Thoughts for White Conservatives Who Never Owned Slaves

I’m seeing a lot of defensiveness from conservatives regarding racism. This is understandable, as the Left continues pushing to redefine racism to include things such as breathing and having a job.

But being defensive isn’t helping anyone. Is it really too much to ask that we try to see the world from our Black neighbors’ perspective? To empathize with them? To face America’s racist past?

Here’s a clear example of what I’m seeing. Last week I read an article about Max Lucado publicly repenting at length for his ancestors’ sins of racism. The majority of comments following said things like this:

> My dad said his father was a horse thief…do I need to beg for forgiveness for his sin? If I do, do I get to hear honking cars afterwards?

> Lucado is trying to sell more books. No where in scripture does it suggest you repent of the sins of your ancestors… Slavery and racism has (sic) been present since the beginning of time.

> This is ridiculous. Licado (sic) needed attention and sell books (sic)…..that was 150 years ago…get over it.

Stuff I Didn’t Learn in School
I’ve spent the last few weeks re-learning the history of Black America. I was born in 1960 – ninety-nine years after the start of the Civil War. I thought I knew this stuff. What I’ve realized is that I mostly learned about the good parts – the civil rights victories, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and how America finally got it right. I never really learned about just how bad things were for Black Americans during the 100 years after the Civil War, before the “civil rights era.”

I recently listened to a talk by Bryan Stevenson, attorney and author of Just Mercy. Stevenson carries a lot of moral authority with me because of his tireless work on behalf of people on death row who have been wrongly convicted. He contends that America has never truly come to grips with its racist past, and that this is a necessary step in order for healing to actually occur as a nation. I agree with him.

I suppose most white folks, myself included, have assumed that because equal rights have been established on a policy level, then we’ve basically solved the problem. We live and work next to our Black fellow Americans and we all get along just fine now.

May I ask something of you? I am not suggesting that you need to repent of your ancestors’ sins. Repentance is not the point for you today if you do not hold racist beliefs or attitudes, imo. What I think is in order is that we grieve with, feel with, and empathize with, our Black brothers and sisters. I’ve compiled a brief timeline of post–slavery American history. I think you will find some surprises, as I did.

TIMELINE:
1863 – THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION is issued by Republican President Lincoln during America’s Civil War over slavery. The Proclamation declares that slaves residing in the warring Confederate states are “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Southern whites insist that Lincoln’s executive order is illegal and refuse to comply.

1865 – THE 13TH AMENDMENT is ratified, formally codifying the Emancipation Proclamation, prohibiting slavery throughout the United States, “except as punishment for crime.”

1865 – THE CIVIL WAR ENDS. LINCOLN IS ASSASSINATED 6 DAYS LATER. Democrat Vice President Andrew Johnson assumes the presidency but proves to be soft in his commitment to implement Reconstruction efforts and to protect newly recognized Black citizens. Among other things, Johnson opposes Black voting rights.

1866 – WHITE MOB VIOLENCE in Memphis and New Orleans leaves nearly 100 Blacks citizens dead, and some 200 wounded, including at least 5 women raped. White police officers contribute to the violence and killing until federal troops arrive.  

1866 – REPUBLICANS WIN A VETO-PROOF SUPER-MAJORITY IN CONGRESS as a result of public outrage over the Memphis and New Orleans attacks. Progressive Republicans embark on an aggressive civil rights program the likes of which wouldn’t happen again for 100 years.

1866 – THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT is passed, over President Johnson’s veto, declaring Black Americans full citizens entitled to equal rights.  

1866 – THE 14TH AMENDMENT IS PASSED by the super-majority, but will require ratification by 28 of the 37 states in order to become constitutional law. The proposed amendment establishes that all persons born in the US, regardless of race, are full citizens of the US and of the states in which they reside and are entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship, due process, and the equal protection under the law.  10 of 11 former Confederate states reject the proposed amendment overwhelmingly.

