Russell and Duenes

A Nation of Cowards? But Who is Truly Brave?

with 2 comments

Not long into office, Attorney General, Eric Holder gave a speech on race in which he called America “a nation of cowards.” He argued this based on his view that America is still largely a nation that has not truly grappled with with its past, and current, racism. I assume he thought he was being brave in saying so. But is this real bravery on his part? Does it take courage these days for a political or judicial leader to argue that racism is still the primary ill that affects certain minorities today?

In her dissent in Gratz v. Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg took much the same view as Holder, stating:

In the wake “of a system of racial caste only recently ended,” large disparities endure. Unemployment, poverty, and access to health care vary disproportionately by race. Neighborhoods and schools remain racially divided. African-American and Hispanic children are all too often educated in poverty-stricken and underperforming institutions. Adult African-Americans and Hispanics generally earn less than whites with equivalent levels of education. Equally credentialed job applicants receive different receptions depending on their race. Irrational prejudice is still encountered in real estate markets and consumer transactions. “Bias both conscious and unconscious, reflecting traditional and unexamined habits of thought, keeps up barriers that must come down if equal opportunity and nondiscrimination are ever genuinely to become this country’s law and practice.”

Certainly Justice Ginsburg is right in pointing out that “large disparities endure” between blacks, hispanics, and whites. Indeed, one can hardly deny that these minorities endure most of the things Justice Ginsburg enumerates above. The problem, in my view, is that, while these problems endure, people like Holder and Ginsburg seem to be unable to attribute such problems to anything other than a continuing legacy of racism. And I don’t believe it takes much real courage today to espouse their view, for it is the predominant cultural narrative when it comes to race.

Making the problem worse, Ginsburg says that this kind of racism is the product of “unconscious” bias and “unexamined habits of thought.” What does this mean? It’s hard to know for sure, but seems to imply that much of our racism is happening at such a systemic and underlying level, we’re not conscious of it. Thus, even though we don’t feel like we’re being racist, and there’s no real overt evidence that we’re being racist, we are, in fact, racist because we’re perpetuating a racist system. We’re a “nation of cowards” even when we think we have examined our racist assumptions, because obviously we haven’t examined them well enough, nor could we really, because they are “unconscious.” Ginsburg says that judges need to render decisions so as “to hasten the day when entrenched discrimination and its aftereffects have been extirpated.” But one should like to know how we, as a nation, would be able to know and measure when that is, particularly if so much of our racism is of the unconscious kind. When will we know? What would the ending of “systemic, underlying, unconscious” racism look like? Would it have to do with numbers or percentages in real estate, education, business ownership, ad infinitum? Would it mean that certain speech codes and patterns are now enforced? Do Ginsburg and Holder describe what some kind of future nation looks like where such entrenched racism has been eradicated?

I don’t doubt for a minute that racism, like other sins, will be with us as long as life on this earth endures. That is not to excuse it in any way. Racism is a serious wrong, and we should examine our habits of thought and action, and ask God for wisdom and power in order to repent of our racism. But as I said above, I think it’s all too easy – and takes little courage – to proclaim that “underlying racism” is the problem that ails minorities. The real bravery is found among those who, while noting that racism is a scourge, attempt to consider other factors for continued racial problems.

When Justice Clarence Thomas says, “I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators,” he is cast as an Uncle Tom and denounced for not continuing to see the great racism problem. When he argues that affirmative action programs mainly serve to paint blacks as undeserving, thus stigmatizing them, he is simply blind to the racist realities. When President Obama suggests that black men need to step up to their duties and obligations as fathers, even he is said by Jessie Jackson to be “talking to down to black folks.” Indeed, Jackson went so far as to say that he wanted to “cut his [Barack Obama’s] nuts out.” When Bill Cosby suggests that a continued focus on systemic racism is not going to help blacks, he’s castigated by many. The same could be said for others like Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, and Walter Williams, to name a few, who think that the black community and other minorities are hindered by many significant factors besides systemic, unconscious racism. Theirs is the viewpoint that takes courage to proclaim. If there’s cowardice in our nation, as Holder suggests, it’s not found exclusively among those who refuse to acknowledge significant continuing racial problems at every turn.

I think an important question is: Do we have the courage to consider whether some of our nation’s entitlement and affirmative action policies and attitudes have contributed greatly to the problems that Justice Ginsburg mentioned? Could it be that, along with continued race problems that should be addressed, we need to address paternalistic governmental policies aimed at “helping” blacks and other minorities? Could it be that there’s significant problems with perpetuating a public education system that consistently harms minorities? Do we get to discuss it, or is that racist? Could it also be that the obsession with finding continued underlying racism as the woe of all woes, and denouncing those who disagree as closet (or even overt) racists, we have made it that much harder to discuss these issues in a productive and truthful way? I think it does take real courage to address issues of racial and minority oppression, but to truly address them, not to just say – which takes no real courage at all – that it’s all a product of racism.



Written by Michael Duenes

October 3, 2012 at 7:29 am

2 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure that either group mentioned here are truly courageous. What makes someone courageous is acting on what one believes regardless of the consequences, not just talking about what one believes. We have way too many people spouting off and very few people actually doing something about it. The people you mention, on both sides of this posts argument, will be (or maybe are) courageous when they put their money where their mouth is (literally and figuratively).

    russell and duenes

    October 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    • Indeed. And as you say, nothing of any consequence will be accomplished by mere talk, though talking is often crucial to acting, as Jesus knew by spending much time “preaching the word” to the crowds. But yes, I think it is quite easy for the affluent, like us in our conservative churches, to decry the impoverished conditions of many minorities, without taking much collective action to do much about it.


      russell and duenes

      October 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm

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