A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE ANALYSIS:
There’s this meme that is making its rounds on social media . . . again. It was a pretty high-profile meme during the thick of the controversy surrounding former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s pre-game national anthem protests.
It does not express any new, fresh idea. But of course, because of its instantaneous reach and immediacy, social media can be viral, and this meme has gotten a dose of new life as it floods timelines, offering thawed-out and warmed-up food for thought.
It reads: “Racism is so American that when you protest racism, people think you are protesting America.”
Facts . . . big facts.
For more than 150 years, racist Whites in America have used those three words “go back to” as if it were a viable threat to Blacks and other marginalized citizens to accept the status quo or be forced to take the Middle Passage in reverse.
For a real-life, in living-color example of the veracity of that statement we only have to look at what has taken place on the national political scene.
The individual who occupies the White House, Donald Trump, recently turned to his sounding board, his confidant and his best friend (also known as Twitter) to spew yet another of his racist, hate-filled xenophobic rants; the target, this time—a collective of four freshmen, progressive congresswomen of color who have come to be known as “The Squad.”
Of course, by now we all know that Trump tweeted that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Rashida Tlaib (MI), and Ayanna Pressley (MA) obviously hate America because they keep calling out America and Americans that propagate racism for . . . wait for it . . . being racist. To that, Trump says if they are not happy in the United States of America they should just leave and go back to their horrible countries. He is presumably referring to Muslim nations and to countries like Haiti or those in Central America, South America, and African nations, too—you know, the ones he called “shitholes” in another ignorant, racist rant in 2018.
In other words, his tweet was the 2019 MAGA version of “go back to Africa”—the refrain that racists have used since the end of slavery in America and the ensuing decades, all during Jim Crow and beyond, to exert their so-called supremacy and to marginalize communities of colors. Yep, the racists keep pulling those tired, trite words out of their back pockets like some flimsy, filthy handkerchief that they are going to use to wipe off the nation and make it all White.
For more than 150 years racist Whites in America have used “go back to” as if it were a viable threat to Black and Brown people to accept the status quo or be forced to take the Middle Passage in reverse.
If you don’t like being treated like second-class citizens, go back to Africa.
If you don’t like riding on the back of the bus, go back to Africa.
Oh, you want to actually register to vote and then vote, too. No, just go back to Africa.
Integrated public schools and public accommodations, huh? How ‘bout you just hightail it back to Africa instead.
So wait, you want economic equity and end to housing and job discrimination and healthcare disparities. Well, you can just go back to Africa.
Tired of police brutality, over-policing of your communities and an unjust criminal justice system? Well, you know where you can go.
You actually expect us to live up to those little old things called the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Uh, could y’all just go back to Africa.
Memo to racists: Y’all have been using that stupid phrase for more than 150 years and no one we personally know has left yet…at least not without a round-trip ticket, so cut it out.
Did You Know?
Donald Trump’s grandfather Friedrich Trump did not immigrate to the United States until 1885—two decades after the end of slavery and 25 years after the last known U.S. slave ship brought captives from Africa to the United States. That means that if you are Black in America today and are the descendant of slaves, your ancestors have been in America longer than Donald Trump’s. His mother didn’t arrive until 1930 as a skill-less 18-year-old Scottish immigrant. He should not be telling anyone to go anywhere…ever in life.
Of course, the joke was on Trump. Each of the four congresswomen targeted by his tweet happens to be a woman of color; and all, except one, was born in the United States of America. In other words, this is their country. And while 36-year old Rep. Ilhan Omar wasn’t born in the U.S., this is now her country too.
Born in Somalia, she has lived in the United States since her family immigrated in 1992 when she was about 10 years old—that’s more than 26 years ago—and four years longer than First Lady Melania Trump who only came to the U.S. in 1996 to further . . . her uh, okay, let’s go with a modeling career.
Omar became a naturalized American citizen in 2000. Melania Trump only became a U.S. citizen in 2006—six years after Omar—and only after marrying Donald Trump.
