Pearl River Living in the South, it is easy to become self-deluded about race. Public and private spaces seem more normalized and less strained than they were many decades ago in restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and the like, at least in the majority Black city where I live. Don’t get me wrong. Racism is still here, there, and everywhere, but people-to-people not so bad it seems. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the protests that followed, and the Black Lives Movement, for a moment it seemed possible to hope that this pretense of a national reckoning might move the country and its people closer, perhaps signaling we were finally coming to the last mile, which sometimes feels the hardest.
So much for that. The news now feels just ugly. Worse, when it comes to the places of power, it feels more deeply entrenched and suffused with impunity.
We have a presidential candidate on the Republican side from a nominally Southern state, DeSantis, who seems to be running on his opposition to the reality of race. Under the new curriculum in Florida, even slavery has been whitewashed as a condition where the enslaved benefited from learning skills, not for their masters, but for their personal improvement.
In a rare decision by the conservative Supreme Court majority after they put affirmative action based on race in the trash bin, they told Alabama they had to finally have a Black majority in one of their six Congressional districts or a good explanation for why not, since a quarter of the state’s population was Black. But in a case study of the impunity of power when mixed with racism, in a special session of the Republican dominated state legislature to do the job ordered by the court, they came back with one district where they piddled around and moved the Black percentage in one district from 30 to 40% and in the district that had a 55% Black majority, they diluted that to 51%.
The head of Texas A&M was forced out for having offered a job to a Black professor when some of the trustees and the deep-pocketed yahoos realized she had advocated in favor of diversity in some of her scholarship. The University of North Carolina had an earlier dustup along the same lines, also led by their rich, white trustees.
Red state after red state has also followed Florida’s lead and outlawed the teaching of critical race theory, something that dollars to donuts at best only a handful of the legislators would be able to define. Their argument is that they don’t want any of the young to learn anything in their history that might be negative, for example, like the truth. Racism now mandates that fantasy, rather than history, must be taught in these states.
I could go on with this litany, but these examples are just the takeaways from today’s news. I’m conflicted about all of this, because the gap between the majority of people who have come to embrace the complex realities of the American demographic in public spaces with some equanimity and peace seems to contradict the racist attacks on the whole body of our people by those in power. Privilege and ideology seem to have now given permission to people in power to bring their private, deep-seated racism back to prominence in public with impunity, and that’s a sign of harder times coming and deeper divides.