Monday, June 08, 2020

A Response to Racism

A Response to Racism in America
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, June 8, 2020, p. A6
[As submitted; bracketed words deleted by The Gazette from hard copy edition for space]

Racism, like COVID-19, is [also] a global pandemic. It has been a systemic element of American culture for 400 years. Like the virus there is neither vaccine nor treatment, it spreads throughout the world in billions of incidents [every day], and as we’ve just been reminded, it can also kill. (Reproduction of handbill advertising a Charleston, South Carolina, slave auction in 1769. Credit: public domain,

What can we do?

One more impassioned speech or “study” won’t eradicate racism. But, as Thomas Paine said, "words pile up and then people do things." His words in "Common Sense" caused them to fight the Revolutionary War. Words are the "first step in a journey of a thousand miles" – [a journey] seldom completed on the first try.

Following similar protests for similar reasons, in 1968 President Lyndon Johnson created the Milton Eisenhower Commission with members capable of putting the national interest above political advantage. Their remarkable staff produced both the Commission's final report ("To Establish Justice, To Insure Domestic Tranquility") and 11 Staff Reports exposing [our] racism [pandemic] in numerous institutions.

Two [of those 11] volumes addressed "Violence and the Media."

As [an FCC commissioner] a Federal Communications Commission member at the time, I brought the [life] experience of being raised in the 1930s and ‘40s as an “anti-racist” in the midst of Iowa City's "northern racism," plus my disgust at the “southern racism” during my 1950s stay in the South. [during the 1950s.]

At the start [beginning] of my FCC efforts, broadcasting was one of the [single] most racist and sexist [among] American industries.

Change required improving licensees’ hiring practices, putting blacks [Blacks] in front of as well as behind the cameras, increasing the odds of blacks [Blacks] owning a radio or television station, enforcing station licensees' responsibility for meaningful community service, providing public access to [the] mass media (e.g., license renewal challenges, Fairness Doctrine, public access channels on cable, and low power community FM stations [, like KICI in Iowa City]) -- and much more.

It's time to do this again -- focusing on police practices and blacks' [Blacks] disproportionate incarceration, yes, but the other dark corners of systemic racism as well: food, housing, healthcare, child care, education and training, employment, transportation, payday loans. [– and much, much more.]

And fueling racism is how those enjoying white privilege [perceive and] use language; how we think, talk and teach our children. As [the lyrics of] “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” explained in the 1958 musical “South Pacific,” “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.”]

[Is there hope?] Can it be done? [It has been done; progress] Progress was achieved in my little corner of the media’s racist ruins. Of course, much of that progress was undone once I left -- along with [President] Johnson's much more significant progress.

[President] Johnson was fully aware of the political consequences for the Democratic Party from his civil rights efforts. [(a party long dependent on the support of the southern states).] As he put it to an aide, "There goes the South for a generation." How many of our current elected officials can you imagine being willing to do the equivalent for the good of the nation?

What do we need? More political and institutional leaders willing to put the defeat of racism above politics, profits, and position. More understanding of the thousands of forms and locations of the racism virus. More willingness to change each of them, one at a time – and to keep at it as long as it takes.

Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City, was an FCC commissioner from 1966 to 1973. Comments:
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Note: On this morning's (June 8) Gazette editorial page I share the space with but one other author, Condoleezza Rice. So far as I can find out now, her column is not now available online. If I later find that it is, I will put a link here. Meanwhile, she and I end what each of us have to say on a similar note. She concludes, "What is your question about the impact of race on the lives of Americans? And what will you do to find answers?"

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