The GOP Can’t Get Off The Hook By Declaring The “End” Of Racism

Terrance Heath

Besides black people, nobody wants racism to be “over” more than white conservatives, if the RNC’s tweet honoring Rosa Parks for “ending” racism is any indication. Why are white conservatives so ready declare racism “over”? They just want to get off the hook.

Almost as soon at it appeared, the RNC’s tweet was deservedly targeted for scorn and derision.

The RNC’s tweet demonstrates an unsurprising lack of awareness about the world some of us live in. After a public shaming, the RNC explained, “Previous tweet should have read “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism.”

So, Instead of praising Rosa Parks for her role in ending racism, the RNC is honoring her role in fighting to end racism? Neither the original tweet or the “what-we-meant-to-say” tweet makes it clear whether the RNC thinks the “end” of racism has been achieved. Republicans would probably like to see the end of racism, but not for the same reasons as the rest of us.

Standing While Black

Black people don’t have the luxury of pretending that racism is “over,” even for a minute. Every week there’s some fresh reminder that it’s far from over. Last week, there was a new addition to the list that includes “Driving While Black,” “Flying While Black,” “Seeking Help While Black,” “Biking While Black,” “Working While Black,” and of course “Walking While Black.”

“Standing While Black” is the latest thing. On November 27, in Rochester, New York, Raliek Redd, Wan’Tauhjs Weathers and Daequon Carelock were waiting for a school bus arranged by their coach Jacob Scott, to pick them up and take them to a scrimmage game. A police officer ordered them to disperse, claiming they were “pedestrian traffic while standing on a public sidewalk…preventing free passage of citizens walking by and attempting to enter and exit a store…” When the teens tried to explain why they were standing there, the office started handcuffing them.

Here we go again. Redd, Weathers, and Carelock weren’t doing anything wrong. They had a legitimate reason to be where they were. Suddenly, they were in a position that left them no good choices. If they didn’t “disperse,” the officer would arrest them. If they did “disperse,” they would miss their bus, miss their scrimmage game, and tick off their coach.

It gets worse. Coach Scott arrived as the officer was putting handcuffs on his players. He tried to explain that he told the boys to wait there for the bus. The officer ordered the coach to disperse, called for backup, and threatened to take them all “downtown.”

The charges against three teens were dropped, but that doesn’t soften the impact of the event, as described by the coach.

Scott said that the event was traumatic for everyone involved: “These young men were doing nothing wrong, nothing wrong. They did exactly what they were supposed to do and still they get arrested,” Scott remarked. “I’m speaking to the officers with dignity…and still and yet – they see me get treated like nothing.”

For the teens, the impact of being held suspect merely for standing and waiting for a bus was compounded by seeing their coach “treated like nothing,” when he came to their defense.

No doubt, the parents of those boys had some version of “the talk” with them. These teenage boys had it explained to them that they may be treated as criminals, even if they’ve done nothing wrong, for no other reason than they color of their skin. Now, they’ve experience the hard, cold truth that not only are they held suspect for no more than standing and waiting for a bus, but the adults they trust to keep them safe may be powerless to help them.

Had the teens and the coach been white, would this scenario would have unfolded in exactly the same way?

Rosa Parks was arrested for not moving to the back of the bus. Redd, Weathers, and Carelock never even got on the bus. They were arrested for just waiting for a bus. That doesn’t sound like the “end” of racism

White Woman In Trouble

Another story that made the rounds last week reminded me of scene from Scary Movie, that parodies the phenomenon of media-driven hysteria about “white women in trouble.”


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Police in Houston, Texas must think any white woman in the company of two black men is a “white woman in trouble.” Thirteen-year-old Landry Thompson traveled to from Oklahoma to Houston for a dance training with her dance instructor Emmanuel Hurd and her dance partner Josiah Kelly. Hurd and Kelly are African-American men. Hurd traveled with signed, notarized papers from Thompson’s parents, giving him legal guardianship over her during the trip.

Thompson, Hurd, and Kelly were in Houston to work with dancers at the Planet Funk Academy, and to shoot a video. After a long day of rehearsals, they pulled into a gas station to check GPS for directions to their hotel. It was around 3:00am, and they were so tired that they drifted off to sleep.

Soon after that, all hell broke loose.

Hurd explained that Thompson was his student, and that he had notarized documents signed by Thompson’s parents. Police officers still pulled all three out of their car, handcuffed them, put them into patrol cars. Police took Thompson to Child Protective Services. Hurd and Kelly followed but were told to leave the CPS reception area. They returned to their car and for six hours for Thompson to be released.

Meanwhile, police called Landry’s parents. Destiny Thompson, Landry’s mother, was surprised by the tone of the office who called and asked her, “Are you aware your daughter is with two black men?” She said that when she answered, “Yes, I’m aware of that,” the officer “called into questioning our parenting.”

