What We Need to Think About to Stop Perpetuating Racism in Our Culture

Murders of innocent Americans by law enforcement are only samples of the lethal affect anti-black sentiment has in U.S. culture.

Us against Them? Race as a Political Wedge
Don't blame the cops. Don't blame "white" people or "black" people, nor southerners or conservatives.

Trayvon Martin was killed by a Hispanic man in Florida; Eric Garner was killed in the "progressive" city of New York by "white" and "non-white" officers; Freddie Gray was apprehended by half "white", half "black" officers; Philandro Castile was killed by a Hispanic officer in a Democrat stronghold; George Floyd died as an Asian cop kept guard.

Cops and black Americans are thrown together at the end of the road, on the streets, in the most tense, high stakes moments. Most of us will never experience such a critically weighed moment. What sends them there, to the end of the road? We need to think about this, before we throw our black communities and cops under the bus in a rash of guilt, shame, fear, and anger.

We need to understand where these fatal outcomes are originating from in our culture. What drives the constant racism that sees black Americans at the bottom of nearly every negative outcome in our society? We have the answers.

The answers are staring us right in the face, but we aren't focusing on the answers because racism is a very valuable political tool, and is constantly manipulated for some political benefit. That's the first thing we need to think about - politics, and how political rhetoric manipulates society with divisive "us against them" instigations. This blame game solves zero problems, and creates racial tension! It is scapegoating. The inevitable end to such manipulation is the perpetuation of misunderstanding, hatred, and violence. And, who benefits? Who loses? Politicians benefit, society loses stability, and people lose their lives.

We cannot continue to frame the issue of racism as a "black" vs "white" issue, nor a conservative issue, nor a southern issue. It is not accurate. That tired frame clearly benefits political factions who aim to harm their political "enemies", and mobilize support for themselves - this is where we keep getting stuck.

Racism is ubiquitous in all Americans because of cultural narratives that shape our perspectives about "race".

"Race" is a made-up label that divides humans, and the term is a solid representation of our problem. Where do we get this stuff? Religion, science, media, and politics.

It should be clear to us by now that religious teachings drive discrimination in our culture. Some religious leaders, to this day, are teaching their flocks that blacks, Arabs, and LGBTQ people are "bad ones".

Why have we killed over 4 million Muslims in our wars in the Middle East, with nary an outcry? Many religious people will cite the bible. Take the Christian Courier, which boasts 500,000 viewers per month:

"It was foretold that lshmael would be 'a wild ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell over against all his brethren' (Genesis 16:12).
... History has amply illustrated the warlike temperament of the Arabian people. Thomas Newton, who traced the bloody history of the Arabs with precision, said these people 'live in a state of continual war with the rest of the world. They have been such enemies of mankind, it is no wonder that mankind have been enemies to them again'
... Many nations have fought against these rugged people, but none has been able to subdue them completely. 
...Muslim terrorist attacks like that of September 11, 2001 are not an expression of aberrant radicalism; it is Islam in its purest form. And it is but a further commentary on 'his hand against every man'!"

Or, even more threatening, the national glorification of infamous Islamophobe and religious advocate, Laurie Cardoza-Moore. Instrumental in the protests against Mosques in Murfreesboro (where a Mosque was set on fire), and at ground zero, as well as the original craftswoman of world-wide anti-BDS laws, Cardoza-Moore has made her way to a special appointment as an ambassador to the UN to...educate Christians around the world on their biblical duty to protect Israel (Israel and Jewish people worldwide suffer from being used as pawns for religious prophesy).

Cardoza-Moore doesn't only have a special UN mission, she owns a film studio, and propagates a collection of anti-Muslim propaganda. Her current target seems to be Minnesota House Representative Ilhan Omar, whom she accuses of being a terrorist for speaking at a CAIR event, and being connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. Moore wants, as many of our senators and representatives do, the Muslim Brotherhood to be labeled a terrorist organization. She is convinced that Muslims want to destroy America, and she spreads that message to her 2 billion followers around the globe.

Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian American and born again Christian, was paid for years by the U.S. government to tour U.S. schools, businesses, police departments, and churches preaching that Muslims are dangerous and should all be monitored.

The Norwegian Christian fundamentalist who killed 77 people in Norway referenced Shoebat in his manifesto 16 times. The same year, Anderson Cooper famously outed Shoebat as a fraud on CNN, but Shoebat continues to pump out videos and books of propaganda against Muslims, while prophesying the "end of days" through his non-profit!

73% of Americans identify as Christian, and are preached to regularly. Is there racism in some of those speeches? Most definitely.

It was only in 2013 that the Mormon church disavowed its racist teachings:

"The church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavour or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else," the statement read. "Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form."

But, infrequent statements will not change our cultural narratives originating from churches. In 2019, an event hall refused to marry an interracial couple:

“We don’t do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race, I mean our Christian belief. I don’t want to argue my faith, we just don’t participate.”

Owners of the event hall stated that they were taught this belief by the church. A subsequent conversation with their church leader informed them that interracial marriage is not against their religious teachings. How did this faith leader overlook the terrorizing ideology which was festering in his own flock?

We have to do better. We have to acknowledge racist narratives in our religious teachings, identify them, be much more aggressive in rooting them out, and prevent them from cycling on to the next generations.

So much of what we learn is through media - the news, books, movies, TV shows. One of the most enlightening pieces on racism I have read is a 1997 interview with Jesse Jackson from PBS's Frontline. Jackson makes a very clear case against the media's daily perpetuation of racist culture:

"[Kids] are in some sense being defined by a mass media culture that is as programmed in a racist way as was Amos and Andy - with white writers projecting a certain view of black life. The media projects us in five or six deadly ways every day.

And this is a big factor in our mindset. We're projected as less intelligent than we are, less hard-working than we work, less universal than we are, less patriotic than we are, more violent than we are, and less worthy than we are. That is a basic, steady stream of programming. So the impact of cultural marginalization and cultural decadence is having a devastating impact upon the minds of children, who consume so much of it."

But, the perpetuation of negative black stereotypes does not end with "white" people. Our culture, in full, absorbs portrayals from the media, then replicates those stereotypes as part of our national identity. The images are wrong, but come round as a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy, as we recreate what we see on TV in our real world lives.

A literature review from The Opportunity Agenda, a non-profit focused on changing narratives and creating opportunity for all, similarly concludes:

"...black television viewers, male and female, tend to lose more “social capital” through viewing TV programming — i.e., to trust the community and those around them less in ways that can lead to reduced prosperity and other outcomes."

The review provides a list of "problematic understandings" about black men and boys that we absorb through gross characterizations in the media:
  • General antagonism toward black males
  • Exaggerated views of, expectations of, and tolerance for race-based socio-economic disparities
  • Exaggerated views related to criminality and violence 
  • Lack of identification with or sympathy for black males
  • Reduced attention to structural and other big-picture factors
  • Public support for punitive approaches to problem

African American girls and women 12 years old and older experience the highest incidents of rape and sexual assault in the U.S., and 40% of confirmed sex trafficking survivors in our country are African-American, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. Why is this?

The Women of Color Network offers insight:

“Stereotypes regarding African American women’s sexuality, including terms like ‘Black jezebel,’ ‘promiscuous,’ and ‘exotic,’ perpetuate the notion that African American women are willing participants in their own victimization. However, these myths only serve to demean, obstruct appropriate legal remedies, and minimize the seriousness of sexual violence perpetrated against African American women.”

When the #metoo movement hit, there was an intense time of black women demanding that rap culture stop perpetuating voyeurism and misogyny toward black women. Shanita Hubbard shared her view in the Huffington Post:

"The hip-hop industry does not love women in the same way that women love hip-hop. ... Unfortunately, music videos now reduce most black women to eye candy, and lyrics depict them as objects for pleasure. And in real life, male artists and executives across genres use their power and influence to silence and violate women."

