In 1965, one of the crowning achievements of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Presidency was achieved with passage of the Voting Rights Act. The law was part of the decade’s “Great Society” initiative. Among the many attributes of the law were electoral and voting mandates which meant to promote the interests of (at the time) black voters. As the Hispanic population has grown the law has expanded to include them as well.
The problem, of course, was the idea on paper did not manifest in reality. It looked good to allow blacks and Hispanics to choose their candidate of choice in congressional districts made for them? But, in turn, it meant creating the perception, especially among Southern Blacks and whites, they were equal but still separate. Minorities, despite the law’s intents, were getting special treatment.
This is hardly the only case where well-intentioned efforts to prevent racism have backfired though it might be the most prominent, especially with so many gerrymandering cases in the South being debated along racial lines (vs. partisan, or both, or are they the same).
Hate crime laws came about in the 1960’s as well. The modern manifestation of hate crimes revolve around hideous crimes targeted at certain racial communities. So, for example, when the El Paso, Texas Wal-Mart shooter Patrick Crusius killed 22 people, mostly of Hispanic heritage, he was charged with a hate crime. Merely hours later, Connor Stephen Bretts, killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. Though Bretts was killed in a firefight with police, never was it mentioned he would be charged with a hate crime. The difference? Most of Brett’s victims were white.
Nobody can rationally argue shooting a room full of innocents is not an act of pure unadulterated hate. But we only label it such when a white man or woman kills somebody of another race. Yet again, we are reminded of the differences between us. Perhaps, contrary to popular opinion, hate crime laws do not deter crime, as evidenced by the supposed rise of “white nationalism.”
Another dozen examples could be highlighted of how America has a habit of fighting racism with policies which inevitably promote it or simply make it worse. Worse of all, we have laws on the books to prevent it, yet almost every politician is afraid to address the issue in any meaningful fashion.
Instead, the issue is discussed around hot-button topics such as immigration, guns, or reparations. This is ridiculous. Immigration and guns, just to name two, are incredibly difficult topics to discuss and dissect on their own. Throwing into the mix an issue as contentious as racism is pretty much killing any serious discussion.
All which leads to the inevitable conclusion Americans don’t want to have a serious discussion about racism and how to deal with it. The laws we have only promote division among different groups and have ultimately led to the current stalemate on the issue.
At a time when America is changing demographically and politically, we need to have serious look at every level of governance, local, state and federal and assess whether these laws and rules are serving their intended purpose? One does not need to justify the actions of Antifa, the Black Panthers, the white supremacist movement, or KKK, to see the value in understanding what is driving their recruitment.
Falling back into the trope of America’s white majority is racist or blacks commit the majority of crimes does not address. Nor does addressing it haphazardly by pushing for reparations but not sentencing reforms. It is true, some of these are being addressed at the state level but then you have a disconnect between state and federal laws which defeats a concerted effort, doesn’t it?
America has a chance to systemically address racism. It will posit uncomfortable questions for all involved. It would challenge stereotypes about blacks taking welfare, or whites being racist for not promoting reparations, or worse yet, voting Republican.
Yet, even as I write this I know it probably won’t happen. To many powerful interests benefit from the current dynamic which promotes racial tension. Much as the VRA promoted minority interests it gave politicians of both parties a reason to support, just for different reasons (Democrats – safe majority black district, Republicans -safe, surrounding white districts).
No politician would touch this in a serious way in an election year either. Instead, expect to hear more talk about reparations and rhetoric ramping up racial tension and division. Americans probably won’t truly confront the issue until it reaches critical mass.