1867 – THE RECONSTRUCTION ACTS OF 1867 are passed by the super-majority, over President Johnson’s veto, in response to the former Confederate states’ rejection of the 14th amendment. The Acts require former Confederate states seeking readmission to the Union to fulfill the Acts’ conditions. Former states would be required to ratify the 14th amendment, grant voting rights to Black men, accept federal military rule in the southern region, and draft new constitutions to be approved by congress.

1868 – THE 14TH AMENDMENT IS OFFICIALLY ADOPTED. White backlash, violence, and efforts to maintain white supremacy continue in earnest.

1870 – THE 15TH AMENDMENT IS PASSED – the third and last of the Reconstruction amendments. It states, “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Subsequently, Black voters turn out in droves and more than 600 African Americans are elected as state legislators. The US Congress adds 16 Black representatives, and Mississippi elects the nations first two Black senators. The new racially integrated Reconstruction governments set about repealing racially discriminatory laws. Instability grows as whites in the South refuse to accept what is happening.

1870-71 CONGRESS PASSES A SERIES OF ENFORCEMENT ACTS, including the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, authorizing, among other things, the federal government to prosecute civil rights violations as crimes. Republican President Grant supports progressive Reconstruction and provides federal troops to enforce it, as state governments are powerless to stop widespread violence and upheaval.

1872 – THE SUPREME COURT BEGINS ISSUING RULINGS THAT NEUTRALIZE RECONSTRUCTION.
One of the worst is the 1876 United States vs Cruikshank decision. Incredibly, the Cruikshank ruling interprets 14th amendment protections as only applying to state offenses, not against violence perpetrated by individuals, rendering the Enforcement Act useless. Cruikshank leaves Blacks in the South defenseless against white perpetrators so long as they act privately. As a result, anti-Black violence in the South openly increases as white perpetrators act with impunity, knowing that racist state judicial systems and law enforcement will not punish them. This marks the beginning of the end of a mere 10-year period of hope and positive development for Blacks in America, until the civil rights era of the 1960s.

1876 – THE END OF RECONSTRUCTION. The 1876 presidential election ends in a stalemate between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Supreme Court and Congress develop a compromise whereby Hayes would become president if he would agree to end Reconstruction. The “unwritten” Compromise of 1877 resulted in all remaining federal troops being pulled out of southern states, and the agreement that the South would have the right to deal with Blacks without northern interference. This leaves southern Blacks with no legal recourse and virtually no protection, relegating them to an inferior status in a hostile society.

Here I will end the timeline, and summarize for purposes of brevity.

In the ensuing decades, especially in the South, a white supremacist society intentionally and often violently terrorized Blacks in order to “keep them in their place.” Despite the fact that equality between the races was encoded into federal law, the notion of white supremacy remained entrenched at every level of white society in the former slave states – in the general population, in the education establishment, in churches, in civil law, in law enforcement, in the legal system, and in state government.

Racial separation and inequality were enforced by many means including:

> rewriting state constitutions and laws, including Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation

> creating all-white juries to guarantee immunity for perpetrators of racial violence

> physical violence and legal barriers against would be Black voters

> evicting and/or firing would be Black voters and Blacks working for racial equality

> police brutality from officers who were often Klansmen/members of white supremacist groups

> judges who held white supremacist and/or segregationist views

> shutting down public schools to prevent integration, and the widespread creation of all-white schools

> criminalizing peaceful civil rights protests

> sexual violence against Black girls and women

> rioting

> bombings

> lynching

If I may elaborate just a bit on lynching: I had been under the impression, I suppose mostly from movies, that lynching was a somewhat risky and rare phenomenon perpetrated mostly by the KKK under cover of darkness. However, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 4084 lynchings between the years 1877 – 1950. These have been verified from news and other sources from the era. There were unquestionably an untold number of undocumented lynchings and assaults as well.

It seems clear that “terror lynchings” were perpetrated to send a message to Black citizens who had hopes of claiming their newly won rights as full citizens and equals. The message was that if you are Black, this can be done to you or your loved ones if you step out of “your place” as an inferior. The message was that a black person accused by a white person is not worth the time and expense of due process in a courtroom setting.

