The calm, dinner table scene in 1998’s American History X still haunts me to this day, even more than the scene in which Edward Norton’s character, the brutal skinhead Derek Vinyard, curb-stomps one of the Black men that tried to break into his truck. The calm, smooth manner in which Derek’s father, a cop bitter about how two new officers in his squad were put there due to what he derided as “affirmative Black-tion”, put down Derek’s teacher’s attempts to expand his mind as “bullshit. Nigger bullshit.”
This scene firmly encapsulated several of the complexities surrounding bigotry: the traditionalism of the family dinner table setting. The ease and seeming innocuous nature of how racial animus is introduced. The embrace of intellectual lack and the endearment of a intentionally limited conservative worldview, and how a traumatic episode can radicalize one’s deeply rooted hatred of the existence of otherness in the world around them.
Racism and bigotry most definitely exist. They are real. They are the twin sons of America’s original sin, raised in the brutality of Barbadian slave owners, codified into law by Roger B. Taney, and reincarnated in the forms of voter suppression, “emergency financial managers”, and by anyone that utters the words “states’ rights.” Work after work has been published about how institutional racism has given us the schools-to-prisons pipeline, redlining and block-busting in urban centers, “Stop-and-Frisk”, and other countless examples.
We are reminded all the time of the existence and prevalence of racism. Myriad voices have risen in acknowledgement of this country’s race problem, even building careers on its continued diagnosis. Americans watch as The Conversation on racism rolls on, in many ways appearing stronger than ever. But when will any of these “conversations” result in substantive change on a policy level?
Why does it seem that solutions are danced around with respect to solving racism, and that no one seems to be really serious about pursuing and ending its chronic grip around our country’s existence? Are we doomed to waste our time with think-pieces about how bad the streets that bear Martin Luther King’s name are, written by people who have made it plain they only want to “be curious” about racism, having declared it “not on me” to solve? Why in the world do we care so much about who gets an award for representing us in our entertainment, yet care little to nothing about how the democratic process of this nation works?
Racism is already a “solved” matter: There is no ending it, and there is no respite from it. As this country is full of the descendants of slave owners, there will always be bigots in this nation who will hate people of color for their very existence, especially since through Barack Obama we now wield the power of the Executive Branch. The collective conservative freakout over the existence of a Black President can be summed up to the fact that in their eyes, property was never supposed to be in charge of anything.
What matters now is how we make sure our interests are served by getting people of color elected in every branch of local, state and federal government. What matters is defeating conservatives, coming to understand that they are out for our destruction, are well-resourced, and only respect power in turn. Until this happens, we are resigning ourselves to the same issues for our children to deal with, when in fact we should be leaving them with new challenges to overcome.
We have not overcome yet. And while we complain about the lack of maturity or will for others to discuss race, I doubt very strongly that we have the same. Though ending racism be a fool’s hope, the pursuit of equality is not. It is one that we must become more serious about, and soon.