Our latest tragedy: The importance of race in our political malaise

The United States as a whole will face a “mass massacre” of black children in schools, activists warned at Saturday’s youth march in Columbus, Ohio. Even as the protesters gathered, the president’s eldest son,…

The United States as a whole will face a “mass massacre” of black children in schools, activists warned at Saturday’s youth march in Columbus, Ohio. Even as the protesters gathered, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was castigating the parents of America’s newest mass shooters, noting their fixation on “victimhood.” By the end of the march, one student had taken a noose and flung it at a police car, to underscore the significance of school violence.

For Americans of all races, the on-and-off cascade of tragedy since the 2015 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, illustrates the national psyche’s political malaise.

Over the years, the chief causes of American mass shootings have been a variety of guns and misogyny. The second-most frequent perpetrator? Our children.

Millions of white Americans have shared in the pernicious idea that blacks are always “acting out,” especially in large cities, by leading characters in television dramas, books and video games. For some white viewers, that was just entertainment. For others, including some Republican politicians, such characters depicted were merely social commentary. White supremacists chose to take offense, and used violence against blacks.

That continued to complicate efforts to keep American culture free of its problematic politics. It is hardly news that racism plays an entrenched role in America’s popular media and pop culture. Minorities are represented as mentally and physically impaired. Blacks are constantly dehumanized. In the last century, ordinary Americans avoided using the term “black,” for fear of stoking black anger. The African-American experience is rarely depicted as normal, something Americans can understand.

Even more troubling for some whites were the messages of professional African-American leaders, who encouraged marginalization of white “trash.” More than 20 years ago, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton denounced “conscious white liberals” for pushing black students to “submit in academe to the social norms of white civilization.” J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, sought to link civil rights leaders with conspiracy to overthrow the government. In the mid-1960s, Herbert Hawkes, a celebrated Harvard professor and author, warned that black intellectual leaders, like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were encouraging “the mindless sloganeering of manufactured blacks on race war, which is only the epitome of a base, unprincipled ideology, itself devoid of any foundation.”

But the most destructive influence on America’s racism, particularly against African-Americans, was the malevolent “movement” of United Daughters of the Confederacy, a fraternal organization that famously advocated for the southern states to secede from the Union. In 1961, the group took control of a Tennessee town council and tried to pass a resolution encouraging its residents to oppose busing desegregated schools.

While white parents initially welcomed these kinds of developments, and rightly assumed they were innocuous attempts at original and fair expression of American values, widespread rejection of white hypocrisy and racism gradually grew. White parents who stood up to the Daughters were dismissed as “reverse racists.” It was only when that group’s U.S. headquarters was abolished in 1977, and its members were stripped of its status as an official American tradition, that the facts became accessible to white opinion leaders.

When white speakers lambasted their black colleagues for racial insensitivity, white political leaders who had little knowledge of American history were surprisingly helpful. When white children told their white classmates that black children in school weren’t “real human beings,” their classmates were wrong. Often, such racial misstatements were witnessed by white parents, who supported the opinions of their non-white peers.

Racial division is a responsibility of everyone, regardless of ethnicity. Yet until we find a way to appreciate others’ perspectives, especially among our children, we will continue to perpetuate dangerous divisions. The FBI only realized in April 2018, nearly 60 years after the southern segregationists, that there are communities in the United States where white people refuse to interact with black people.

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