Slaughtered Native Americans. Stolen and enslaved Africans. DDT-soaked Mexicans. Interred Japanese Americans. Rejected, Nazi-fleeing European Jews. Euthanized “imbeciles” and “defectives”. Compulsorily sterilized inmates, women, poor, disabled, and minorities. All of it encoded into Law, among countless other initiatives, and enacted over centuries. The United States is a nation founded on — and defined by — racism, and its citizens are still deeply entrenched in its practice.
Manifest Destiny was the early settlers’ idea that God himself favored the culturally and racially superior “White” Americans, which demanded that they subdue, convert and/or dispatch “savages” of all other colors and creeds, then take their rightful place as overlords of the world, and the people in it.
Historian David Dorado Romo, a descendent of Mexican origins, told The Atlantic in the latest issue that “we have deep amnesia in this country,” citing his shock at the discovery that his Mexican migrant forebears were forced to wear Zyklon B-soaked clothing and be sprayed in the face with now-banned DDT, while legally crossing the border, in ritualistic cleansing. Says that article’s author, Caitlin Dickerson, “Racial stereotypes, rooted in eugenics, that portray people with dark skin and foreign passports as being inclined toward crime, poverty, and disease have been part of our immigration policies for so long that we mostly fail to see them.”
Adds Romo, “It’s in our DNA… ingrained in the culture and in the laws that are produced by that culture.”
America’s racist problem goes well beyond its most recent inflammatory incarnation: that of Donald Trump. Trump’s blunt characterizations of the entire African continent as “sh*thole countries”, and of Mexicans as rapists—among other well-documented prejudices—are now presumably shared or at the very least tolerated by half of the nation, as evidenced by American voters. What racism’s poster child has done, however, is to inspire his party of national lawmakers to take their own gloves off, because he has shown them there is no need for fear of reprisal at the ballots. While this development is at odds with the general trajectory of at least the semblance of increased inclusivity and tolerance, the “inner racists” among the population in general, and the elected officials who largely belong to one political party, is fully consistent with Americans’ cultural inheritance.
To wit: Republican Rep. Don Young’s reference to Latinos as “wetbacks”. Republican Sen. George Allen’s reference to an Indian-American aide as a “macaca” — a slur normally reserved for Africans. Democrat Sen. Harry Reid’s amazement that Obama had “no Negro dialect”. Republican Rep. Steve King’s petition to install electrified wire at the border, “like we do with [other] livestock all the time.” And of course, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s avalanche of remarks, from her tone-deaf reference of Blacks as “slaves to Democrats”, or (Jewish) George Soros a “Nazi”, to accusing Muslims of being pedophiles who “have sex with little boys, little girls, multiple women, and marry their sisters and cousins”; not to mention her assertion that minorities are exclusively being held back by “gangs, drugs, lack of education, planned parenthood and abortions… not white people.”
This was last year.
And it’s getting worse.
A Worsening Problem
An article last year in Mother Jones provocatively titled How Racist are Republicans? Very. delved into the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI) annual poll — among the nation’s most respected. Its most troubling findings, in my view, stemmed from two questions. First, PRRI asked whether respondents believed, “It always makes the country better when all Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by government.” Then, they replaced the words “all Americans” to “Black Americans”, and asked it again. The article reports, “Democrats made no distinction between the two questions: 71% answered yes to both.” By contrast, 49% of Republicans agreed with the first of these statements, while just half of that — 24% — agreed to the second. Worse still, less than half again — just 10%, in all — of Republicans whose primary news source was Fox News agreed that the second statement was correct.
Said another way, Not only do less than one third of Republicans believe Blacks should speak up against what they agree is unfair treatment, but fully nine out of ten Republican Fox News watchers believe Blacks should not speak up when they are treated unfairly. Meaning, by implication, they believe it’s right, or justified.
Equally shocking? Republicans’ perception of victimhood. PRRI asked, “Who faces “a lot of discrimination: Whites or Blacks?” Shockingly, Republicans believed that Whites faced more discrimination than Blacks (57 vs. 52%), while just 13% of Democrats believed Whites face a lot, and fully 92% of them believed that Blacks do.
