By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley spoke the truth for many whites about racism. On the campaign trail recently, Haley said that America has not now or in the past been a deeply racist country.
You would have to be on drugs or alcohol to make such an astoundingly asinine statement, but she simply spoke the truth about how many whites see things when it comes to race.
Put even more bluntly, polls and surveys over the past few years have repeatedly found that a near majority of whites feel that the constant knock that America — past and present — is racist is way overblown. A significant number also say that whites, not Blacks or other minorities, are the prime victims of racial discrimination.
A U.S. News-Harris poll in November 2022, for instance was typical. Nearly half of the whites polled said they were “unconvinced” that systemic racism exists. Blacks, not surprisingly overwhelmingly, said just the opposite, that systemic racism was alive and well in America.
It is easy to chalk up Haley’s seemingly blatant racism denial as a naked effort to pander to much of the Donald Trump and Republican Party base, a base that vehemently disputes any notion that racism is still a major problem in America.
Knocking Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, for that is too easy. She almost certainly believes, as do many whites, that America has achieved something close to what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. enshrined in the national mindset; namely a color-blind society that’s based solely on merit and not race. One can see why that might be.
For more than four decades, the steady drumbeat has been that the avalanche of civil rights and voting rights laws, state and local bars against discrimination and affirmative action programs have permanently crumbled the nation’s historic racial barriers.
The parade of top Black appointed and elected officials including one former president, the legions of Black mega millionaire CEOs, athletes, entertainers and the household names of Blacks from Oprah Winfrey to LeBron James is repeatedly waved as convincing proof of that.
The ferocious assault by high profile Black conservatives, with a certain Supreme Court justice leading the way, have sold millions of Americans that everything from historic voting rights protections to affirmative action are relics of a long gone racist past and should be summarily dumped in the historic dust bin.
They haven’t stopped at that. They’ve even sold a wide body of the public that to continue to fight for these supposedly unnecessary relics is just a self-serving, greedy grab by the much rivaled “civil rights establishment” to protect its racial turf and feather its own nest. Those hurt most by this are Blacks who they supposedly mire in a semi-permanent state of dependency and entitlement trap.
It matters little that every objective study and survey for the past two decades has consistently shown the gaping racial disparities in health care, education spending, the criminal justice system, employment, the wealth gap, and poverty between Blacks and whites has either stagnated or widened. Or that Blacks are still largely the invisible men and women in executive management spots at the Fortune 500 corporations.
It matters even less that the textbook definition of racism explicitly means not just an individual’s thinking or expressing racially skewed bias and animus toward another group but having the actual power to exert control and dominance through the mechanisms of law, public policy and economic dominance over that group.
That is the defining point between an individual’s personal prejudices and there are few individuals who don’t harbor some personal prejudice toward another group, and having the actual power to exercise that prejudice against another group that is deliberately missed or distorted in the futile exercise of trying to say who is a racist and what makes them a racist.
The entrenched notion, however, is that if you’re Black, poor, uneducated or locked in a prison cell, don’t blame social, political or economic iniquities, in short, don’t scream race — blame yourself. That does two things: it provides social and psychic comfort to those individuals who think that they’re free of bigotry and can finger point Blacks as eternal racial crybabies who love to scream racism at every slight or failure. They also pound civil rights leaders for eternally playing the race card on every supposedly imagined or trumped-up racial malfeasance.
So, it’s not hard for many whites to claim and actually believe that the real victims of this supposed discrimination are not Blacks, Hispanics or women, but whites, especially white males.
Haley has a well spring of polls on racial attitudes behind her that give aid and comfort to those who oppose any more rights initiatives be it court, congressional or from the private sector further ammunition to argue that America has reached a racial nirvana and nothing more need be done to protect or further safeguard racial gains. And the only ones screaming for that to happen are Blacks.
While Haley should get a beat down for race denial, just remember: she has a lot of company.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of multiple books on race and politics in America. He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.