We are Told America is Living Through a ‘Racial Reckoning’. Is it Really?Roundup
tags: racism, Black lives matter, Protest, Whiteness
Hate has no place in America.” So tweeted Joe Biden last week while announcing that he would sign new legislation to address the rising tide of racist hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the United States.
Biden’s claim is, of course, a fantasy – or, perhaps more charitably, an aspiration. Whatever it is, it is certainly not a statement of fact. Hate has plenty of places in America; it has had a comfortable home in the marrow of the nation’s bones for longer than “America” has even existed. Indeed, the United States wouldn’t exist as we know it today – perhaps would not exist at all – were it not for the hate-fueled (and greed-fueled) violent logics and machineries of chattel slavery and settler colonialism, which drove the nation’s economy and shaped its government and borders. Hate molded the United States’ early institutions and was written into its founding documents.
Hate continues to structure both public and private institutions to this day, even if often under the veneer of colorblindness that renders the hate invisible to those who don’t want to have to see it. And, of course, hate routinely governs the everyday experiences and fears of people of color as they move about this country; the latest hate crimes legislation signed into law on Thursday wouldn’t be necessary if that wasn’t true.
Again and again for a long and punishing year, since Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd and the world broke open in protest and rebellion, we have been told that the United States is experiencing a “racial reckoning”.
I confess that I have never quite known what is supposed to be meant by this. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I don’t know if the people who believe it to be true know what it means.
Would not a reckoning require an honest and sustained stocktaking of the country’s racist past and racist present? Is that not the very least that it should mean? And would reckoning not, in order to prove meaningful, be a process that includes measures that might remedy the harms caused by racial hatred – systemic and particularized – in the past and present, in pursuit of an actually just future?
I am confused by people talking about our ongoing “racial reckoning” because what I am describing above has quite certainly not happened. Indeed, the evidence is actually everywhere in abundance that white Americans especially, generally speaking, have not been willing to even begin to reckon with hate and racism in any sustained way. To take one example: public polling has consistently shown that most white Americans have never supported the Movement for Black Lives; the percentage of those that did briefly crept above the 40% threshold after the murder of George Floyd, but support waned quickly and is more or less back to the status quo. Meanwhile, polling in March showed that support for and trust in police had risen substantially over the past year, in an inverse pattern to support for and trust in Black Lives Matter.
Moreover, Republicans’ active refusal to engage in this supposed reckoning has become a dominant through line in our national politics over the past year. Their bleating and hysterical political opposition to the teaching of critical race theory (or really anything about race at all, it seems) in American schools is quite literally nothing more than a refusal to reckon with the ways that racism structures American institutions and society. Their disingenuous comparison and conflation of antiracist protests last year with the treasonous government coup on 6 January stoked by noted white nationalist Donald Trump represents still another manifestation. And, of course, nearly a year after the first legislative measures to address the racial terror of American policing were introduced to Congress in Floyd’s name – measures that, at best, would only mildly dull the deadly edge of police terrorism – nothing has actually become law.
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