These disclosures are not an attempt to be aspersive toward Melania Trump. They are, however, valid examples of how none of the racists who love telling other Americans to “go back to” ever suggest that folks should return to their native land or the land of their ancestors if that country is an Anglo, western or eastern European nation.
But mess around and have a little too much melanin in your skin and you can hop the first thing smoking “back to ________” fill in the blank.
We even hear that Dr. Ralph Abraham, a Republican gubernatorial candidate right here in Louisiana and a staunch Trump supporter, is offering to take care of plane tickets. Can’t wait to sit down with him when we interview candidates in the upcoming October primary.
Here’s the one silver lining in this dark cloud. In its own way, this controversy—Trump’s bigoted tweets—has given Americans another opportunity to face our nation’s ugly truth, its original sin—RACISM.
It’s true. Racism is so American. That point was really brought home to us at The New Orleans Tribune last year when our publisher and editor took part in the NOLA Racial Equity Institute along with other New Orleanians from all walks of life. The workshop serves as a foundational training in historical and institutional racism. Led by trainers and facilitators from the Greensboro, N.C.-based Racial Equity Institute, LLC., the seminar was conducted over a two-day period.
As we shared earlier this year when reporting about the Institute, we were initially skeptical, if not cynical, thinking we would not be any better for the time spent there. We were wrong.
Of course, in the most general sense, we did not learn anything surprisingly new. Racism in America is systemic and systematic. And most of all, it’s institutional—the practices of every social and political institution are historically steeped in racism. We knew that.
What we most valued and were impressed by was the methodical unraveling of all of the layers—the policies, the practices, the actual programs and historical occurrences that were designed to disenfranchise, marginalize and undermine Black Americans and other communities of color while simultaneously building up and fortifying White Americans. In one small workshop at a time—comprised of both Black and White folk—America’s ugly truth is laid bare…with receipts. And that’s the first thing that needs to happen if we are actually going to wage war against racism.
There are so many examples of the completely organized way racism has been practiced and perpetrated in America by its institutions that to share them all here and now at once would be impossible. We will highlight a few.
You’re in the Army Now
If there is anyone thing most responsible for helping to build America’s middle class in the mid-20th century, it was the G.I. Bill.
Young, brave soldiers that served America at home and abroad during World War II wanted to improve their lives and get back to some sense of normalcy after the war. And they were promised help to do just that through the GI Bill.
Some of those soldiers—about 1.2 million of them, including 125,000 that served abroad—were Black; and they wanted to benefit from the new G.I Bill, which established hospitals for veterans’ care, made low-interest mortgages available, provided year-long unemployment benefits, granted stipends, tuition and expenses for veterans to attend college or vocational schools.
But the G.I. Bill for most Black World War II veterans wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
The first thing that made the equitable administration of the G.I. Bill impossible was Northern lawmakers caving to their Southern colleagues, who refused to pass the bill unless its programs were administered by individual states, which made the discrimination against and intimidation of Black veterans easier.
Instead of a return to normalcy and a better life, what Black G.I.’s encountered were banks that refused to give them loans and salesmen that refused to take their inquiries seriously when they wanted to look at houses.
In some cases, they were met with outright violence and low-handed tactics. Those that sought unemployment benefits were denied if any other work was available to them, even if that work did not provide enough money for them to survive or feed their families. Southern postmasters were even suspected of not delivering the forms Black veterans needed to fill out to receive their unemployment benefits on purpose.
When it came to the education benefits, segregated colleges and universities and trade schools, especially in the South, refused to admit Blacks. Of course, historically Black colleges and universities opened their doors to as many Black G.I.’s as they could handle, but in many cases, these schools were often underfunded. Roughly 95 percent of Black WWII vets admitted to college on the G.I. Bill enrolled at HBCUs.
Some accounts suggest that this influx of Black veterans overwhelmed these schools. But we know better. Many of them were small, private institutions or poorly-supported public ones. Were they underfunded? Undoubtedly. Overwhelmed? Perhaps. But they were there. And it was their doors that were opened to Black veterans after the second world war, when others were not. We cringe when we imagine what would have happened if those historically Black institutions did not exist. And we suggest that anyone who dares to question their continued need in today’s society consider that as well.
