for both sides over the past year, with activism spreading throughout the whole country (including all age and ethnic groups), with Black Lives Matter, and with the appearance on the social scene in March of the conservative national organization Parents Defending Education, whose mission is to deal with what it considers to be “divisive, polarizing ideas in the classrooms,” or critical race theory.
On its website, Parents Defending Education published a study in which it says that 70% of those surveyed said it is not important that schools “teach students that their race is the most important thing about them;” that 74% were opposed to teaching students that white people are inherently privileged, and that Black people and other people of color are inherently suppressed; that 69% were opposed to schools teaching that the United States was founded on racism and is structurally racist; and that 80% oppose the use of classrooms to promote political activism in students.
Is the U.S. society polarized? Without a doubt, and in my view, this is extremely dangerous. It is like a vat of boiling liquid with no safety valve.