When it comes to race, no one gets to sit on the sideline.
Racism exists. We all observe it in our daily lives. When we do, the only three responses are to condemn, condone or contribute to the racist acts and attitudes in our circles of influence.
Most people would prefer to take on the role of conscientious objectors and ignore racism and hope it goes away. This type of discrimination doesn't affect them and they have no desire to stand up to racists and risk becoming a target. However, if American history since 1865 has taught us anything, it is that racist acts and attitudes will have to be wiped out. They will never fade away on their own.
My favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quote -- one of 14 engraved on a monument to his legacy in Washington, D.C. -- is, "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
I like that quote because I hope he was right. But do we have evidence to support that?
A man just drove for hours in order to kill people whose skin is a little darker and food a little spicier than his culture's. He opened fire in a mass shooting inspired by the words or politicians and pundits who stoke racist fears in order to win votes for their side. Calling groups of refugees invasions, infestations, or criminals and worrying about racial replacement are not the sentiments of a society whose moral arc is bending toward justice.
About 50 years ago, the last third party candidate who actually won Electoral College votes did so on the basis of racism. George Wallace was an avowed segregationist and spoke often about the importance of "racial purity."
He used himself as a human shield to keep black students from attending a whites-only school all while saying he "had no problem with colored people."
Wallace attacked Nixon for being too liberal and not supporting states' rights. "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats," was a famous Wallace quote.
Of course, recent recordings prove that Nixon and even GOP idol Ronald Reagan probably shared more private views on race with Wallace than they admitted publicly.
A recently released recording features Reagan and Nixon sharing a less than enlightened conversation.
"Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon replied. Reagan went on to discuss Africans this way. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries -- damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” to which Nixon responded with a huge laugh.
The arc of the moral universe seems to be flattening out a bit.
Now we have Tucker Carlson -- the most intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt personality on FOX News -- telling his audience that white nationalism isn't a problem in America today. He ignores recent mass shootings at department stores, synagogues and historically black churches in order to avoid the elephant in the room. The rhetoric on the airwaves and from our nation's leaders is finding its way into the minds and motivations of dangerous people who are willing to do more than talk about it -- they are willing to take up arms to stop their targeted enemies.
Two days after claiming white supremacy is a hoax and defending himself against those "on the left" who want to silence him on Twitter, Carlson announced an unplanned vacation from his show.
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After presidential candidates and members of Congress began openly and directly accusing President Donald Trump of being a white nationalist, John Voight made an impassioned plea on the president's behalf claiming racism was already solved.
"This has been a big issue for the black community since the Civil War, but this has been solved long ago by our forefathers for peace and love," Voight said.
That is an interesting opinion.
You know, Wallace had supporters in the media and elsewhere too. Many editorial writers 50 years ago knew that supporting segregation was unpopular with most readers so they supported Wallace on the basis of states' rights.
Like some modern-day political figures, Wallace also criticized "pointy-headed intellectuals" and he even proved his own inclusiveness, saying once, "I've never made a racist speech in my life." I guess he thought his complaints about school integration and racial purity fell short of that standard. I would disagree.
In 1968, more than 10 million Americans voted for him.
Do you know why? People found him entertaining.
He also said things publicly that they would only admit in private moments. He covered the racism in a cute wrapper. He made pithy comments like the only four-letter words "hippies" didn't like were "work" and "soap." He also coded his racist language by saying the federal government was infringing on states' rights.
The fact is that Carlson is wrong. Voight takes that incorrectness to another level.
Racism isn't solved. White nationalists are not a hoax, and they are a big problem.
There are no spectators in this fight. You either condemn, condone or contribute to the problem.
Racism isn't a partisan issue. Both parties can come together to make these beliefs unacceptable in our society.
Another King quote from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail sums it up, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Rev. King was right about the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice, but it won't bend on its own. That's where we come in. We all have to do our part to make sure that our words and actions make racists uncomfortable.