So even a Black solider who was honorably discharged—G.I. Bill in hand—was no match for racist banks that wouldn’t lend them money for a mortgage or segregated schools that turned them away.
And that’s what happened to many of the ones that could at least try to tap into the benefits of the GI Bill after WWII. There were other Black World War II veterans denied G.I. Bills altogether because they had been issued “blue tickets” or a blue discharge, an arbitrary and subjective tool used to discharge a soldier without honor, which was a requirement of the G.I. Bill—no honorable discharge, no GI Bill benefits.
Of the 48,603 blue discharges issued by the Army between December 1, 1941, and June 30, 1945, the 10,806 that were issued to African Americans accounted for 22 percent of all blue discharges, although African Americans only made up 6.5 percent of the Army.
The Army stopped the use of blue discharges in 1947, but it refused to go back and open the benefits of the G.I. Bill to veterans that already received blue tickets.
By 1947, only two of the 3,200 VA mortgage loans granted in Mississippi went to Black veterans. In New York and New Jersey, only 100 of the 67,000 VA mortgage loans went to Blacks and other non-White veterans.
Because of unfair systems and policies along with racist practices that disproportionately and negatively impacted Black soldiers, but largely had a positive impact on White soldiers, lower and middle-class White Americans were able to earn college degrees, buy homes (i.e. build wealth), have successful careers, provide for their families, and send their children to college at a rate that outpaced Black Americans in the years after World War II.
If administered equitably, the G.I. Bill would have had a similar impact on Black families as it did for White people in America. Instead, today White families have nearly 10 times the net worth of Black families.
America’s greatest generation, indeed. And that’s just one example.
One Racially Biased Report Keeps the Doctors Away
Quickly name four medical schools dedicated to training Black doctors or healthcare professionals in America today. Let’s go!
Of course, there is Howard University Medical School, established in 1868.
There is Meharry, established in 1876 in Nashville.
We know those two well, both having been founded in the latter part of the 1800s.
Oh, yes and there is Morehouse, right? Morehouse has a medical school. It was established in 1975…that’s three.
And there is also the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, founded in 1966, with the mission to cultivate diverse health professional leaders who are dedicated to social justice and health equity for under-served populations through outstanding education, clinical service, and community engagement, according to its website.
But if you think for one second that before 1966, America was only ever home to two medical schools dedicated to educating Blacks, you would be wrong. In fact, by the late 1800s, there were as many as 14 medical schools across the country that focused on training Black physicians, dentists, and nurses.
Then, in 1910, The Carnegie Foundation commissioned Abraham Flexner, an American educator, and medical researcher, but not a physician himself, to study medical education in the United States and Canada by evaluating the medical schools in the two countries. By 1910, when Flexner wrote his report, there were still seven Black medical schools in the United States. There were some 78 other medical schools as well—you know, the ones that didn’t admit Black students as a rule.
In his report, Flexner called five of the seven Black medical schools “ineffectual” and wrote that they “were in no position to make any contribution of value.”
Racial segregation and concentrated poverty in this country are not happenstance. They are the result of policies sanctioned by the government of the United States.
And Flexner’s opinion on Black medical institutions and Black patients makes clear that his assessment was marked with racial bias.
He wrote: “The practice of the Negro doctor will be limited to his own race, which in its turn will be cared for better by good Negro physicians than by poor White ones. But the physical well being of the Negro is not only of a moment to the Negro himself. Ten million of them live in close contact with sixty million Whites. Not only does the Negro himself suffer from hookworm and tuberculosis; he communicates them to his White neighbors, precisely as the ignorant and unfortunate White contaminates him. Self-protection not less than humanity offers weighty counsel in this matter; self- interest seconds philanthropy. The Negro must be educated not only for his sake but for ours. He is, as far as the human eye can see, a permanent factor in the nation.”
In other words, Abraham Flexner doesn’t appear to have held Black people—or poor White folk, for that matter—with much regard.