Many lynchings were public spectacles, with hundreds of white citizens and families in attendance. These were not viewed as fringe acts of extremism, but were mainstream events condoned by white society. Sometimes there would be food and drink, and the victim’s body parts would be handed out to the crowd as souvenirs. This was all openly documented by an often sympathetic press.

What is the point of saying these things now?
This is not the America we live in today. It is true that no one alive today owned slaves or perpetrated a racial terror lynching. No Black person living today was ever a slave. But the appropriate response to Black Americans is not, therefore, “so get over it.” For decades during the post-slavery era, Blacks were left utterly unprotected and what was done to them was horrific, to say nothing of the slavery itself that came before. White America must sorrowfully acknowledge this.

Millions of white supremacist Americans worked tirelessly, voted, and rioted to keep Blacks subjugated. The experience of Black Americans today has been shaped by this history. It should also be said that racial terror and discrimination was not just a “southern problem.” After Reconstruction ended, some 6 million Black Americans fled the South to the North, Midwest, and West, where violence and discrimination often followed – in cities such as East St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Tulsa, and Omaha.

Admitting the horror of America’s violent, racist past is a necessary part of national healing and understanding. Doing so is not an admission that America is innately horrible, or that rioting, or the solutions proposed by left wing groups like BLM or M4BL are correct.

But it might help us to understand the anger and frustration. It might help us to understand the eerie familiarity Blacks may feel when a white policeman unjustly kills a Black man and goes unpunished. It might help us to understand how confederate monuments may be seen as celebrations of white supremacy. It might help us to understand why America remains largely segregated, even though overt white supremacy has virtually disappeared from society and its institutions.

It is a basic act of respect toward Black Americans to not sweep their history under the rug. May God give us all grace and understanding to clean house without tearing the house down.

For further reading I recommend one or all of EJI’s 4 thin books: Slavery in America; Reconstruction; Segregation in America; & Lynching in America.

Thoughts On Racism. (For White People Only). Part 2

Serving up racist stereotypes

Why for white people only? Because we’re told it’s time for white people to listen to black voices.

Plus I don’t want to be guilty of “white-splaining,” or “man-splaining,” or worst of all, “white-man-splaining.”

So maybe if I talk to white people, I’m not splaining. I’m just sharing my thoughts and concerns about things that matter to me. Racial justice and reconciliation happen to matter to me very much.

In my opinion, in the torrent of words on the topic of racism since George Floyd’s death, a lot of ideas are being wrongly strung together on the same string.

Let’s see if we can get some clarity on the issue in one brief blog post. Once again I assert that liberals and conservatives have legitimate points and concerns. Again, I challenge you to see if you can agree with both sides as I present them below. If you can’t agree, I’d love to hear why in the combox.

What Is Racism?
As a white person, you may be questioning your own standing as a non-racist or anti-racist. You’ve been told you may not be able to see your own racist attitudes. I have white friends who are now calling themselves racists because they have uncovered “racist” attitudes within themselves. Could you be unconsciously participating in, and even benefiting from, white supremacy?

In processing the allegedly mysterious issue of racism, I think a look at the dictionary definition of racism is as helpful as anything I’ve heard. Imagine that. Take a look and see if you can agree:


RACISM: 1) a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. (Dictionary. com)

Think about that definition. Notice it has 3 components. It’s pretty specific, and ultimately has to do with a belief in racial superiority.

Take My Racism Test. It’s 2 Questions Long:

TEST QUESTION 1: Do you believe that your race is inherently superior to other races? Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes,” then you are a racist. If you answered “yes” and you’re white, you’re a white supremacist, because that’s what white supremacists believe. Holding a positive belief about racial superiority is a conscious decision. If you think one can unconsciously believe that whites are inherently superior to blacks, I would be interested in hearing your explanation as to how that is possible.

But wait…if you answered “no,” you’re not off the hook. There are two more dictionary definitions for racism:

RACISM: 3) hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

It’s possible to hate “people of color” (POC) without holding to a belief in racial superiority. Maybe you hate black people for some other reason. So…

TEST QUESTION 2: Do you hate black people, or others of differing races?” Yes  –  No

If you answered “yes”,  then you are a racist.