According to Thompson’s mother, Hurd and Kelly are “close family friends” whom she and her husband trusted to keep their daughter safe. Yet, they realized that the traveling trio might raise eyebrows. So, the Thompsons provided Hurd every phone number and document they thought might protect both him and their daughter, including her insurance card and birth certificate. Thompson’s parents even scanned and faxed their driver’s licenses to Houston police. None of it did any good.

The police refused to believe Hurd, Kelly, or the Thompsons. Police demanded that Ms. Thompson fly all the way to Houston to get her daughter, but she refused. Instead, the Thompsons demanded police release their daughter back into the custody of Hurd, whom they knew and trusted to take care of her.

Landry was finally released back into the custody of her legal guardian, eleven hours later the ordeal began. The three left Texas without an explanation for why they were stopped and detained. Never mind an apology.

Would this scenario have happened exactly the same way if Hurd and Kelly were white? Police might have knocked on the car windows and told them to move on. But it’s unlikely anyone would have been handcuffed or seen the inside of a patrol car.

Everyday Racism, Racism Every Day

The “Whites Only,” signs of the segregation era are today’s museum pieces. Laws relegating blacks to the “back of the bus” are history. Yet, the disappearance of overtly racist policies and the passage of civil rights laws don’t mean that racism itself has disappeared.

Stories like those above are not “isolated incidents,” with no bearing on America’s progress on race They are what a study by San Francisco State University Professor Alvin Alvarez defined as everyday racism — “subtle, commonplace forms of discrimination, such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently.”

Everyday racism is the kind of racism that people of color can still encounter every day. It can include, but is not limited to, being arrested for standing and waiting for a bus, or for buying a $300 belt. Its nature can be interpersonal or institutional. It doesn’t always carry a sign, wave a confederate battle flag, or carry handcuffs. It may not even be consciously intended. It can be hard to pin down, and next to impossible to prove.

It may be impossible to prove. You may never know if you didn’t get a job, or even an interview, is because of your black-sounding name. You may never be sure if the reason you go longer without work, despite having a college degree, is because you failed to thoroughly scrub your resume of every details that might give away your race. You’ll never be able to prove that a real estate or rental agent only showed you a handful of available properties or apartment because of your race.

None of that makes the impact any less real. Studies have shown that subtle racism is more taxing on the brain than overt racism. African-Americans are particularly vulnerable to the impact of subtle racism. We’ve experienced and learned how handle overt racism.

The stress of dealing with vague acts of racism — where bias lurks just below the surface, is difficult to identify, and can’t be remedied — can have negative health consequences, including higher rates of depression, increased incidents of high blood pressure, and even higher mortality rates. Some black men may be prone to depression, as a consequence of hiding their emotions, and bearing the slights and hassles of every day racism in silence.

For most African-Americans, the RNC’s tweet was a “laugh-to-keep-from-crying” moment. White conservatives can afford to fantasize about the “end” of racism. Not so for us. Lives, livelihoods, and just living day-to-day life with minimal frustration are on the line.

Off The Hook

African-Americans hope for the “end” of racism, and to be free from the constant drip of everyday racism. White conservatives fantasize that racism is “over,” because they want to get “off the hook.”

If racism is “over,” then Republicans no longer have to “re-brand” themselves to capture minority votes. If racism has “ended,” it’s no longer necessary for the GOP confront its own problems with racism.

Republicans would like the rest of the country to believe that these are “isolated incidents,” that do not reflect on the Republican party itself. But they occur in a context that goes at least as far back as the Dixiecrats, and continues through the “Southern Strategy” and Willie Horton, right up to the “the tea party.”

This isn’t the first time Republicans have declared racism officially “over.” While the rest of the country celebrated the history election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, conservatives like Dinesh D’Souza were already declaring the “end” of racism, and pointing to Obama’s election as evidence.

D’Souza just superimposed his own agenda on the 2008 campaign, when he stated that Obama’s campaign was based on the premise that “America is no longer racist.” The irony is that during much of the 2008 campaign, the GOP’s tea party base provided ample evidence that D’Souza’s presumed premise was far from true.

Videos of GOP supporters on the campaign trail hardly look like an America that is “no longer racist.”

Nor do the signs and confederate flags that have become a staple of tea party protests and rallies.

Towards the end of his 2008 column, D’Souza shows his hand when he writes: “The solutions are obvious. If you want to get rid of racial obsession, stop talking and thinking about race so much. If you want to remove race as the basis of decision-making in America, let’s eliminate America’s policies that make race the basis of decision-making.”

If only it was that easy. America has come a long way on the issue of race since Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. We have come this far precisely because we have not stopped thinking about and talking about the reality of racism, and its impact on the lives of generations of Americans.

We will not make further progress if we stop talking about it and stop thinking about it. We will lose ground. Racism will not magically “end” or disappear. It will merely go unchallenged. And those who defend it, justify it, or embed it in their politics and ideology will get off the hook.

We can’t afford to let that happen.

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