Once again, I feel this blog post calls for a preface, or perhaps a disclaimer:
I am not now, nor have I ever been, an expert, or even a solid student of issues related to racism. In fact, I have only recently realized the extent to which I have been almost completely ignorant of the issues, causes, and cost of racism in our country. I have, however, been for most of my life a seeker of truth, and someone who has been willing to spend the time studying, learning, exploring, and questioning my own beliefs. I know I run a risk by writing on an issue as divisive and complex as race relations in America in 2020, but as we approach the upcoming presidential election, I feel I must.
For most of my adult life, I have tried to do my best to remain open to new facts, new viewpoints, and new beliefs. When I find evidence that indicates my previous understanding may be off-base, I lean into that evidence and chase the truth as far as it will take me.
This is exactly what has happened to me over the last decade or so, as I began listening to those with other viewpoints regarding the state of race relations in the United States. For much of my life, I had been convinced that the playing field had been leveled and that any disparity in achievement, condition, standing, or status could be blamed on a lack of effort on someone’s part. I now know this is not only a gross oversimplification of a VERY complex issue but is also to a great degree untrue. The rules may have been changed, but the playing field is far from level.
As I began to think about how to write about this issue, specifically as it relates to our current president, I had in mind a plan to review all of his past actions, words, and tweets regarding his view on race. As you might imagine, that turned out to be a daunting task.
Recently I watched – somewhat dumbfounded – as President Trump summarized and highlighted his shortcomings regarding his understanding of the current condition of race relations in the United States, live on television, in a matter of a few moments.
As I listened to President Trump during the ABC News Town Hall with George Stephanopoulos, President Trump’s words pointed out clearly that he is either functioning from a completely false foundational understanding of racism in our country, or is unwilling to have a sincere conversation on the issue. Whichever of these conditions is true, I believe that President Trump is incapable of leading in a manner that might bring about racial reconciliation in our country.
At one point in the evening, Trump was asked by Pastor Carl Day the following question:
“You coined the phrase, “Make America Great Again.” When has America been great for African Americans in the ghettos of America? Are you aware of how tone-deaf that comes off to the African American community?”
Instead of answering Pastor Day’s question directly, President Trump was interested only in discussing how great his time in office has been for the African American community. This speaks volumes.
Either President Trump is not smart enough to understand the question (even though Pastor Day repeated the question two more times) – or he is unwilling to acknowledge that there is a racial divide in this country, and it seems to be growing under his leadership. Again, either way – this points to the fact that he is NOT the right person to lead us towards racial reconciliation.
This interaction brought the following questions to mind:
Does the President not understand that:
… life in this country is often very different for a person of color?
… simply saying “I’ve done the most for blacks” does nothing to improve a person of color’s day-to-day conditions?
… a history of slavery, imprisonment, Jim Crow laws, redlining districts, and generational discrimination has created a world of difference between races?
… as President he has not only the ability but also the responsibility to lead by his actions AND his words?
I found his answers to Pastor Day’s question offensive on so many levels. He chose to boost his own ego and point out how great he is, rather than engage Pastor Day in a meaningful way.
President Trump referenced African American unemployment numbers numerous times in his response. In fact, he seemed to hang his MAGA hat on this one statistic. In his own words:
“The best employment numbers they’ve ever had. If you go back and you want to look over many years…you could just go back six or seven months from now…that was the best single moment in the history of the African American people in this country. I think. I would say.”
Now I am certainly accustomed to politicians spinning facts to make themselves look good. It is commonplace. But this demonstrated a certain kind of brazenness and an appallingly narrow understanding of the facts.
A quick look at the numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed what I was practically screaming at the television: the unemployment rate may have been the best in a long time, perhaps ever, but the number for African American unemployment was not nearly as good as it was for whites. The unemployment rate for Blacks or African Americans (the Bureau’s official title for this category) in February 2020 was 5.8%. Yes – very low. But for whites, the rate was 3.1%. Put another way, the unemployment rate for blacks was almost DOUBLE that for whites.
