When Will We Ever Learn?

I wasn’t one of those people who believed the election of Barack Obama was a sign we’d entered a “post-racial” society. But I also failed to appreciate the extent of racism that still festers in this country. The unremitting attacks on Obama personally–attacks utterly unconnected to any policy disputes and clearly motivated by outrage over his very existence–have shocked me.

Donald Trump’s racially-motivated slurs don’t just reflect his own long-standing bigotry (in the 1970s, the Department of Justice sued him for refusing to rent to African-Americans); they also are tacit recognition that a large percentage of the remaining hard-core GOP base is racist. Periodically, leaked emails and “jokes” from Republican officeholders and party officials confirm our worst suspicions: the Obama family portrayed as monkeys, the White House shown in the middle of a watermelon patch. Pretty disgusting stuff.

As if we needed added confirmation, yesterday the Tulsa World reported that during a debate on a bill to eliminate Affirmative Action in state government, Oklahoma State Senator Sally Kern testified in favor of the bill, saying : “We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school?  I’ve taught school and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

As appalling as her testimony was, the thought of this woman teaching is arguably more frightening. But of course, she is still teaching, and so are all of the people who pretend that their attacks on the President–their insistence that he is not a “real” citizen, their denial of his academic achievements–are just political differences of opinion. Those of us who enable them by refusing to call these attacks what they are, are also teaching. And the lesson is an ugly one.

What was the refrain from that old song from South Pacific? You’ve got to be taught to hate.