The results of the 2020 presidential election show that the U.S. is more divided over racism than any white person like me would ever surmise. It boggles the mind to know that over 70 million people voted for President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. This doesn’t mean that everyone who voted for Trump was racist. Other factors were at play such as the abortion issue that many voters considered as the sole reason they voted for Mr. Trump.
Yet, sad to say, there’s no doubt that racism was a huge factor in the election. Racism means to distinguish another race as inferior to one’s own. Systematic racism remains a complex and difficult issue. Remember this: The U.S. Constitution is a racist document because it was never intended for people of African descent. Also, the Constitution of states like Oregon are also racist.
When only a territory in 1844, Oregon began as a whites-only state. There were exclusionary laws that aimed to discourage black Americans from living in Oregon. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the population of Oregon was almost 70 percent white and just over 2 percent black. Today, Portland, the capital, has more whites than any other U.S. city. Is it any wonder that Portland has been the epicenter of violent protest movements?
Closer to home, until recently, Alabama has had racist language in its Constitution. Thankfully, the voters of Alabama passed Amendment 4 on Nov. 3, which eliminates racist language in the state’s Constitution. State legislators can now delete the racist language and consolidate amendments that are applicable to the same county or city. Alabama State Rep. Merika Coleman, who sponsored the amendment, noted that we’re no longer “the Alabama of 1901.” (See the article by Leah Asmelash, “Alabama voters approve an amendment to remove racist language from state’s constitution,” CNN, November 6, 2020).
It’s no secret that structural power elevates whites as a group. Consider this: from 2016-2017 about 90 percent of Congress and 96 percent of governors were white as were 91 percent of Trump’s cabinet. Also, 100 percent of military advisors were white. About 93 percent of those who determine which TV shows we see are white and 90 percent of the people who decide which books we read are white. See https://sdcnetwork.org/racism-is-a-spiritual-issue/
The world religions may shed some light on dealing with racism and others who are different from us. Rabbi Hillel once said to a gentile named Shammai these words: “Treat others as you want to be treated. This is the whole Torah (law), and the rest is commentary. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
The Baha’i religion says that to ignore and deny racism amounts to ignoring the development of one’s immortal soul. To be racist is counter to the collective spirit of humanity. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i religion, calls racism “America’s greatest sin.” Why so? It erodes the ideals, hopes, values, and the “spiritual laws of the universe.” (See “Faith Column: Racism is a Spiritual Disease,” The Sheridan Press, Oct. 9, 2020).
Pope Francis gives us these words of wisdom from his recent encyclical, Tutti Fratelli: We must make real “the love of God that calls us to be brothers and sisters to one another.” The Pope suggests that we need “to listen to others, in order to hear the voice of God.” He writes that we “need to know ourselves through our relationships with our brothers and sisters.” In sum, we must see the other as a sister or brother to be supported and loved.
The parable of the Good Samaritan asks us to discover our vocation as citizens of our countries and of the entire globe, as we pursue the common good. Each of us must work to make the world “friendlier, more fraternal, and fairer.” He quotes Proverbs 28:18 “Without a vision, the people will drift apart.” He asks “how closed is our society to racial minorities, the elderly, people with disabilities?” Finally, the Pope encourages us to widen our circle of friends “to every brother and sister in need.”
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.