One can be prejudiced without being a racist. Prejudice involves ignorance and bias. The very word “prejudice” means to prejudge. In other words, in our prejudices, we make decisions and choose emotions before having all the facts. We are ignorant as we shape or fall victim to our prejudices. Sometimes this ignorance is a matter of simply not knowing. However, more often it is a matter of “ignoring” (and ignoring is a large part of ignorance) the truth—what I call “willful blindness.” We choose not to know as we cling to our petty and pathetic value systems. And in our ignorance, we become biased. To maintain our prejudices, we must restrict our accessibility to people different from us. We must embrace unsubstantiated stereotypes, rumors, and “fake news.” Anyone can harbor prejudices based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, geography, etc. Any race can be prejudiced toward any other race. However, prejudice is not racism. Racism, of course, involves a prejudice based on racial differences. But racism is more than just prejudice toward people of a certain race.
In our culture, it’s impossible for people of color to be racist. Racist Blacks, racist Latinx, racist American Indians, and racist Asians do not exist in the United States. The reason for such an impossibility can be found in the definition and reality of racism. Racists have the power and resources to enforce their prejudices within society. They can do so through legislation, refusing to protect the constitutional rights of those they are prejudiced toward, police brutality, economic policies and practices, corrupt judges, a grossly unfair criminal system, pandering to the base fears and prejudices of the masses, perpetuating lies through throughout social and news media, etc. They can do all of this because they have the power and financial resources to shape a culture according to their prejudicial desires and wants.
(Perhaps you may think my distinction between prejudice and racism is simply a matter of semantics. After all, “prejudice” is usually the first work found in dictionaries that define the word “racist.” But racism is an “ism” just like Nazism, Fascism, Communism, America’s own brutal form of Capitalism, and Socialism. All such “isms” involve social, economic, and political systems. Slavery, Jim Crow, “separate but equal,” states’ rights, “law and order,” voter suppression, and white supremacy demonstrate that the evil and pervasive presence of racism is larger and more complicated that the mere prejudices of individuals. And as such, it becomes a wicked and destructive “principality and power” within any culture. Racism is the motivating and often camouflaged source behind so much suffering and injustice in our nation’s tragic story.)
Of course, few people are willing to admit they are racists. They will protest that they have Black/Latinx/Asian/Native American “friends” (Although after the genocide carried out by “good Christian whites,” it’s difficult to find any First Nations people today. You would probably have to go to an Indian Reservation/Concentration Camp to find the remnants of these proud people. If you have any doubts about the dynamics of power and resources within racism, talk with your Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian “friends.” But be ready to hear an earful.) Racists may even say they “love everybody.” I heard a lot about such love growing up in the Jim Crow South. They may staunchly deny they are prejudiced, much less racist. But as Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” In other words, you will know who they are by what they do and what they produce in this life.
As a child I frequently heard the saying, “Pretty is as pretty does.” These words reminded children (although apparently not many adults) that prettiness/beauty is more than skin deep. It’s not what is on the outside that matters. (God, how I wish that would be recognized in our shallow, sham world today!) What matters is what you do and how you live. What matters is how you flesh out the “better angels” of your inner being. To quote another idiom, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.” Racism requires an acting out of one’s prejudices. It involves an intentional shaping of one’s society. Prejudice may be restricted to the heart, mind, and soul, but racism must become manifest in the public arena. One could not be a racist if he were isolated on a desert island. In his imagination, he might still be prejudiced. He could even dream of doing racist deeds, but he could not have any effect on any other person. So yes, he could still be a bigot, but he no longer has the ability to be a racist.
Racism, as defined above, takes on many forms in our society and can be found in many institutions. In this article, I want to limit our purview to Congress and state legislatures. Over the past four years we have seen a dangerous and blatant revival of racism ignited by the election, words, and actions of a racist, amoral President. What was intimated through inuendo and “dog whistles” in the past became open and flagrant during a totally corrupt and despicable administration. And now that Trump is history (we hope) and Democrats control (barely) both Houses of Congress and the White House, we find Republicans denying any racist tendencies on their part. They vehemently protest any guilt or participation in racist agendas. They deny any culpability in the January 6 insurrection in spite of the fact that they spread what they knew to be lies regarding the 2020 Presidential election. Like spoiled brats caught in their misbehavior, they refuse to admit to any wrong. But they are not worried about paying a price for their duplicity or their past involvement in years of racist acts and policies. They know they can depend upon the support of those who elected them to office.
