We miss both ends of the political spectrum
In a column from March 5 (“Why are we trying to forget our nation’s racist past?”) I have argued that racism has been part of us since Europeans first settled the Americas and to deny this history or suppress current theories about it is dishonest. However, human affairs are seldom neat, black-and-white affairs, and honesty also demands that we do not attribute too much to racism in the motives of individual behaviors or the shape that our institutional structures take.
Sometimes racist motives are obvious, like when Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was killed by three white men and racial bias was explicit in the messages they posted on the internet. One message expressed a wish to shoot black people described as monkeys and another that someone drive a car into a group of Black Lives Matter protesters. A line from Bob Dylan’s ballad ‘The Death of Emmitt Till’ still rings true 65 years after Till’s murder: ‘The reason they killed him there, and I’m sure that’s not ain’t a lie / Because he was born a black-skinned boy, he was born to die.
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But motives aren’t always so obvious, and claims about motives can sound like fishing expeditions baiting a hook, throwing it in the river, and calling whatever came out a fish. Sportscaster Jim Kaat at a baseball game in October. praised the skill of a player from Cuba and added that his team would benefit from a “40-acre field” full of players like him. A minor media storm followed claiming the “40 acres” metaphor was an insulting reference to the broken post-Civil War promise to give “40 acres and a mule” with every salvo released. However, the phrase “back” or “north” or “whatever” forty is colloquialism in rural America that apparently originated in 1832 when 40 acres was defined as the standard land for selling government land in order encourage settlers to move west. , not after 1865, when land promised to former slaves was returned to pre-Civil War white owners.
Children’s author Dr Seuss has been slammed for promulgating racist prejudice: The Grinch spreads anti-Semitism because stealing Christmas presents is ‘similar’ to the medieval stereotype of the Jew who hates Christians and the cat in the hat portrays black people as stereotypical black-faced minstrels who are sources. entertainment that does not deserve the basic respect due to everyone. The problem with this analysis is that seeing these characters as metaphors for racial stereotypes requires the reader to assume the characters are symbols and then interpret them as modern day metaphors for historical events that few children would know about.
Carol Anderson, author of “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America”, professor of history at Emory University, provides a more serious example. During a June 2, 2021, NPR interview about her book, she said that James Madison, to gain support for the Constitution, added the Second Amendment “to assuage concerns coming from Virginia and anti- Federalists, that they would still have full control over their state militias – and these militias were used to suppress slave revolts.
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Its website states that this book “shows that the Second Amendment is not about guns but about anti-darkness, shedding shocking new light on another dimension of racism in America.” His assertion is true but incomplete. Like most significant events, the structure of our Constitution and Bill of Rights has been influenced by multiple factors. Suppressing rebellions, slaves and otherwise (e.g. Shay’s Rebellion) was a concern. Citizen militias also provided security against threats from outside the new union while avoiding the establishment of a professional military under federal control that the states feared. Keeping black people in their place is an important part of our past, but the history of the Second Amendment is too complex to narrow down to race alone.
Efforts across the country to suppress discussion of race and fishing expeditions to find racist motives where only the thinnest connection can be made are also misguided. Buffalo Springfield’s song, “For What It’s Worth,” seems to apply today as much as it did during the “culture wars” of the 1960s: “There are battle lines be traced / And no one is right if everyone is wrong”.
Even those we have fundamental disagreements with probably won’t get everything wrong, but both ends of the political spectrum seem more interested in painting the world as they wish rather than making an effort to see the world as it is. . False narratives, whether they support liberal or conservative causes, provide a poor basis for forming the “more perfect union” our Constitution promises us.
— Frank Barefield is a resident of the Netherlands.