And for Trump to claim any responsibility for the low unemployment rate just prior to the start of the pandemic, is a dramatic stretch. A quick look at the unemployment rates shown below clearly indicates this downward trend line had been established for more than a decade, and well before President Trump took his seat in the Oval Office.
I know the legend on this chart doesn’t indicate which line is the unemployment rate for whites, and which is for African Americans, but just take a guess which is which?
(Chart from US Department of Labor Statistics)
I believe Pastor Day asked an extremely important question. One that we all must grapple with, and come to terms with, and I’d like to slightly rephrase it here:
“When are we going to acknowledge that the history of racism and the current conditions in this country have NOT created a level playing field for people of every color, and when are we going to do something about it?”
The President made it very clear by his answers that he is not willing to lead on this topic.
This is not an easy topic to discuss, and I’ll admit…I’ve had a great deal of trouble over the years putting into words how I think and feel about this issue.
I recently heard an analogy that clarified this issue for me. I felt as if I actually heard the lightbulb click on in my own head as I listened to this analogy.*
Imagine a game of Monopoly. Everyone starts with the same amount of money, and the same number of properties. Let’s say three people start the game, and play for an hour or so. Most if not all of the properties are now owned. Houses and hotels have started to go onto the board. The money is no longer distributed equally, and likely one player has developed a strong advantage. The rents have escalated, and just getting around the board can be treacherous, unless you have a solid bankroll.
Now imagine a fourth player is invited to the game. The fourth player is bound by the exact same rules as the other three. And let’s imagine that the fourth player is also given the same exact amount of money the other three received at the beginning of the game. One could argue that the playing field is level. Exact same rules. Exact same board. Just work hard, and you’ll have the same opportunity as the other three players.
If you know the game of Monopoly, you know how absurd this sounds. The rules may be exactly the same for all players, but starting without property, and after the rents have increased, is certainly NOT a level playing field.
Yes – we now have anti-discrimination laws. By law, you cannot hire one race over another. You cannot pay a different wage based upon skin color. Yes – the laws are even. However, a just law does not guarantee just actions or just conditions.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was this country’s first attempt to level the playing field. If these laws had done the job and the issue had been settled, would we have needed the civil rights actions of the 1960s and 70’s?
If the actions of this country during the 60’s and 70’s had completely leveled the playing field, would we have the racial tension we have today?
Racial reconciliation is not an issue that will be settled simply by enacting the right set of laws. This is a heart-level issue, and it needs to be addressed by someone willing to be vulnerable enough to lead with the heart. Does that sound like our current president?
I truly believe he is incapable of leading well on this issue. This issue is FAR too important to the future of our country to rely on someone as incendiary and short-sighted regarding race as Donald Trump for four more years.
If you believe I am incorrect in my analysis – I certainly welcome input. I believe reasoned conversation is critically important these days, and we have far too much one-way pontification in the world. I seek conversation through my writing.
However, I would ask that you keep two thoughts in mind if you reply:
1: Regardless of where you stand on the issue of race in our nation, this issue touches close at home upon the lives of fellow Americans, and more importantly, fellow humans. As you write, please keep in mind that your words become more than just characters on the page….they become statements that may impact others in significant ways.
2: If you feel I have mis-categorized President Trump’s response to the race issue, I would ask that you consider this: can you point to one action in which the President effectively worked to de-escalate the tension in our country regarding race? I have not found such an occurrence, and would be very open to learning of such a step on his part.
- Credit where credit is due: I don’t know where this “Monopoly analogy” may have originated, but I heard it from David Pakman (www.davidpakman.com) as he was speaking with Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience – episode #1512 (http://podcasts.joerogan.net/ ). If you’d like to hear David lay out the analogy, the clip can be found on YouTube by clicking HERE; he dives into the analogy at 2:08.