The Flexner Report and Flexner’s advocacy for closing 71 percent of the nation’s Black medical schools resulted in the closure of New Orleans’ Flint-Goodridge Medical School, along with Black medical schools in Raleigh, NC, Knoxville, Tenn., Memphis, Tenn. And Louisville, Ken.; and it also meant that Blacks interested in the study of medicine had fewer opportunities.
By the way, of the 78 non-Black schools, 64 of them or 82 percent remained open.
As a result of Flexner’s report and the disproportionate closure of medical schools dedicated to training Black people, the number of Black physicians in America decreased over the next 50 years or so, while the number of White physicians increased—setting the stage for the lack of culturally competent healthcare in America that is, in part, responsible for existing disparities in healthcare delivery and outcomes today.
There’s No Place Like Home
So there—two solid examples of racist American policies, programs, and practices in the country’s history. We’ll go for the trifecta and talk briefly about the impact of redlining on Black homeownership and Black neighborhoods, in general.
In 2019, it has become downright trendy to tell the unbridled truth about redlining in America—the intentional and systematic policy racial housing segregation that began in the 1930s to political and social issues that still exist today,
In 1933, the federal government established the Federal Housing Administration to begin a program to increase the nation’s housing supply. But as with just about everything else at that time, it’s real focus was on creating housing opportunities for White Americans and excluding Black Americans and other communities of colors. In short, the FHA was created specifically to help working-class White Americans that lost homes in the Great Depression.
So while suburban communities and new subdivisions were popping up in cities across the country, the federal government was literally pulling out maps and using red ink to draw lines around historically Black neighborhoods; and inside those redlines, the FHA would not back mortgages as a matter of federal policy, which meant that the banks wouldn’t make loans there either.
The federal government allowed investors and developers to build homes and subdivisions outside of the redlines in mass production style as long as they made sure Blacks were not able to buy there. An original deed or restrictive covenant for a suburban home built between the 1930s and 1960s in America will likely reveal clear language that restricted the purchase or sell of the home-based on race.
Furthermore, the federal government’s housing plans inside the redlines generally consisted of housing projects and few if any opportunities for homeownership. Now consider that if the federal government as a matter of policy would not back home loans or invest in communities where Black people lived, why would banks, businesses, or hospitals.
Racial segregation and concentrated poverty in America’s cities are not happenstance. They are the results of a policy sanctioned by the government of the United States.
We Are Protesting America…And That’s Okay
And that brings us back to the meme about racism being so American that to some protesting racism is synonymous with protesting America.
Of course, the meme suggests two things simultaneously. First, that America is both intrinsically and historically racist. It also suggests that despite that fact, those who protest racism are not actually protesting America. It’s saying, “Hey, don’t get us wrong, we hate racism, but we love America. And that sounds nice—all patriotic and stuff. Like we can love America and hate racism the way God loves a sinner, but despises the sin, right?
Enough of the nonsense. When we protest racism in America, we are in the deepest and most uncomplicated way protesting America because it and its institutions and systems were built on and embedded with racism.
If America were a tree, its deeply-planted roots are made out of racism. Its long, strong branches that stretch in all directions as far as the eyes can see are made of prejudice and bigotry; it’s leaves are dry, brown and brittle; and its fruit is bitter—income inequality, health disparities, mass incarceration, police brutality, housing discrimination, disparities in environmental conditions disparities in education.
You get the picture? America is a racist nation by design. It is a racist nation on purpose. Those are facts. We will let them sink in.
So yes, racism is so American that we when we protest it, we are ABSOLUTELY protesting America. We have to protest America. That is the only way we will ever change her.
Here’s the thing, though, protesting America does not mean hating America. Those two things are not synonymous. In fact, it means we have higher hopes and a greater expectation of OUR nation. Protesting America and racism is like a mother disciplining her child, trying to teach her better and show her what’s right…precisely because she loves her. It means we want America to live up to the words that are at the core of its foundation—that all men are created equal.
It is the ones that chant “send her back” at MAGA rallies that actually hate this nation and everything she was born to become.