Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Unlearning Hatred

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

-- President Barack Obama, Tweet, August 12, 2017, quoting from Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

"You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear . . .
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people . . . whose skin is a diff'rent shade, . . .
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!"

-- Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," South Pacific (1949 musical)

Like a ship hitting a rocky reef beneath the water's surface, every once in a while America runs aground its subterranean racism. [Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center.]

So it was in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, August 12. If you're unfamiliar with the events, here's one of the best collections of various aspects of the story before, during, and after these events: Maggie Astor and Christina Caron, "A Guide to the Violence in Charlottesville," New York Times, August 13, 2017.

Picking out all of the issues this event burst forth is like trying to catalog all the items from a backed up sewer. Here are a couple.

The Neo-Nazi-White-Nationalist-KKK-Alt-Right folks have always been there, are now, and undoubtedly will continue to be -- as long as parents teach hatred to their children, and politicians are tempted to play to their prejudices. That's the message quoted above, from Nelson Mandela, to Barack Obama, to Rogers and Hammerstein. Nor is the Neo-Nazis' hatred limited to African Americans. They are equal opportunity haters of anyone black or brown, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, LGBTQ, recent immigrants -- seemingly anyone who does not look like them and agree with their hate-driven ideology (if it can be called that).

Their movement is racism and bigotry made visible. In Charlottesville, literally so. Without their hoods or face masks, and carrying torches, they were easily photographed. As the photos are circulated and reach their employers, some have been fired.

I remember the University of Iowa of the 1930s, with few if any women, African American, or Jewish professors. What some Iowans now call "The Peoples Republic of Johnson County" (where Iowa City is located), the home of "left-leaning liberals," was then a place where the few African American students could not find housing -- or a barber who would cut their hair.

I lived and worked in the South during the 1950s, attending a law school that refused to admit African Americans until the Supreme Court ordered it to do so eight years before I graduated. [Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950)]

Is it better today? In some ways, yes, of course. Lynchings are extraordinarily rare. There are far more subtle techniques than the poll tax for discouraging minorities and the poor from voting. There are no longer separate water fountains and restrooms for African Americans -- although transgender folks are dealing with new restrictions.

But in some ways, it is the less visible, systemic racism, the racism embedded in virtually every American institution, that is even more difficult to identify and acknowledge than the alt-right folks who dress up as Nazis, shout offensive slogans, and parade with torches.

"Systemic racism is about the way racism is built right into every level of our society. . . . While fewer people may consider themselves racist, racism itself persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and elsewhere." "7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real," (listing wealth gap, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, surveillance, and healthcare).

Here are some details.

Employment Bias A scientific study responded to help wanted ads with fake resumes, identical in every respect except for the name of the non-existent applicant. The researchers "sent resumes with either African-American- or white-sounding names and then measured the number of callbacks each resume received for interviews. . . . In total, the authors responded to more than 1,300 employment ads in the sales, administrative support, clerical, and customer services job categories, sending out nearly 5,000 resumes. . . . Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback." "Employers' Replies to Racial Names," The National Bureau of Economic Research; Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," NBER Working Paper No. 9873, July 2003.

Segregated Schools. Do you know which American city has the most segregated schools? Read on. "[T]he [school integration] gains of Brown v. Board have been almost entirely reversed. Last year, a report by the Government Accountability Office found 'a large increase in schools that are the most isolated by poverty and race.' Between 2000 and 2014, the number . . . more than doubled, from 7,009 to 15,089. . . . [New York City] has ' the most segregated schools in the country,' a study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, found in 2014. That partly has to do with housing segregation, as well as the yawning disparity of resources to which that disparity inevitably leads." Alexander Nazaryan, "Whites Only: School Segregation is Back, From Birmingham to San Francisco," Newsweek, May 2, 2017. And see, Jason Le Miere, "White Supremacists Target High Schools and Colleges in Renewed Recruitment Drive," Newsweek, March 21, 2017.

Housing Discrimination. And speaking of the relationship between housing segregation and segregated schools (a problem in Iowa City as well), "Discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and Asians looking for housing persists in subtle forms, according to a new national study commissioned by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. . . . [M]inority customers were shown fewer available units than whites with similar qualifications, the study found." Shaila Dewan, Discrimination in Housing Against Nonwhites Persists Quietly, U.S. Study Finds," New York Times, June 12, 2013, p. B3.

The examples are endless, embedded throughout our culture and institutions. But this should be enough for a blog post.

We are a long way from eliminating racial and religious prejudicial thoughts, speech, and actions. For at least 300 years, generations of Americans have been "carefully taught" to hate, from America's days of slavery up to the present moment. It's not easy to learn anything; but it's far more difficult to unlearn something. Although most of us may not be Neo-Nazis, that doesn't mean we don't have a long way to go.

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