In September, the Air Force Academy Preparatory School’s superintendent very publicly and very sternly warned Academy cadets that the Academy had zero tolerance toward racists acts. He even more sternly promised that any cadet found guilty of such acts would be harshly punished. The stern warning and promise came after racist graffiti was found plastered on the message boards of five black cadet candidates at the Academy. The discovery of the racist graffiti ignited a firestorm of rage, and got heavy ink in the press.
The Academy superintendent was widely cheered for taking a hard-nosed stand against racism, and backing it up with action. This was the kind of talk from an official that was welcome and much needed as a counter to the reported upsurge in racist slurs, digs, graffiti, harassment and violence against Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and immigrants in the wake of Trump’s election. The presumption was that the perpetrators of the racially-motivated hate are a motley assortment of bored and disaffected white teens, unreconstructed bigots and white hate groups. There was almost no thought that Blacks could be the actual perpetrators of some of the reported hate acts, particularly the hate scrawls on walls and cars.
The admission by the Black cadet that he painted the racist graffiti shocked many. It touched off a lot of head shaking disbelief and denial among a lot of Backs. It certainly did fly squarely in the face of conventional wisdom that if it’s racist and aimed at Blacks, a bitter, vengeful, half- cocked white guy must have done it. In the long history of the country that has almost always been the case. So, to think that Blacks could wallow in the racist gutter and do dumb, kooky things such as painting racist graffiti on walls seemed ludicrous.
The reasons some have done just that can be chalked up to emotional problems, spite, resentment, ill-feelings or revenge for real or imagined slights. This was painfully the case a few years back when a wave of Black churches was burned down to the ground in the South. The church burnings were arson attacks. The Klan and other white hate group got the deserved blame. However, a few of those fingered in the burning of a few churches were blacks who saw it as a chance to grab insurance money or harbored a grudge. Blacks have also been charged in more than a few cases with racially-motivated murder or assault against whites. They represent a tiny minority of the hate violence, but whether it’s a handful, or one, as was the case with the Black Academy cadet, the consequence is severe.
It reinforces the thinking in millions of Americans that Blacks are more racist than whites. A spate of polls on attitudes toward race has more than confirmed this belief is wide and deep seated among many whites.
For three 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 has permanently crumbled the nation’s historic racial barriers. The parade of top black appointed and elected officials, including one president, the legions of black mega millionaire CEOs, athletes, entertainers, and the household names of blacks from Oprah to Bob Johnson is repeatedly waved as convincing proof of that.
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.
This 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 other consequence is that it reinforces the notion that Blacks love to scream racism when there really is none. So, if you’re black, poor, uneducated, or locked in a prison cell, don’t blame social, political or economic iniquities, blame yourself. The far more insidious thing is that it makes it much easier to ignore or outright assail laws, statutes, policies and initiatives that were hard fought over to put on the books to protect rights and eliminate discrimination. This fits neatly into the Trump narrative and plays to the notion that Blacks are racist and whites are their victims. That played a huge role in landing him in the Oval Office.
The Air Force Academy cadet or any other Black that commits a racist act just gives him and his boosters even more ammunition to make their case that Blacks are America’s bigots.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His latest book is, The impeachment of President Trump? (Amazon Kindle) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.