Roland Martin, Rush Limbaugh and the GOP’s Race Problem
Name calling and rhetoric stall battle against racism
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of the Loop 21.
For political pundits and radio talking heads, social media spats are part of the daily routine.
So it’s no shock that Washington Watch host and CNN contributor Roland Martin and conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh squared off earlier this week. Limbaugh took exception to a tweet Martin sent his nearly 128,000 followers, in which Martin stated “…I simply accept the reality that racism is in the DNA of America...”
Limbaugh ranted on his nationally syndicated radio show that the belief that America is inherently racist is typical of those who he described as prescribing to the “religion” of liberalism. Martin struck back via Twitter, citing Limbaugh’s history of racially questionable declarations and drug abuse.
During the ensuing backlash, both sides have tossed the accusation of race baiting at the other. Those sympathetic with Limbaugh insist racism is not an intricate part of the American story, disingenuously arguing that Martin claimed racism is a uniquely American problem.
It’s unfortunate but not surprising that some have adopted the stance that racism isn’t married to the history of America, and the rest of the Western world.
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The ultimate irony is that many of those decrying moderates and liberals who cite our country’s racist past simultaneously believe – in line with basic Judeo-Christian values – that we live in a fundamentally sinful world where people’s actions are influenced by their own self-interest.
So it’s fine to believe that mankind is fundamentally flawed, but not that America is?
Besides the political hypocrisy involved with accepting that mindset, it all-too-conveniently ignores the truth that is our nation’s dark history of racial repression.
One of America’s first acts was to massacre the millions of Native Americans who lived on these lands for generations before our white founders “discovered” it.
Next, America perpetuated one of the largest institutional acts of racism in the human history through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
And even after the “end of slavery,” America used the convict labor system — in which white sheriffs would fabricate crimes against black men, then force them to “pay off” their sentences through years of slave labor, only to fabricate a new charge once the debt was paid -- to kept black men under the control of white masters until the 1940s.
As journalist Dennis Blackmon outlines in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Slavery By Another Name,” more than 800,000 black Americans remained enslaved in the convict labor system for decades after the abolition of slavery.
How can anyone argue a nation that waited nearly 80 years after the end of the Civil War to enforce federal anti-slavery measures doesn’t have racism blended into it’s DNA?
Racism wasn’t just perpetrated against blacks. Americans, traditionally meaning white Protestants, had no qualms with discriminating against immigrants of all colors: Italians, Irish and Mexicans.
And lets not forget lynching of and discrimination against Jews, Japanese internment camps and the on-going discrimination and demonization of Arab Americans.
Racism isn’t a black-white issue, but it is certainly an American one.
Now, that’s not to say the country hasn’t made significant racial progress.
We’ve elected a minority president, rid many state and federal laws books of overtly racist measures and have seen people of color rise into leadership roles on both sides of the aisle.
But what the right fails to realize – at least in rhetoric – is that overcoming racism and prejudice is an ongoing process, that can’t be written off by citing token examples of progress.
If some conservative leaders spent just half as much energy on addressing the current domestic issues in which race still plays a prominent role — poverty, immigration, voter suppression, the prison system and the drug war — as they currently expend disparaging those who work to advance the racial dialogue as “race baiters” maybe it would be possible to achieve true progress.
At the end of the day, racial dialogue shouldn’t be a right vs. left issue. No matter our political persuasion, two things should be clear to every American: our country still has a ways to go before we realize true equality for all living within our borders and unless we can have an open, honest dialogue that is above name calling and political rhetoric the battle against prejudice will remain stalled.
The largest roadblock to the war on racism is the mindset that race is political. That’s because racism is not just an institutional ill, rather a social and societal disorder that long ago permeated the American subconscious.
Acknowledging those prejudices is not anti-American, in fact, it’s an honest attempt to make this country better for the next generation. If that’s not the true definition of patriotism, what is?