Commentary

No matter what we call it, let’s find common understanding about race and racism | Opinion

January 24, 2022 5:45 am

Whether you like history or not, there are things when it comes to Blacks and the subject of race that are undeniable: America embraced and maintained an institution of slavery for centuries, culminating in the Civil War (photo by iosebi meladz/Stock Images).

Critical Race Theory.

Uncritical Race Theory.

Factual Race Theory.

Call it what you will. But as the saying goes, “A rose called by any other name is still a rose.”

Racism called by any other name is still racism.

So, let’s step away from the naming, and name calling, and try to find some common understanding based on facts and truths about race and racism and how they have manifested, and continue to manifest themselves in America.

First, let’s acknowledge and agree that the subjects of race and racism are uncomfortable for many of us when it comes to having an open and honest conversation at home, in a classroom, at a community forum or any kind of discussion.

Too often, suppression, denial, distortion, false accusations, casting blame, engendering guilt and fear mongering seem to be the more comfortable paths taken.

These are the paths being chosen in state legislatures, Congress and in school board meetings across America opposing Critical Race Theory. But it need not be this way.

Facts about race and racism in America should be treated honesty and truthfully without suppression or censorship. Such an approach could be freeing and healing.

Second, Native Americans, Irish and Polish immigrants were subjects of race and racism, but they have managed to assimilate. Blacks, more so than Native Americans or any other group, are the predominant and enduring focus when it comes to anything race in America.

Third, a complete accounting of American history about Blacks has never been taught at any level in the educational system in this country — from grade school to post graduate school. No matter what level each of us completed, we have first-hand experience and know this to be true.

Whether you like history or not, there are things when it comes to Blacks and the subject of race that are undeniable: America embraced and maintained an institution of slavery for centuries, culminating in the Civil War. The vestiges, problems, practices of inequality, discrimination and oppression of Blacks have been an integral part of American life and society and continue to this day.

During the last several decades, there have been attempts to integrate Black history and the Black experience in America in some areas of study in our schools. Most notably at the secondary level, it occurs during Black History month. In college, it occurs in classes that focus on African American studies.

But such recent efforts to address the long-standing void and absence of Blacks and the black experience being left out of the history of America are band-aids at best.

If American history was taught in its totality — factually and truthfully — finally real progress can be made when it comes to healing and improving race relations.

One has only to look at race relations in their own neighborhoods, communities, cities, states and this nation to know that race and racism are topics that need to be addressed — in all of its facets.

How does anyone or anything grow, get better without self-examination — examination that is thrown bare, unvarnished, approached with clear eyes and anticipation, seeking understanding and a better path forward.

Such a study or discussion need not cast aspersion, blame, or engender guilt.

While egregious acts committed by our ancestors cannot be undone, we need not be a part of them continuing. We can neither absolve, totally insulate ourselves, nor live a life of detachment.

If we are willing to shed the misconceptions and stereotypes around the notion of race, it could go a long way to stop discussions from becoming emotional and incendiary.

Ask yourself a few questions, beginning with: Do you think there are many human races or just one? Whether you believe in science or religion or neither, there is ample evidence that there is just one race, the human race. We are all 99.99% the same.

Take your pick. Consult the Bible or the Human Genome Project. Another comprehensive resource is the book, The Myth of Race, by Robert Wald Sussman, a professor of Physical Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.

There is only one race. We all come from different ethnic, geographical, and cultural backgrounds. But that is as far as real differences go.

Period.

Many historians and sociologists have shown that our contemporary understanding and treatment of the word ‘race’ is a social, political and economic construct advanced to make one group or groups subservient to another.

Many of us have fallen for it, in one way or another, and have allowed it to form and perpetuate unnatural barriers, divisions, derision, downright hatred and discord among us—toward people we do not even know or ever had any direct personal contact.

Ask yourself another question: Are you willing to honestly re-examine your views about humans who do not look like you, act like you, live like you, or believe everything you believe?

Different colors in nature, variety and new experiences seem to be welcomed and seen as the spices of life, except when it comes to humans.

What do you find wrong with that picture?

We can hang on to our racist, bigoted, stereotypical notions if we choose. We are the losers when we do.

We can get knotted up in our underwear, sidetracked and misled by the most recent attempt to address the issue of race and allow fear mongers to keep us at odds with each other—all because it is called by the new name, “Critical Race Theory.”

Would you be more willing to have an honest factual conversation about how race has played out in American history, and continue to play out, if it were called “Uncritical Race Theory” or “Factual Race Theory”?

We are doing ourselves, our children, and many generations of Americans a grave disservice to continue to build strawmen and use ad hominem to advance hurtful and destruction positions when it comes to how we should get along as caring and decent human beings.

Our leaders in state legislatures and Congress should stop the charade when it comes to addressing the destructive history of race in America.

No matter what you call it.

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Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis

Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. Her commentary has appeared in The Kansas City Star, community newspapers, on radio and now online. She is the author of two award-winning books: From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018) and Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism™ Should be Practiced (2021). Ellis holds a Ph.D. in communication arts, and two Master of Arts degrees, one in communications arts and a second in political science, all from the University of Wisconsin.

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