“America is not a racist country.” That was Sen. Tim Scott giving the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, calling on the nation to “root out systemic racism that plagues America.”
Scott is the only Black GOP member of the Senate at this time. Joe Biden is not the only white Democrat, but the two of them pretty much said the same thing. However, it was Scott who suffered far more abuse as a token of a party that is now home to almost all bigots. He was quickly hashtagged “Uncle Tim” (if you don’t understand why that’s a particularly toxic play on words, then you aren’t very woke).
First of all, let’s remember the context of his rebuttal: “I have experienced the pain of discrimination. I know what it feels like to be pulled over for no reason. To be followed around a store while I’m shopping.”
It was only then that he said, in spite of his experiences, that “America is not a racist country.”
In the uproar that followed, the media got the reaction from every politician of color they could convince to get up early enough to appear on their morning news and cooking shows. Vice President Kamala Harris got roped into “Good Morning America,” where she was asked if she thinks America is a racist country (not exactly an unobvious question). Her reply:
“No. I don’t think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today.”
Now, how is that so different from Sen. Scott’s point? Besides, what is a “racist country” anyway? For that matter, what is a rebuttal? The answer to that last one is somewhere along the line of bureaucrats deciding that the president’s opposition should have an opportunity to say that “he is full of malarkey.” Except that the one chosen to do so has three minutes; the president has as much time as he wants.
Besides, we are so racist that we cannot possibly have a comfortable conversation about race.
Actually, Scott could have been more precise. And, in the process, he would have been less controversial. After slavery and Jim Crow, we have evolved to the point where we suffer from what Uncle Joe called “systemic racism.” Not that those bland words aren’t tragic enough, certainly if you include the disproportionate number of minorities who are murdered by police and the infinitesimal number of law enforcement representatives who serve any time for their slaughter.
But it also extends to housing discrimination and African Americans being routinely assigned to substandard schools even after the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 in a unanimous decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
As a result, they must choose from lower-level jobs or suffer the indignity of higher unemployment, which explains why the death rate and incidence of COVID is unbalanced against minorities, who are deprived of adequate health care and nutrition. They had work, those who did, that required face-to-face contact, as opposed to hiding behind technology like Zoom, for those who could even afford a computer.
That’s part of what is called “systemic racism,” and that stacking of the deck is what’s left of minuscule generational progress.
With the advent of smartphones, where police are forced to deal with video of their most egregious abuses, law enforcement reform is a good place to start. But there are plenty of good places to start for Americans who have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. There are enough of them these days to tackle the remnants of bigotry so deeply embedded in our social fabric. It’s time to rip them out. Is America not a racist country, as Sen. Scott claims? Well then the country can solve our problems. A good idea, Senator, is starting with your fellow Republicans.
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2021 Bob Franken
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