Said another way, half of Republicans believe Blacks are not discriminated against; while nearly all Democrats recognize it for what it is: systemic racism.
And so, in 2021, I’m asking myself, is it even possible for the United States to evolve past its racist roots, and embrace true integration and equity, both ‘on the street’ and in the formation and enforcement of the nation’s laws? Or is it too late, and the roots are too deep, for the United States to overcome their inherent racism?
A Break in the Clouds
If America is to emerge from the ash heap of its misogynistic, racist, bigoted culture of Manifest Destiny, it will not be at the hands of today’s lawmakers. That’s because we’ve just seen that half of the nation is moving farther away from the route toward acceptance and reckoning, and doubling down instead on xenophobia, persecution and incarceration, and the evisceration of protections for those who need them most.
But a closer look at changing attitudes reveals that while “dad’s [or grandpa’s] still in charge” of the government, that’s beginning to shift, in the form of ever-younger demographics. The Brookings Institute estimates that the combination of Millennial, Gen Z and young generations now comprise 166 million Americans, while Gen X, the Boomers and other cohorts now represent slightly fewer, at 162 million . And while one of them is fueling a burgeoning work force, while gaining in power and influence, the other is decidedly sunsetting, or dying.
That’s the subtext to Americans’ responses a recent Gallup Poll.
The poll covered the first twenty years of this century. Over that period, it found, the number of Americans who view race relations as “very good” or “somewhat good” declined by half. Similarly, the number of Americans who worry about race relations “a great deal” doubled, at the same time as the number who were “very dissatisfied” with them tripled. The same applied to feelings about “the position of Blacks and other minorities in the nation”, as well as to how immigrants as a group are treated. Treatment of women was another point of deep dissatisfaction: twice as many Americans now feel they are treated poorly, as did 20 years ago.
Better yet? The cited numbers reflect the blended view all Americans, the majority of whom — 76% — identify as White. And so, it’s not only minorities who are feeling this way. It’s White people.
This is excellent news indeed. How? Well, dissatisfaction is the first step to change. It is often — always? — the tinder that lights fires under people who wish to improve outcomes. That’s because however we each define “good” or “satisfied”, every human without fail aims to improve their own lot, and that of those they care about, which includes the immediate context in which they live.
And that catchment — those they care about — is broadening.
What this poll tells me is that in 20 years, enough boomers have aged and/or died, and enough millennials have matured and/or been empowered, that the American narrative is changing; which in turn, will change the dialogue at not only the grassroots level (through this is a powerful tool), but the legislative level, as well.
It is predominantly younger Americans who have been marching in the streets for equality, shining a light onto American racism. The Black Lives Matter (aka George Floyd) Protests have exceeded 26,000,000 participants, not even a year in. The March of Our Lives saw 2,000,000 Americans take to the streets to demand gun control, in 2018. The year before, 5,600,000 people joined the Women’s March to protest inequality. And 315,000 Americans marched on 2019’s Climate Strike, Greta Thunberg among them.
The First Amendment is alive and well, and being used expertly by younger generations to demand change from ‘dad’ and ‘grandpa’ in government. And when it’s their turn — finally — that change is gonna come, to paraphrase the late Sam Cooke.
One look at the graph below, and you realize why this is inevitable. By 2050, no more than 60 million Americans will belong to my generation, or one older. The children are indeed our future, to paraphrase another late, great singer, Whitney Houston.
Why does this matter? In three words: because they care. In more words? They care about these things more than they care about the extreme havoc that unchecked capitalism has wreaked upon the Earth and everything in it, jeopardizing their very lives, let alone their livelihood prospects. Our woeful neglect of people and planet is being inherited by them, at the precise point at which each system — ecology, climate and human thriving, racism, equity and equality included — is at a critical inflection point.
As I wrote in Greta’s Brave New World:
“Children realized that the game the adults in charge had been playing for millennia — of musical chairs — was coming to an end, and that they would be the first humans ever to lose a seat when the music stopped.”
