U.S. Election Turns to Race

This past week, the U.S. presidential election brought the issue of race to the forefront of our national public dialog. This was ignited by a heated exchange between the presidential frontrunners who were each trying to prove they weren’t as racist as their opponent. Struggling for the Black vote, each candidate was essentially saying, “Vote for me because I’m not as racist as the other candidate.”

As a result, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both called to account for racist things they had said and done in the past.

Donald Trump and Race

Trump was criticized for his unwillingness to rent to Black tenants 44 years ago, and also criticized for the racially infused and awkward (or outright offensive) statements that have been part of his campaign. Three hard hitting videos from the Hillary Clinton campaign focus on Trump and the Alt-Right, Trump and Immigration, and finally White Nationalists speaking about how Trump shares their views which is why they support him.

Despite this context, there are also Latinos, Immigrants, and African Americans who support Trump.

Hillary Clinton and Race

Hillary Clinton was criticized for her statements (on video) calling young Black men “super-predators” who need to be “brought to heel” which lead to her supporting harsh criminal justice legislation that some say fueled the subsequent incarceration crisis and institutional racism we face today that largely impacts Blacks and other people of color. Hillary’s complete 1996 speech on the topic is available unannotated from C-SPAN. In that speech she talks about the importance of having a tough military general working alongside with thousands of armed police to crack down on inner-city crime. Some viewed that as a small-scale strategically targeted military police state action intended to round up Black people and put them in jail. Hillary’s own racist slurs over the years were published by Occupy Democrats which are too horrific to publish here, and don’t meet this website’s standards of decency. (view here)

Despite the above context, Hillary Clinton has many supporters who are Latinos, Immigrants, and African Americans.

What we learned this past week is that a fight between two white entitled millionaires over who is more racist usually doesn’t end well.

Five Levels of Race Awareness

Over a half-century of life in America and, with some experience traveling to other countries, I’ve observed what could be referred to as Five Levels of Race Awareness which can help provide a framework for understanding and discussing race issues.

1 – Unity (Unaware)

In some communities there is a plentiful diversity of ethnicities and nationalities that permeates business operations, the marketplace, religious practice, education, neighborhoods, and home life. Children growing up in this environment, without significant external influences, may feel they are “one with the whole” and see everyone as “one” people. This is carried into adulthood. Then passed on to the next generation.

2 – Unity (Aware)

There are some communities where language, religion, and culture are forces that segregate people into their own groups. Yet, these groups make an effort to come together for significant community events. There’s an effort by leadership to have ‘unity’ among a diversity of independent groups. Children growing up in this environment may have a strong sense of their own identity as it fits into a smaller group, but they will also have a natural desire to positively connect with and respect people who aren’t like them. This is carried into adulthood. Then passed on to the next generation.

3 – Positive

There are some communities where language, religion, and culture are forces that segregate people into their own groups. There may not be any effort among these groups to reach out to one another, but there is generally a positive attitude toward the other groups and a general sense of caring about the other group’s welfare. Children growing up in this environment will have a positive (although vague) impression of people who aren’t like them. This is carried into adulthood. Then passed on to the next generation.

4 – Indifferent

There are some communities where language, religion, culture and race are forces that segregate people into their own groups. There isn’t a palatable awareness of or concern about anyone else but those in one’s own group. Yet, there is also not any palatable negative attitude toward others. Children growing up in this environment will likely have only vague impression of people who aren’t like them, and they won’t care much or at all about others who aren’t part of their own group. This is carried into adulthood. Then passed on to the next generation.

5 – Negative

There are some communities where language, religion, culture and race are forces that segregate people into their own groups. An intentionally isolationist segregation is heightened by racial tensions and enmity between groups. Children growing up in this environment will be indoctrinated to hate people who aren’t like them. Some of that hate will be based on actual events, feuds, and violence between groups. Other aspects of the hate will be based on bigotry that is founded on a very small sampling of data, and partly founded on myths. This hatred and mistrust is carried into adulthood. Then passed on to the next generation who are somewhat defenseless against adopting the attitudes of those around them in the culture they are immersed in.

Reflecting on Race and Community

There are discussions about what kind of community among those described above will help foster a better way of life for everyone. Some believe that a diversity of interwoven united people is ideal.

Others express concern that in such an environment, the next generation receives a watered down sense of identity where the richness of their ethnicity and heritage isn’t fully passed on. These people would advocate a community where there are distinct ethnic / racial / cultural groups that purposefully have positive interactions, but retain their own unique identities.

So, sometimes there can be tension between those who advocate for Level 1 and Level 2 described above, but generally these two types of communities are mostly at peace within and with others when it comes to issues of race.

There are people who might be identified as “racist” who have a positive view about people of other races, yet don’t want to mix with them and fear their own race or culture is threatened with extinction. It’s a kind of racism that offends and concerns others, yet doesn’t on the surface seem to have a direct harmful impact on others.

The more repugnant forms of racism that are frequently given as examples of true racism are hateful speech and actions towards people of other races.

Most communities, groups, and individuals don’t fit nicely into any single category or level of racial awareness. There are many points along the continuum, and any one individual can change over their lifetime, or over the course of a day depending on the circumstance, context, and situation they are faced with. People sometimes slip back into old racist attitudes and fears that they’d long broken away from, but are still occasionally haunted by.

Reflecting on Politics and Race

With the above in mind, in the case of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we have two politicians that at best are somewhere between Level 3 and Level 2 on the scale described above. They’ve each said and done things in the past that would put them squarely in Level 5 described above. It’s fair to say that neither should be the first to pick up a stone to throw.

Any minority community, whether defined by race, religion, ethnicity, or other unique identifiers, can feel that they are being overlooked in a democratic society that is dictated by the majority, unless that majority makes an effort to reach out to, affirm, and support the minority groups in the society.