America has a problem with racism that we have not yet adequately addressed. Sure, we passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but those actions didn’t actually solve racism. Far from it. They merely altered it by making it somewhat less obvious and making it uncomfortable for racist white people to express their inner feelings.
Then along came Donald Trump and his attacks on political correctness, which freed racists to make public their long-held beliefs. In a way, such displays of overt racial hatred along with Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem can be seen as a good thing by bringing the issue back to the forefront. And I would suggest that it’s long overdue.
The problem stems from the fact that the US stands virtually alone in refusing to acknowledge its ugly past. For example, after Germany was defeated in World War II, it was forced to deal with the reality that it had committed genocide. As a result, it created memorials to those who were killed in Nazi death camps. It created textbooks for children detailing the horrors and explaining Hitler’s rise to power. And it banned any positive references to Nazism. It even banned the sale of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Only recently has Germany again permitted the sale of the book, and only then if it includes notations regarding Nazi crimes.
Other nations have faced their ugly pasts is a similar manner. But the US refuses to do so. Our textbooks have been scrubbed of most references to the genocide of Native Americans. Likewise, they address slavery in a superficial, sanitized manner. And, instead of creating memorials to the victims of our genocide and to the victims of slavery, we have memorials to those who committed these vile acts. The former Confederate States of America have largely refused to acknowledge that their secession was motivated by their desire to continue the enslavement of blacks. Indeed, these states still celebrate the Confederacy, its leaders and, until recently, they still flew the Confederate battle flag.
There has been no restitution to the former slaves and their families. Indeed, the idea that they were given 40 acres and a mule is largely a myth. Lacking resources and possessions – and, in many cases, even a sense of family – following their emancipation many former slaves were employed by their former masters and corporations through a more acceptable form of economic slavery. As a result, today, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we are still plagued by racism. Our schools are even more segregated now than during the late 1960s. And it has been estimated that it will take 228 years for the average black family to accumulate the wealth of the average white family!
Obviously, we have a problem.
So how can we fix it? How can we level the playing field for the descendants of African slaves and the Native Americans who had their land, their way of life and their identities stolen by our ancestors? How can we restore the well-being of cultures that were so thoroughly defeated and depressed? The answers are far more complicated than most white Americans are likely willing to accept. But I’ll make the attempt.
The solution to racism must begin with our nation, like Germany, finally acknowledging our past transgressions. As any therapist can tell you, there can be no healing as long as there is denial. And since the lingering effects of those impacted by our past actions are largely economic, we must work to provide blacks and Native Americans with opportunities. We must improve their education systems, making certain that they have the same resources and school budgets as our most affluent white suburbs. For those working in low-paying jobs, we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We must finally commit to universal healthcare so that all families have equal access to prenatal and childhood healthcare. We must commit to universal pre-school which has been proven to level the playing field and create lasting change. We must make certain that all families have food stability and access to healthy foods, which have been shown to improve performance in schools. We must commit to rebuilding our infrastructure, offering high-paying jobs to those without college degrees.
We must require national standards and training for those in law enforcement to eliminate racism within police departments and to ensure that all citizens are treated equal. We must end predatory city and community laws that treat citizens as a source of income for minor violations. We must pass universal background checks for gun purchases and pass other safety measures to get guns out of the hands of criminals and off of our streets. We should decriminalize and regulate drugs in order to rid the streets of predatory drug dealers. We should treat addictions with treatment instead of prison time. For the 1 in 9 black men who have already been sentenced to prison – often for petty, non-violent crimes – we should commit to rehabilitation programs to help them integrate back into society when they are eventually released.
And, most important of all, we should commit to thoroughly investigating every single claim of racist behavior – especially racism committed by those in power.
All of that may seem expensive and daunting, but it is all necessary. There can be no shortcuts – no half measures. After all, our nation benefited greatly from the labor of slaves and the resources stolen from natives. The problem of racism in this country has existed for centuries. It cannot be fixed easily or quickly.
And, if you’re wondering how our nation can pay for all of these things, just look to the cost overruns on the Pentagon’s weapons systems, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter – a fighter that has exceeded its budget by tens of billions of dollars. Also, you should consider the cost to society of not addressing racism – the cost of incarceration, lost tax revenue and the lost contributions from those who have neither the education nor the opportunity to shine.