To summarize these two definitions: White supremacy is a belief. Racial hatred is an attitude.

To clarify, if you don’t hold a positive belief in white superiority, or harbor racially hateful attitudes, then, strictly speaking, you are not a racist. It doesn’t help POC to call yourself one.

To clarify further: Can one commit acts of racial bias, prejudice, “microaggression”, or even hold beliefs harmful to other races and not be a racist? Yes, it’s possible (but not ideal, of course). You could be insensitive. You could be ignorant. You could be apathetic. You could be a generally reckless, uncaring asshole. You could be well meaning but mistaken. You could be misunderstood. These things should not be strung on the same string as racism, as defined above.

How is this helpful? Am I simply trying to help white people feel better about themselves?
Not exclusively. I’m trying to help people of all skin tones see their way out of a false narrative. I would hope it would be encouraging, for black people especially, to know that the vast majority of whites are not white supremacists after all. My lifelong experience as a white guy has been that most white people want to see black people succeed. Even if they don’t personally know any black people, I think most whites at least like the idea of liking black people.

The notion that white America somehow wants and needs a black underclass in order to advance is a Marxist idea. It’s not true. White people do not benefit from “keeping black people down.” If you disagree, then please explain how a black underclass benefits whites in today’s supposedly white supremacist economy. It’s obvious how white supremacist slaveholders benefited from a black underclass 170 years ago. But I need someone to explain how this is true today.

But…Systemic Racism
Okay, so if overt racism isn’t nearly as common as liberals want us to believe, then why do such huge racial disparities still exist today?

I believe the answer is frustratingly complex. For starters, there is yet a third dictionary definition of racism; that of systemic, or structural, racism. It has to do with neither beliefs nor attitudes, but with entrenched practices, and participation can indeed be unconscious. Systemic racism does belong on the racist string:

RACISM: 2) a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine [referring the first definition of racism above]; discrimination.

Despite what I hear many conservative commentators saying, I don’t think there is any denying the reality of systemic racism. I don’t think there’s any denying that it stems (or stemmed) from white supremacy in America in that systemic racist practices were originally established with the specific aim of disadvantaging black people.

It’s true that most, if not all, systemic racism has been corrected on paper, and I believe that is the point that conservatives are making. The US has enacted many legal policy changes to correct systemic racism, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act (1968), and the Equal Opportunity Act (1972). Yet huge racial disparities continue to exist, and that is what the current upheaval is about.

I’m contending here that the troubling disparities we see today are the result of past systemic policies and practices, more so than current racial hatred. Institutional racism has done its nasty work, and despite policy corrections having been made at the governmental level, America is living with the aftermath.

It is worth watching this brief summary by Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales. Among other points, he argues that home ownership is a critical measurement of individual wealth where an enormous racial disparity remains.

So-called “systemic racism” is a tangled hairball. Establishing racial parity and justice cannot be a simple matter of passing laws. Because no matter how good the system, we will continue to contend with fallen human nature.

Let us consider 3 significant examples that illustrate what we’re up against.

Example #1 – Paved with Good Intentions
Since the civil rights era, in many cases, policies were established with the intent of helping the black community, and these policies ended up hurting the black community. The now infamous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is one such example. For sentencing purposes this law made 1 gram of crack cocaine equivalent to100 grams of powder cocaine, which ended up disproportionately punishing blacks. At the time of its passage, black leaders and most of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the act, as a crack epidemic was ravaging black America.

Were these black leaders white supremacists? Of course not. But unfortunately this policy contributed to a dramatic increase in the US incarceration rate, from 319,598 in 1980 to 1,505,400 in 2016. The “tough on crime” United States now has the largest incarceration rate in the world. Today, “woke” people cite the 1986 drug law as a horrific example of systemic racism. But the law was intended to protect black communities.