Around the same time, Magdalene Abraha lashed out at the industry in her piece, The Representation of Black Women Through Main Stream Hip-hop Music:

"Their consistent sexual portrayal of “the physical”, means that their sexual accessibility and availability is not only shown fictitiously within their vixen role, but also literally, through the viewers ability to watch them in a mimetically pornographic manner. The video vixen fits perfectly within the historical legacy of black female commodification”

Cardi B complained in 2018 that black women in the industry were being left out of the #metoo movement:

“A lot of video vixens have spoke about this and nobody gives a f–k...When I was trying to be a vixen, people were like, ‘You want to be on the cover of this magazine?’ Then they pull their d—s out. I bet if one of these women stands up and talks about it, people are going to say, ‘So what? You’re a ho. It don’t matter.’”

Rap is the most popular music in the United States.

Media aggressively drives racist narratives in our culture, and frighteningly, media has the power to dictate our identities through fictional gross characterizations.

We must recognize this, just as aggressively root out these narratives, and stop perpetuating them.

Darwin didn't start racism, but he fits into a long line of scientists who have given explicit racists their most potent weapon - science. Even though he concluded that humans all came from the same ancestor at some point in time, he believed that we had developed differently since, and that some "races", black people specifically, were more inferior and closer to our primate ancestors. This should ring lots of bells for us, if we are looking for why we have racist narratives in our culture.

People listen to science. If science puts it out there, it seems legitimized. People feel secure in the hands of science.

One would think that by 2020 America would have shaken racist narratives from science. But, no. Social Darwinism is alive and well.

In 2019, James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the double helix structure of DNA, said in an interview on national TV that black people are genetically inferior to others.

In 2016 the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) released a study showing, "half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed beliefs [that black people have thicker skin/stronger bodies]. Moreover, participants who endorsed these beliefs rated the black (vs. white) patient’s pain as lower and made less accurate treatment recommendations."

In 2014, a science writer for the New York Times put out a book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human Society, which concluded that Europeans are more successful as a people because of...breeding.

Currently, phenomena around Covid-19 and minorities eerily shows Americans to be all too willing to believe in biological differences between "races". In early April, Karsonya Whitehead, an African American Studies professor at Loyola University warned“There’s this myth that black people cannot get the coronavirus. … What began as a lie, a myth, a joke, has seeped very deeply into the black community.”

Switch to the dominant narrative around "minority" communities and COVID, and we have professionals saying that "minorities" are more affected by the virus, as discussed by University of East London's Winston Morgan:

"The way this issue is often discussed, but also the response of some scientists, would suggest that there may be some biological reason for the higher death rates based on genetic differences between these groups and their white counterparts. But the reality is there is no evidence that the genes used to divide people into races are linked to how our immune system responds to viral infections."

How Do We Shake These Narratives?
Leaders in politics, religion, media, and science have a unique responsibility to aggressively identify the racist narratives in their profession, and stop perpetuating those narratives. Leaders need to communicate to their industry and to the public, to help us understand what these narratives are, and convince society that they are wrong. Lastly, these leaders must stop fallacious cultural narratives from being recycled into the next generation. 

What can the rest of us do? We can realize that we are having an identity crisis. We are being told who we are and what to think by politicians, religious leaders, the media, and the scientific community. We are essentially giving away our agency, our individualism, our personal and political power, our individual freedom, our identities to institutions and industries.

Thinking is a political act. To quote Virginia Woolf, from Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid"There is another way of fighting for freedom without arms; we can fight with the mind." 

Just because we are not at the conference tables does not mean that we should give up "tea-table" thinking:

"Are we not leaving the young ... without a weapon that might be of value to him if we give up private thinking, tea-table thinking, because it seems useless? Are we not stressing our disability because our ability exposes us perhaps to abuse, perhaps to contempt? 'I will not cease from mental fight'... Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it."