But if “pretty is as pretty does,” then “racism is as racism does.” Congressional Republicans, even before Trump, have used their legislative power and resources to compound the problem of racism in the U. S. By obstructing legislation that would protect voter rights, supporting legislation which suppresses the Constitutional right of people of color to vote, giving tax breaks and economic advantages to the superrich while cutting or eliminating programs which help the poor and minorities in our nation, and doing away with much needed government regulations regarding the environment and the workplaces of America, these Republican politicians are pursuing a racist agenda. The people who are most harmed by this agenda are people of color. Racism involves the use of power and resources to denigrate and deny people of other races their God-given and constitutional rights. Republicans legislators in Congress and in state legislatures who use their power and resources to hurt people of other races are racists, no matter what their protests or how many “friends” they have who are different from them.
If we want to discover the racists in Congress and our state legislatures, all we have to do is look at their voting records. The so-called “moderate” Republicans in Congress, with very few exceptions, either voted for racist legislation or joined in the obstruction of legislation which was designed to address voter suppression and promote economic opportunity for the poor and people of color. The same is true in state legislatures controlled by Republicans today. Currently there are more than 400 bills in 47 different state legislatures that are designed to suppress minority voting. Those bills and the politicians supporting them are racist.
But they are not the ones to blame. Those most responsible for voter suppression and all other forms of racism in this country are the people who elect these sleazy politicians. These racists would not be in office without the support of their racist constituents. Of course, voters, like politicians, deny being racist. But racism is as racism does. If you vote for someone who pursues a racist agenda, you are a racist. Why? Because through your vote, you have the power and resources to allow a racist agenda to poison this nation. If you claim that you do not know how your elected officials in Congress and state legislatures vote, then shame on you! Voters have the moral obligation to be informed. This nation will never move beyond the current political crisis caused by a demagogue like Trump and his sycophantic toadies until voters focus on policies and hold their representatives accountable for how they use their power and resources while in office. We need to grow up, wake up, and shake up our political system. And the only way we can do any of that is to assume our own responsibility as the most powerful factor in the direction of our nation. With so much at stake, we have no right to an opinion. We have only the right of an informed opinion.
Currently the party most responsible for racism in the U. S. is the Republican Party. As others have noticed, there are two factions currently vying for power in that party: the lunatic fringe of right-wing insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists on the one hand, and the remnants from the Republican Party’s former days who catered to and benefited from the richest percentage of Americans and big business. Neither faction has much moral high ground upon which to stand, but the lunatic faction is certainly the most dangerous. Senator Ben Sasse (Republican senator from Nebraska) recently wrote an essay in The Atlantic in which he said that his party must choose between insanity and reality. Today, it would appear that most Republicans in Congress and many in state legislatures are willing to choose insanity and conspiracy in order to keep or advance their political careers. They will have to live with that choice, and history will record them for who they are: racists who have no sense of decency. But the ones history should condemn are the voters who put and keep them in office.
If you think I am being too hard on Republicans, let me ask this question: How many white supremacists, KKK members, neo-Nazis, QAnon lunatics, survivalists, anti-Semites, homophobes, islamophobes, misogynists, and insurrectionists can you find supporting the Democratic Party? How many can you find supporting the Republican Party? What does that tell you about the makeup and direction of the Republican Party? Trump’s base has much in common with these groups. And Trump’s base controls who wins Republican primaries. That’s why Republican politicians who may know better are unwilling to condemn these factions. The more shameless ones are even willing to accept or even seek their support.
In 1986, a ministerial colleague of mine was confronted by some of his parishioners who accused him of bringing politics into the pulpit. They complained that he was espousing the Democratic platform in his preaching, although my friend never mentioned political parties. He tried to show his church members that he was preaching the message of the Hebrew prophets and that of Jesus who came to bring good news to the poor (Luke 4 and Jesus’ inaugural sermon). However, they refused even to talk about the social and political implications of the gospel. Exasperated, the pastor finally said: “I would not be so presumptuous as to say that if Jesus were alive today, he would be a Democrat. But I will say this: he damn sure wouldn’t be a Republican.” Neither he nor I knew how much truer his insight would be thirty-five years later.