And their context couldn’t be more different from ours. In many ways, their context is unique in all of human history.
“They are like-minded, because if they don’t clean the house they inherited, they will die. Instead of wandering fields full of bees and butterflies, discovering their back yards out of boredom, they are being shuttled in cars to pre-arranged play dates, to play indoors with ‘black mirrors’. Instead of reading books about savannas and wildlife, they are reading about colony collapse and the foods that disappeared because of it. Instead of picking berries off of bushes, they are picking plastic from the oceans. Instead of swimming in ponds, they are sidestepping toxic rivers and drinking water. And instead of dancing in the rain, they are bracing against Category Seven hurricanes, for which they must now change the numbering system.”
Why — apart from ‘handling’ these crises — do I think they’ll act differently from the way we have, even though both they and we have the same information at our fingertips?
It’s simple. It’s because their value system differs from ours. One last excerpt from that article:
“The kids aren’t buying it anymore. They neither have the money to do so, nor the time. Nor, somehow, the greed.
“On this last point, perhaps it’s because they share everything, openly: their feelings, their cars, their homes and their services. They created the sharing economy. The sharing economy not only works; it’s not only more economical for debt-strapped youth; it’s not only more environmentally sensible for a newly resource-poor planet; it also influences our children’s behaviors when it comes sharing what the adults hoarded: their wealth.”
So, not only — as Gallup found — are more and more Americans dissatisfied with race relations; they’re more dissatisfied with how governments govern, as well. And guess what: they are increasingly in a position to do something about it.
It’s no wonder that Goliath (in the form of Old White Men) are so fixated on David (in the form of millennial Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and in a froth about her. The 31-year old multi-racial, whip-smart and beautiful Bronx native presages a new era in politics: one of social media influence, straight talk, cultural complexity and — most worrisomely to the entrenched overlords — accountability.
She took Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida — a since-retired baby boomer — to task, after he had called her “disgusting” on July 21, 2020 on the steps of the capital, in addition to calling her “out of your freaking mind” because of her assertion that the rise in crime rates during the pandemic was related to economics. When she told him he was “rude” in response, rather than just sitting there and “taking it like a lady”, he retorted, calling her a “f*cking b*tch” — in front of the press, no less — as he walked away.
He never apologized.
“I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable,” AOC then told them. “It’s not about one incident,” she added. “It is cultural,” and “accepting of a violence and violent language against women [and] an entire structure of power that supports that.”
Goliath is finally falling. And there is more than one David rising.
Jon Ossoff is the youngest U.S. Senator, and its first millennial. While nominally ‘White’, he is Jewish, and the descendant of Holocaust survivors. Hence, as he once told Israeli newspaper Haaretz, his “understanding of history instilled a conviction to fight for the marginalized and be wary of authoritarianism.”
Unsurprisingly, just like the majority of his generation, Ossoff is pro-choice; for the legalization, taxation and regulation or cannabis; anti-death penalty; supports climate change action; is unwavering in his support of LGBT rights; and of healthcare, has said,
“One, no American should suffer or die from preventable or treatable illness. Two, no one should go broke because they get sick. And three, no business should go under or lay off employees because it can’t keep up with health insurance premiums.”
What a refreshingly logical point of view.
More Work to Do
Still, there is work to do. Troublingly, baby boomers continue to make up nearly 70% of the latest Congress, in spite of the fact that they comprise just 21% of Americans. More than 77% of Congress is over 55. And so, it seems we will have to wait until they retire or die, or until their numbers dwindle enough that AOC, Ossoff and a generation emergent can finally have their way.
Because it’s not a matter of ‘if’. It’s a matter of ‘when’.
The only question that remains, then, is what the world they inherit will look like when the remaining vestiges of an inherently extractive, misogynistic, racist, bigoted and woefully short-sighted chunk of humanity are finally done “manifesting their destiny,” all the way to the grave.
I’m betting my money on human ingenuity, which will finally be aimed toward collective wellbeing, rather than personal gain, whatever the cost.