The story about the sudden “retirement” of a school superintendent and “resignation” of a school athletic director in Pennsylvania over racist and sexist text messages reminds us that, in spite of popular reports to the contrary, we’re not nearly over overt racism in this country.
The text messages can be read here. I’ll spare you the details and leave you with the option of following the link or just taking my word that the texts express a kind of sexism and racism that is beyond offensive. It made my skin crawl to think of these men providing care and guidance to children, especially girls of color.
I frankly was a little shocked. And that after I spent most of the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s tracking down and exposing vigilante racist and anti-Semitic groups. I’ve witnessed overt bigotry expressed with the force of a brand of hatred that too often ends in violence. That experience stunned me into a state of virtual stoicism in the face of ordinary, everyday bigotry.
But now I’m surprised? With some embarrassment, I admit that my surprise was partly the result of my first having looked at this picture:
That’s Richard Como, a 42 year veteran in the education field, now resigned from his position as the Coatesville, Pennsylvania School District Superintendent because of those texts. I’m guessing it wasn’t just the use of particular words but the force with which he used them that got him into so much trouble.
Does it surprise you even a little? I shouldn’t, but it caught me asleep at the wheel, if even just for a minute.
Even after years of confronting racism in just about every imaginable flavor, from sugar-coated to bitter to down right poisonous, I still carry around a picture in my mind of overt racists and woman-hating sexists as Jethro Bodine stereotypes. For you less than middle-aged readers, here’s Jethro:
That so many of us carry around these images as prototypes of bigotry is unfair and does us no good. Racism is a deeply rooted American value. Sure, it contradicts other American values like democracy, freedom, and equal opportunity, but we’ve lived with that contradiction for centuries. And we’ve piled centuries of racist ideas on top of one another in order to rationalize living with that contradiction – so much so that those rationalizations are as indigenous to American culture as basketball, baseball, and football, all sports whose spread around the world speaks to how U.S. culture
infects affects the world.
That’s Jan Brewer, the Arizona Governor who signed Senate Bill 1070 into law in her state, taking racist anti-immigrant politicking to a new low by promoting racial profiling in immigration enforcement.
And here’s Pat Buchanan, graduate of Columbia University and the original host of CNN’s Crossfire. He’s a former advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan who has suggested that the decline of American culture is the fault of immigration and the civil rights lobby, claimed that people can live on public subsidies “from cradle to grave…” and seems to think we’re in a race war.
And then there’s Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, the racist academic who wrote The Bell Curve. He has suggested a relationship between intelligence and race, and while he also says that environment is also a factor (in terms that suggest that certain American subcultures that seem awfully tan to me are failing), he has further posited that there may be a genetic basis for intelligence. He’s a Harvard man, by the way.
And finally, there’s this guy, Newt Gingrich. Newt may not be a racist in his heart of hearts, but he’s happy to play one for votes by suggesting that poor black people are lazy freeloaders who’ve become overly dependent on welfare and food stamps, proving that when it comes to racism, it’s not just what you truly believe but what you actually do with those beliefs that matters.