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GREG HARTON: "Not a racist nation" true, as far as it goes

by Greg Harton | May 2, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Last week, Tim Scott, the only Black Republican U.S. senator, provided his party's response to President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress.

It was a dramatic moment as Scott declared "America is not a racist country."

It would be naive to think such a statement by a Black senator elected from South Carolina wouldn't have a profound impact, far more so than if any other GOP senator wanted to make the same pitch.

Scott's words probably felt good for a lot of Republicans, who no doubt tire of being cast as antagonistic to the plight of Black Americans.

The words were strong enough that they managed to consume some of the news cycle that easily could have been owned by Biden's wide-ranging speech. First, Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged the nation isn't racist. Then President Biden followed.

"I don't think the American people are racist," Biden said, "but I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they are so far behind the eight ball in terms of education and health, in terms of opportunity."

It's sometimes important to consider what people did not say, too. Scott did not say racism does not exist in the United States. Indeed, he asserted he knows "what it feels like to be pulled over for no reason, to be followed around the store while I'm shopping."

I'm reminded of the folks in the last couple of years who declare "all lives matter." I might have said as much myself in some form. And they're not wrong in such an assertion. All lives absolutely do matter. But let's be aware this emphatic declaration was hardly heard before the marches over police brutality in recent years. It is, indeed, a rebuttal to the activist cry of "Black lives matter." Sincere concern for "all lives" is obviously admirable, except that its use in the context of George Floyd, Botham Jean and others is simply a decoy, drawing attention away from a problem that needs it.

The problem isn't that all people are dying in unjust ways when they have interactions with police officers. It's that Black people -- young Black men, particularly -- are dying in disproportionate numbers. Paying attention to that will make it clear that sometimes Black lives don't seem to matter much at all, or at least not as much as white lives.

If one recognizes that Black men make up about 13 percent of the male population in the United States but 35 percent of those incarcerated, isn't it reasonable to consider something other than an assumption that Black men are somehow just inherently more likely to cause trouble or are just tend more toward violence? Couldn't something else be at play?

Does "all lives matter" address the fact that Black males are 2.5 times more likely nationally to be killed by police than white males? Does it make sense that nearly three-fourths of white American families own their homes but a little more than 40 percent of Black families do? Is it just a fluke that the median Black family owns about 2 percent of the wealth of a median white family?

Replacing "Black lives matter" with "all lives matter" is a defiant response that needlessly undermines the work to reduce or eliminate the heavier toll Black Americans pay, whether it's in the struggle against poverty or against police biases or discrimination in housing. It denies that there's a serious problem in need of serious attention.

A rising star in GOP politics said the United States isn't a racist nation. I think he's right. But he didn't -- and couldn't -- suggest racism isn't a troubling problem within that great nation, one that needs a lot of attention.

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