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CURL: What to do with racism in the 21st century

- - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let me tell you a story about a TV talking head. You know him — he's on the tube every day.

I won't name him — he'd deny it, and there's no tape recording. But the tale comes from a friend I trust, someone who witnessed this incident first-hand, and someone who has no reason to lie. It's solid.

My friend was in the studio with the host and another guest. A woman, who happened to be black and very beautiful, was being patched in from a remote studio.

They blabbed and bloviated, then went to a commercial break. During the lull, the host leaned in to my friend — his mouth right next to his ear — and whispered: "I can't believe we used to own those."

I've remembered the story ever since, not only because of the prominence of the show's host, but because it is the most racist thing I've ever heard. Hands down. It was a thought that had never occurred to me, a white man, when looking at a black woman. And certainly not in the 21st century.

Still, I felt ashamed. I'm one of them, I guess. He thinks it, I don't, but who will know? I don't agree, hate him for his racism, but I'm white, he's white, so I'm one of them. It was a sad revelation. And it always amazes me what one white man will say to another. Sickens me is more right. Even today.

America has had to own her sins. Rightly. Slavery is the worst (although the internment of 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II was also pretty atrocious). What we did to women for more than a century was criminal. But slavery. Our biggest sin, forever.

While the Founders constructed the greatest documents in the history of mankind — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution — their promises were, sadly, a lie.

Blacks could be legally owned for nearly 80 years after that band of white men penned the Constitution. That Independence pledge — that "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" — didn't apply to blacks (and not to women either).

America's progress was patchy. The North fought against the black vote, even after it had backed an end to slavery. Jim Crow laws in the South — propagated by racist Democrats — pitted race against race, well into the 1960s. Communists used America's racist past as propaganda against the newfangled "democracy" — pretty words, but no action. They were right.

All that changed when a white Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent federal troops into the racist South to escort nine black students into an all-white school. White Republicans then battled white southern Democrats to pass the Civil Rights Act. Racism — at least the official version sanctioned by the government — ended.

But that didn't end racism. Skip ahead 50 years, to now. There's a racist NBA owner. A racist Nevada rancher. A racist cooking show host in the South. A racist patriarch at a duck call company, on TV every week. Just this year.

And for the record, thousands more, maybe millions. Racism still lives in America. May always. My white Maryland neighbor in the 1990s hated blacks, who he thought took his postal job. Out in the hills of Virginia, where I live, once or twice a year even now, last year, this year — someone will just drop the N word. I tell them, "Whoa, not cool." End of friendship, awkward. Doesn't change anything.

Yes, they are there. And we are right to shun them, ostracize them. They live on the wrong side of history, they embody so much of what is still wrong in America. They are, in a word, indefensible.

For Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, he was banned for life, fined $2.5 million. He likely will be forbidden from owning an NBA team. And if you're white, you know we can't talk of such things. Like the "Seinfeld" show, when Elaine, dating a man she thinks is black, says: "I don't think we should be talking about this."

But a black man like Allen West can, and we should listen. "Have we come to a point in America where being a jerk is grounds for confiscation of a private property? It was Englishman John Locke who first proposed that individual rights as granted under natural law were life, liberty, and property. It was Thomas Jefferson who in the American Declaration of Independence used that paradigm to propose our unalienable rights from our Creator being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sterling's comments were repulsive, but they were stated in the privacy of his own home — at least he thought it was private."

We'll deal with racism through the 21st century, the 22nd. How we do so sets who we are. Making the racists "pay" is silly. Making them change, see the wrong, admit it, is the way.

America has been on the right trajectory since its founding — not always, not like a rocket, but undeniably.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.