Example #2 – If You Don’t Have Your Health…
Perhaps more maddening than good intentions gone wrong, the word “systemic” does not refer only to government. It may even be inaccurate to think in terms of “racism.” It could be that any systemic practice that disadvantages the poor will disproportionately affect POC, due to racial disparities in income and wealth accumulation. It’s more complicated than “white supremacy,” despite continual assertions from the Left that racism is the problem.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic the nation was dismayed to learn that infected blacks were dying at a rate 2 or 3 times that of infected whites. Every news report I read blamed this on lack of access to insurance and quality health care, and perhaps the types of occupations in which POC tend to work. Most also mentioned the higher incidence of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and lung disease among blacks, putting them at greater risk.

As tragic as that is, if you’re a conservative, you may be thinking: What about personal responsibility? What about lifestyle choices? To a large extent, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes are preventable through a healthy diet, exercise, keeping weight under control, and not smoking.

But again, it’s just not that simple.

While it may be true that whites are not holding down black people and making them drink Sprite, it is also true that soft drink, sugary drink, and snack and candy companies market disproportionately to POC. Do a Google search. In the soft drink industry alone, Blacks and Hispanics together make up about 21% of the US population, but account for 50% of the fruit flavored soft drink market. White greed may or may not be behind that, but POC are also making consumer choices based on what they like. Is this systemic racism?

Good food benefits black and brown bodies as much as it benefits white bodies, but how do you turn that ship around? Due to residential segregation, many black communities exist in “food deserts,” where, in the absence of good grocery stores, people resort to buying junk food at convenience stores or gas stations. Low incomes and unsafe neighborhoods figure in as well. But even if given the option of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, most Americans will bypass those and go for soda and processed food.

So both systemic and personal responsibility issues are at play.

Example #3 – The Humongous, Defecating Elephant in the Room, That Nobody Wants to Talk About
Finally, in my experience the most counterproductive dynamic in any discussion on racism is an unwillingness to face the most crucial factor affecting racial inequality: family breakdown.

I assume the topic is off the table for “woke” people for political reasons, since the abundant research on outcomes for kids living with their married parents is now generally accepted. But it doesn’t fit the left wing narrative very well. It feels like victim blaming. It feels anti-feminist, anti-gay, and it flagrantly contradicts the tenets of their ongoing sexual revolution. Therefore it is more intuitive for the Left to focus on fixing the system.

Put simply, the conservative argument is that the breakdown of the family is at the root of virtually every racial disparity in America; in regard to crime, poverty, low education, illegal drug use, incarceration, and out of wedlock pregnancy. Kids who grow up with their married, biological parents are at significantly lower risk of experiencing these outcomes. The data is in, and it holds true across racial lines.

The out of wedlock birthrate for black American babies is now around 70%, even with a black abortion rate 5 times that of white women. No subculture of any race can successfully withstand that kind of marriage and family breakdown. But how do you turn that ship around?

Is the breakdown of the Black family due to systemic racism? This also, is not an either/or question. The factors are many. Conservatives are correct to emphasize character and personal responsibility, and liberals are correct in blaming the effects of systemic racism. Some research (Belinda Tucker) indicates that the problem is not an aversion to marriage on the part of women of color, but a lack of marriageable Black men. If that shortage is due to higher mortality rates, incarceration rates, and unemployment rates for Black men, then yes, it is in part a systemic problem.

Love Your Neighbor
White people do need to listen to the Black experience. There are now many Black voices insisting that it is not primarily racism that is holding Black America down, but that it is 1) family breakdown, and 2) blacks believing the left wing victim narrative. I agree with them. Let us not forget to listen to those black voices as well. But please, let no one conclude that if contemporary racism is not the real problem, then disadvantaged blacks are to blame for their own plight. Black America is still suffering the consequences of systemic racism, particularly in the criminal justice system.

Surely the will now exists on all sides to root out systemic racism wherever it remains. Doing so can only help Black Americans. And yet, if all systemic racism were to disappear overnight, kids growing up without both married biological parents will remain statistically disadvantaged.

Clearly, change will have to come from within the black community as well, but now would be a good time for white conservatives to commit to living less segregated lives for the sake of building community. Ask yourself if you’ve ever been inside of a black person’s home. Has a “person of color” ever shared a meal around your table? Maybe being a friend and ally to our black and brown neighbors and co-workers would be a good place to begin the healing process in your corner of America.