Race Basics

A  friend of mine sent me an email with a link to an article entitled, The History of Race… And Why It Matters.  The article tells the story about how race was invented out of whole cloth, at a time when African and European immigrants lived in relative harmony in North America, purely for the political purpose of justifying race slavery in the colonies.

This was news to her. She had no idea that long before the Civil Rights Movement, there was a time when Black and white people in North America lived together in integrated communities. They married and created families across race. Africans were considered more capable and knowledgeable than most Europeans in the colonies. In fact, without Africans, the colonies probably would have failed.

The exchange caused me to wonder. In these confusing, supposedly post-racial times, are racial justice advocates mixed-up about race?

You know that expression, “preaching to the choir”? By talking about the basics of race, I might be committing that sin. But suppose the choir is so out of sync that we’re in no shape to be singing in public?

With that in mind, here are some race basics for the choir:

  • Race is not based originally in science; racist science came later
  • Race is not natural, as in, it is in human nature to see people as races
  • Nor is race the same as culture or ethnicity

Race, as we know it in the U.S., is a political system invented to justify race slavery.

From these beginnings, 350 or so years of assorted racist b.s. followed, including apartheid in South Africa (based in large part on “our” system), tribal terminations, Jim Crow, Chinese Exclusion, Japanese American internment, the illegal occupation of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and the continued impoverishment of Black, Native American, Latino, and certain Asian and Pacific Island ethnic groups in the U.S., among other atrocities too numerous to mention (though I invite you to add your story to the comments section).

And this legacy continues. It shapes our culture, our politics, and our economy, and, just as in the days of slavery, it continues to cause white folks, and some of the rest of us along with them, to act against our own best interests.

Don’t believe me?

White racist ideas about Black people are hundreds of years old, but old as they are, the world lost Trayvon Martin to those ideas in 2012. And you think George Zimmerman acted rationally? He may not be dead but all I can say is, sucks to be him.

And if that’s not enough, consider this:

Racism just might also explain why the welfare rollback picked up serious steam when a lie was told to the public in 1976 about the Chicago Welfare Queen, a Black welfare recipient who supposedly had 80 names and 30 addresses, and four fake dead husbands on whose fictional backs she was collecting veterans benefits. Between that income, food stamps, Medicare, and 12 sources of social security income, she was supposed to have been making over $150,000 a year tax free.  She didn’t exist. President Reagan made her up to win white votes.

By ginning up racism, Reagan powered-up a welfare reform revolution popular among poor white people. That movement eventually messed up Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a benefit program that mainly helped poor white people.

White racism might explain why the U.S. is waging a War on Drugs that is crushing state budgets. It’s not working to stop illegal drugs, but it did lead to a prison building boom to lock up Black folks for selling drugs to protect “our” kids at the cost of letting our kids’ schools go bust. Meanwhile, we’re not doing much to lock up the white people who use drugs at the same rate as Black people (but are a larger part of the population, meaning they drive the U.S. illegal drug market).

And white racism might also explain why we’re fighting a war against Mexican immigrants. Mexico is the third largest trading partner of the U.S. after Canada and China. Money sent home by Mexican immigrants is Mexico’s number 2 source of foreign income after oil exports. The population of Mexico is just over 100 million. About 6 million undocumented Mexican immigrants are in the U.S.

What would happen to the U.S. economy if our 3rd largest trade partner lost its 2nd largest source of income and added maybe as much as 6% to their already high unemployment rate? Undocumented Mexican immigrants, both as workers in the U.S. and as a source of revenue to a major U.S. trade partner, are integral to our economy. Anti-immigrant politicians are just playing us to get votes.

Racism is a political system. And as a political system, it endures to this day. In fact, it is part and parcel of the American way of life.

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